By Biljana Vankovska
“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke”.
– Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Part I, 1843.
Kierkegaard’s quote is the first thought that comes to mind while thinking of the latest developments on the global scene. Or maybe another thought of his is even more appropriate to describe the current dilemma the majority is facing: “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” Let’s start with the alleged fascist coup attempt and/or terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, with its clowns and audience. Any analysis of this dramatic event calls for caution: in politics nothing is as it looks on the surface!
At first sight it seemed as if Trump used his last ‘trump card’, inciting insurrection on the part of his followers (the “mob”) to prevent a peaceful transfer of power, with a chorus of people crying that this was a shocking attack on the temple of democracy, sedition, and even domestic terrorism. Among the huge number of witty comments, one particularly caught my eye: “That was the worst fucking coup attempt I’ve ever seen (and I’m Turkish, I should know). Not even night time, you didn’t commandeer CNN and far too few moustaches. Terrible work” (@canokar, 7 January).
The events of January 6 seem to be over: democracy has prevailed, they say. The scenes of the surreal vaudeville with half-idiots with coloured faces and horns created a perception that not only Trump is an incapable moron and unscrupulous narcissist but all his supporters resemble that tragicomic performance. Some liberal analysts argue that finally the ultra-right and primitive forces that support Trump have been exposed and publicly shamed.
Following Kierkegaard’s lead, one should ask a simple question: cui bono? Could it really be an attempted coup d’État? Is Trump indeed such a dimwit as to believe that Capitol Hill is the locus of power? He should know better. Some Americans recall similar occasions when storming government buildings was dubbed “direct democracy”, such as the 2011 Wisconsin protests. To Western liberals, there was nothing wrong when ‘people’s power’ was exerted inside the Serbian Parliament in 2001 to topple Milosevic, or in Ukraine, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, in Latin America (where the original sin was committed with Allende’s elimination) or elsewhere. In an interview for Democracy Now, Allan Nairn put it correctly: “Americans are now getting a mild taste of their own medicine of disrupting democracy elsewhere”. He concluded that Trump brought that foreign policy home.
The victory claimed by Democrats and some reluctant Republicans may well be a pyrrhic one, and the atmosphere it is generating is false and even dangerous. It presumes that Trump himself is the reason for everything that has gone wrong in the country. Ever since 2016, Trump was a God-given revealer of how US democracy really functions; now he is kind of exposing the American system for what it is even more bluntly. Trump never was and is not the cause but a consequence of a series of deep social, political and societal processes that have long been eroding American democracy’s foundations. And this is not going to end there. The official narrative of his rule now focuses on his final days as a sort of catharsis and a Manichean battle in which Good defeated Evil – suitable material for a few Hollywood blockbusters no doubt. Biden does not bring any promise of improvement: it’s enough to see his nominees. Sanders’ hour is past, and there is hardly a new personality on the horizon. Biden says: “This is not us! This is not real America“. Only few dare say: “Yes, this is exactly who we are! A nation originally based on genocide and slavery, which dropped an atom bomb not once but twice and has not apologized for the worst mass crime in history; this is a nation that has inspired numberless coups and military interventions abroad with a death toll of millions of innocent lives…“
Something else comes to mind when hearing liberals scandalized that a few hundred grotesque people, vocally supported by thousands outside, dared violently enter the temple of democracy. It seems “we, the people” refers only to an abstract (i.e. unrealistic) version of the people and to plutocrats. Only the ‘priests’ have the right to use the ‘temple’, while others are ‘deplorable people’, unspeakably unworthy of political privileges. Ironically, those who stormed Capitol Hill did so either because they had been seduced by one of the high priests of big business, or led by despair and anger at the establishment as such. After all, the electoral campaign was run in a most militant atmosphere, with armed people from both extremes of the political spectrum marching in the streets and often looting city centers. An old saying reads: “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. It takes two to tango, and for political polarization on such a scale to occur, at least two parties are needed. January 6 should have come as no surprise: it had been in the cards for some time… Just as with the after-effects of 9/11, nothing good will come out of this episode. Security will prevail over liberty even more, only now the terrorists are at home. A law against domestic terrorism is on the agenda. The witch-hunt has already started.
Sadly, the events of Washington’s “Bloody Wednesday” have hogged the media’s and the global public’s attention. The real, worrisome news is once again overshadowed. Capitol Hill is a façade, a Potemkin village that covers loci of corporate power unaccountable to anyone. It is hardly a temple of democracy – a temple of the Golden calf would be more like it. Meanwhile, the world (with few exceptions) has shrugged off the alarming news from the London court: apparently, Julian Assange is not going to be extradited to the US, but is silenced for good, kept in solitary confinement at Belmarsh prison.
The blocking of Trump’s social media accounts is ironically the other side of the same coin: censorship of unpopular political speech is the order of the day. Assange and Snowden alike are now prevented from exposing the facts and truth of what the powers-that-be are up to, their war crimes and corruption. Greenwald was also censored because he had broached the issue of suspected corruption involving Biden’s son. Meantime, we lost people like the great Robert Fisk. The reasonable warnings are already being met with harsh reactions, as if they are pro-Trump reactionaries. Dictatorship always comes silently: it starts with silencing the bad guys for the sake of the Good, the progressive masses are euphoric, and then step by step the custodians of ‘decency’ get a free hand to silence whomever they think is too radical. They can make anyone an un-person, to paraphrase Orwell.
Large private high-tech conglomerates now dominate the political scene and treat the people as if they were pathetic, coddled serfs to be protected from the dangerous words and thoughts of unorthodox elected officials or unattached intellectuals. Their justification is that they’re private firms and as such free to decide what is best for them: they are under no obligation to provide space for free speech. But the key problem here is that the State itself has been gradually privatized over the past decades, and it now serves the oligarchs, not the public good. This is the face of techno-feudalism, warn some wise people.
The real coup is unfolding before our eyes. We should all watch again that excellent movie Good night and good luck, because its scenario may soon turn into a reality of less good luck and more goodbye! Symbolically speaking, the ruling in the Assange case conveys a message to everyone, namely that any dissent and courage to “speak truth unto power” that may be considered a sign of mental illness, if not even suicidal.
Biljana Vankovska is a professor of political science, Skopje, Macedonia