Days before Trump Inauguration, the US is Unraveling


Last week the US Senate doubled down on one of the few tasks left to it in an era of Imperial Presidencies: voting up or down on a President’s choices to head the country’s various ‘departments’, few of which are as crucial as that of Secretary of State, the country’s top diplomat.

The Department of State has long been known as ‘Foggy Bottom’ in a reference to its lack of efficiency. Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon Mobile can be expected to remedy that, if anyone can. But together with Senator Jeff Sessions, a southerner known for past racist attitudes, whom President Trump wants as his Attorney General, he is by far the most controversial nominee, due to his business and personal relations with Vladimir Putin. As I tweeted a few months ago, the political class fails to realize that a Trump presidency will gain access to Russia’s mineral wealth without firing a shot, while Hillary Clinton would have gone to war over it.

Each cabinet nominee is vetted by the Committee that oversees the Department he or she would head, and Tillerson underwent an entire day of questioning by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during which he exhibited the strengths that allowed him to rise to CEO of one of the world’s largest  corporations. Responding to long, cleverly phrased questions in a few well-chosen words, he impressed me as someone an adversary would have a difficult time besting.

The overriding concern of Tillerson’s interlocutors was the US relationship with Vladimir Putin, whose "crime" is to have refused to bow to US hegemony, enabled by America’s popularity as ‘savior’ in the Second World War.  (The decisive role played by the Red Army does not get equal mention, because the Soviet Union was considered almost as bad as Hitler.)

Vladimir Putin’s ‘crimes’ consist of having ‘annexed Crimea’ and ‘invaded’ Ukraine. (No mention is made of the referendum in which 90% of Crimeans requested that their province be returned to Russia, of which it had historically been a part until 1954, when Khruschev, in a fit of largesse to the country of his birth, gifted it to the Ukraine, nor of Russian-speaking Ukrainians’ refusal to live under a fascist government whose members are descended from those who murdered their grandparents. The Russian president’s support for eastern Ukraine’s desire for autonomy is described as an ‘invasion’ of Ukraine, which then turns into  ‘threatening’ Europe. Not even during the dog days of the Cold War did the West assert that the Soviet Union was actively threatening Europe, although the US repeatedly warned its ‘allies’ that it could overrun the continent in a day. 

Thanks to this deplorable history, the new American President will find himself boxed in by a chorus of condemnations of the country with which he wants most to improve relations.

It is a testament to the utter ignorance of the US public that news anchors see no need to challenge political figures when they utter bald-faced lies about Russia. They appear unaware that NATO has set up camp all along Russia’s western border, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, causing Russia to mass troops inside those borders, as any nation would. In reality, US politicians claim that Russia is threatening Europe because their European ‘partners’ are becoming restless over the economic cost of sanctions against Russia and the tide of refugees landing on their shores as a consequence of US-led wars in the Middle East and Africa. (As for what is left of the European ‘left’ it wishes it could close the neo-liberal barn door, but it is too late.)

The fact that a powerful businessman with assets around the world will soon be ruling the US, breaking with two centuries of strictly “political” power, is only the tip of the iceberg: Competing intelligence agencies are turning against one another: the FBI is being investigated by the Justice Department for its handling of Hillary Clinton’s illegal use of a private server,  while the CIA is accused of dumping into the public domain a fantastical file on Donald Trump’s alleged peccadillos in Moscow.  A week before the inauguration, whose choreography barely changes from one century to the next, the press is having a field day and no one knows what will happen next in the world’s ‘greatest democracy’.