November, the month of elections that immediately follows Halloween and culminates with Black Friday, has long been America’s month of frightening suspense. 2018 is no exception.
It’s November, which in 2018 for the US and the world means two things. First, the midterm elections in the US will tell the world whether Americans are finally fed up with President Donald Trump or willing to crown him their all-powerful constitution-bending leader. Second, the rest of the world will have a better idea of the level of disturbance to the global economy and the effect on the balance of power in the Middle East of the next round of US sanctions on Iran that go into effect this week.
In a gamble based on the unstated premise that Iranians will be incited, by the damage to their economy, to revolt against their government, embrace Trump’s values and request his help to instate a provisional government, Trump not only promised to crush Iran’s economy, but fixed the date on which sanctions would be fully reinstated: November 5. When it was made, this announcement immediately struck fear into many nations, such as India, whose economies and populations would also suffer.
But we now learn that the administrator of the world economy has decided to go easy with eight of his allies. As Al Jazeera reported, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on November 2 that “the exceptions would allow the unnamed countries to import Iran’s oil at “greatly reduced levels.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The beneficiary of the magnanimous decisions of someone with exceptional authority, extending well beyond their own jurisdiction
The vaunted exceptionalism of the US endows its president with the power to legislate for the world as well as designate exceptions to the force of that legislation. Pompeo provided the “moral” justification of the sanctions against Iran: “It is aimed at depriving the regime of the revenues that it uses to spread death and destruction around the world.”
He might have said the same thing, with an even greater degree of truth, about Saudi Arabia, the nation that spawned al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, terrorizes its own citizens and neighbors, and suppresses famed journalists at will. But Saudi Arabia is what we might call an “exception” to the rule of punishing nations guilty of “death and destruction,” since it has been the privileged ally that long ago bought America’s protection and undying friendship thanks to its oil and the revenue produced by its oil. Once an ally, always an ally, to be treated exceptionally and defended through thick and thin (so long as the oil flows).
Trump and Pompeo, to the chagrin of National Security Adviser John Bolton, have a soft spot for eight other allies, who will be treated as exceptions, so long as they are willing to pay the unnamed price of certain “concessions” (the equivalent of what the mafia calls “protection money”).
“Not only did we decide to grant many fewer exemptions, but we demanded much more serious concessions from these jurisdictions before agreeing to allow them to temporarily continue to import Iranian crude oil,” said Pompeo. This is the language of threat and punishment, designed to help allies understand how serious US foreign policy can be.
It may or may not be a coincidence that the suspense concerning the application of sanctions lines up perfectly with the US midterm elections. This powerful reminder that the US will always be strong in the face of enemies and will never back down from bullying its allies is a message calculated to resonate with Republican voters in the election on November 6.
Suspense has been building. The media have spent recent months speculating in all directions about the outcome of the elections and the interpretation of the results. Will the Democrats reverse the Republican tide? Will Trump himself be threatened by the new Congress?
One thing is clear: depending not just on the outcome but especially the interpretation the media give to it, the elections will do one of three things.
First, if the Democrats fail to take over the House, it will confirm the political status quo, in which President Trump controls a Republican Party that dominates all three branches of government. Trump will feel empowered and the media will begin predicting his re-election in 2020, leaving the Democrats in a state of total disarray. The Republicans’ main purpose will continue to focus on surviving until the end of the Trump era, either in 2020 or 2024, before regaining the liberty to define itself again as a traditional party rather than the tool of a populist showman. At the same time, many will be convinced that the US has taken one further step toward fascism.
Second, if the Democrats do score a numeric victory in the House, but with no clear trend defined, the battle will be engaged within the party to control the future platform (or public ideology), meaning their collective marketing strategy for 2020. Will it be traditional and centrist or progressive? A narrow majority in the House will prolong the situation of ambiguous uncertainty inherited from the 2016 presidential election, though it will be increasingly likely that the traditionalists will grudgingly adopt and even swear by a number of progressive talking points.
Third, a significant Democratic surge, magnified by media reporting, would offer the new Congress a symbolic mandate to begin actively dismantling Trump’s hyperreality show. This could even involve a veritable showstopper, Trump’s impeachment trial, which would become a major media event dwarfing the impeachment of Bill Clinton. After all, Trump has done a lot more that violates traditionally-held American values and the Constitution itself than leaving a white stain on a blue dress.
In all cases, there will be excitement, drama and talking points galore. In other words, two more years of political hyperreality.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.