The Philippines has had enough of the political crises triggered by the half-a-dozen attempted coup d‘etats against the Corazon Aquino administration (1986-1992) to last a lifetime.
But the next coup that should worry pro-democracy Filipinos will not be in this country — at least not yet. Some commentators are saying it is already happening — and in a most unlikely place: in the United States of America, which over the past 76 years has engineered “regime change” and instigated coups of its own against a number of governments in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
None of the foreign groups the US despises so much but a home-grown one is the source of the threat. No longer the same party of which Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery in 1865, was a leading member, the Republican Party (GOP — shorthand for Grand Old Party) of former President Donald Trump, said Washington Post columnist George Will, is “an insurgency,” and a “neo-fascist” organization, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Emeritus Professor Noam Chomsky. It is in the middle of a campaign to seize total power by 2024, when Trump is likely to run for a second term.
Social critic Chomsky has described the campaign Trump and his allies are orchestrating as “a soft coup” intent on a Trump victory in 2024 regardless of whether he gets the necessary number of votes or not. The conspirators are concentrating on winning this year’s November 8 midterm elections for Congresspersons and governors who would then appoint state officials who can be relied on to disenfranchise likely anti-Trump voters and manipulate the numbers so Trump can again be President.
They are making sure that their candidates in November do not only believe that the 2020 elections Trump lost to Joseph Biden were fraudulent, but are also diehard Trumpists. Trump endorsed for the GOP primary elections which decide who will be its candidates in the midterm elections only those party members who fit that category, while fulminating against the few Republicans who have dared challenge his claim that he won the 2020 Presidential elections.
One of the most prominent of the latter is Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, the daughter of Richard Cheney, who was US Vice President from 2001 to 2009. A conservative like her father, Cheney has a voting record in the House of Representatives of supporting Trump, but was among the ten Republicans who voted with the Democrats to impeach him a few days before the end of his term in January 2021 for “inciting an insurrection” to prevent the official declaration of Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States. She is also the Vice Chair of the bipartisan January 6th House Committee investigating the violent attempt on that date to keep Trump in power.
Her refusal to support Trump’s claims that he won a second term in 2020 and her constant warning to the US public of the threat to democracy posed by Trump and his fact-resistant, neo-fascist and white supremacist supporters cost her her seat in Congress. She is still the lone Wyoming Representative, but only until the end of the year, because she lost the GOP primary elections last week to a supporter of Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 elections.
In testimony to the continuing hold of Trump on the GOP, most of those he supported won or are likely to win the party’s primaries. They will face Democratic Party candidates in the midterm elections, which are likely to result in the GOP’s regaining control of Congress, or at least the House of Representatives. Trump’s base among non-college graduate white workers is still intact, while Biden’s approval rating is at an abysmally low 41 percent. A GOP win this November would help Trump recapture the White House in 2024.
The January 6th 2021 attack by an armed mob of Trump supporters on the US Congress, in which the lives of its members and that of Vice President Mike Pence were imperiled, and some police officers killed and injured, was encouraged by Trump.
It was a coup attempt that tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, say analysts, and if it had succeeded would have undermined the rule of law and the US Constitution. Some observers have gone even farther: they look at that incident as an attack on US democracy, which they say is “hanging by a thread” because of Trump and company’s continuing efforts to return to power at whatever cost.
Trump is facing a veritable legion of legal problems ranging from allegations of tax fraud to unlawfully keeping in his Florida home classified documents vital to US national security. But those cases are likely to take some time to resolve, and could very well be dismissed should he succeed through fair means or foul in getting a second term, because the President is immune from suits arising from the performance of their official duties. Hence Trump’s focus on laying the groundwork now to assure his victory in 2024.
Whatever happens in the US will eventually have an impact on much of the world including the Philippines. But whether it is the Democrats or the Republicans who are in power does not make much of a difference in US foreign policy. That policy is primarily focused on preventing the rise of any other power that could challenge its global hegemony, part of which demands that countries such as the Philippines remain in its sphere of influence.
Despite the Democrats’ supposedly more enlightened perspectives, in furtherance of US strategic interests another Congressional delegation visited Taiwan only 17 days after the visit there of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Both contradict the “One China” principle enshrined in the 1972 Zhou Enlai/ Richard Nixon Shanghai Communique. Contrary to the supposed centrality of human rights in his foreign policy, Biden himself visited Saudi Arabia a month ago despite the apparent involvement of some of its highest officials in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
But as starkly demonstrative of the arrogance of power as those acts are, so can it be claimed that the seizure of power by a blatantly authoritarian, anti-immigrant, and racist regime could lead to, say, even harsher restrictions on immigration to the US as well as the further encouragement of hate crimes against people of color.
An even more aggressive US policy that could lead to a devastating war with China over the Taiwan question and/or the West Philippine Sea issue is also possible under such a regime. So is diminished support for global initiatives to address climate change — Trump and his minions think global warming is a hoax — as well as even less attention to the human rights record of authoritarian regimes while increasing military aid for them as long as they support the US against its Russian and Chinese rivals.
Like any coup in the less developed countries of the Third World, a coup in the US, even a “soft” one, would also be solely focused on advancing and defending the interests of its instigators and of the wing of the power elite it installs in power. The rest of the world would hardly matter.
But what is happening in the domestic politics of the United States has been largely unremarked in these isles and elsewhere. The next two years may prove that parochial indifference problematic, even catastrophic, for the Philippines and for much of the globe.
First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from the Voice of America.