[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just a reminder that signed, personalized copies of Joshua Frank’s genuinely unsettling book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, are still available to any reader donating $125 ($150 if you live outside the United States). The Progressive magazine dubbed his book one of the best of 2022, writing: “Joshua Frank blows the lid off ‘the U.S. government’s gargantuan plutonium operation’ that ‘churned out nearly all of the radioactive fuel used in the country’s nuclear arsenal….’ The award-winning journalist makes a compelling case that Hanford has become ‘the costliest environmental remediation project the world has ever seen, and arguably the most contaminated place on the entire planet…’ As some turn to nuclear power as a supposed solution to the climate emergency, Atomic Days reminds readers of the perils of nuclear waste and its difficult disposal.” Now, check out his recent TomDispatch piece (if you missed it) and then visit TD‘s donation page and do your damnedest! Tom]
Just in case you think that, since January 6, 2021, the trials and tribulations of the American democratic system have been unique or even (to use an all-American word) exceptional, think again. In a recent New York Times column, Max Fisher focused on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s remarkable announcement of her decision to vacate her post well before the next election. (“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility — the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”) There, the transition proved remarkably straightforward and swift, her party voting in a new prime minister almost instantly. As Fisher points out, while Ardern’s comments were out of the ordinary, among parliamentary democracies globally, this was not otherwise an atypical event. The most stable democracies have, in fact, proved to be parliamentary ones of the sort Ardern has led for the last five-and-a-half years, “where executive power is generated by legislative majorities and depends on such majorities for survival.”
On the other hand, presidential democracies of the American sort have had a far more daunting tendency to collapse in coups or other horrors, especially during the transition period between presidencies. Fisher adds, “Donald J. Trump’s efforts to hold onto power after losing the 2020 presidential election may have been shocking and unprecedented for the United States, but they were well in line with the sorts of crises that play out in presidential systems worldwide.”
As if to make that point all too graphically, the world recently watched Brazilians play out their very own version of January 6th, once again in front of the cameras. In both cases, the shaky changeovers were unnervingly insurrectionary in nature, but as TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, author of Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump, suggests today, each of those events had its distinct qualities and striking differences.
And of the two, the American version may have come even closer than the Brazilian one to collapsing a system of government as we know it. (Thank you, Donald!) Given the extremity of the Trumpublicans who only recently (and barely) took over the House of Representatives, don’t for a second think we’re done with this yet. If you don’t believe me, just ask George Santos or Marjorie Taylor Greene about the future that awaits us and, while you’re at it, let Greenberg explain what still remains unnervingly — I just can’t help using the word — exceptional about our version of a coup attempt. Tom
How America’s Insurrectionists Crossed the Rubicon of History
Americans tuning into the television news on January 8th eyed a disturbingly recognizable scene. In an “eerily familiar” moment of “déjà vu,” just two years and two days after the January 6th Capitol insurrection in Washington, D.C., a mob of thousands stormed government buildings in the capital city of another country -- Brazil. In Brasilia, what New York Times columnist Ross Douthat ominously labelled “the first major international imitation of our Capitol riot" seemed to be taking place.
As the optics suggested, there were parallels indeed, underscoring a previously underappreciated fragility in our democratic framework: the period of transition between presidencies.Read More