PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Maestro of Messes

Biden apparently dreamed of the presidency for decades. And now as his first year in office draws to a close we must reflect on how perilous it often turns out to be when dreams come true.

U.S. President Joe Biden. (White House, Adam Schultz)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

How fitting that Joe Biden’s first year in the White House ends with his long-touted Summit for Democracy, a two-day affair that ended last Friday. I can’t decide whether the occasion was more farce than embarrassment or if it was the other way around.

Either way, it stands as just the right signature for an administration that, not quite 12 months in, proves farcical and embarrassing all at once.

I predicted last spring, when the White House announced its intention to organize this caper, that it wouldn’t have the nerve to go through with it. Julian Assange was in prison for the crime of journalism, coup operations were active in several socialist democracies in Latin America, there were human rights abuses galore and American democracy was nothing more than a hollow conceit for all the world to see: The hypocrisy seemed too much even for a man who has made a political career out of lies, gross corruption, and misrepresentations of true intent.  

I was wrong. I overestimated the raw political intelligence of the otherwise stupid people running the United States as our 46th president wanders the White House corridors and dozes his way, Reagan-style, through his days.

It was a virtual affair, 111 heads of state sitting before screens in 111 capital cities around the world ostensibly to raise high the banner of democratic “values” and practice and fight the good fight against the great authoritarian Other. Straight out of the box, a problem: The U.S. supports more authoritarian regimes than you’ve had hot dinners. It has done so for many decades, and the Biden administration has changed this not one jot. Atop this there is the liberal authoritarianism that besets us at home.  

Dividing the World into Blocs

In truth, the Summit for Democracy had very little to do with democracy by any sophisticated definition and much to do with dividing the world into we-and-they blocs of the kind Washington thrived on for the Cold War’s four decades. The president who purports to stand for unity at home cultivates disunity abroad at every turn. An excellent way at the 21st century, Mr. President.

The sad conclusion is that “democracy,” like “human rights,” is now reduced to a shoulder patch to be worn by those still willing to pledge allegiance to “the rules-based international order,” Washington’s latest euphemism for American hegemony. The events of last Thursday and Friday were about geopolitical alliances and an idea of democracy that has less to do with Demos, a self-governing citizenry, than with political economies defined by neoliberal orthodoxies in one or another of its forms.

The list of participants reflected this. There was Ukraine, a corrupt oligarchy supported by openly declared neo–Nazis; apartheid Israel, which can be considered a democracy only if one is racist, and Colombia, ruled by an anti-democratic regime of U.S.–backed neoliberals given to violent repression and political assassinations. The inclusion of Taiwan, which, despite its accomplishments, is not a nation-state, was sheer provocation in the service of Washington’s determination to cultivate maximum tension with China.  

U,S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the virtual Summit for Democracy on Dec. 8. (State Department, Freddie Everett)

Among the excluded were Iran, which is fairly understood as a functioning democracy with a flawed constitution, and Nicaragua, which just held national elections with a 65 percent participation rate.

This is what I mean by farce. On to the embarrassments. These are multiple, but let us focus on two.  

In my read, the Summit for Democracy put on full display precisely what it was intended to submerge. This is the first of its embarrassments. Democracy as the West has defined it is broken. Those who have historically stood as its trustees broke it.

Two Versions of Democratic Government

The industrialized nations of the West have entertained two versions of democratic government since the politically eventful 18th century. There is popular democracy and its variant, elite democracy.

In the U.S. this was roughly speaking the Hamilton–Jefferson divide. Closer to our time, this defined the tension between Bernie Sanders and the mainstream of the Democratic Party. In Britain, it is the difference between Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer, who has restored the Labour Party’s elite leadership as first consolidated by Tony Blair in the 1990s and 2000s.  

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With no exception I can think of, the Atlantic world is now governed by elite democrats favoring a highly corporatized version of neoliberalism. And they have more or less systematically destroyed democracy in the Western mode as they defend their power, privilege and corporate funding against popular democratic insurgencies. This is done in the name of democracy, of course, just as the Summit for Democracy was at bottom an anti-democratic exercise.

I have called those actually running the Biden administration, in addition to the president, stupid. This is not a matter of mere name-calling. It is because they entirely miss one of the core realities of the 21st century.

Parity between the West and non–West, as argued severally in this space, now emerges as an inevitable feature of our time, whether one approves of it (as I do, emphatically) or not. This means something very important in the matter of political processes and political legitimacy.

It means democracy can no longer be defined according to narrow Western standards — nor should it ever have been. It means democracy will assume many different forms because it has to be understood as arising from very different histories, cultures and political traditions. It means democracy in one nation is bound not to look very much like democracy in another. And it means the long, long assumption that non–Western nations must model their democratic practices on the West’s is a thing of the past.

Exercise in Denial 

Biden and his minders, as they bandy about their classifications of nations as “democratic” and “authoritarian” in the old Freedom House mold, entirely miss this turn in history’s wheel. The Summit for Democracy, read in this way, was an extravagant exercise in denial. And this is what I mean by stupid. 

Is Cuba a democratic nation? Is Venezuela? Is Nicaragua? Is Iraq? No answers in these and numerous other cases are worth considering if they do not take into account the complexities attaching to the question itself. Biden and his foreign policy people obstinately deny these complexities. Again, stupid.

The big one for the Biden administration is this: It is now perfectly legitimate to ask whether the U.S. is any longer a democracy — an unheard-of question a few decades ago. Maybe at some subliminal level Biden and his minders organized the Summit for Democracy precisely to dodge this problem.  

(Thomas Hawk, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

And who can blame them, considering the only logical answer.

What happened and what didn’t last Thursday and Friday is an excellent punctuation mark at the end of Biden’s first year because it is so emblematic of this president’s most fundamental characteristic: We now have to count Biden an ineffectual bumbler in the same file as, say, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, or (regrettably, given his better qualities) Jimmy Carter.

It is Biden’s ill fortune to assume the presidency at precisely the point of inflection when the American empire enters a phase of steep, irreversible decline. Joe “America is back” Biden had two alternatives as he took office. He could pretend history had not merely stopped — it would reverse, and it was his job to restore the empire to the tarnished glory of the post–1945 decades. Or he could, as Jack Kennedy intended before the Deep State murdered him, get America out of the business of empire and advance it according to a new, more humane ethos.

The man from Scranton has chosen wrongly out of a deficit of courage. And now he emerges as the maestro of many messes.

Relations with China, relations with Russia, the Iran accord, Syria, the various covert ops south of the border: A year’s worth of foreign policy draws to a close in a directionless shambles. After all the talk of diplomacy first, the generals and the national security apparatus have never been more safely in charge. The Oval Office remains a prime source of the abominable violence we live amid.       

On the domestic side, Biden has done nothing to draw the nation together to fight a common threat — no inspiring leadership, FDR–style, no focus. A second year with the Covid–19 virus finds us in the depths of cynicism: Corporations indulge in price-gouging on a grand scale, Big Pharma — Pfizer now urges a fourth injection, a second booster — reaping obscene profits while suffering and inequality rise right along with inflation.

In my read Biden is simply the wrong man for the job, setting aside his obvious mental decline. This is a pol who spent half a century wheeling and dealing on Capitol Hill, where any kind of larger vision counts for little next to one’s ability to keep the logs rolling and the barrels filled with pork. An ability to mislead the public goes far toward success.

As long as Biden served among fellow dumbheads with the same lowly priorities, the one-eyed jack could pass as king — Biden was the seasoned foreign policy expert, the statesman. Forget it. The pose doesn’t work now that he has to understand the world and act sensibly in it instead of merely pretending to understand it and acting in it without great consequence. Unlike on Capitol Hill, there are serious, paying-attention people in Berlin, Beijing, Moscow, Paris, and elsewhere.

Biden apparently dreamed of the presidency for decades. And now we must reflect on how perilous it often turns out to be when one’s dreams come true. Farce and embarrassment seem to be our fate for the next three years.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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26 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Maestro of Messes

  1. Robert Emmett
    December 15, 2021 at 18:33

    That sphinx-like profile of Blinky is the Janus-head opposite of Squinty Eyed Joe. Both ought to be carved in plaster. Take one good rainstorm.

    The verisimilitude is astounding: outright lying while unblinking or with peepers nearly squeezed shut. That’s the only mastery I can see. Elementary puppetry.

    Hawking democracy bromides while schoolboys wrangle for king of the mountain. See who’s last to yell “‘cause I say” in order to get their way.

    The cycle can be repeated hocus pocus, ad nauseam, to strains of for thee I sing while starry-eyed publics just can’t seem to bring their brains into focus. Or else play dumb and meekly put in their bids for hire to thumb-up a share of their betters’ bounty, in city and in county. What’s not to admire?

    Oh and the entire messrs’ mess easily could backslide into any number of maelstroms they help to stir-up over the next three years, imo.

    • December 16, 2021 at 20:40

      The little arrows in the carpet behind him, perfectly match his blank stare.
      Is he Tesla, or Boston Dynamics?

  2. Tom Dionne-Carroll
    December 15, 2021 at 17:54

    Patrick captures the essence of Biden & the US with his devastating prose-i do think that US democracy died after the Church committee inquiries were thwarted-after that the coup in Chile Argentina Carters jihad against the Soviet Union and toleration of death squads in El Salvador & Guatemala-at a minimum democracies do not commit genocide
    as for Paris being limped in With others=Paris is a joke with Macron being another disastrous president with no credibility and no respect while his economy is devoured by Germany

  3. rosemerry
    December 15, 2021 at 15:54

    As well as Moon of Alabama and The Saker, it is well worth while every day watch online the wonderful Alexander Mercouris, well-known of course here on CN, with so much detail and interesting background on issues of major importance including “democracy”, “human rights”, “R2P”, “rules-based international order” comparing Russia and China intellectually to the USA with obvious results as Patrick has indicated in this article.

  4. torture this
    December 15, 2021 at 13:33

    It’s amazing how anyone can think we have 3 more years of Joe Blowhard to look forward to but then I think about how long they kept Bush (41) alive and I see your point. The sure thing is that he won’t be there longer.

  5. Jeff Harrison
    December 15, 2021 at 13:08

    Vladimir Putin said Presidents come and go but the policy remains unchanged. I think therein lies the problem. Americans are totally inexperienced with making changes to their country because we are incapable of it. And, therefore, we think that other countries are incapable of it as well. This is why in recent (especially) coverage of Russia, they are frequently referred to as the Soviets which they aren’t. The US simply hasn’t gotten with the program.

    I’m surprised that they didn’t call it the summit of the free world which is about how far behind the times the US is as we continue to beat the socialism/capitalism dead horse. That is so twentieth century. Of course, the term “free world” referred to the fact that most of the communist countries were also totalitarian dictatorships. Of course, that’s no longer true and not all dictatorships are led, as we used to say, by commie pinko fags (most of the Gulf states immediately come to mind) while we continue to live in a cage of our own making deluding ourselves into thinking that by interfering in their elections we can make them “democratic” like us. Orwell didn’t know the half of it.

  6. Caliman
    December 15, 2021 at 13:07

    Very thought provoking as always …

    Re “democracy,” if the form of government one has is judged by outcomes rather than simple habits, it’s debatable whether an American version of democracy even exists any more. Poll after poll has shown that policies and laws passed in DC have no relationship to what large majorities of people want and strong relationship to elite concerns and needs. This is not a popular democracy nor even an oligarchic democracy … this is tyranny of the 0.1% pure and simple.

    But the blow-dried millionaires on tv and in the Senate and the WH tell us we have the bestest democracy in the world, at least if we don’t allow those dratted red-hat wearing others from wrecking it.

  7. Alex Cox
    December 15, 2021 at 12:28

    Please list Jimmy Carter’s ‘better qualities’. Would they include creating the Contras or funding Bin Ladin and the Mujahadeen?

    • corvo
      December 15, 2021 at 16:44

      He put solar panels on the White House roof, for one thing! And then there’s, umm, ehmm, aaaahhhhh . . .

    • December 16, 2021 at 21:04

      Carter was weak, but he wasn’t actively evil. I doubt he had the vision to sense the Pandora’s Boxes being opened. It’s not like he cashed in. The moral zombies following all have their special place in hell, but I think he walked past that door.

  8. evelync
    December 15, 2021 at 12:22

    Excellent article.
    Thank you Patrick Lawrence.

    Mr. Biden’s a hypocrite: I’ve always wondered whether he knows it. If so, he’s probably the best con artist we’ve had. Some of ’em glitch….
    He sounds like he truly understands the crises we face; then buckles to the short term financial interests of the TBTF banks, the war profiteers, and the rest – even when it’s clear that those idiots are willing to destroy the planet for a few more bucks in their pockets.

    I’d like to know exactly why his masters – the war machine, the big banks and the rest of the powerful profiteers – want Julian Assange silenced – I guarantee if his corporate handlers were ok with Julian being treated with respect and honor as he should be that Joe would drop the case in the blink of an eye – maybe its just the intelligence block protecting their asses or the whole sorry group.
    How does that order get handed down to him? Just curious.

    He’s a glorified hand maiden of an authoritarian corporate elite willing to have the rest of us and the increasingly fragile planet take our medicine time and again in the name of their greed.

    Biden follows the Schumer doctrine – don’t cross the intelligence services ’cause they’ll get you six ways from Sunday.
    Too bad the political top of our intelligence services serves the same profiteers, always have and always will.

    Is this what fascism is all about – a country run to serve short term corporate greed – even when their own offspring would be as doomed as the rest of us from climate devastation and/or nuclear war.

    In the end it all seems to be a bloody con game.

    This article on crypto currency and the Biden administration’s “Working Group on Financial Markets” (the TSY, the FED, the SEC and the CFTC) are falling in line with giving this latest con game legitimacy by pretending that it can be regulated by the Congress which will only give more people confidence in this flakey invention.
    This article convinced me that the TBTF banks have been intentionally perpetrating a con since they shattered the Glass Steagall regs. and destabilized banking designating the taxpayer as the fall guys…
    And now the crypto currencies seem to be another iteration of the con game….given that there’s no way to prove that when you trade your sovereign currency for a crypto you have any assurance that you’ll get your money back.

    Sherrod Brown gets it. His CTTE recently heard from two reliable critics whose testimony is linked to below this article on this hearing:

    Testimony of Alexis Goldstein:

    Testimony of Hilary Allen:

    • December 16, 2021 at 21:09

      Ask yourself; Could Wall Street function, if DC wasn’t buying up trillions in surplus investment money? That’s the driving element. World War 2 solved the Depression and there is no looking back. The secret sauce of capitalism is public debt backing private wealth.

  9. Detroit Dan
    December 15, 2021 at 10:30

    Glad to see the reference to the JFK assassination:

    “Biden had two alternatives as he took office. He could pretend history had not merely stopped — it would reverse, and it was his job to restore the empire to the tarnished glory of the post–1945 decades. Or he could, as Jack Kennedy intended before the Deep State murdered him, get America out of the business of empire and advance it according to a new, more humane ethos.”

    In my opinion, this is indeed what happened in 1963. The systemic forces trying to maintain the empire have a life of their own, and it takes extraordinary wisdom and courage to confront them.

  10. Laura Kamienski
    December 15, 2021 at 09:38

    What I find fascinating and upsetting is that no one seems to understand that the term “democracy” is a code word for capitalism and imperialism as far as the U.S. government is concerned. Take any speech or text and replace the word democracy with capitalism or imperialism and it will make a great deal more sense. They are not interested in democracy in any sense of the true meaning of the word. Their aim is to save capitalism, period.

    • David Otness
      December 15, 2021 at 11:52

      True words, Laura. And as I see it today, having passed its apogee in the 1970s, these are the intermediate-to-final throes of U.S.-British Empire’s capitalism-as-democracy’s decline, and the larger world leadership is aware of this phenomenon, and even the U.S. population is catching on. We’ve been stripped of our illusions; as we find our quasi-functional democracy—as advertised to and as for the demos—remains a largely superficial farce, if not just an hypothetical construct, then a gaudy, rouge-cheeked, exemplar of lipstick on a pig.
      And too a democracy inherently has a very limited time of purity of expression due to the organic and emotional nature of mankind’s (en masse) limited consciousness to even sufficiently delineate it. Even as it is said/we are told it to be ‘happening’ as a core premise of our ‘self’-governance. Is our actual existence. Hmm…
      We only presume that we’re smart and capable enough to manage it by our supposed premise of empowering billions (of vastly differing levels of wealth, education and awareness) individually and God help us—‘equally!’ It presupposes a utopian inevitability by a very malleable, easily-manipulated subjective creature: humans. Humans always only milliseconds away from their amygdala asserting its primacy explosively.

      Democracy’s fundamental foundation is one of a constant personal sacrificing of time-responsibility—a certain minimum measure of participation. And one seemingly always lacking enough investiture to overcome the inevitable pooling of power pumping into select groupings of super-influence of the ambitious among us. And therein the reason the psychopaths and their toadying acolytes the sociopaths are propelled to the top—every time. The why-for of warfare as our most unwelcome and insufferably tenacious companion.

      It is said it is the best we can do. Which says much too much about our species under the macroscope.

  11. susan
    December 15, 2021 at 09:01

    Again, the wealthy dividing the world pie to devour one piece at a time…?

  12. Daniel
    December 15, 2021 at 08:54

    Another great article by Mr. Lawrence. And the accompanying photo here says a lot: A government official in full hair and makeup seated alone on a stage, with stage direction tape in the wings directing him to his mark to deliver his scripted lines.

    Stagecraft as statecraft is all we seem to have now in this theater of the absurd. And we have a cast of terrible actors giving nightly performances.

  13. Piotr Berman
    December 15, 2021 at 08:51

    I think that the lamentation of Patrick Lawrence has too few references to the basic issues facing the milieu of Biden at home and elsewhere, and “the road not taken”: are they doing their best under the difficult circumstances not of their making?

    As the current Administration is not made by novices introduced to their jobs from totally different occupation (like running companies in real estate and oil), one could prepare a strong start, getting the image of decisiveness and problem solving. And nothing easier in that direction that restoration of good old days and extrication from problems with no solutions. A short list of mine is

    restoring JCOA, quick lift of enough sanctions to get Iran’s freeze, both temporary, and energetic negotiation of guarantees for both sides
    making Assange a free man, note the plans to “promote democracy”
    withdrawing from Afghanistan without delays, focusing on avoiding TOTAL mess rather that grasping for straws and thin reeds

    Domestically, taking on Pharma and MIC could be popular, and even just striving in that direction could be appreciated — stiff resistance within the ranks of Democrats is a given, but it is not supported by popular sentiment.

    Other examples where thinking and vision are needed but lacking as the stasis corrodes require separate articles, but with too few

  14. TomG
    December 15, 2021 at 08:44

    Every time Blinken makes an attempt to communicate “democratic values” to the world, his very words, intended to be used against China, Russia or whoever, represent precisely the thing we do. A prime example was Sunday’s “Meet the Press” conversation with the accommodating Chuck Todd. Blinken on Russian”aggression” towards Ukraine stated, “One country can’t dictate to another county its choices, its decisions, and its foreign policy…. One country can’t exert a sphere of influence over others.”

    I just can’t imagine what country does that better than the USA.

    • vinnieoh
      December 15, 2021 at 12:43

      TomG: I saw that too on Sunday. I have severe COPD, and I nearly clocked out gasping for breath after that outrageous statement.

      Looking at the picture of him (Blinken) above, he reminds me very much of an animatronic dummy, like; are you familiar with Firesign Theater of the ’70’s? “We’re All Bozos On This Bus.” – the arcade attraction in the Future Fair: “Meet the President.”

  15. TomG
    December 15, 2021 at 07:53

    A few excerpts from Bonnhoeffer’s “After Ten Years” seem fitting to Mr. Lawrence’s assessment of the Biden team–including his tacit followers as well as the “opposition” party and its followers.

    “If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature … The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them … it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity … The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”

  16. Altruist
    December 15, 2021 at 04:58

    Patrick Lawrence naming Biden the “Maestro of Messes” is a clear allusion to Diana Johnstone’s calling Hillary Clinton the “Queen of Chaos” some years back. In any event, the Maestro – with his intellectually challenged, blinkered foreign policy team – seems at least a step above the malevolent Queen and her malicious minions (some of whom are now working for the Maestro).

    While as usual agreeing with everything that Patrick Lawrence so eloquently states, I should add that thia topic of “Democracy” and its promotion can also be analyzed from the standpoint of ideology and propaganda.

    Every empire in modern times (I exclude here the Roman empire, which was defined by rule of law, with imperial expansion ended after Hadrian built his walls in England and Germany), has used some official ideology to justify its expansion and rule over foreign peoples, with propaganda to buttress and broadcast the ideology. From the Spanish conquistadores bringing Christianity by the sword to the benighted “indios”, to the 19th century European colonialists exporting the benefits of European civilization to “darkest Africa,” to Woodrow Wilson “making the world safe for democracy” and Trotsky and diverse others exporting their different brands of salvation in the 20th century.

    Looking at the matter from this angle, the “democracy promotion” of Biden and Blinken is a neo-Wilsonian propaganda campaign, dressing the iron fist of imperialism in the velvet glove of “democracy”. And then all the contradictions and hypocrisies make perfect sense.

    The problem here is that Blinken, Power and other members of the Maestro’s brain trust seem to have drunk the Koolaid and believe their own propaganda.

  17. alley cat
    December 15, 2021 at 02:20

    “In my read Biden is simply the wrong man for the job, setting aside his obvious mental decline.”

    Patrick Lawrence keeps knocking them out of the park. He’s batting a thousand by my score.

    But I would submit that from the standpoint of our ruling class and their enforcers, Biden is the perfect man for the job. His obvious mental decline is a plus for them because it makes him easier to manipulate.

    Too bad our grifter ruling class is too greedy and too clever for its own good. They used their control over the corporate media and both political parties to put their favorite stooge into the White House. A stooge who can be trusted not to obstruct their cash-cow war machine or our current system of welfare for the rich.

    They think they can con the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians as easily as they can con the American electorate. But they’re dead wrong in that calculation, which means that when they are wrong the rest of us are likely to end up dead.

  18. Thurisar
    December 15, 2021 at 00:06

    “Unlike on Capitol Hill, there are serious, paying-attention people in Berlin, Beijing, Moscow, Paris, and elsewhere.”

    Better take Berlin out of that list. Our glorious new “government” is doing everything it can to make it clear we’ll remain an obedient satrapy to the empire. Führer Joe says “jump”, Germany is in orbit around Jupiter before he finishes the sentence.
    Let’s hope other countries stay reasonable, because we certainly aren’t.

    – just one still-thinking German

    • Piotr Berman
      December 15, 2021 at 08:57

      I though that MoonOfAlabama blog is a one-person operation from Berlin, perhaps one can find “ten just people” there?

      • corvo
        December 15, 2021 at 16:47

        So you DO know what happened the last time someone stalled for time to find “ten just people”! . . .

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