A Republic Without the Public

Rob Wijnberg from the Correspondent admonishing the news media to stop treating the United States as if it’s a democracy should be required reading:

It would be a major misconception to assume that the downfall of US democracy started in November 2016, when Trump was elected. In fact, it’s the other way around: the first openly kleptocratic president moving into the White House marked the consummation of its decay, not its initial conception.

Born from theft, built on slavery, held together by self-deception, the United States has grown to become the richest poor country in the history of humankind. It is a country that has violence in its DNA, inequality embedded in its genes, and a completely mythical self-image as its national identity.

It’s a country with the world’s highest GDP, where 40 million people live below the poverty line. The only industrialised nation on the planet without universal healthcare, any real social welfare system or decent retirement provisions. The only free nation where 1 in 40 adults are behind bars and which has more guns in circulation than people living within its borders. The only western economy where the richest three inhabitants hold more wealth than the poorest half of the entire population.

There’s so much here but one of our great faults as a nation is the utterly unearned exceptionalism.

  • Iran is a dangerous theocracy ruled by ayatollahs, but one Supreme Court justice’s passing is the difference between democracy and fascism.
  • West African states are corrupt and driven by cults of personality, but when the the president and congress do it, it’s somehow both abnormal but par for the course because, politics.

And on and on.

We aren’t honest to ourselves about our country. Which is why I think journalism like Slate’s If It Happened There series is important, because it highlights how complicit our media is, intentionally or otherwise, in our myth-making.

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