One gets a strange feeling these days if one is in the United States and reading certain Italian newspapers, in which we learn that American democracy is bursting with health after having gloriously resisted the attacks of populism.
Apparently, the “founding democracy” of the modern West has never been as fit as it is now, after defeating the Trumpist assault. Democracy triumphed at the polls and in the courts; the Republicans took note and, eventually, defended this sacred national institution. All is well: we begin again with the cautious reformists who are putting the ball back in center field after a stress test passed with flying colors.
The last three weeks have been the culmination of a season that came straight out of a dystopian novel by Philip K. Dick, while this version still tops any imagined by science fiction. Because the truth is that a deranged, compulsively lying president is still barricaded in the White House, dumping daily bursts of tweets on the country, howling about the illegitimacy of the stolen elections. His legal team is on full blast in unbelievable press conferences, while losing almost all the cases they brought before the courts invoking a hundred different allegations.
But despite the obsessive rhetoric of ‘winning,’ favorable rulings are not necessarily the goal of the operation. The playbook, if anything, is that of “flooding the zone with shit,” the Bannonian precept of flooding the information space with so many falsehoods as to make it impractical to discern what is true and hold on to a shared perception of the real. In short, it means calcifying an “epistemic fracture” that promises, regardless of who will occupy the Oval Office in two months’ time, to render incurable the divisions of a society on the edge of the precipice and make democracy de facto inoperable.
In this regard, it’s not important to find the supposed ballots discarded into dumpsters or those forged under the names of the dead—the important thing is that a sufficient number of people get the perception that they are intended to have. It doesn’t matter that the Proud Boys and the numerous subversive groups incited by four years of supremacist rhetoric (who are also continuing to gather recruits from among the ranks of veterans, police officers and firearms fanatics) have not actually put up the barricades yet.
The point is rather the mental and political weaponization of a mass of faithful followers beyond any possible middle ground. The point, in short, is to ensure the definitive sabotage of the democratic process. The poisoning of the wells remains the most suitable metaphor for the toxic trail of demagoguery sown by Trump among his 70 million supporters, whose effects are going to develop over time.
The project is not that of a Molotov cocktail thrown at the country, but rather that of a fatal dose of polonium. The relentless delegitimization of the elections, and therefore of the Biden presidency, is a toxin that will operate its nefarious—and perhaps fatal—effects on a democracy that is currently hanging on by a thread, not with any strength but in intensive care, exhausted by the cumulative effects of four years of falsehoods scattered like salt on the fields of the political process.
The cartel of a real estate con man has stirred the darkest instincts of a violent and racist nation to its advantage. Trump has brought supremacist fanatics like Stephen Miller to the White House, entrusting him with a eugenic project that has led to children being put in cages and has forced detained women to have hysterectomies. He put an apocalyptic evangelical fanatic in charge of foreign policy, who blessed the annexation project of Netanyahu and then sponsored the meeting between him and the murderer Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. The effects of that criminal summit became evident just the other day, with the “mafia-style” execution of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the latest example of preventive sabotage, but on a geopolitical scale.
We are witnessing, in the last days of the regime, the logical conclusion of what the Muslim ban and the refusal to make public the Trump family’s financial situation had announced from the beginning: rampant illegality and the welding together of incompetence and bad faith. Now, Trumpism is preparing to bequeath its legacy, together with 70 million supporters of this project—advocates of imposing the will of the minority in the name of the lies of the leader.
The truly mammoth-level failure is certainly shown by the quarter of a million deaths, including those in mass graves in view of the glittering towers of Manhattan, a testament to the criminal management of the crisis. The virus has not only infected 13 million Americans: it has deeply infected the political body of the country. And the symptoms have yet to fully manifest themselves. They are destined to emerge during the new administration, with the guilty contribution of a Republican obstructionism that will leverage the widespread fanaticism to promote the neoliberal agenda of populism. And it will always be ready to strategically invoke the “liberation of Michigan” or other slogans from the demagogic repertoire that has entered the political language.
Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine a more paradigmatic scenario of the fatal damages of populism than the coming clash between science and denialism, a perfect storm that represents the genetic mutation of a democracy by now in full epistemic dysfunction and at the mercy of the abysmal inequalities that characterize late financialization and the rise of the gig economy as a system.
The first arrival of the vaccines, and the problems related to their distribution, are destined to exacerbate all these problems.
The simultaneous presence of the health emergency, the looming environmental catastrophe and an abysmal economic crisis will provide an opportunity for the rising up of the no-vax factions and a clash that will propose once again a populist inheritance that is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. To manage it will require a monumental effort on the part of a government that is already at half-strength, and of a politics in tatters and perhaps mortally wounded.
To claim that Joe Biden’s election to the White House represents the rebirth of triumphant American democracy is tantamount to declaring world hunger over because the Dow Jones index has exceeded 30,000.