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6 Jan, 2022 12:04

The crisis in American democracy is only intensifying

The mistrust that caused the Capitol Riot last January shows no sign of abating. With Joe Biden unable to bring together a divided country, how this seething resentment manifests itself next is an alarming prospect for America.  
Tom Fowdy
Tom Fowdy

is a British writer and analyst of politics and international relations with a primary focus on East Asia.

is a British writer and analyst of politics and international relations with a primary focus on East Asia.

The crisis in American democracy is only intensifying

A year ago, the world was stunned by the Capitol Riot. A defiant Donald Trump, who had refused to concede defeat in November 2020’s presidential election, held a rally in Washington DC for his supporters, who he encouraged to march to Congress – with disastrous consequences.

The crowd ransacked the Capitol building in violent, chaotic scenes that were broadcast across the world, with five people losing their lives.

The repercussions were huge. After the riot, Trump found himself banned from social media, but ultimately escaped an impeachment conviction due to support from Republicans. Joe Biden assumed the presidency as planned, and vowed to restore America’s credibility to the world.

Twelve months down the line, the question is: has he? Biden is clearly not the confrontational and erratic individual Trump became known as – but neither is he an exceptional, inspiring leader who looks capable of restoring faith in the United States through adherence to its integral values.

As Washington Post columnist Anthony Faiola writes, “A year after the Capitol insurrection, the world still sees something broken in America’s democracy.” Faiola argues that the current White House has failed to heal the wounds, referring to a “fact-relative nation still at war with itself” and observing that allies recognise that “an erratic United States can no longer be seen as the model democracy or reliable partner that some once thought it to be”.

And he goes on to describe the events of January 6 as an “inflection point” in the country’s broader narrative, as opposed to being a mere blip.

But what is the problem exactly? It ultimately lies with the United States being a deeply divided country which can no longer agree what its fundamental identity ought to be – an issue which in the coming years will become ever more apparent.

The divides are obvious across multiple lines – whether wealth, class, race or geography. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge that divisions have always been a feature of America – once even creating a full-blown civil war – and the country has been able to offset them through moments of incredible unity and triumph against the odds. But where is that likely to come from in the current climate, and who will deliver it?

America insists its democracy ought to be a model for the world. However, the reality is that successful democracy is not built on sentiment alone, but its ability to work, function and deliver for the population to secure legitimacy and faith in that system.

For many groups in America, there is no such faith – only anger, disillusionment and resentment, which are being exacerbated through deepening inequalities that are simply not being addressed. As much as some commentators like to hope otherwise, the rise of Trump and his presidency was not an accident, or a blemish on history. The sequence of events was not brought about purely because he was opportunistic, as the liberal narrative often goes. Trump was not the cause of these emerging divides in US society, but rather a symptom.

The deplatforming of Trump by Big Tech – and, as we have seen this week, of Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’d previously suggested a “national divorce” –will not magically make these problems go away. They are structural, and there is little indication that Biden has the political will or space to heal the rifts.

This presents problems. A recent poll found that no less than 34% of people in the US believe violence against the government is justified. Whilst we must accept that violence is in America’s political DNA, given the origin of the nation itself, this nevertheless does not signify a population that is content or stable.

We can also see how the stock market is continuing to boom as if it is invincible, yet ordinary people’s incomes are shrinking ever further in the face of spiralling inflation. We see a Congress that is loaded with millionaires, coated to the brim in private lobbyists, and one which will inevitably flip Republican by the end of this year, rendering Biden a sitting duck.

America’s democracy is flawed because it is completely disjointed, if not dysfunctional, in what it delivers, and the constant exporting of aggressive sentiment abroad, directed at countries such as China, is merely papering over the cracks. In truth, the country is growing apart, whilst insisting it has the same values it always has and demanding the world follows its model. And although its monopoly over global soft power and culture gives it a certain appeal, even that is being strained by ever-louder questions over its place in the world.

So, one year on, while a repeat of something like the Capitol Riot may look unlikely, all is clearly not well and there is no indication that the current administration will fix things, despite all its posturing. 2022 will be a year of more drama and more division, which leads us to some intriguing questions: Will Donald Trump and his movement make a comeback? Will American democracy be challenged yet again and remain intact? And will these polarized political conflicts spill over into more destructive consequences?

With the nation still divided over the events of January 6 and bitterness running deep, it remains to be seen how the resentment, often made invisible by the mainstream media, will manifest itself. The US has a knack of landing on its feet and it’s faced significant challenges throughout its relatively short history but, in failing to confront its inner problems, the suggestion is that they may be far from over yet.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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