What do we mean by an unlawful form of democracy? In the context of discussing the events of January 6, 2021, which left the entire world aghast at what happened in the United States, this question has central importance. Central importance because the U.S. is faced with a situation that threatens the possibility of an outright authoritarian/fascist takeover of the government – even by members within the government. No one would have ever imagined that such a thing could happen in the United States of America. When we speak of unlawful forms of democracy are we not essentially focusing on countries that claim to be democratic but do not practice the basic principles of democracy? We can characterize them as countries that provide an appearance of democratic practice but are largely ineffective in their administration of democratic principles within their nations. Until now, hardly any attention has been paid to just what is meant by “unlawful” types of democracy. But, before we can ask ourselves what is an unlawful type of democracy, we must first ask what makes a country democratic? What is the bedrock feature that distinguishes a democracy from any other form of government? Well, that’s pretty simple – it is the vote and the right of every citizen of a particular democratic country to have “meaningful opportunities to take part in the formation of public policy.” Several scholars have already pointed out that a country can have the formal trappings of a democracy and not be democratic at all. For example, elections are held in the Soviet Union. But does that make Russia democratic? To get a better understanding of the inner workings of democracy, it is important to acknowledge that corporate interests and agendas have long been influencing state and political parties.
Political scientists have been grappling with this issue for years. One such scholar is Thomas Ferguson who argues that since the early 19th century, coalitions of investors with sufficient resources and private power have been joining together around certain common interests. Also, there have been struggles among these groups over certain public policy issues. In addition, there have been times when these groups worked together because they shared interests as well as times of conflict when they had different points of view. For example, private capital was in deep conflict when it came to the New Deal. On one hand, high-tech, capital-intensive, export-oriented private investors were in favor of the New Deal because they wanted an orderly workplace and opportunities to enter into foreign trade. On the other, labor-intensive, domestically oriented groups primarily concerned with manufacturing were against all of the reforms called for in the New Deal. They were more interested in a domestic labor force.
There are more specific reasons but the business model of almost all American corporations is to maximize profits, power, market share and exert control, when possible, over the state. As a general rule, they are not interested in a better life for workers – their priority is profits and market share. At times, what they do helps workers and others but this is not their primary goal. Private capital and its concentrated power disdains subjectivity to popular democratic control and is naturally averse to popular democratic influence; they are opposed to external control of their ability to make decisions and act freely.
When we turn our attention to discussing the Trump administration, we see that modern U.S. corporations supported his rhetoric believing that he could provide them with capital benefits. Most of them shared this common interest. However, what they failed to calculate concerning Trump was that his administration had no policies concerning anything else. His administration had no foreign policy, no domestic policy, no health policy, no defense strategy, etc., and when he surrounded himself with a cabinet of loyalist instead of experts in these and other fields, the effectiveness of his administration faltered. What is worse? He abandoned the entire political infrastructure that was established before him without an agenda of his own claiming that he was going to “clean the swamp.” However, his impersonal, remote, unaccountable power politics only succeeded in collapsing long-established political structures created to sustain American democracy and, in turn, alienated experienced veteran politicians resulting in a revolving door of cabinet members.
As the Trump administration continued its tenure, their façade began to wear thin. To hold onto their voter base, they used “slick PR” productions of a right-wing nature. They began to broadcast messages such as the need for an “active civil society,” oppression by liberal democrats and progressives, the socialist left, and the “pre-emptive message” for patriotic Americans to do more than just cast votes and go home but take matters into their own hands and “fight” for democracy. These were very clever, well-crafted, well-designed propaganda messages designed to instill fear and distrust in the voting system and make their base feel that somehow their actions could move toward higher forms of “public participation” and a more legitimate form of democracy.
During the pre-election period, and as the veil of the failures of the Trump administration (most notably the failure to get in front of the COVID-19 pandemic) became apparent, the administration began to resort to desperate measures to hold onto power. The administration became more absolutist, more unaccountably corrupt, and totalitarian in their internal structure i.e., a rogue administration. But when Trump finally resorted to the incitement of lawless action which incidentally constituted a violation of federal rebellion and insurrection statutes to hold onto power by “interfering with the official functions of government” in the transition of presidential power – that was a bridge too far even for corporate America. It seems the corporations realized that Trump and his administration’s agenda was too lawless and destructive and conflicted with their basic corporate objectives.
Essentially, corporate America realized that Trump or anything that had to do with Trump was bad for their bottom line. And without corporate America, Trump and his brand of unlawful democracy could achieve only one thing – failure.
Barsamian, D. (1994). Secrets, Lies and Democracy (Interviews with Noam Chomsky).