The January 6, 2021, riot and assault on the US Capitol, though ineffective and crude, continued be an unresolved issue and little progress was made in denouncing the real culprits.
HAVANA TIMES – This was not a year during which it was believed that all problems would be solved, but at least there was hope that solutions to some of the worst problems could be found. When 2021 began, it looked like some of the ills that had defined 2020 were going to be left behind.
The first source of hope was the triumph at the polls of a politician who would return the country to normalcy. With the election of Joe Biden came the great illusion that he would set the United States on a new course that would allow it to confront its own problems and to return, for better or worse, to the country’s traditional post-World War II status as a guide to democracy, which -although imperfect- stood out as preferable to the dictatorships of the right and left.
There was hope that the new year would bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks, to the development of effective vaccines (during the previous administration). Likewise, hope of a broad improvement in income distribution, a full economic recovery and, in the social order, strong advances in overcoming the endemic racism of American society.
It soon became known that this would not be the case.
The January 6, 2021, riot and assault on the Capitol, though ineffective and crude, continued be an unresolved issue throughout the year, with little progress made in denouncing the real culprits.
This is in addition to the frustrated impeachment of the defeated president and the endless litigation in the courts over documents and witnesses, along with a lukewarm performance by the Department of Justice. At the end of the year, the only thing achieved were a few limited sentences imposed on a group of idiot puppets. And with congressional elections in 2022, Republicans will insist on procrastination and waiting.
What’s worse is that at this point, there are still Republican lawmakers who boast that there was widespread voter fraud in the presidential vote, something that many Republicans repeat. These are politicians who have put their party dominated by the lying braggart Trump ahead of the nation itself.
The former president’s refusal to accept defeat, partly as a result of his ego, partly a publicity stunt to raise contributions, continues to divide the country. The continued attempt to challenge and overturn legitimate election results has resulted in the further erosion of democratic norms across the nation.
The great paradox is that in 2021 Trump has not only maintained control over his party –and threatens to be a determining factor in the next legislative elections–, but that he continues to be idolized by Republican followers and politicians who do not hesitate to break democratic and constitutional norms in order to achieve an electoral victory.
It is in this sense that we must understand Republican efforts, many successful, to limit voter participation in various states, as well as the failure of Democrats to act quickly and vigorously to denounce the passage of Trump-inspired measures that would modify or annul election results in Republican-controlled state legislatures.
Achievements and failures
Instead of a return to normalcy and greater resolve to face difficulties, 2021 brought more upheaval and uncertainty.
The year ended with a system of government that is being questioned on a daily basis and is increasingly politicized; the approval of an exorbitant military budget that no one knows how it will be spent; the prospect of an ultra-reactionary Supreme Court ready to throw out decades of progressive laws, and the holding of an international democracy summit that turned out spectacularly poorly designed: more than a display of US global leadership, it was not even a swan song of US power.
Of course, there are dashed hopes that the current occupant of the White House cannot be blamed. The appearance of two powerful variants of the virus leads us to think, as of December 2021, that the new plague will simply travel a traditional path and not suddenly disappear. In this scenario, rich countries will be forced to learn to live with the disease, albeit in a less lethal form, while the virus will continue to expand and mutate within the poorest countries. Of course, in the globalized world, borders between the rich and poor are never completely secure.
The appearance of the vaccines has been accompanied by an old suspicion. Their rapid development, which demonstrated the ability of a modern state to pool financial, human and scientific resources on a scale and speed few could imagine -a process begun by the Trump administration and continued by Biden-, came to be overshadowed by a reactionary political backlash that led many to become vaccine refusers. The result was a painful demonstration that reactionary fanaticism can still torpedo the most beneficial enlightened policies.
This year has witnessed the appearance of another equally strong type of reactionary fanaticism, that of a racism that has been expressed either covertly or openly. While there have been somewhat more examples of greater racial integration in commercials, television, and film, this is a mostly cosmetic change, and systemic racism against black Americans persists, albeit in a somewhat diminished form. At the same time there has been an increased violence against Asian Americans. Added to this racism has been the highly politicized controversy over the teaching of “critical race theory,” which Republicans are employing as a new front in the “culture war.” This emphasis on critical race theory is part of a broader Republican strategy to win seats on local election boards.
The bottom line is that the country seems further away from reaching a consensus on racial justice than it was a year ago. It demonstrates again the increasing distrust among US citizens, as well as the growing lack of security and public confidence in the nation’s institutions.
In this sense, we see in the US the ongoing development of a tribal political culture that continues to polarize the electorate and paralyze the political system.
Because the new Democratic administration has not been able to improve this situation (and– it should be noted — the Republicans have developed an all-out war on this issue), we see the continued rise of resentment, disillusionment, and disappointment that in turn lead to even more unscrupulous and, ultimately, violent behavior toward the norms, values and institutions of liberal democracy.
With all this has come the deepening defeat of moderate conservativism and the validation of ultra-rightwing radicalism. The return to normalcy has never fully materialized.
In addition to the already noted failures of the present government we must add its excessively passive management of inflation. The continued belief that monetary policy is the only anti-inflation tool available has led the nation and the government to overlook the fact that -as occurs in other parts of the world- there are other means to fight inflation that would do more to limit the impact of rising prices on those with lower incomes.
Influence and hegemony
The year 2021 was the year that the “Global War on Terror” -launched with fanfare and optimism by President George W. Bush in 2001-, came to an end with a defeat.
The troops sent to Afghanistan to wipe out the Taliban, capture Osama bin Laden, destroy the terrorist cells that threatened the Western world, rebuild the nation in the US image and likeness, and bring independence and happiness to the women and girls of the region, withdrew without pompous statements, but with dramatic images. Few of these goals were achieved, and some gains were only temporary.
Although the images of US planes trying to evacuate staff from Kabul airport, as desperate Afghans hung and fell from their landing gear, left little doubt that the United States has been suffering a loss of hegemony since before the 20-year war in Afghanistan, documents and facts provide further evidence.
The departure of US troops from Afghanistan is part of a broader shift in the region. This shift includes the direct talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad in April this year, in which the U.S. did not participate, as well as Washington’s attempts to revive the nuclear deal with Tehran.
When talks to save the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on Monday, December 27 of this year, Tehran insisted that these should lead to the lifting of US sanctions and that Washington should “guarantee” that it would return to the pact. Meanwhile, in the intervening years of dramatic negotiations on the deal, characterized by abrupt withdrawals and dead ends, Iran, faced with the unpredictability of an agreement or the possibility that Washington could simply withdraw again, has been tightening economic relations with China.
With three years ahead of the Democratic presidency, 2022 will likely witness increased competition between the major international powers, with Moscow and Beijing bent on ending a unilateral world dominated by the United States. So far, the Biden administration, except in the case of Iran, has been more of a continuation of its predecessor’s international policies (Cuba and Israeli expansionism are good examples of this) than an initiator of change. His agenda has been mostly national and shaped by the epidemic. Throughout, Biden’s policies have reflected the fact that he has always been a politician of little imagination and originality.
This has not prevented him from having to deal with problems that he himself had done little to create, such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nonetheless, as head of state, he has had to face these issues, with negative results for how his presidency is assessed.
Although it seems that Biden is more interested in leaving his mark on the domestic agenda than abroad –only now it does not make much sense make predictions- his agenda resembles that of Trump’s, but without the rhetoric. Like his predecessor, his proposals are more rooted in the past than in the present. His reform program “Build Back Better” is nothing more than an attempt to revive a progressive tradition from the perspective of moderate liberal conservatism. The future will tell whether that attempt succeeds or whether it will serve as definitive proof that this doctrine is now exhausted.