America’s Second Revolution

Shahid Javed Burki July 08, 2024
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank


I write this on July 4, 2024 as the Americans celebrate the birth of what came to be called the United States of America, the USA. The birth took place of July 4, 1776 when meeting in Congress the delegates passed “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America”. These were the quasi-autonomous territories into which the ruling British had divided the large land they had conquered overtime. They were mostly autonomous in the sense that they could govern their territories as long as the final world on the mode of governance was recognised to reside in the hands of the British King, George III and his parliament.

The residents of the states rebelled against this arrangement and fought what in history is called the “wars of independence”. George Washington was the most prominent and successful general who defeated the British forces in a series of battles and was elected the President of the United States. He could have become the king but he chose to strictly follow the words of the declaration of independence. It is worth quoting at some length the opening of the declaration.

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

This separation was to be from Britain and its king and was done for a good reason. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

These words were written 248 years ago, and it took more than two centuries before the use of “men” in the declaration included women, people who did not own land, and people other than those who were white. However, in its majority decision on July 1, 2024, the Supreme Court of the United States, usually referred to as SCOTUS, issued a ruling that went significantly against the intent of the declaration of independence.

The ruling came in the case brought before the Court that challenged the filing before the justices by the Justice Department according to which the insurrection encouraged by the then President Donald Trump to prevent the validation of the victory of Joe Biden as the succeeding president.

Kevin D Roberts, president of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, found the SCOTUS decision to be a “second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be”. The policy plan that the Heritage Foundation has helped to coordinate with similarly aligned groups is called Project 2025. Some of the authors of the programme served in Donald Trump’s first administration or are seen as candidates for positions if he wins another term in office on November 5, 2024, when Americans go to the polls to elect their next president.

Several provisions included in Project 2025 have been loudly endorsed by Trump as he goes around the country addressing his followers to encourage them to vote for him. He has said he would bring in laws that would shoot shop lifters; the former Joint Chief of Staff should be executed for treason; and refused to commit himself to non-violence if he is defeated in the November elections. He has repeatedly dehumanised political opponents and immigrants, using terms like “vermin” and “poisoning the blood of our country”, that echo the language used by Hitler and other authoritarian leaders. While Trump has not formally endorsed the Project 2025, there is significant overlap between the plan of action proposed by Heritage Foundation and the promises he has been making in his campaign speeches. He has proposed plans to centralise power in the executive branch and eliminate legal constraints and personnel from his first term.

The Biden campaign highlighted the dangers posed to the country and its political system if the voters where to reelect Trump. James Singer, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said that on July 4 America celebrates the anniversary of its birth almost two and half centuries ago when it “declared independence from a tyrannical king, and now Trump and his allies want to make him one at our expense. On January 6, 2021 they proudly stormed our Capitol to overturn an election lost fair and square — something not even the Confederacy was able to accomplish — now they are dreaming of a violent revolution to destroy the very idea of America.” The reference to the Confederacy was, of course, to the groups of states that fought Abraham Lincoln’s Union to save slavery from being eliminated from the land.

The question whether the American president is above the law is an important one for the world since the country has the most powerful military in the world which has been used repeatedly to wage war against those who were seen to be working against the country’s interest. It happened in the Korean Peninsula, in Vietnam, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. That the country did not win in any of these wars is beside the point. They may not have been waged to win but they imposed a heavy cost in lives and property in the countries in which American intervened. Washington was involved in Afghanistan for two decades and created country that has become ungovernable. While the SCOTUS decision of July 1 has granted unlimited power to the president as the head of the executive branch of the government, there is a provision in the way the legislative branch operates that Congressional approval must be obtained before foreign wars are started.

The commentary that followed the decision of July 1 went into what some of the judges said when they appeared before the Senate for the confirmation of their appointment to the Supreme Court. All said they were in favour of the view that the president was not above the law. The New York Times wrote a powerful editorial in its comment on the decision. “In the very week, that the nation celebrates its founding , the court undermined the reason for the American Revolution, by giving the presidents what one dissenting judge called a ‘law free zone’ in which to act, taking a step toward restoring the monarchy that the Declaration of Independence rejected.”


Jami | 3 days ago | Reply Look like democracy has failed.
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