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    Without Democracy in the US there is NO Democracy in Europe – A Nightmare envelopes America and its Democracy

    February 2021

    One striking aspect of the US Capitol Hill putsch was that none of the rioters’ grievances had any basis in reality.

    No, the presidential election wasn’t stolen – there is no evidence of significant electoral fraud. No, Democrats aren’t part of a satanic pedophile conspiracy. No, they aren’t radical Marxists even the party’s progressive wing would be considered only moderately left of center in any other Western democracy.

    So all the rage is based on lies. But what’s almost as striking as the fantasies of the rioters is how few leading Republicans have been willing, despite the violence and desecration, to tell the MAGA mob that their conspiracy theories are false. Let’s bear in mind that Kevin McCarthy the House Minority Leader, and two-thirds of his colleagues voted against accepting the Electoral College results even after the riot.

    Or consider the behavior of leading Republicans who aren’t usually considered extremists. Senator Rob Portman declared that we need to “ restore confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.” Portman isn’t stupid; he has to know that the only reason so many people doubt the election results is that members of his party deliberately tormented that doubt. But he’s still keeping up the pretense.

    And the cynicism and cowardice of leading Republicans is, I would argue, the most important cause of the nightmare now enveloping in the US of course we need to understand the motives of their homegrown enemies of democracy. In general, political scientists find – not surprisingly, given America’s history – that racial antagonism is the best predictor of willingness to countenance political violence. Anecdotally, personal frustrations – often involving social interactions, not “economic anxiety” also seem to drive many extremists.

    The big thing that has changed in my opinion is that one of the US major political parties has become willing to tolerate and, indeed, feed right-wing political paranoia. This coddling of the craziest was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the GOP began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic – what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.

    Not incidentally, white supremacy has always been sustained in large part through voter suppression. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see right-wingers howling about a rigged election – after all, rigging elections is what their side is accustomed to doing. And it’s not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn’t work.

    But it’s not just about race. Since Ronald Reagan, the GOP has been closely tied to the hardline Christian right. Anyone shocked by the prevalence of insane conspiracy theories in 2020 should look back to “ The New World Order “, published by Reagan ally Pat Robertson in 1991 which saw America menaced by an international cabal of Jewish bankers, Freemasons and occultists.

    So what has changed since then? For a long Republican elites imagine that they could exploit racism and conspiracy theorizing while remaining focused on a plutocratic agenda. But with the rise first of the Tea Party, then of Donald Trump, Republican elites have, with few exceptions, accepted their new subservient status.

    You might have hoped that a significant number of sane Republican politicians would finally say that enough is enough, and break with their extremist allies. But Trump’s party didn’t balk; it stood by him when he refused to accept electoral defeat; and some of its members are responding to a violent attack on Congress by complaining about their loss of Twitter followers.

    And there’s no reason to believe that the atrocities yet to come – for there will be more atrocities – will make a difference. The GOP has reached in my opinion the culmination of its long journey away from democracy, and it’s hard to see how it can ever be redeemed.

    The US results are playing out on my fronts, including some self-reflection in Europe. Leaders and citizens know that virulent populism, often fueled by social media, also lurks under the surface in Europe. It could again pose a threat to democracies that were forged in the aftermath of the most disastrous demagoguery and extreme populism the modern world has known.

    In a carefully – worded statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed the former US President for inciting the mob, noting that “ a fundamental rule of democracy is that after elections there are winners and losers”.

    “ President Trump regrettably has not conceded his defeat since November, and of course that has prepared the atmosphere in which such events, such violent events, are possible “, said Merkel.

    Like America, much of the world watched in shock on January 6 as a sometimes bizarre – looking mob stormed a storied bastion of democracy: The Capitol in Washington, DC, home to the US Senate and House of Representatives.

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “ I unreservedly condemn encouraging people to behave in the disgraceful way that they did in the Capitol and all I can say is I’m very pleased that the president-elect has now been duly confirmed in office and that democracy has prevailed ”.

    Pope Francis remarked during an interview that he was “astonished because they (the Americans) are people so disciplined in democracy”, but noted “ I thank God that this broke out and we could see it well because this can be remedied, right? “

    But European politicians who have tried to mimic the Trump populist surge were careful to leave the president’s name off the list of those responsible. “ Obviously I am extremely shocked by these images of violence “, said Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Rally party. “ There are hundreds of people who are extremists who tried to disrupt a Democratic process. I wouldn’t confuse them with the 70 million who voted for Trump.

    Matteo Salvini, leader of the populist Northern League, has worn a mask during the coronavirus pandemic emblazed with the name “Trump” as he tried to piggyback off the US president’s appeal. He is now muzzled another way – refusing to hold Trump responsible for tanning the flames of insurrection.

    They, like some in the US Republican Party, might be wary of alienating the populist underground as it is one of their strongest bases of support. Because as in America populism and extreme conspiracy theories are part of the European social media fabric.

    Even the alt-right QAnon movement which seems so distinctly American in its conspiracy theories and paranoia about a “ deep state “, has gained traction in Europe. According an analysis in six languages by the newspaper Politico, the Yellow Jacket movement in France embraced the American movement, while in Italy, QAnon backers hail from the anti-vaccine community. In Britain, adherents are drawn from Brexit supporters.

    The publication said a review of tens of thousands of social media posts found that QAnon language and ideas are increasingly making their way into existing online communities and protest movements across Europe.

    And one of the most persistent conspiracy theories of all – that 5G communication technology leads to mind control and other nefarious things – appears to have been born in Belgium. Jonathan Bright, a senior researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, told Politico that “ the Corona virus supercharged things. People are spending even more time online, so have more time to come across antivaccine and other conspiracy content.

    While tech Giants Twitter, Google, Facebook and Amazon made a series of moves to limit misinformation following the Capitol attack, including banning Trump, in Europe concerns remain about how well they can police hate speech and attempts to organize attacks. The reach and number of languages, cultures and countries served by Facebook alone is staggering. Facebook’s answer has been computer algorithms that identify dangerous posts, which are then screened by human moderators. The company offers its 2.3 billion users menus in 111 languages, but detailed rules known as “community standards” that bar users from posting offensive material are translated in only 41 languages, according to Reuters news agency. It has a content moderation force of about 15,000 that speaks about 50 languages.

    Even at home in its most well understood market Facebook is fighting a losing battle in ferreting out hate speech and violent groups many in Europe wonder if there are private Facebook groups now basically formulating and spreading dangerous plans.

    So it is all the more important for populist leaders in Europe to watch what they say – as Trump has shown, the echo Chamber of social media can give lies a life of their own. Even most anti-establishment populist leaders don’t want an enraged mob storming their parliamentary chambers.

    Following the January 6 Capitol attack, German foreign minister Heiko Maas proposed a new “Marshall Plan” to defend democracy by Washington and its European allies once Joe Biden is sworn in as the next US President. The original Marshall Plan was an all-out effort following WWll (World War ll) to rebuild Europe and encourage the spread of democracy.

    “Without democracy in the US, no democracy in Europe,” said Maas. “Getting to the roots of the social divisions in our countries is one of the greatest tasks for the future for Americans and Europeans”.

    Needless to say, Americans were, and remain as we speak, shaken by the tumult – tumult that without a doubt had perverted all that is American about America. Many among them are thinking the unthinkable: Does the debasement of those deep rooted constitutional values built into the country’s ethos foretell of an imminent doomsday.

    After everything is said and done, one thing in my opinion remains plain: America will get over it. It will rally. It had rallied through worse setbacks in its 144-year history, from the 1775 -1783 American Revolutionary War to the acute sociopolitical crisis that followed Reconstruction between 1863 and 1877, and from the ravages of the Dust Bowl catastrophe in 1934 to the trauma of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

    We give America its rightful due if we recognize how heavy is the burden of that eminence.