‘A crisis that jeopardizes democracy’

The views of reputed Prof. Charles Kupchan on the political clashes that paralysed the US and the national mindsets that are back in Europe, again.

Many commentators were perplexed at Jamie Dimon assuring Americans in a television interview a few days ago to sleep in peace as the US is still the country that rules the world, with the best universities, most advanced research, the most powerful army and a work climate worth being admired, the kind of things that would not vanish overnight but will stay with us for decades to come, with the current difficulties to be overcome. The rather ironic comments made mid last week, when the stocks fell sharply on bourses on US crisis, ranged from that being the speech of a candidate to the White House rather than that of the CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co, to Geithner’s self-appointed successor at the Treasury. It was on that very day that President Obama met in Washington with Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, a summit which the White House saw as only a routine meeting, although it appeared as a consultation called for by the special situation created.

Also on the same day, Republicans in Congress nominated their six representatives on the “bipartisan” commission, in charge of setting up by November 23 a plan to reduce the public debt by at least another USD 120 bln. Considering that the president also called on the rich to contribute tax wise to the sacrifices that need being made, and concerned about opinion polls showing Americans holding a more negative view of them than the Democrats, Republicans have only given their legislative representatives who signed the “Americans for Tax Reform” “oath” the delicate task of representing them. Otherwise said, they pledged in writing not to subscribe to raising taxes under no reason whatsoever. This shows that the start of negotiations is not encouraging at all. Meanwhile the press in the US and elsewhere give increasingly extensive coverage of the current crisis and its developments.

My attention was drawn mostly by the views of Charles Kupchan, a professor at Georgetown University and well-known foreign politics analyst, who was called by Bill Clinton to the White House to take care of European affairs. In 2002, he published the book “The End of the American Era”, one of the first scientists to make a wake-up call over the risks of the radicalised political confrontation in the USA.

According to Kupchan, the crisis in 2008 was basically an economic and financial one. While today’s crisis is rooted in the problems left unsolved back then, it’s a political crisis nonetheless. Unless brought to a halt, it risks jeopardizing the stability of western democracies. The United States is experiencing a polarization era never seen before, political fighting has become radicalised to the point of paralysing government. Europe has made the reverse trip, it has become ideologized and this is a positive thing. Yet, it is full of weak governments, while the national mindsets gain increasingly more ground. We realize the West has entered a governing crisis, exactly when our analysis on China proved us wrong: we believed that the autocratic regime will produce an inept leadership. We were convinced that spreading wellbeing will push the new middle class to demand more and more freedom. However, the government managed developing a system with an often competent leadership. And the middle class is rather a defending factor of the “status quo” that gives impetus to democratization.”

Asked whether his book published in 2002 was prophetic with respect to the United States and Europe, Kupchan acknowledged it was only right in the case of the former, given what we witness today is the US and Europe too losing political and economic power, with a three-dimensional balance of forces tilting towards Asia. Its components are economic in the first place, manifesting itself visibly right as we speak. In the best-case scenario, we will see a slow and rough re-launch.

In the 1990s, we admired the Japanese model. Then it was the turn of the American one. Now, we are impressed with China. I think we will continue witnessing a competition between different systems, without an absolute domination by the liberal-democrat capitalism, as it happened over the past two decades.

Kupchan sees the other two dimensions as political. One regards Europe, which has fragmented itself at the level of governments and the speed of action of its economies, lost steam to the point of regression. It hasn’t become a top political actor envisioned in my book ten years ago. Other countries – not just China, but Brazil, Turkey and India as well – have developed at a pace I have never imagined. This swings the global balance. The market turmoil reflects these changes. The third fact regards America, on the brink of the polarization I had warned about. The Republican campaign for next year’s presidential election went into a higher stage late last week, with eight candidates vying in Iowa in what was the third debate this year. According to the polls so far, the frontrunner appears to be Mitt Romney, the Governor of the State of Massachusetts, followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Sarah Palin, a former candidate for US vice-president, with 10.6 pc, who has so far made no announcement whether she will stand for president. The surprise of the amiable confrontation in Iowa was Rep. Michele Bachmann, one of the anti-tax leaders in the Tea Party movement and founder in July 2010 of the ultraconservative group in the Congress. However, we should keep in mind that there is plenty of time left until next February, when candidates will make their formal announcements.

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