Friday 16 December 2016

Full Circle

In the 1999 novel The Business, by the late Iain Banks, a character describes contemporary Russia:

The Russians have created their own form of capitalism in the image of what was portrayed to them as the reality of the West by the old Soviet Union's propaganda machine. They were informed that there was nothing but gangsterism, gross and endemic corruption, naked profiteering, a vast, starving, utterly exploited underclass and a tiny number of rapacious, vicious capitalist crooks who were entirely above the law. Of course, even at its most laissez-faire the West was never remotely like that, but that's what the Russians have now created for themselves.

This portrait was written before Putin's rise to power, in the chaotic reign of Boris Yeltsin; but it still contains much truth.

Modern Russia practices a particularly vicious form of gangster capitalism. The only truly effective institutions of the state are the military and security services. Those the state perceives as enemies are met with overwhelming force. A hollow charade of elective democracy is not allowed to disturb the oligarchs who truly wield power.

Here is the bitter conclusion which Banks did not live to see: The United States of America is now controlled by people who see the nightmare vision of Russia as a model to follow.

What was imagined as a grotesque caricature of America is now becoming its reality.

Symbol of a republic in grave peril.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Many of Trump's senior advisors openly admire and align themselves with Russia. His cabinet picks are heavy with retired generals and sociopathic business executives, the better to secure an oligarchy. For their part, the Republican majorities in Congress will find a White House which indulges their most rapacious ideas.

In a previous post, I made fun of a Washington Post columnist who urged Democrats in the Electoral College to vote for Mitt Romney.

In point of fact, the Republican leadership can still make Romney President without a single Democrat vote. All they need to do is flip thirty-seven Republican electors from Trump to Romney, so that no one candidate receives a majority in the EC. Under the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution, the three candidates are then voted on by the House of Representatives, where the Republicans hold a majority.

But why on Earth would they want to do a thing like that? Then they would have to own their opposition to Trump. They would have to take responsibility for angering his supporters. They would have halted his coronation, in favour of a candidate who might occasionally show some glimmer of conscience.

Trump will not stand in their way. He is fluent in the language of rage and hate spoken by the Republican base, in a way that bloodless ghouls like Paul Ryan cannot match. They think he will be useful to them, distracting the rubes while they get on with asset-stripping the country; and they are probably right.

The present incarnation of the Republican party has stopped even pretending it wants to build anything of value. All it cares about making are walls and prisons. All power to the billionaires, the police, and the army; everyone else is there to be crushed and discarded.

From their point of view, the main risk is that Trump might blunder into a nuclear war or some other disaster; one so bad, it casts down even the billionaires and their most highly placed servants. Evidently, that is a chance they are willing to take.

In a way, this movement reminds me of the so-called Islamic State. It is not subtle. It goes out of its way to think of the most sadistic and destructive things it can do, and then does them. It takes joy in the horror it inspires in anyone with a sense of decency.

I am very cautious about talking of politics in terms of good and evil. I don't apply the word "evil" to normal, democratic politicians with whom I happen to disagree. However, Trump and his henchmen are anything but normal.

Trump and the leadership of the Republican party are evil. It's not a secret; they openly celebrate their cruelty. Their one saving grace is that they are not terribly competent. I hope the better angels of America's nature, from both conservative and liberal traditions, prove capable of standing up to them.

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