By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Beginning November during the federal state elections in the States of Virginia and the State of New Jersey, political observers were caught by surprise in reaction to the Democrats having suffered a major defeat. The Nov 2nd 2021 Elections included gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and elections in the Virginian House of delegates; in other states mayoral races and a variety of local elections took place. Almost one year after President Biden’s inauguration, these local elections are a first temperature reading which indicate the direction in which the US may be going: It is noteworthy that in the state of Virginia the Republican business man Glenn Youngkin made significant gains and prevailed against Democratic nominee Mc Auliffe as governor. Youngkin immediately promised to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools and to push back certain Covid- 19 restrictions. In New Jersey Jack Ciaparelli was in a tight gubernatorial race with incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy. Several commentaries in the US and European press qualified these first local election results as a sign of “weakening” of US President Biden.
Yet in the second week of November President Joe Biden managed to push through his $ 1,5 trillion “Infrastructure Bill” in the House – on a bipartisan basis- , with 32 Republicans, among them Republican Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), who voted in favor of it. The infrastructure bill is based on reconstruction plans for rails, roads, ports, water systems and power grids that for more than two decades have been neglected.
President Joe Biden is however facing a real dilemma: On the one side there is the radical wing of the Democrats – typified by the left radical wing represented by Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez who wants the President to concentrate on minority, race questions and on the other side Biden is pressured by leading officials in his own government, particularly by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, as well as by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the State Department, Victoria Nuland. Both are vociferously pushing a hawkish line towards Russia and China, and push Biden into adopting an “escalating” strategy towards Russia and above all China (as described for example in the article “What will drive China to War?” by Michael Beckley and Hal Brands in the magazine “Atlantic”, Nov 1rst 2021). What may alleviate the pressure on President Biden a bit is the recent Climate agreement which has been concluded between John Kerry (the US special envoy for Climate) and officials from the Chinese government. It is based on commitments and pleas to commonly help alleviate e.g. the CO2 emissions in both countries.
In the long run- what will be decisive: unless Biden is capable to use his Infrastructure Bill and combines this with an active campaigning throughout the country and unless he tones down his geopolitical rhetoric vis a vis Russia and China, there will be very little maneuvering room left for him.
Neocon Robert Kagan warning about a constitutional crisis
The real dangers which are looming in the US are domestic! They include the danger that Donald Trump may be reelected in 2024 – an equivalent to a “state putsch” like the one Germany went through in the 1930ies, with dramatic consequences for the American nation and the World.
In this context it is worthwhile to carefully look at an essay which was written end of September for the Washington Post by neocon Robert Kagan under the title “Our Constitutional Crisis is already there.” The well-known neoconservative historian Robert Kagan (Brookings Institution), who has played an influential role in shaping the US neoconservative agenda for more than two decades, in his article made a critical analysis about the chances of Donald Trump being reelected as President by 2024 and the impact this would have on the US and the World. Reference to his article was made by the German Weekly “Der Spiegel” (Nr. 45, 6.11.21). Its cover story: “Operation Come Back” carried a picture of Trump on the front page. Der Spiegel reported about a “perfidious game” which is going on since beginning of 2021 – the storm on Capitol Hill (January 6th 2021 by Trump hooligans calling the election “stolen.” The magazine drew the attention to Robert Kagan qualifying him as a leading neocon who worked as consultant for many leading republicans, but turned away from Trump. His wife Victoria Nuland is one of the most influential government officials in the State Department. “Spiegel” quoted from Kagan who had stated that it was naïve to think that the events of the 6th of January could not repeat itself.
“The US is moving towards the biggest political and constitutional crisis since the civil war- with the plausible possibility, that in the next three to four years there will be cases of mass violence, the collapse of the federal state order and democratic enclaves that are fighting against each other.” The magazine reported that Trump works in the direction of an “overhaul of the entire election legislation that could in turn pave the way for a state putsch. Since the beginning of the year 19 Republican Federal States have pushed laws that will make it difficult in particular for black Americans to vote. Republicans want to shorten the application deadlines for postal votes and set sharper conditions for identification in the electoral office- which could lead to the point that certain voter groups would get excluded. Republicans want to create the conditions for a coup by “putting into question the ‘legitimacy of an electoral victory’ of Democrats,” Spiegel wrote.
Neoconservative writer Robert Kagan who once stated that Trump “is the most successful demagogue -charlatan in the history of US politics” was cofounder of the “Project for the New American Century” and served as advisor to the “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq” ; he was board member of the US Committee on NATO and is an international patron of the UK based Henry Jackson Society as well as a contributing editor at the “Weekly Standard” and a foreign policy advisor to republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John Mc Cain in the past.
In his “Washington Post” article Kagan warned that “the US is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.” Given that Trump will be for sure the Republican candidate for president in 2024, he emphasized that the hope and expectation that he would fade into invisibility and loose influence have been delusional. “He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable (…) Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary.” Kagan reported that some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022. “Meanwhile the amateurish ‘stop the steal’ efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020.”
Those “obstinate” Republican state officials, who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump, are according to Kagan “systematically removed or hounded from office.” Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the area of the governor, secretary of state or the other legislative executive -branch officers. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the Secretary of State issuance of certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed ‘technical infractions’, including obstructing the view of poll watchers. ( …) The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests?” Kagan asked.
The article emphasized that the political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his ability to take control of the Republican Party and then underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power.
An attempted coup and what Trump epitomize for many Republicans
“Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year,” Kagan wrote, and what prevented it “was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general, and a Vice President (Pence) to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.” What is common to the Trump Republican followers, according to Kagan, is “suspicion and hostility towards federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tension, with subtle condescension on one side and resentment on the other; distrust of the broader world, especially Europe, and its insidious influence in subverting American freedom.” He further stated that for “millions of Americans Trump himself is the response to their fears or resentments.” The bond with Trump of many “has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the US government has been captured by socialist, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak, ‘losers’ to use Trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view Trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINO’s liberal media, Antifa, Big Tech etc. … His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity.”
While Trump’s critics see him as too “narcissistic” to be any kind of leader, his supporters “admire his unapologetic, militant selfishness. Unlike establishment Republicans, Trump speaks without embarrassment on behalf of an aggrieved segment of Americans, not exclusively white, who feel they have been taking it on the chin for too long.” The most important thing that Trump delivers is “himself”. His egomania is part of his appeal. In his professed victimization by the media and the “elites” his followers see their own victimization. This is why the attacks by the elites on Trump only strengthen his bond with his followers. Because the Trump movement is less about policies than about Trump himself, it has undermined the normal role of American political parties, which is to absorb new political and ideological movements into the mainstream. As one conservative intellectual put it: What choice do they have (the Trump supporters), but to view the government as the enemy and to become “united and armed to take care of themselves as they think best?” Kagan quoted from one supporter of the Jan 6 events who underlined that the thing was staged “as a patriotic effort to save the nation, by violent action if necessary…We were just there to overthrow the government.” The majority was middle class and middle aged; 40% were business owners or white collar workers. Most Trump supporters are good parents, good neighbors and solid members of their communities. “The events of Jan 6 proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms, just as revolutionary movements have in the past.”
Kagan reported that Trump has systematically targeted for defeat those Republicans who voted for his impeachment or criticized him for his role in the riot. Already there have been threats to bomb polling sites, kidnap officials and attack state capitols: “You and your family will be killed very slowly.”
Looking ahead to 2022 and 2024, Trump insists “there is no way they win the elections without cheating. There’s no way.” “So if the results come in showing another Democratic victory, Trump’s supporters will know what to do. Just as ‘generations of patriots’ gave their sweat, their blood and even their lives,” to build America, “Trump tells them, so today we have no choice. We have to fight, to ‘restore our American birthright’.”
According to Kagan the astonishing thing is that nobody really opposed Trump (including republican elder statesmen etc.) “Despite their known abhorrence of everything Trump stood for, these old lions refused to criticize him,” Kagan observed. “They were unwilling to come out against a Republican Party to which they had devoted their professional lives, even when the party was led by someone they detested (…) German conservatives accommodated Adolf Hitler in large part because they opposed the socialists more than they opposed the Nazis who after all shared many of their basic prejudices. Conservative intellectuals came to Trump’s defense and fashioned political doctrine to justify his rule, with an appeal to ‘conservative nationalism’. So it’s only a few dissenting voices within the Republican ecosystem.”
Kagan also referred to the fact that on February 13 seven Republican Senators voted to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection and attempting to overturn a free and fair election: Richard Barr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Romney, Sasse and Patrick J.Toomey. In reaction “Romney was booed and called a traitor at the Utah Republican convention; Burr and Cassidy were unanimously censured by their state parties (…) yet, as much credit as they deserve for taking this stand, it was almost entirely symbolic.”
Even if at some points it may seem that Kagan exaggerates, he is correct in terms of his warning about a constitutional crisis, by pointing to “Trump’s disdain for the rule of law is clear. His exoneration from the charges leveled in his impeachments trials practically ensures that he would wield power even more aggressively.” What remains an open question for him is whether modern American politicians, in either party, have it in them to make bold moves, whether they have the insight to see where events are going and the courage to do whatever is necessary to save the democratic system.