Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Category: Authoritarianism

A New Birth of Fiefdom

A new batch of psychological profiles of Donald Trump, future ex-president of the United States, has been circulating. They cover familiar territory: amoral, narcissistic, misogynistic, a sociopath and pathological liar. It’s very likely that these are all correct, but it will not get him removed from office, as we have seen. They offer some new ones, such as the lack of an interior narrative.

It doesn’t matter why he is a miserable son of a bitch. The most obvious problems are all that anyone needs to know. He thinks he has absolute power, and he exercises it to intimidate and injure those who challenge or criticize him. He fawns over those who flatter him. He worships money and power, and the fact that one can give him the other. It doesn’t matter where this fits in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or if it appears there at all.

He’s destroying America, and he keeps finding new ways to do it. We are in the middle of the worst scourge in human memory, more than one hundred years from the Spanish Influenza of 1918. He is the chief executive of the nation, and yet he has favored some states and punished others because their governors, not their citizens, have sued him or criticized him.

California, New York, and Washington have been particularly aggressive in trying to fight unfair or illegal policies, as it has a right to do. He had slow-walked meeting the needs of these places in the pandemic, much as he gave Puerto Rico the back of his hand when Hurricane Maria leveled Puerto Rico in 2017.

As Michigan is beginning to experience surging cases, Governor Gretchen Witmer has called on the federal government to step up to meet national needs. “What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we’ve procured contracts — they’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan,” Whitmer said in an interview.

In his defense of withholding aid to Michiganders, he blamed Whitmer for not being “appreciative” of his efforts. “I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor in Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan,’ ” Trump said. “You know what I say. If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”

Trump does not consider himself  a public servant. Instead, he views himself as a monarch, treating criticism as a personal insult, which he equates with treason. In response to pleas from governors for perosnal protection equipment and ventilators, he has told the states to get them themselves, at the same time telling vendors not to sell to them. His conduct is inhumane. He passed vengeful a couple of exits back.

New York has reported a little under 40,000 cases. Andrew Cuomo, its governor, called for 30,000 ventilators. To date, it has gotten 4,000. Trump said on Fox this past Friday, “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.”

Cuomo, who has won praise for stalwart leadership during this crisis, responded, “I hope no one needs a ventilator. But — I don’t operate on what I hope or what I would like to see or what my expectation is. I operate on the data and on the numbers and on the science. And every projection I have, from multiple sources, and these are worldwide health experts, say that we have to be prepared for an apex of 140,000 hospital beds and 40,000 ICU beds with ventilators.”

If it’s Trump’s belief against Cuomo’s data, the choice would be clear. Actually, Trump is giving Cuomo the back of the hand.  Whether he is exacting personal revenge or flaunting his power, it is an indifference to human suffering. He may believe that New Yorkers will turn on Cuomo and blame the Democratic party for Trump’s high-handed treatment. We don’t, and we won’t.

His truculence extends to critics in red states as well. Red Louisiana is crashing. According to the Center for Disease Control, the virus is widespread in Purple Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, and in Red North Carolina and Utah. Red Texas is undetermined because it refuses to test. Three Republican governors, Baker of Massachusetts, DeWine of Ohio, and Hogan of Maryland, took action in conflict with White House policy against shutdowns. Voters won’t forget.

Until now, Trump’s followers have ignored his unprofessional behavior. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said that he was willing to die to save the economy, a thought explained and apparently seconded by former journalist Britt Hume. Patrick and other true believers may soon have an awakening when the daily dispatch of death notices hits closer to home.

Three into Two Won’t Go

The administration of future ex-President Donald Trump appeared to be in a graveyard spiral.  The House’s impeachment inquiry was going well; the G7 Summit at Trump’s beleaguered, bedbug-ridden Doral Resort was universally condemned; Mick Mulvaney spit the bit on the quid pro quo deal with Ukraine; Joe Biden didn’t shoot himself in either foot during this week’s debate.

Nature abhorring a vacuity, into the breach rushed Tulsi Gabbard and Hillary Clinton.  During a midweek podcast interview with David Plouffe, Obama’s twice-successful campaign manager, former/former/former Clinton said that one of the current, female Democratic candidates was being “groomed” as a third-party candidate by the Russians.  Counting out Harris, Klobuchar, Warren, and Marianne Wilson, the index finger pointed at Tulsi Gabbard, who had done the same math.

Gabbard fired back at Clinton. “Let’s be clear what this is about. Really, that if anyone stands up and speaks out to end the regime-change war policies that this country has had for so long, the likes of which we’ve seen waged in Iraq, Libya and Syria, we will be labeled as foreign agents, as traitors to our country…that we are traitors to the nation that we love. This is despicable on so many levels.”

Gabbard described Clinton as a champion of the regime change policies. She didn’t stop there, describing the 2016 nominee as the “embodiment of corruption.”  These are sobriquets one might pick out of Trump’s Compendium of Campaign Taunts and Disparagement. That would be strange in isolation.   Not for nothing, though, Gabbard has received praise from a surprising cohort of Trump supporters. Lisa Lerer wrote in the New York Times several days before the Clinton statement, in a piece called, “What is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?”

 Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, is impressed with her political talent. Richard B. Spencer, the white nationalist leader, says he could vote for her. Former Representative Ron Paul praises her “libertarian instincts,” while Franklin Graham, the influential evangelist, finds her “refreshing.”

 And far-right conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich see a certain MAGA sais quoi.

  “She’s got a good energy, a good vibe. You feel like this is just a serious person,” Mr. Cernovich said. “She seems very Trumpian.”

Plus, the support of former KKK Grand Dragon David Duke.  The Times story mentioned other alt-right constituencies offering praise for Gabbard’s isolationism and her willingness to criticize Israel.  Yet, her isolationist rhetoric reads as an anti-imperialist message, at home in Democratic circles of the sixties and seventies, ignored by Gabbard herself.

The Times article also cited Gabbard’s favorable treatment by the Russian Times and supportive attention from suspected Russian bots.  There is reason for concern that she might be a witting Russian asset, like Donald Trump, or an unwitting one, like Donald Trump.

Gabbard threatened to boycott last week’s debate, contending that the 2020 election was being rigged. This has a Trump resonance But Gabbard worked for Sanders in 2016. She comes by her distrust honestly.

At the same time, Clinton’s statement — provocative, tone-deaf and impolitic — hearkens back to 2016 and Deplorables 2.0.   She threw a Molotov cocktail when all that was needed was a Roman candle.  The only important point is that the Russians need Trump to win to continue to influence U.S. foreign policy. Fearing that the structural limit of Trump’s support and his self-inflicted wounds will render him unelectable, Russia’s interjection of a third-party candidate to Trump’s left would split the Democratic vote, potentially tossing the election to the incumbent.

Russia’s attempt to divide the vote and the Democrats’ internecine struggle over the role of the DNC are the “vectors” which line up Russia’s potential backing of a Democrat to run as a third party.  The Democrats have not put out the fire. In fact, in Democratic circles, the war of 2016 continues to rage with complaints over super-delegates and partisan treatment. Hence, claims of corruption.

I drew flack yesterday with the statement, “As Trump falters, the Democrats’ circular firing squad moves into position.”

https://www.facebook.com/678453688/posts/10158060790548689/   Nevertheless, that assessment stands.  It remains a long, difficult lesson for Democrats to learn how Republicans, essentially a minority, outperform them through superior party discipline:  Merrick Garland. Brett Kavanaugh.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have gone so wrong as to put party over country. Maybe that’s inevitable when power is concerned. The Democrats have won far less than they should have, largely because of a failure in marshaling resources. Obama is a notable exception. So much about being a Democrat these days is aspirational. Still, there has to be a pragmatic side to it, and that pragmatic side must be upgraded to compete with the substantial political and financial forces arrayed against it.

 

As Heads Continue to Roll

Immigration Ban Losing Its Appeal


 This past Friday, Hon. James Robart, a Republican-appointed federal district court judge, declared unconstitutional the presidential immigration ban, allowing immigration travel to resume without delay.

Stay Denied

The Justice Department filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and asked the court to stay the Judge Robart’s decision striking the executive order until the appeal is heard, meaning that the ban should stay in effect until there has been a final decision on the appeal. The Court of Appeals turned down the Justice Department plea, permitting flights into the United States to resume for the time being.  At the same time, the Court of Appeals set a very rapid schedule for the parties to file their briefs, signifying that a decision would be made rapidly.

 What It Means

The Circuit Court decision represents a minor victory for the anti-administration position. It suggests, at most,  that the court expects to uphold Judge Robart’s decision. At the least, it means that, given the short briefing schedule, no real harm will be done by allowing flights to be rescheduled.  Judges frequently it will overcome a request for temporary relief by shortening the time involved.

In part, it is a reflection that the court expects to rule against the executive order. It doesn’t represent an in qualified victory for the anti-administration position. Only after the case is briefed, argued and decided will we know what this appellate court thinks about the executive order.

Constitutional Problems

 The administration has several problems with its position. The first is that it is well known now that it was conceived as a means to stop entry of Muslims into the United States.  It was so declared by its conceiver, Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and currently the reincarnation of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Giuliani proudly admits taking the idea of a Muslim ban and couching it in terms of banning entry by nationals of certain  Muslim-majority countries.

However, those countries do not account for an imminent threat or a single act of terrorism on United States soil. Moreover, the executive order also exempted religious minorities from those countries. It reads like a ban against all people of Islam. Oops!

 National Security 

The administration’s second problem is that it relies entirely on the President’s motivation on the need of national security, which in turn is based on his belief, as opposed to evidence. No doubt, there is an underlying national security need to exclude potential terrorists. By declaring everyone (except Christians) from certain Muslim-majority countries to be excluded, the administration painted with a broad and religiously discriminatory brush.

Second, the administration has offered no proof of a national security risk if the immigration ban is not enforced.  There is no publicly available information suggesting a threat of terrorism by one or more individuals emigrating from the targeted countries. Addition, there is no explanation why other Muslim-majority countries are not included in the executive order-such as Saudi Arabia. If there is information and it’s confidential, the Justice Department could offer to show the courts the information on a confidential basis, so that the classified nature is not destroyed. The Justice Department has not offered to do that.

Cyber-Based Terrorism

There is a third factor, and it is important. The attacks within the United States and in Western Europe over the last couple of years were thought to be Lone-wolf actions or the act of ISIS  sympathizers. The people carrying out the attacks were lawfully in the countries where the attacks took place. Most recently, investigation suggests that these were not Lone-wolf attacks but in fact were directed by ISIS through instant messaging via the Internet. The domestic terrorism issue is as much an issue of cyber security as it is about admitting potential terrorists into the country.

In addition to being unconstitutional for a variety of reasons, the executive order may be ineffectual in stopping domestic terrorism.

  What else can the Justice Department say? It will probably argue that the executive order is an exercise of the presidential prerogative to maintain national security.  This argument is not persuasive.  It is too easy for the administration to assert a national security pretext to cover otherwise unjustifiable actions.  

If the administration is able to present some tangible evidence of an imminent risk, no doubt the court would take such evidence very seriously and would uphold the ban in some modified form that would address the potential danger. But the court cannot grant blanket use of a national security exception without creating an opportunity for abuse by the administration.

© 2017 The Revolted Colonies

 

 

 

So, What Do You Really Think?

The warning signs were there from the beginning that this was going to be a watershed year. Donald Trump, President-Elect, buzzed through a crowded field of mostly experienced politicians to emerge as the Republican standard-bearer. We could chalk it up to the asymmetry of the field or the brawling of primary politics or an aberration caused by conflating reality and TV.  Now that Trump has won the White House,  his victory, still shocking, is more understandable. 

The country is almost evenly divided between people who reject the empowerment of the federal government as a positive force and those who embrace it.  Trump embodies the former and Clinton the latter.  Trump had a clear vision of his following — he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and he would not lose his support.  Sexual assault, race-baiting, tax dodging, swindling: none of it mattered because he thumbed his nose at the System. Now he will be the System, until he dismantles it.

Take Trump at his word. He will build a wall. He will get Mexico to pay for it. He will close our borders. He will start sending bills to our allies. He will tip all the sacred cows.  If you like alternate history, this will be a field day. There will be an iconoclast — a vengeful, petty, litigious one — as Commander-in-Chief. Nothing is unthinkable.

 © 2016 The Revolted Colonies

Uh Oh, He Used the H (Hitler) Word!

When it comes to mass murder, Hitler runs a distant third. He trails Stalin by about 10 million and Mao by about 70 million. image I don’t mean to say that Adolph was a poser but frankly he was out of their league. Mao and Stalin were long-lasting tyrants, holding unquestioned, terrifying political power for five decades. The Third Reich of a thousand years lasted but twelve. Still, Hitler was unique as these monsters go. imageHe committed an incredible number of murders in those twelve years. They’re not Hall of Fame stats but he sure had a meteoric career.

Now, here comes Trump, 70 years old. No private army, no loyalty from the military, no secret police. Nothing like an SS. How can the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, a very sharp guy, compare him to the Führer?

It’s possible that Trump followers could egg a few federal buildings after he’s shut down their agencies– why not? But it’s not even close to setting fire to the Reichstag, the German Parliament. He’s not about to lock up Jews, Blacks and Mexicans. Ok, maybe a few Mexicans. And Muslims probably shouldn’t back-order anything just now. Trump talks guns and doesn’t even wear a uniform. Mao, Joe and Adolph always dressed to kill. How can you take the guy seriously?

The press is always building people up just to shoot them down. The next Dylan, the next Mantle, the next Adolph. It will be the same with Trump. “Believe me!” He won’t even chart as high as Pol Pot or Idi Aminimage

image

What’s got Richard Cohen’s hair on fire is the lies. “Trump lies, then he lies about the lies!” That wasn’t Hitler. It was really more Goebbels. Goebbels was all about the Big Lie: if you say something outrageous long and loud enough it starts to seem true. Trump tried it with the Birther thing. Trump made the hats and shirts, but it never took off. People just weren’t buying it. I’ve seen the facsimile Kenyan birth certificates stacked up at the Dollar Store. His licensees must have taken a real beating on that one.

Besides, since when is lying a sin? The Eighth Commandment doesn’t say anything about lying exactly. It says not to bear false witness,  lying under oath, which means don’t swear to it. Big difference. Ask any lawyer.

There’s always going to be a few people who believe him. After all, he’s a billionaire (maybe). He must be right about something! Trump is pretty good at separating fools from their money and maybe from their votes too. That doesn’t make him Hitler. It might make him P.T. Barnum.

P. T. Barnum, circus producer, stands next to a table on which Charles Stratton, a dwarf who came to be known as Tom Thumb, stands. Barnum hired Stratton at the age of five and Stratton became the first major attraction the circus owner promoted. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

P. T. Barnum, circus producer, and Tom Thumb

 

 

Why There is a Donald Trump: The Authoritarian Strain

tumblr_obpvgfOkjt1rbam90o1_500 Donald Trump watches Vladimir Putin admiringly, as the despot reassembles the Russian Empire, and he dreams of similar conquest.  Trump has vowed to make America great again, and domination is what he means.  Donald Trump’s vision is a grotesque paraphrase of Ronald Reagan. Trump sees this country as the Shining Fortress of Solitude on the Hill, dispatching the military to rule over its Imperial outposts.

Trump supporters long for an America of memory, one that will not be kicked around. But this is a faulty memory, a confabulation. For all but the twenty-five years following the Second World War, America hasn’t dominated the world.   America didn’t win the World Wars alone, for that matter.  America did not even get into those wars for two years after they began.

The undeclared Korean War is a stalemate that has never been resolved. The Vietnam War was a debacle.  The first Gulf War essentially was uncontested, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been unqualified disasters. No disrespect for those who served and serve, the wars themselves were atrocious mistakes. The Iraq war was a fraud on the troops and the taxpayers.

Yet Trump promises to return America to its winning ways.  He believes in an America of the imagination, a vision of Empire that drove this country down the dishonorable road of genocide and displacement of the indigenous peoples; into a series of wars in the West to maximize its North American territory;  and wars in the Caribbean and the Philippines to drive Spain out of North America once and for all, while establishing a U.S. beachhead in East Asia.

Empire is inherently despotic, even those that are nominally democratic, because there is no equality between the ruler and the ruled, domestic or foreign.   Trump says, “I am your voice.” No, you’re not. You’re not my voice, and you’re not my Nation.

The American people will have to fall much farther than we think we have fallen to abandon our civic sovereignty, our right of self-determination. Why would Americans give up the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to someone who does not respect the rule of law?

Trump’s admiration for Putin is instructive.  He lauds Putin’s assertiveness in the Crimea and Syria, just as he attacks Obama for his decision not to enter those military theaters.  Russia’s actions have precedent,  pushing out to the expanse of the former Tsarist and Soviet Empires.  Putin has the backing of many countrymen who rue the collapse of Communism.  Marcel H. Van Herpen, the author of Putin’s Wars,  explains why Russians are willing to yield their hard-won freedoms:

In such a case, the home country’s imperial conquests provide an ersatz satisfaction. Feelings of powerlessness and a lack of personal pride and individual accomplishment are compensated by a process of identification with the power and the glory of their country. The lack of personal respect that they receive as individuals is compensated by the respect—and fear—that their home country inspires. “If a man is proud of his Belief, his Fatherland, his People,” one can still read in an anonymous Russian publication of 2007 attacking democracy, “he finds internal pride in himself as a representative of this great people and great country.” This mechanism can be observed in a population of serfs that has been enslaved, as well as in a population that gives up its original freedom and enslaves itself for the sake of national glory.

Trump’s nostalgia for an idealized American past, a short-lived one at that, taps into an anger borne of a sense of powerlessness. Americans have limits, as all other people of the world do.  People who grew up in the post-Second World War era take this as a defeat, because from 1945 to 1968, America was a country of nearly limitless resource and possibility.  That era has been gone for longer than it was here, and all of us longing for it will have to live off the fumes. The world has changed, and America is no longer its overwhelming economic force.

For many Americans, it has meant financial desperation and hopelessness for their children.  Somebody’s going to pay for that.  The authoritarian strain in America is real. It has been gaining force, while the European-descended portion of population slips in political force and our economy comes back to the pack.

© 2016  The Revolted Colonies

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