Wavering for some time on the verge of becoming a complete oligarchy, America is on the verge of flipping from a democratic republic to a strongman or autocratic form of government, something that’s happened to dozens of democracies in the past few decades, but never before here. It’s possible we won’t recover from it.
The death of a republic is different from the death of a nation; Rome was a nation for nearly 2,000 years, but its period of being a republic was only around 300 years long. For the rest, it was a brutal empire with a small but wealthy and corrupt ruling class and a thin patina of democracy-for-show.
Trump is openly defying the norms and laws of our republic, while calling for the imprisonment of both his political enemies and members of the very law enforcement agencies that might hold him to account. And he’s only able to do it because billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, with Fox News, and the billionaires Republicans depend on to fund their re-elections are providing him with cover.
And they’re largely able to do that because five “conservatives” on the Supreme Court empowered billionaires to own the political system with the 1976 Buckley and 2010 Citizens United decisions.
On Wednesday, the day it was announced that the U.S. birthrate fell for the fourth straight year, signaling the lowest number of births in 32 years, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the most draconian anti-abortion law in the country. That the two developments came at the same time could not have been more revelatory.
The ruling elites are acutely aware that the steadily declining American birthrate is the result of a de facto “birth strike” by women who, unable to afford adequate health insurance and exorbitant medical bills and denied access to paid parental leave, child care and job protection, find it financially punitive to have children. Not since 1971 have births in the United States been at replacement levels, considered to be 2,100 births per 1,000 women over their lifetimes, a ratio needed for a generation to replace itself. Current births number 1,728 per 1,000 women, a decline of 2% from 2017. Without a steady infusion of immigrants, the U.S. population would be plummeting.
Politics in the world of industrialized neoliberal states is subject to a sort of compression. Neoliberalism, as a mode of thought and organization, is characterized by the shifting of ever greater regions of the social order out of the realm of political deliberation and into the ostensibly more “objective” realm of economic competition. At the same time and, in a certain sense, as a mirror image of this process, the political residuum is transformed into an ever-amplifying spectacle, expanding to fill the space evacuated by substantive politics.
The cult of personality is central to this process of spectacularization. Instead of politicians, in the Weberian model, espousing substantive positions and bearing a responsible commitment to the necessity of compromise, the personages put forward by the major political parties (and here we are primarily speaking of the United States although the point could well be extended) become merely a complex of images intended to acquire value rendered in terms of electoral share. And in this way the political itself becomes an expression of economization, even in regions of political practice not structured by outright bribery.
MONTGOMERY, AL—Quickening her pace as the vehicle flashed its brights, Alabama woman Alison Kyles, 29, reportedly hurried towards home Thursday after spotting a pickup truck full of Alabama lawmakers slowly following her.
If Donald Trump gets a little bored on his flight home from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he can always page through a book handed to him by a delegate not long after he arrived: “God and Donald Trump.”
The volume, written by Stephen Strang, a leading Pentecostal figure and the longtime publisher of Charisma magazine, is an easy read—part spiritual hagiography, part Fox News bulletin and part prophecy. It ultimately says far less about Trump than about the charismatic Pentecostals who were some of his earliest religious supporters and who now view his election as the fulfillment of God’s will.