America The ‘Torn Superpower’ Is Biggest Global Risk, Not COVID: Report

You might be inclined to think that COVID-19 naturally lands at the top of every “biggest risks” list for 2021.

After all, the pandemic killed 1.8 million people in 2020 and catalyzed the most acute economic downturn seen since the Great Depression.

Although science appeared poised to triumph over the virus as the calendar flipped, western nations spent the winter months grappling with outbreaks far more acute than those seen during the onset of the crisis.

When a more aggressively transmissible variant of the disease began rampaging across the UK, the world was reminded that biological threats tend to evolve and adapt.

And yet, COVID-19 didn’t manage to grab the No. 1 spot on Eurasia Group’s list of “top risks” for 2021. Instead, “American carnage” (to quote Donald Trump’s infamous inaugural address) captured the top slot.

“A superpower torn down the middle cannot return to business as usual,” Ian Bremmer and Cliff Kupchan wrote, adding that “when the most powerful country is so divided, everybody has a problem.”

Indeed. And, as we’ve seen over the past week, some Republican lawmakers have no qualms about subjugating democracy to political expediency.

In itself, that isn’t new. What’s new, arguably, is that we’re not talking about “democracy” narrowly construed. This isn’t just “business as usual.” It’s not your run-of-the-mill Beltway corruption.

Rather, America is undergoing a real-life experiment in autocrat governance, something that was underscored on Sunday evening, when the nation heard its president instructing state officials to doctor an election by “finding” enough votes to change the outcome. On the same phone call, Trump suggested that the situation needed to be “straightened out” before crucial runoff elections that would determine the balance of power in the Senate.

There can be no doubt: Trump is an aspiring authoritarian. And he’s convinced, cajoled, and otherwise bullied a sizable number of elected representatives to acquiesce to a transition from democracy to autocracy.

When a sitting congressman sues the vice president to demand he unilaterally toss out the opposing candidates’ electors and declare the election result void, that isn’t democracy. When the president pardons his former national security advisor and proceeds to entertain that person’s calls for martial law and a new election presided over by the military, that isn’t democracy. When a faction of lawmakers conspire to overturn the results of a free and fair election while refusing to provide real evidence (e.g., evidence that a court would entertain) to support their claims of fraud, that isn’t democracy.

All of that (and much more) has happened in America since November 3.

To be sure, multiple Republican senators declined to support their colleagues in the effort to disenfranchise 81 million Americans. And, every living former defense secretary on Sunday warned Trump (without naming him) that involving the military would take the country “into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen told NPR on Monday that Trump is attempting a coup. “I am not troubled by the word ‘coup,’ ” Cohen remarked. “There are things taking place which pose, I think, a threat to our domestic tranquility and security, and that is the president encouraging some of the more right-wing extremists to march on Washington,” he added.

Unfortunately, Trump has managed not only to tap into the nation’s prejudices and harness its worst impulses, he’s also managed to expand his appeal, something Bremmer mentioned in Eurasia’s 2021 outlook.

“A challenge for Democrats–increasingly a coalition of college-educated urbanites– is that Trump’s popularity extends well beyond his most vocal supporters,” Bremmer wrote, adding that,

He received 11 million more votes than he did in 2016 and, in so doing, constructed a broader electoral coalition that includes more Hispanics and Black Americans. A significant segment of that coalition sees Trump’s refusal to concede as a display of courage, not an assault on democratic norms. While many Republican Party elders don’t like Trump, public opinion is the reserve currency of politics, and he will leave office as (by far) the most popular and influential figure in the GOP. The last minute push by members of Congress to delay or derail the election certification serves as a foreboding sign of what’s to come. As long as a significant portion of Trump’s voters remains loyal, he will cast a long shadow, compelling Republican leaders to support him to avoid alienating his backers.

This is highly disconcerting. And because Trump’s coalition is at least partially comprised of the undereducated, many of those voters don’t understand where he’s taken the country and where the nation may go next. Indeed, I have long contended that Trump himself is not entirely apprised of such things, and is likely ignorant of his own historical analogs.

Bremmer warned of intractable D.C. gridlock as Republicans loyal to Trump block Biden’s agenda at every turn, prompting calls from Democrats for Biden to “take unilateral executive actions of questionable legality.”

That, in turn, will only deepen divisions, as Trump, still active on social media and television, will surely (and unironically) cast Biden as a socialist dictator who governs by decree.

“The more polarized the country becomes, the less likely its eroding democratic institutions will enable the compromises necessary to resolve fundamental problems,” Bremmer went on to caution, noting that one way or another, “Biden’s term opens the era of the asterisk presidency, a time when the occupant of the Oval Office is seen as illegitimate by roughly half the country — and by the lawmakers these election skeptics send to Congress.”

Of course, all of this sets the stage for Trump to return in 2024, or for a hand-picked successor to take up his “cause.”

Just prior to the Electoral College’s certification of Biden’s win last month, 62% of voters in a CBS/YouGov poll said the election is “over and settled” and that it’s “time to move on.” However, just 18% of Trump voters said Biden was the “legitimate winner.”

By extension, some 61 million Americans believe Biden is an illegitimate president.

You can be absolutely sure that Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill will work every, single day to perpetuate that notion.

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10 thoughts on “America The ‘Torn Superpower’ Is Biggest Global Risk, Not COVID: Report

  1. The good news (assuming that one looks hard enough for one) is that autocratic rule is not , by definition, ineffective.

    Going by the historical precedent of the Roman state, its apogee of wealth and power was reached during its imperial phase. When Rome was ruled by effective and capable emperor’s, it thrived. With supreme personal authority and a rubberstamp imperial senate emperors were able to achieve military as well as economic expansion.

    The bad news (if one is inclined to examine the Roman parallel further) is that during imperial instability and misrule, things fell apart quickly with the state facing one crisis after another.

    Alas, while the Trump family seems eminently capable of reproducing the internal dysfunction of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Donald Trump does not appear to be an Augustus in the making. Needless to say, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is not an appropriate stand-in for Marcus Agrippa (who was possibly the genius behind Augustus’ many accomplishments).

    As a footnote the above musings are simply a bit of levity in these ‘interesting’ times (with tongue firmly in cheek).

    1. The Imperial Rome under Caesar destroyed the democratic Roman Republic and its Senate. Take your choice, the Republic or Pax Romana.

  2. H-Man, This Emperor weaves his own clothing while touting the quality of the weave. We await the little boy to shout out “he is wearing nothing”. It could be a long wait.

  3. Trump has been exposed as a failed leader. Figurehead is what he has left. Like a website, he’ll have to deliver eyeballs to the faithful or they’ll look elsewhere.

  4. Armies march on their stomachs as do mobs. The differences are measured in time, with the mobs falling apart quickly without any internal organization. Trump was terrible at organization – hurting himself very often – almost a mob. He failed as a result.

    Thr GOP will probably ruin the 2021 recovery with very tight fiscal policy and enforced gridlock. The economy is likely to be crushed like 1920 and 1946 and 1974. FED might be able to print its way out Biden will not be able to support a Democratic political leftish army and he will be very vulnerable by 3Q 2022 and the GOP will dominate Congress in mid-terms. There will be a very bad recession into 2024 killing Democrats and giving us autocracy and TRUMP II

    1. “Trump was terrible at organization — hurting himself very often — almost a mob. He failed as a result.”

      Trump may be terrible at organization, but the Republicans are not. They have come this far in their quest for power due to strong organization with every member marching in lockstep to the message. I don’t believe the R’s ever really wanted Trump until they realized the persuasive power he held over the disaffected. Once they saw this they fell in lockstep behind him seeing that he was the greatest force in delivering what they always wanted.

  5. This piece causes me to reflect on Ray Dalio’s work regarding the cyclical nature of so-called great nations and their inevitable downfall, and their eventual eclipse by the next power. These developments, perhaps a consequence or symptom, will likely sap the nation’s energy and only hasten that decline. Oh the misfortunes of history – shooting oneself in the foot in the middle of a gun fight.

    1. I think Ray Dalio has been reading Peter Turchin. Turchin should be interviewed by the better wall street blogs and podcasts.

  6. Like Hitler, Trump gave voice to the bigoted stupidities most Americans hold close to their hearts. Embracing these contemptible lies will destroy the US.

    H.L. Mencken: “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents… the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

    1. It is terrifying how the masses are so ignorant of this and allow themselves to be conned and coerced. The evolution / deterioration of objective news media into political public relations organizations has to be at the core of this dispiriting development. Compare the media coverage with Nixon, Watergate, and Congressional Hearings; we are living in a seemingly different world in 50 short years.
      Very sobering.

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