Tuesday 13th of April 2021


GREAT presidents...   The classicist Mary Beard begins her 2016 book, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, with a bizarre and troubling episode that occurred in 63 B.C., shortly after the great orator, philosopher, wit, and politician, Cicero, had been elected to Rome’s highest office, the consulship. His opponent had been Catiline, born in privilege as scion of an ancient family but burdened with a reputation for unsavory and perhaps criminal behavior.


Shortly after the election, Cicero announced that he had uncovered a terrorist plot, led by Catiline, to assassinate Rome’s elected officials, destroy the city, and bring down its civic structures. The newly elected consul’s sensational revelation was bolstered by a packet of letters he had obtained that incriminated Catiline and others in the plot. Cicero quickly obtained from the Senate a grant of enhanced authority to thwart the conspiracy and save Rome. The enhanced authority, Beard informs us, was “roughly the ancient equivalent of a modern ‘emergency powers’ or ‘prevention of terrorism’ act, and no less controversial.”

Cataline promptly fled Rome, organized a ragtag army, and was defeated and killed. Cicero then used his emergency powers to round up the suspected plotters and have them “summarily executed” without even a show trial, some of them almost certainly innocent. Thereafter, writes Beard, the great orator “never ceased to use his rhetorical talents to boast how he had uncovered Catiline’s terrible plot and saved the state.” 

But skeptics have emerged since that ancient era who note that Cicero’s narrative plays very much to his own favor, and Beard suggests that a fundamental question for today “should be not whether Cicero exaggerated the dangers of the conspiracy, but how far.” After all, she writes, the exaggeration of an opponent’s malignancy is not uncommon in politics and can reveal how “political paranoia and self-interest often work.” 

In contemplating the Cicero-Catiline episode in our own time of American political turmoil, one can’t help noting similarities between then and now. There is, first of all, the political loser refusing to accept the electoral outcome and seeking to tear down the structures of governmental succession. That seems like Donald Trump. But then there are also the opponents of the disgruntled loser who seem bent on exaggerating the episode for political benefit. That sounds like some of Trump’s detractors, warning about what they describe as widespread right-wing terrorism. Or, looking more broadly, one is reminded of those who, back in 2016 and 2017, concocted and circulated accusations of a nefarious Trump conspiracy with a foreign power. That “Russiagate” fervor seemed designed, ultimately, to undermine the new president and even destroy his presidency based on “political paranoia and self-interest,” to use Beard’s term. 

However intrigued we may feel about the Cicero tale as analogous to America’s civic struggles of today, it’s difficult to see just what conclusions we should draw. But, if we step back and place the Cicero-Catiline episode in the full context of the Roman Republic’s 465-year history, it becomes more revealing—and far more ominous.

After some 376 years of remarkably stable governance, the brilliantly constructed Roman Republic began to sputter. The polity slipped into a crisis of the regime—“a long, drawn-out, protracted spiral of disorder,” as historian Garrett G. Fagan once put it—that lasted nearly a century before the system became so dysfunctional that Julius Caesar finally killed it off and reinstituted the kings of old in the form of emperors titled with his name. By the time of Cicero’s emergence as Rome’s great protector from Catiline’s mortal threat, Rome had been struggling with this regime crisis for 70 years. Afterward it would have just 19 more years of existence. 

This crisis was complex and tangled up in multiple aspects of Rome’s social, cultural, political, and economic life. But in essence it was a progressive erosion of what Abraham Lincoln called, in a different context, the “mystic chords of memory”—a widespread constitutional sensibility and consciousness of heritage that maintained a powerful hold on the people and sustained a mutual fealty to their republican compact. Called mos maiorumand often distilled simply as “the way of the ancestors,” the Roman constitution, though unwritten and vague in conception, was nevertheless universally hallowed and so ruled supreme. 

Thus, for centuries this cultural ethos transcended whatever issues might arise in the polity, and a civic comity prevailed. Then around 133 B.C., the political issues roiling Rome took on a definitional cast, penetrating to the very heart of Rome’s identity. The issues became more important than the state’s mystic chords, and politics increasingly took on a portentous cast. The opposition had to be not just bested but destroyed. It must be noted also that, once the Romans abandoned mos maiorum just a little, a further unraveling ensued. Eventually the Roman constitution no longer maintained its traditional hold on the public imagination or its check on the machinations of politicians.

Viewed in this context, the Cicero-Cataline episode takes on clarity as part of a much broader regime crisis that pulled the republic into a downward spiral that led eventually to its demise. This poses some questions for today’s America: Are we in a similar regime crisis and, if so, can we extricate ourselves from it and put the country back on the trajectory of its past? We may indeed be in such a crisis, and we won’t get out of it without recognizing its essence and its dangers. 

One thing to be said about the crisis of the Roman regime is that those high officials struggling within it never understood what it was, never managed to define it so they could address it. They were too fixated on winning the next political battle. Another thing to be said is that the two major Roman factions struggling to define the polity—the Optimates, or traditional elites; and Populares, the people at large—simply couldn’t come together with any kind of accommodative spirit. They saw each other as mortal enemies. One faction or the other had to prevail, or a higher authority had to emerge to settle their differences through unchecked power. That higher authority did emerge eventually in the figure of Caesar and his successors. Finally, as noted, the Roman crisis emerged out of definitional issues centered on the true nature of the regime, its essence, what it stood for. The chasm between the two visions was immense.

All of these elements of the Roman syndrome are evident in America today. Certainly, the nature of the crisis besetting America is little understood by our political leaders. They go about their jobs as if they are engaged in the kind of politics personified by Franklin Roosevelt vs. Alf Landon or Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater. The politics of those days could be raucous and intense, but there was no regime crisis. Today there is, but nobody seems aware of it.

Further, there is little interest among politicians today, as in crisis-ridden Rome, in dealing with the opposition in any good-faith way denoting a fealty to the structures of our republic. Consider the empty governance of Donald Trump, bolstered up by the solid support of roughly 40 percent of the electorate throughout his four-year term. He couldn’t build on that foundational support to fashion a governing coalition because he couldn’t bring himself to work with those who weren’t already wearing MAGA hats. 

We are seeing much the same thing from Joe Biden in these early weeks of his presidency, notably his decision to ram through the Senate an expansive stimulus package without any Republican support. It is evident also in the president’s bold, unilateral actions regarding the most divisive issue roiling the nation in these times: immigration. With several executive actions Biden has signaled that he doesn’t intend to look for any middle ground on the issue, any more than Trump did during his tenure. 

And the erosion of constitutional precepts and strictures has been going on for years, notably in the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Trump, and now, as it seems, Biden. These men have demonstrated that, if the president wants to do it, he’ll find a way to do it. Watch for what the governing Democrats do about the huge student-debt overhang. Will they concoct what they purport to be a constitutional underpinning for the president to cancel much of the debt through executive authority, as many top Democrats are now advocating? That would certainly fit a pattern: Bush’s “signing statements,” which sought to alter the meaning of statutes; Bush’s warrantless wiretaps; Obama’s tinkering with the clear meaning of the Affordable Care Act after its passage in contravention of congressional intent; Obama’s unconstitutional DACA executive action that unilaterally altered, contrary to prevailing law, the immigration status of illegals brought into the country as children; Obama’s effort to stack the National Labor Relations Board by circumventing the Constitution’s “advise and consent” clause (actions struck down by the Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision); Trump’s diversion of federal funds for purposes (his border wall, for example) not authorized by Congress; Trump’s declaration that he had authority to take military action against Iran, when no such authority seemed credible; and the general growth over the years in size and reach of the administrative state. 

The trend is unmistakable and ominous. 

Out in the country, meanwhile, Americans are squaring off with an intensity of anger rarely seen in American political history. Many of the issues separating the U.S. factions are clearly definitional and hence highly divisive—in ideological terms, between globalists and nationalists; in socioeconomic terms, between elites and ordinary citizens; in geographic terms, between the coasts and flyover states; in foreign policy, between interventionists and advocates of realism and restraint.

During last year’s campaign, New York Times commentator Thomas B. Edsall produced a trenchant piece examining the chasm between today’s U.S. factions and the increasingly intense passions that drive them. Edsall quoted Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies as noting that more and more people were viewing the election in apocalyptic terms, as if it would “decide the success or failure of the United States.” Such intensity of political sentiment, he suggested, “significantly increases (actually inflates) the importance of the election in ways that make violence almost inevitable.” And, sure enough, violence soon ensued at the nation’s capital, with five fatalities.

If America is mired in a regime crisis in the mode of Rome, we’re in the early phase, certainly far from the 70-year mark that spawned the injurious spectacle of the Cicero-Catiline standoff. There remain grounds for hope that America can regain its footing in coming years. But we’re on a dangerous path, and part of the danger lies in the reality that hardly anyone seems to understand the true nature of the crisis we’re in.


Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C., journalist and publishing executive, is the author of five books on American history and foreign policy.



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Original cartoon by David Rowe, AFR...

a democracy of demagogues...

While Democrats now control the Presidency and both houses of Congress, their majorities in both the Representatives and Senate are vulnerable to mid-term elections in 2022, and those Republicans who have not supported Trump are likely to be replaced by hard liners. Trump’s strident daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is seen as a likely Senate candidate in North Carolina.

The United States has a history of demagogues, such as Huey Long in Louisiana or Alabama’s George Wallace, who won 13 per cent of the vote in the 1968 presidential election. What was unique to Trump was that he built a mass following by consistently railing against the system over which he presided, without any pretence of adhering to constitutional conventions.

Whether Trump can maintain his support from his Mar-A-Lago retreat is uncertain. But he has provided a rule book for future demagogues who will be equally unscrupulous in fomenting rage against the swamp within which they themselves live. Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, maybe even Trump’s son Donald Jr, may already be preparing a presidential run.

Last year’s Economist’s Democracy Index already listed the United States as a “flawed democracy”. In light of the events of this year it is likely to fall further. Maybe our Prime Minister might offer the services of the Australian Electoral Commission to President Biden in the spirit of supporting our shared democratic values to which he is apparently so committed.


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Read from top.


Note: Until Assange is freed, Joe Biden will be classed as a demagogue, and as an imperialist as well...  

the deconstruction of US moral politics...


By Chris Hedges




Well, it’s over. Not the election. The capitalist democracy. However biased it was towards the interests of the rich and however hostile it was to the poor and minorities, the capitalist democracy at least offered the possibility of incremental and piecemeal reform. Now it is a corpse.

The iconography and rhetoric remain the same. But it is an elaborate and empty reality show funded by the ruling oligarchs — $1.51 billion for the Biden campaign and $1.57 billion for the Trump campaign — to make us think there are choices. There are not.

The empty jousting between a bloviating President Donald Trump and a verbally impaired Joe Biden is designed to mask the truth. The oligarchs always win. The people always lose. It does not matter who sits in the White House. America is a failed state. 

“The American Dream has run out of gas,” wrote the novelist J.G. Ballard. “The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It’s over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now.”

There were many actors that killed America’s open society. The corporate oligarchs who bought the electoral process, the courts and the media, and whose lobbyists write the legislation to impoverish us and allow them to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth and unchecked power.

The militarists and war industry that drained the national treasury to mount futile and endless wars that have squandered some $7 trillion and turned us into an international pariah. The CEOs, raking in bonuses and compensation packages in the tens of millions of dollars, that shipped jobs overseas and left our cities in ruins and our workers in misery and despair without a sustainable income or hope for the future.

The fossil fuel industry that made war on science and chose profits over the looming extinction of the human species. The press that turned news into mindless entertainment and partisan cheerleading. The intellectuals who retreated into the universities to preach the moral absolutism of identity politics and multiculturalism while turning their backs on the economic warfare being waged on the working class and the unrelenting assault on civil liberties. And, of course, the feckless and hypocritical liberal class that does nothing but talk, talk, talk. 

Contemptible Class

If there is one group that deserves our deepest contempt it is the liberal elites, those who posture as the moral arbiters of society while abandoning every value they purportedly hold the moment they become inconvenient. The liberal class, once again, served as pathetic cheerleaders and censors for a candidate and a political party that in Europe would be considered on the far-right.

Even while liberals were being ridiculed and dismissed by Biden and by the Democratic Party hierarchy, which bizarrely invested its political energy in appealing to Republican neocons, liberals were busy marginalizing journalists, including Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, who called out Biden and the Democrats. The liberals, whether at The Intercept or The New York Times, ignored or discredited information that could hurt the Democratic Party, including the revelations on Hunter Biden’s laptop. It was a stunning display of craven careerism and self-loathing.

Biden’s campaign was utterly bereft of ideas and policy issues, as if he and the Democrats could sweep the elections by promising to save the soul of America.

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are, the election has illustrated, oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country. They stand for nothing. They fight for nothing.

Restoring the rule of law, universal health care, banning fracking, a Green New Deal, the protection of civil liberties, the building of unions, the preservation and expansion of social welfare programs, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, the forgiveness of student debt, stiff environmental controls, a government jobs program and guaranteed income, financial regulation, opposition to endless war and military adventurism were once again forgotten.

Championing these issues would have resulted in a Democratic Party landslide. But since the Democratic Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate donors, promoting any policy that might foster the common good, diminish corporate profits and restore democracy, including imposing campaign finance laws, was impossible.

Biden’s campaign was utterly bereft of ideas and policy issues, as if he and the Democrats could sweep the elections by promising to save the soul of America. At least the neofascists have the courage of their demented convictions. 

The liberal class functions in a traditional democracy as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It ameliorates the worst excesses of capitalism. It proposes gradual steps towards greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with supposed virtues.

It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements. The liberal class is a vital component within the power elite. In short, it offers hope and the possibility, or at least the illusion, of change. 

The surrender of the liberal elite to despotism creates a power vacuum that speculators, war profiteers, gangsters and killers, often led by charismatic demagogues, fill. It opens the door to fascist movements that rise to prominence by ridiculing and taunting the absurdities of the liberal class and the values they purport to defend.

The promises of the fascists are fantastic and unrealistic, but their critiques of the liberal class are grounded in truth. Once the liberal class ceases to function, it opens a Pandora’s box of evils that are impossible to contain. 

Disease of Trumpism 

The disease of Trumpism, with or without Trump, is, as the election illustrated, deeply embedded in the body politic. It is an expression among huge segments of the population, taunted by liberal elites as “deplorables,” of a legitimate alienation and rage that the Republicans and the Democrats orchestrated and now refuse to address. This Trumpism is also, as the election showed, not limited to white men, whose support for Trump actually declined. 

Fyodor Dostoevsky saw the behavior of Russia’s useless liberal class, which he satirized and excoriated at the end of the 19th century, as presaging a period of blood and terror. The failure of liberals to defend the ideals they espoused inevitably led, he wrote, to an age of moral nihilism.

In Notes From Underground, he portrayed the sterile, defeated dreamers of the liberal class, those who hold up high ideals but do nothing to defend them. The main character in Notes From Underground carries the bankrupt ideas of liberalism to their logical extreme. He eschews passion and moral purpose. He is rational. He accommodates a corrupt and dying power structure in the name of liberal ideals.

The hypocrisy of the Underground Man dooms Russia as it now dooms the United States. It is the fatal disconnect between belief and action. 

“I never even managed to become anything: neither wicked nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect,” the Underground Man wrote. “And now I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and utterly futile consolation that it is even impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent man of the nineteenth century must be and is morally obliged to be primarily a characterless being; and a man of character, an active figure – primarily a limited being.”

The refusal of the liberal class to acknowledge that power has been wrested from the hands of citizens by corporations, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have been revoked by judicial fiat, that elections are nothing more than empty spectacles staged by the ruling elites, that we are on the losing end of the class war, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. 

The “idea of the intellectual vocation,” as Irving Howe pointed out in his 1954 essay This Age of Conformity, “the idea of a life dedicated to values that cannot possibly be realized by a commercial civilization — has gradually lost its allure. And, it is this, rather than the abandonment of a particular program, which constitutes our rout.”

The belief that capitalism is the unassailable engine of human progress, Howe wrote, “is trumpeted through every medium of communication: official propaganda, institutional advertising and scholarly writings of people who, until a few years ago, were its major opponents.” 

“The truly powerless people are those intellectuals — the new realists — who attach themselves to the seats of power, where they surrender their freedom of expression without gaining any significance as political figures,” Howe wrote. “For it is crucial to the history of the American intellectuals in the past few decades — as well as to the relationship between ‘wealth’ and ‘intellect’ — that whenever they become absorbed into the accredited institutions of society they not only lose their traditional rebelliousness but to one extent or another they cease to function as intellectuals.” 

Populations can endure the repression of tyrants, as long as these rulers continue to effectively manage and wield power. But human history has amply demonstrated that once those in positions of power become redundant and impotent, yet retain the trappings and privileges of power, they are brutally discarded. This was true in Weimar Germany. It was true in the former Yugoslavia, a conflict I covered for The New York Times. 


The historian Fritz Stern in The Politics of Cultural Despair, his book on the rise of fascism in Germany, wrote of the consequences of the collapse of liberalism. Stern argued that the spiritually and politically alienated, those cast aside by the society, are prime recruits for a politics centered around violence, cultural hatreds and personal resentments.

Much of this rage, justifiably, is directed at a liberal elite that, while speaking the “I-feel-your-pain” language of traditional liberalism, sells us out.

“They attacked liberalism,” Stern writes of the fascists emerging at the time in Germany, “because it seemed to them the principal premise of modern society; everything they dreaded seemed to spring from it; the bourgeois life, Manchesterism, materialism, parliament and the parties, the lack of political leadership. Even more, they sense in liberalism the source of all their inner sufferings. Theirs was a resentment of loneliness; their one desire was for a new faith, a new community of believers, a world with fixed standards and no doubts, a new national religion that would bind all Germans together. All this, liberalism denied. Hence, they hated liberalism, blamed it for making outcasts of them, for uprooting them from their imaginary past, and from their faith.”

We are in for it. The for-profit health care system, designed to make money — not take care of the sick — is unequipped to handle a national health crisis. The health care corporations have spent the last few decades merging and closing hospitals, and cutting access to health care in communities across the nation to increase revenue — this, as nearly half of all front-line workers remain ineligible for sick pay and some 43 million Americans have lost their employee-sponsored health insurance.

The pandemic, without universal health care, which Biden and the Democrats have no intention of establishing, will continue to rage out of control. Three hundred thousand Americans dead by December. Four hundred thousand by January. And by the time the pandemic burns out or a vaccine becomes safely available, hundreds of thousands, maybe a few million, will have died. 

Inevitable Unrest

The inevitable social unrest will see the state, no matter who is in the White House, use its three principle instruments of social control — wholesale surveillance, the prisons and militarized police — buttressed by a legal system that routinely revokes habeas corpus and due process, to ruthlessly crush dissent.

The economic fallout from the pandemic, the chronic underemployment and unemployment — close to 20 percent when those who have stopped looking for work, those furloughed with no prospect of being rehired and those who work part-time but are still below the poverty line are included in the official statistics — will mean a depression unlike anything we have seen since the 1930s.

Hunger in US households has already tripled since last year. The proportion of US children who are not getting enough to eat is 14 times higher than last year. Food banks are overrun. The moratorium on foreclosures and evictions has been lifted while over 30 million destitute Americans face the prospect of being thrown into the street. 

There is no check left on corporate power. 

People of color, immigrants and Muslims will be blamed and targeted by our native fascists for the nation’s decline. The few who continue in defiance of the Democratic Party to call out the crimes of the corporate state and the empire will be silenced. The sterility of the liberal class, serving the interests of a Democratic Party that disdains and ignores them, fuels the widespread feelings of betrayal that saw nearly half the voters support one of the most vulgar, racist, inept and corrupt presidents in American history.

An American tyranny, dressed up with the ideological veneer of a Christianized fascism, will, it appears, define the empire’s epochal descent into irrelevance.    



Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show “On Contact.” 

This column is from Scheerpostfor which Chris Hedges writes a regular column twice a month. Click here to sign up for email alerts.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.



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That Assange is still in a UK prison shows the COMPLETE immorality of US politics... FREE ASSANGE TODAY !