For the U.S., the worst is yet to come, and that’s not just over the few days before Joe Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday as the 46th U.S. president. The furor over free speech and freedom to protest, intermingled with the impact of COVID-19 on tens of millions of Americans who don’t share the bounty of stock dividends and inflated salaries and bonuses, will make legitimate debate and the threat of violence a fact of American life for a long time.
How long is anyone’s guess, but the emotions running rampant in Washington and around many of America’s 50 states reveal the difficulties of reaching any broad understanding on how far it’s legally safe to go in expressing a point of view. Vandals of the far right have pretty well shown they’re worse than the inner-city mobs that looted shops and stores in waves of mayhem that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May and many incidents since. Those rioters did not invade the American Capitol and other citadels of state power, though they did desecrate treasured monuments in their outrage over the legacy of slavery and inequality.
The criminally irresponsible rogue behind the latest assaults on democracy resides at this writing in the sanctuary of the White House. It is beyond belief how Donald Trump, however much he claimed to have been cheated in the election in November, could have incentivized a mob to rampage against the U.S. Congress, one of the three branches of the American government, and then whine over the loss of the online accounts that he exploited to motivate his fanatic followers.
Think of how much better it would have been for Trump, after losing the first few lawsuits intended to upset the results, to have focused on problems where he really might have helped in his final weeks in office. Why was Trump, like many other heads of state, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, not visiting hospitals and clinics, showing his concern for victims of COVID-19, asking kindly if they had enough beds, working to get them all they needed and speeding up distribution of the new miracle vaccines?
Instead, up to the invasion of the hallowed halls of Congress by diehard fanatics, Trump and his lapdog lawyer Rudy Giuliani were whipping up the crowds into a destructive frenzy. We know the man isn’t exactly a humanitarian, but surely he could have recognized the advantage, for his legacy, of behaving like one.
But there’s another problem. By depriving Trump of his beloved Twitter account and banning him from Facebook, the lords of social media have raised the uneasy question of free speech. Millions around the world no longer can read Trump’s exhortations.
That’s fine for now, considering the peril into which he placed the government and country, but soon enough ambitious politicians will want to set up commissions and agencies, led maybe by a cabinet-level “cyberspace secretary,” exercising control over the free-wheeling internet. How else, they might ask, to keep the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos from dominating our universe?
The fact that Bezos owns the Washington Post invites further questions. Not fair, say the critics, for the guy who’s made multi-billions off book sales and a lot of other stuff on Amazon to control one of the nation’s most influential papers. The fact that the Post has been going after Trump from the time he was first running for president in 2016 adds fuel to the fire. Those Posties have been attacking Trump from before Day One. They may wonder what to write about when he’s no longer around.
It may not be all that long before aggrieved members of Congress, the target of the assault on the Capitol Building, will get the bright idea of investigating and licensing the moguls of the cyberworld, calling their companies monopolies, going after them for constraint of trade and mind control. Liberals historically have decried the vast, increasing inequities in American life, but rightist critics now see Trump as the victim of leftist censorship.
The same issues arise everywhere, nowhere more so than in Korea. The South’s liberal leadership is accused of repressing the media, intimidating critics and silencing foes. Leftists, careful not to “demonize” North Korea in hopes of inter-Korean dialogue, target the chaebol that dominate the economy. Similarly, in the U.S. the air is rife with questions of fairness, freedom and censorship. Controversy over Trump’s right to say what he thinks will reverberate long after he’s stopped tweeting from his White House bedroom.