THE US democracy is facing threats. This has been claimed by Hillary Clinton, former Democratic presidential candidate, former senator and former first lady of the country. Thence, there is no scope to consider the cautionary signal in a casual way.
A Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 25, 2018 datelined Associated Press report (‘At Harvard, Clinton warns of threats to American democracy’) said: Hillary Clinton urged a crowd at Harvard University on May 25, 2018 to stand up for ‘the truth, facts and reason’ as attacks on the rule of law, free press and elections threaten to undermine the US democracy.
She was there to accept the university’s Radcliffe Medal for her ‘leadership and human rights’ work.
Hillary said the US citizens need to combat ‘fake news’.
She said: ‘We need more outlets for reliable information. Attempting to erase the line between fact and fiction, truth and an alternative reality, is a core feature of authoritarianism. The goal is to make us question logic and reason and sow mistrust.’ (She, probably, ‘forgot’ the style the imperialist media practices — jumble facts and fiction, garble reports of incidents, replace truth with falsified history, etc.)
‘We’re living through a time when fundamental rights, civic virtue, freedom of the press, even facts and reason are under assault like never before’, she said. (The Libya-intervention is a ‘beautiful’ case of facts and reason under attack, and she knows it best. The Libya-intervention case is also one of the latest examples of imperialist intervention with a flag inscribed with R2P — the Right to Protect, which is a violation of rights of people and of countries.)
Hence, it transpires:
— the excessively resourceful and matured bourgeois democracy is in need of standing up for ‘truth, facts and reason’;
— on-going attacks on the rule of law, etc. are threatening the democracy;
— there is a need to combat ‘fake news’; and
— the people need ‘accurate’ and ‘reliable’ information, etc.
The questions that follow Hillary’s observations on the US democracy are:
— Since when (timeline of the threat, etc), from where (source of the threat, etc), and how (process that creates the threat, etc) these are happening in one of the most matured bourgeois democracies? And, what (conditions and factors creating the threat, etc), and who (drivers creating the threat, etc) are driving/manipulating these? And, why these are being driven? (These questions arise as nothing in politics comes from the blue.)
— Are these developments/activities, the acts of individuals or of class(es)/part(s) of class(es)?
— What happens to other bourgeois democracies, which are not resourceful and matured like the US while the matured bourgeois democracy faces such a reality of threat, etc? Is not there the situation much grave, and a laughingstock?
— Is the problem the advanced bourgeois democracy faces exogenous or endogenous?
— Has the problem suddenly taken a powerful downswing as a responsible member of the political system raises the issues, or was the problem there for a long time?
— In such a situation does the bourgeois democracy have any moral standing to sermon others on democracy, and should it continue its sermonising, and, should it not search its soul instead of taking the role of democracy-dealer?
Answers to the questions are essential for all: defenders of the bourgeois democracy, and its pseudo-critics. Answers are required to learn from the matured bourgeois democracy, which spellbinds many, a part of them are theoreticians of democracy. To these theoreticians, the democracy that bourgeois economy produces and practises is universal in character although neither the economy nor the democracy supports the claim.
To these theoreticians, the matured bourgeois democracy is the only and the best form of democracy. The questions, which have been raised above, or the observations made by Hillary help look deeper into the system: its origin, the class interests it upholds, the problems it is facing, the origin of the problems, and its present state.
Factional fight within the system, a reflection of factional fight within the class interest that the system upholds, has intensified over time and it has intensified as the system faces increasing problems originating within the system. At times, the intensified fight is flaring up. Sometimes, it is taking an ugly face, uglier than the ugly faces found in politics in peripheral economies. Hillary’s ‘urges and appeals’ are a symptom of this intensified factional fight. It is now appearing on the horizon of the bourgeois politics that capitalist donors in electoral process of the bourgeois economy and the powerful capitalist media serving the economy are not enough to carry on the ongoing factional fight; people are to be mobilised. (Why do these democracy mentors not ask its authority to channel fund/initiate activities that are being spent/carried on in far-flung countries to further its interests under the guise of educating and fostering of democracy in those barren’ lands? Even, the obedient recipients of these funds can also show their gratefulness by handing back a part of the fund to their master in the master’s time of dire need.)
Not only utterances from political personalities, political developments within the bourgeois democracy’s executive, legislative and judiciary parts also stand as evidence of the intensified factional fight with the ruling regime. Vulgar politicisations, propaganda and political tricks, and suicidal moves by/in the system stand as evidence of this intensified fratricidal fight which it is failing to avoid. And, at the same time, with this vulgarised political fight, the system is losing its legitimacy and ‘glorified’ image it always tries to don. Its efforts to have a nice face die down; it dies down, sometimes slowly, and at times, sharply. The post-presidential election politics-scape continues with exhibiting its nasty face.
The following Fox News, a conservative and ardent supporter of the system, commentary by Jason Chaffetz on Hillary’s e-mail practices including her handling of classified information (‘The IG report is our best shot at the truth about Hillary’s emails (and it could be explosive’, May 25, 2018) tells a part of recent development in the area of factional fight the systems factions are engaged with for a long time:
‘Washington awaits the explosive release of a highly anticipated report from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on its examination of the FBI’s highly questionable investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to handle her State Department emails when she was secretary of state.’
Chaffetz, a contributor for FOX News Channel, mentions ‘[t]he infighting between branches of government that [is found] in congressional investigations.’
Chaffetz, also a contributor for FOX Business Network, adds: ‘[T]he American people could be forgiven for having low expectations of any attempt to hold government accountable […].’ It is a comment that focuses in deep inside of the system — ‘people […] having low expectations of any attempt to hold government accountable.’
The Fox News item mentions ‘internal documents Congress has been denied.’
It also said: ‘[Y]et to actually uncover the secrets hiding in the bowels of President Obama’s highly politicised Justice Department.’
Thus, here are two voices from two factions: Hillary voicing one faction while Chaffetz the other. None of the factions is happy with the existing situation.
Do these facts presented by Chaffetz smell so-called democracy in a peripheral country — the legislative branch, the sovereign expression of people’s power, is denied internal documents, and, highly politicised justice department, which is a sin to and denied by the bourgeois political sages although state machine in its entirety and all its acts are political since its very origin?
Chaffetz, having about a decade-long Congressional experience as Fox News claims, unearths further: ‘No one knows the frustration of trying to hold government agencies accountable more acutely than I do. When I served in the House of Representatives, I saw firsthand how good officials in the Obama Justice Department became at hiding their tracks, stonewalling Congress, evading federal records laws, manipulating the media narrative, and ultimately escaping accountability.’
Do the statements — ‘frustration of trying to hold government agencies accountable’, ‘officials […] in the […] Justice Department […] hiding their tracks, stonewalling Congress, evading federal records laws, manipulating the media narrative, and ultimately escaping accountability’ — sound anti-status quo, and sound peripheral bourgeois democracy? And, is there any need to explain it further? What happens in the bourgeois, broadly, ‘republic’s in the periphery if this is the condition in an advanced bourgeois republic?
The democracy story of the advanced bourgeois democracy is much wide. Just take the case of transparency. The following report by the Associated Press stands as an example.
Citing an analysis of federal data by the AP a Washington datelined AP report said: ‘The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the US Freedom of Information Act.’ (‘Administration sets record for withholding government files’, March 18, 2015)
The report said:
‘The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.
“It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged.
‘Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years.
‘The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. […] Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. […]
‘The new figures showed the government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4 percent decrease over the previous year. It more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests. Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages. (Yes, correctly cited: ‘“a few words’, and ‘every paragraphs on pages’.)
‘On 215,584 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.
‘The government’s responsiveness under the open records law is an important measure of its transparency. […] Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas. It cited such exceptions a record 554,969 times last year.
‘Under the president’s instructions, the US should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing, but federal employees last year regularly misapplied the law. In emails that AP obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the agency blacked-out a sentence under part of the law intended to shield personal, private information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers or home addresses. But it failed to censor the same passage on a subsequent page.
‘The sentence: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).”
‘The AP’s chief executive, Gary Pruitt, said the news organisation filed hundreds of requests for government files. Records the AP obtained revealed police efforts to restrict airspace to keep away news helicopters during violent street protests in Ferguson, Missouri. In another case, the records showed Veterans Affairs doctors concluding that a gunman who later killed 12 people had no mental health issues despite serious problems and encounters with police during the same period. They also showed the FBI pressuring local police agencies to keep details secret about a telephone surveillance device called Stingray.
‘“What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years”, Pruitt wrote in a column published this week. “The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time.”
‘The AP earlier this month sued the State Department under the law to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The government had failed to turn over the files under repeated requests, including one made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.
‘The government said the average time it took to answer each records request ranged from one day to more than 2.5 years. More than half of federal agencies took longer to answer requests last year than the previous year.’
How much ‘transparency’ the citizens bent down by unemployment, homeless condition, poverty and de-mobilistion/de-unionisation can access despite having a related law? Does ‘transparency’ appear real and tangible to them? Is this the ‘beauty’ of the transparency, a part of democracy, in an advanced bourgeois republic?
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) cites “more accountable institutions and leaders” in its strategy on democracy, etc. (USAID Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, Washington DC, June 2013) This strategy is followed, it’s assumed, in cases of countries receiving aid, etc. from the USAID. What about the country framing the strategy?
Transparency, according to Tara Vishwanath and Daniel L Kaufmann (Towards Transparency in Finance and Governance, policy research working paper, World Bank, Washington DC, 1999) and Kaufmann, et al (Voice or Public Sector Management? An Empirical Investigation of the Determinants of Public Sector Performance Based on a Survey of Public Officials in Bolivia, World Bank Institute, June 2002), is ‘increased flow of timely and reliable economic, social and political information, which is accessible to all relevant stakeholders.’ If this is the case of transparency, then, what does the AP story tell?
Bruce E Cain, the Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences and the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Centre for the American West at Stanford University, writes:
‘Some threshold level of transparency is indisputably essential to modern democracy. Citizens need to have enough information about their public officials in order to hold them accountable. Transparency also enables checks and balances between different government branches and promotes party competition.’ (‘The Transparency Paradox’, The American Interest, Vol 11, No 2, October 10, 2015) What does the US-bourgeois reality tell?
Bruce E Cain presents a snap of the US transparency reality:
‘Today, politics is highly professionalised, polarised, and pervasive in all phases of policymaking. Operating in the context of a highly fractured US government, this means more opportunities for obstructing electoral mandates and greater special interest influence.
‘In addition, government services are often contracted out to private enterprises and nonprofits that operate far less transparently than the official government. American democracy might be better served by making these delegated government functions more transparent than by simply increasing official scrutiny of the public sector.’ (ibid) (Government job contracted out to private source — a much-touted PPP (public-private partnership)? And, the much-touted transparency appears mirage?)
Bruce E Cain adds:
‘Average citizens do not review the candidate’s disclosure statements. Those documents are uncovered and used in campaign advertising by political consultants, often in a distorted way. Average citizens also rarely provide public comment for agencies, commissions, and legislative bodies. Mostly, nonprofit and commercial stakeholders do. FOIA laws were sold as mechanisms of democratic accountability, but in reality most FOIA requests are made either by citizens looking for specific information about themselves or by businesses and other organisations looking for information about their competitors. As a consequence of transparency capture by both interested and self-interested intermediaries, decisions that were seemingly settled at the ballot box or in Congress can be modified or blocked by stakeholders at a later stage in the policymaking process.’ (ibid) (Is this — ‘average citizen’ uninterested, and ‘decisions settled at ballot box or in Congress modified or blocked’ — an exemplary democracy?)
So, the fact, now, stands as: one of the grandest bourgeois democracies faces threat. It has implication in far-future.
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka. The article is part of a study on bourgeois democracy.
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