Tuesday April 23, 2024

Dysfunctional democracy

By S Qaisar Shareef
October 14, 2021

Last week, after much back and forth, the US Congress passed a resolution to increase the government’s borrowing limit so it could continue to operate. Republicans in the Senate had been blocking the effort, threatening a shutdown of the government and potential default on US government obligations. Had that happened, the impact on the US economy would have been severe, even catastrophic. This drama plays out every time a Democrat is in the White House.

While the Democrats have a narrow majority in both houses of Congress, Senate rules allow a minority to derail most legislation. In recent years, getting anything passed through Congress has become a near impossibility. All actions by Congress members are taken with an eye to the next election. And, with elections every two years, this turns out to be a true recipe for ongoing dysfunction.

The Republican Party paints itself as the party of fiscal responsibility, never mind their drunken-sailor spending when it comes to handing wads of money to large corporations and the wealthy. During Donald Trump’s four years in office, almost $8 trillion were added to the national debt, most of it went to high income individuals and large corporations. Even almost a trillion dollars of stimulus spending in the face of the Covid-19 economic collapse went to companies, with quite loose requirements that they keep people employed, which was the main purpose of this programme. The Payroll Protection Plan, as it was called, turned out to be mostly a program to protect the bottom lines of businesses. No wonder then that the stock market kept hitting record after record while tens of millions of workers lost their jobs.

In the meantime, Trump continues to hold rallies around the country alleging that the elections were rigged. Study after study – and court case after court case – has found no evidence of rigging. But we are living in a post-truth world. Social media has enabled the spread of massive lies to large numbers of the electorate. Consequently, even with no evidence to back it up, almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. When it comes to media consumption, these folks are living in a world of their own. Donald Trump continues to threaten anyone from within his own party who has the courage to expose his blatant lies. Consequently, Republicans at all levels are falling in line fast. It is widely believed that Trump will make another run for the presidency in 2024.

At the behest of Donald Trump, states governed by the Republican Party are busy changing election laws with an eye to making it harder for minorities and the poor to vote. These are the groups that support Democrats. Additionally, many states have passed laws allowing partisan statehouses to simply ignore the results of actual voting and in effect, anoint a winner.

The more informed segments of society are deeply worried about the state of US democracy. All have seen the horrors of January 6, 2021, when a mob incited by then president Trump attacked Capitol Hill, bringing mayhem and even death. Yet, holding Trump responsible for his seditious acts is turning out to be difficult as members of his party have refused to cooperate with the investigation.

A congressional committee set up by the US Congress to investigate the events of January 6 is having a hard time getting cooperation from those around Trump, as many of them are simply refusing to come forward or share records necessary for the investigation. While the committee has the power to bring about criminal action against such individuals, the process of doing so is not so straightforward and may yet be thwarted by a minority in Congress.

The work already done by the January 6 congressional committee has revealed the extent to which Trump went to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, ignoring the will of the electorate. He replaced the attorney general and the secretary of defence in the closing days of his tenure, pressuring their successors to help overturn the results of the election. Fortunately, they refused but the protection of US democracy ultimately fell on the shoulders of just a handful of civilian appointees. Next time, the country may not be so lucky.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC. Website: