The US is threatening to hit its debt ceiling and is teetering on the brink of the abyss. Every two years, Congress must raise the legal maximum debt the nation can carry to meet current costs and interest and principal payments. If that doesn’t happen, economists predict a national and possibly global economic crisis.
As a reporter in Washington, I experienced the ritual dance many times. In 2018, the U.S. government temporarily shut down because Trump wanted to sign on for more debt only if the money went toward building his desired border wall. Ultimately, a close deal was reached between the parties in Congress and the White House and disaster was averted. In 2021 — with Biden now president — Senate Republicans threatened not to take on more debt. In the end, they signed on because they didn’t want economic collapse in their conscience.
Whether it ends well again is uncertain. Since last November’s midterm elections, the Republican Party has been all too eager to stand on the smoldering debris. They are extremely conservative, have declared that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” and have gone to Washington mainly to curb the power of the federal government. They are trump capable, if not epicon. They are calling for drastic cuts, which would amount to a practical end to the smallest welfare state America has. Their desired cuts to defense budgets would jeopardize US support for Ukraine (which is exactly what these extremists are targeting).
This far-right establishment of the Republican Party feels more powerful than ever. Their vote was required to appoint the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Jim McCarthy took the reins from Republican Nancy Pelosi and got down on his knees to appease Trumpists. At their request, Capitol Hill rules have been changed to allow only one member to file a motion of censure against the Speaker. Many of them sought—and received—a position on the panel that could begin investigations into the president. The first topic presents itself: secret documents that Biden has lying around all kinds of places.
Far-right Republicans are feeling the upper hand
Trump and his supporters will lose during the midterm elections, so the story goes, but essentially a political movement that wants to throw sand into the political machine still wins through the back door. They are relatively few, but they are essential to the Republican majority. So they are asked. And with that, Republicans have become one more blocking force: They will demand time and resources from Congress to scrutinize Biden in every detail. If something happens that they don’t like, they can demand the resignation of the Speaker and shut down politics. What right-wing populists in America now realize is that voters must be disaffected or they won’t flock to their party. That’s why the vote of economically oppressed voters on the right really doesn’t give anything and the main thing their representatives do is to become frustrated and circus with anti-politician votes. This is how the foundation is laid for Trump’s comeback.
All this is little more than a vignette for the stagnant American democracy that we in Europe shake our heads at. A dysfunctional America is an unreliable America with which Europe cannot make lasting agreements.
Many people, including the current US president, see the great struggle in the world as a struggle between democracy and autocracy. In Biden’s view, democracy can only succeed if it delivers for the people. More bluntly, it’s a battle between power, a government that plays a positive role in people’s lives, powers that profit from chaos, and powerless democracy. That applies not just to the United States, but to every Western democracy.
This is the last column by Kasper Thomas, who will be writing every three weeks next week from Moscow by Eva Hartag
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