Annals of the President-elect Trump Regime VI
“As I’ve said before, any foreign intervention in our elections is entirely unacceptable. And any intervention by Russia is especially problematic because, under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests.”
–Paul D. Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, US Congress, December 12, 2016
Ten years ago, much to the surprise of the US administration, Hamas swept to victory when elections were held in the Occupied Territories. The promotion of ‘free elections’ around the world has long been a platform of American democracy, and the US now found itself in a spot of trouble since an organization that the US had condemned as a terrorist outfit had legitimately assumed power. Hillary Clinton was then a Senator representing the state of New York and she was evidently greatly disturbed by the outcome. On September 5, 2006, shortly after the elections were concluded, Hillary Clinton gave an interview to Eli Chomsky of the Brooklyn-based Jewish Press where she said the following: “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.” An audio recording of this first came to light only about two months ago.
Only those who somehow think of Hillary Clinton as a great champion of democracy will perhaps be taken aback by her boldness indeed arrogance in thinking that it is for the US to “determine” who wins elections in other countries. That “elections”, free or otherwise, should be the litmus test for a democracy is an assumption that receives little interrogation, no doubt because, to rehearse the old cliché, an electoral democracy is perhaps the best of a range of rotten political options. Another assumption, scarcely questioned by what is assumed to be the most vigorous press in the world, is that the US has always held free elections. I do not refer here to the example that will most easily come to the mind of most people, namely the election of George W. Bush to the Presidency of the United States after his brother Jeb, then Governor of Florida, and a pliant Supreme Court handed the election to him. Of course, the proposition that the US elections are “free” is in some sense undebatable, even if one can easily complicate the narrative by pointing to various stratagems that have been deployed over the decades to keep certain people from voting. In many states, convicted felons lose the right to vote in perpetuity; similarly, even long after the Voting Rights Act was passed (and recently gutted), facilities for registration have been denied to racial minorities in a number of places. The other, equally substantive and unimpeachable, piece of evidence which puts into question the whole notion of “free” elections in the US is of course the extraordinary reach of what we might call big money, which has not only made it all but impossible for people of ordinary means to compete in elections but also clearly “rigged” the outcome to reflect the interests only of the corporate and moneyed interests.
However, the revelation, now seemingly endorsed by the CIA itself, that Russia intervened in the US elections suggests what is even more obnoxious in the present commentary, whether in the liberal media, on conservative blogs, TV stations, and radio shows, or as the opinions of politicians, military officials, and officials in the intelligence community. The US has long assumed that it is perfectly within its right to intervene in other countries: such interventions, of which the examples are numerous enough to fill several volumes, have extended far beyond seeking to influence electoral outcomes, and have often involved overthrowing or attempting to overthrow legally elected governments. Many such interventions have taken the form of connivance by the CIA, though this has seldom occurred without a signal from the American administration of that time and the State Department that such a course of action is a calculated element of American foreign policy. The most notorious example, with repercussions that have lasted to this day, is the CIA- and MI5-engineered coup that overthrew the legally elected government of Mohammed Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953. Just as unpalatable to the US was Salvador Allende of Chile: to be sure, there was domestic opposition to Allende’s socialist policies, but the evidence which supports the view the overthrow of his government was strongly supported if not instigated by the US is incontrovertible.
It may be far from being an established fact that the Russians were the ones who plotted to hack the emails of the Democratic National Committee just as it is far from being proven that Russian intervention, if indeed it occurred, played a decisive role in swinging the election in favor of Trump. But let us assume the worst and suppose that Vladimir Putin and the Russians were deliberate in their hacking of DNC emails and planted misinformation. They are, needless to say, easily capable of doing so. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the major leader, gave it as his firm opinion that “any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing, and I strongly condemn such efforts.” This is the view that is being echoed by every American political leader and commentator, and perhaps that is how it should be. If, however, the US stands by the idea of national sovereignty, and views intervention by any other state, particularly one with which it has a relationship of deep suspicion over decades, as reprehensible, how is it that the sovereignty of other states means nothing? The question here is not merely one of hypocrisy; rather, it points to a fundamental problem in American politics, namely the inability of the public sphere in the United States to generate any kind of self-reflexivity. One might easily say that the conduct of the United States is what one expects of a world power; one might say that this is characteristic of an imperium. But one wonders whether any empire has been so singularly lacking in self-reflexivity, so pathetically lacking in an awareness of how it came to acquire its own sovereignty and how it positions it positions itself as the aggrieved party in every discourse? The cheek of it: the Russians did something to which only Americans have an unquestioned right.