THE THIRD AMERICAN REVOLUTION has been postponed, but it has not been cancelled. With the American news media (Fox News included!) calling the Presidential Election for Joe Biden, that part of America which still believes in American democracy is allowing itself “a brief period of rejoicing”.
The followers of Donald Trump, sullen and watchful, have yet to accept the judgement of those powerful social forces for whom the news media speaks. With every day that passes without a clear call-to-arms against the fast-consolidating Biden ascendancy, however, the Red Hats’ stomach for a full-scale uprising will diminish. In the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly”. For Trump, and Trumpism, delay means death.
That a crushing coup d’état was not unleashed the moment the trend toward a Biden victory became clear bears testimony to Trump’s signature lack of organisational talent. While indisputably the master of improvisational political theatre, the President has never demonstrated the slightest ability to stick to a script – let alone write one! The slow and careful accumulation of the human and material resources necessary to seize the American state has proved, thankfully, well beyond Trump’s capacity. Hence his personal tragedy’s rapid descent into farce – as illustrated to perfection in the Veep-like absurdity of the “Four Seasons” press conference!
Were Trump and his rapidly shrinking band of courtiers to issue orders to the United States Military, demanding the forcible impoundment of the ballots in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia, it is now highly unlikely that they would be followed. Nor can Trump rely upon the Supreme Court to pull his electoral irons out of the fire. The nine justices may not see eye-to-eye on many things, but it’s a safe bet that any request to nullify the largest tally of presidential votes in American history would be met with a polite – and unanimous – refusal.
Possession, they say, is nine-tenths of the law; and right now Biden has what Trump most wants: public acceptance of the “facts on the ground”. Confirmation that he will be the next President of the United States.
Where does this leave the Third American Revolution? The answer, sadly, is stalled. What should have happened in the 1970s; what could have happened in 2009 as Capitalism threatened to expire in the death-grip of the Global Financial Crisis; looks certain to be put off again. Why? Because, once again, just as the American system seemed on the very brink of political catastrophe, it rescued itself.
Think about the last time a malignant, mentally-ill President was holed-up in the White House, asking himself if he dared to strike down American democracy. Richard Nixon, in 1974, was considered so unstable that his Secretary of Defence, James R. Schlesinger, distributed a secret memo to the commanders of the military bases around Washington DC, advising them not to respond to any Presidential order to deploy troops onto the streets of the capital unless it was counter-signed by himself. It turned out to be unnecessary. The US system, the US Constitution, ended up working in precisely the way it was supposed to work. The crisis was averted. The overwhelming majority of Americans stood back and stood down.
But, not all Americans. The effective deposition of a sitting President, by putting the rights contained in the First Amendment to the US constitution to effective use, was the last straw for the most reactionary elements of the American ruling-class. Democracy was out of control. The rapid post-war expansion of the “Middle Class” had raised expectations beyond the capitalist system’s capacity to satisfy them. Organised labour was out of control. Blacks, women, minorities of all descriptions, were demanding their place in the sun. The Third American Revolution: the revolution in which the republican institutions arising out of the First American Revolution (1776-1783) and the efforts of the Second American Revolution, usually referred to as the Civil War (1861-1865), to infuse those institutions with genuine liberty, equality and democracy will finally be vindicated and transformed in a radical re-imagining of American freedom – it simply had to be stopped.
In their essence, this is what the four decades since Watergate have been about: delaying the Third American Revolution. Using this insight as a key, it is relatively easy to unlock the recent history of the Republican Party. It’s increasingly strident efforts to drive back the gains of African-Americans in the 1960s; its cynical alliance with the open misogyny and homophobia of fundamentalist Christianity; its packing of the US judiciary with reactionary judges; its deliberate debasement of US political culture and discourse: all of it has been about putting off the evil day when the full revolutionary potential of American democracy manifests itself.
And the Democratic Party? It’s history, over the past four decades, has been all about convincing both itself, and the American people, that it is not the political vehicle for bringing the Third American Revolution into being – even though anyone who pays the slightest attention to the sort of Americans who are voting for the Democratic Party knows that it must be.
Which is why, in a funny/sad sort of way it’s a pity that Biden won. Once again, Americans will convince themselves that the system, the Constitution, has worked exactly as it should. Yes, that same Constitution did allow a man like Donald Trump to wield full executive power for four years. But, it also gave the American people the opportunity to correct their mistake – which they have just done. So, crisis averted. Time for everyone to stand back and stand down. Sleepy Joe and Kamala have got this. (Are you listening Bernie? Do you hear what we’re saying, AOC?)
Except that the most reactionary elements of the American ruling-class can no more afford to stand back and stand down in 2020 than they could in 1974. Forty years on, they have so much more to lose. In 1972, when Richard Nixon won his second term in a landslide of historic proportions, the top 1 percent of Americans controlled roughly 10 percent of their country’s wealth. After 40 years of more-or-less constant counter-revolutionary success that share has grown to nearly 30 percent!
Their shield and their sword, the Republican Party, is not about to help Biden “heal America’s soul”. On the contrary, it’s going to do everything it can to exacerbate the differences within the Democratic Party and, by doing so, break-up the fragile social unity created by Trump’s anarchic improv theatre.
Deep down, the forces of reaction will be glad to see him go. The Republican president they will need to keep the Third American Revolution at bay for another 40 years must be made of much sterner stuff.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 10 November 2020.