Tom Arms on Republican Party divisions

The Republican Party is splitting. On one side you have the populists of ex-president Donald Trump and on the other you have the Grand Old Party (GOP) of Senator Mitch McConnell. Trump, of course, lost the election which he claims he won by a landslide. However, he has kept his base intact by continuing to feed them a diet of lies and conspiracy theories.

Mitch McConnell is the leader of the Senate Republicans who has proved himself a master of hunting with the hounds and running with the hare by voting to acquit Trump while at the same time branding him as “morally and practically responsible” for the 6 January attack on Capitol Hill. In true Trump fashion, the ex-president has reviled the senior senator from Kentucky as a “dour, unsmiling, hack politician”. McConnell hopes that Trump’s political capital will be swept away by a tsunami of criminal and civil charges.

Democratic congressmen have already petitioned to open an investigation into Trump’s activities. The state of Georgia is considering prosecuting the ex-president for pressuring state officials to fabricating votes. The government of the District of Government said it plans to prosecute Trump for his role in the riot.

The above is in addition to the long list of ongoing cases involving financial fraud, tax evasion, sexual offences and electoral fraud—all of which have been awaiting Trump’s departure from the protective presidential shield.  But the ex-president has over the years shown himself adept at avoiding legal consequences and portraying himself as victim rather than perpetrator. Opinion polls indicate that the vast majority of Republicans – 80 percent at last count – agree with his self-assessment.

The real test will come with the 2022 US mid-term elections. If the Democrats increase representation in the Senate and the House of Representatives then it will likely spell the end of Trumpism – for the time being.

The death of American broadcaster Rush Limbaugh has revived the debate over fairness in broadcasting. In 1949, when talk radio stations were a rarity and television was still finding its way into American homes, the Federal Communication Commission announced its Fairness in Broadcasting Doctrine which decreed that if broadcasters wanted to keep their licenses they had to report in an “honest, equitable and balanced” manner. In 1987 the Reagan Administration repealed the enabling act on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment’s free speech provisions. This opened the flood gates to what the Wall Street Journal described as “hyper-articulate conservative hosts opening their microphones to hyper-conservative conservative voters.” Rush Limbaugh led the charge with explosive programmes laced with far-right racism, homophobia and sexism. The formula proved popular, attracting 15 million regular listeners. It also sowed the seeds for the rise of right-wing conservative populism within the Republican Party; a fact which was acknowledged by President Trump when he awarded the Medal of Freedom – America’s highest honour – to Limbaugh.

In fairness, the repeal of the act, also led to the growth of partisanship on the left side of the broadcasting spectrum. CNN and MSNBC are totally biased against Trumpism. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that repeal of the Fairness in Broadcasting Act has played a major role in encouraging divisiveness in US politics. Over the past 15 years there have been several attempts to re-instate it. They have been blocked by Republicans who regard them as the main beneficiary of unfettered broadcasting rules. A Biden Administration may lead to a change.

The virtual G7 meeting hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was – not surprisingly – dominated by coronavirus. The vaccines are being distributed. They are starting to take effect. But only in the developing world. Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, US and EU have between them have secured more than 3 billion doses – 1.2 billion doses more than they need. But 130 other countries have yet to jab a single arm. French President Emmanuel Macron wants the G7 to commit to donating four to five per cent of its stored vaccines to the WHO Covax programme for developing world vaccinations. Johnson says that is inadequate and has pledged the “vast majority” of the British surplus to Covax along with $600 million. But there are problems with the British generosity. The surplus vaccines will not be distributed until everyone in the UK is vaccinated, which may well be not until the end of the year. And, combined with the surplus from other industrialised countries still falls far short of the developing world’s requirement. Finally, delaying delivery to the developing world runs the risk of new strains mutating into variants that the current vaccines cannot treat.

Another discussion item at the G7 will be Iran. Tehran and Washington are currently in a Mexican stand-off. President Joe Biden wants to reverse Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Accord (aka Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). As signs of good faith, he has lifted travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats in the US and reversed Trump’s efforts to restore UN sanctions. Not enough, says the Iranians. They want US sanctions lifted before they will agree to re-enter the agreement to restrict their nuclear programme. It seems a surmountable problem, except that because of the rhetoric of the Trump era, whichever side caves in first loses substantial face with their domestic audience.

The UK Supreme Court’s decision that Uber must provide paid holidays, guaranteed minimum wage and pay National Insurance will have far-reaching repercussions beyond Uber, the British gig economy and British shores. Uber epitomises the much-maligned gig economy whereby workers are freelance contractors and the company is no more than an intermediary agent between customer and worker. The Supreme Court ruling can be applied to the entire gig economy which now employs five million British workers. It means that the expenses of gig-based businesses will soar at a time when they are struggling to survive through a pandemic. Many will go to the wall. Almost all of them will have to reduce their “gig” force. Governments, businesses and investors carefully watch legal judgements in other countries as harbingers of future actions in their own domain. British legal rulings are especially scrutinised. Uber operates in more than 80 countries. When it was floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2019 it had to list any potential dangers to their business with the Security Exchange Commission. High on the list was the threat of being forced to directly employ their drivers. The UK is not the only country with a large gig economy. It applies to roughly 57 million Americans and 100 million citizens of the EU. In short, the Supreme Court ruling is good news for some workers, bad news for others and bad news for employers.

According to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the recent problems in Tigray Province are now in the past. The dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been defeated and aid agencies are now free to distribute food and other items to the locals. Not quite. The agencies are only allowed to operate in areas approved of by Abiy Ahmed’s military commanders. This implies that the TPLF is still active in other areas. In addition, the military incursion has failed to deal with the underlying problem: Abiy Ahmed’s desire to move Ethiopia from a federal state to a more modern unitary political format.  Ethiopia has over the centuries grown as a contiguous empire. This is reflected in its complex ethnic mix of 80 different groups speaking 86 languages. In an attempt to hold these competing factions together the 1995 constitution established a loose federation of nine ethnically-based states, each with the right of self-determination up to the right of secession. The constitution was a creation of the TPLF but it also had the support of other major ethnic groups.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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One Comment

  • Brad Barrows 21st Feb '21 - 1:06pm

    Interesting article though I think it unlikely that any attempt to control the free speech of broadcasters today would be accepted as constitutional by the current Supreme Court. And any attempt by Biden to restrict television and satellite broadcasters while ignoring the internet giants like twitter and Facebook will be seen as totally partisan.

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