Monday, February 24, 2020

What Time Is It?

Bill Connolly, author, Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth (2019)

In October of 2017 I published a short book probing the rising danger of a new Fascism in America; it also sought to explain how the long neglect of working class grievances by the moderate wing of the Democratic Party helped pave the way for Trump and why so many moderate Democrats in the party, the media, and the academy missed the severity of the danger until after the revolt was well underway.
    Let me quote from one page in that book, as it identified numerous pressure points at that moment that could turn in this or that direction over the next couple of years:
...we now face a possibility that may either be transcended or morph into a distinctive brand of American fascism irreducible to its predecessors. It would accelerate institutional racism, immigration bans, deportation drives, misogyny, selective police ruthlessness, the hegemony of one wing of Christianity, and military bravado while practicing a mode of climate denialism that its predecessors never had to ponder. It would allow vigliante violence against vulnerable groups while maintaining a thin veil of deniability... A new fascism would retain competitive party elections while accelerating a host of state and federal practices that discourage poor minorities from getting to the polls, as it draws untrammeled and anonymous campaign expenditures from the filty rich...The regime would collude with foreign powers to manipulate elections and smear its opponents while plugging other "leaks" in the ruling bureaucracy itself. It would retain a privately owned media while cajoling voices critical of the regime and seeking to bury the remaining critical voices under its own Fox News, twitter and blog initiatives. It would make even more right wing court appointments to insulate its violences, intimidations, corruptions, collusions and surveillances from effective legal action. It would escalate controls over schools and universities already underway. It would give into the standing temptation to mimic the Reichstag event in vindicate new steps to mass moblization and selective oppression. It would intensify the drive to bring intelligence and police agencies under control... It would extend the neoliberal drive to entangle finance and corporate capital with state modes of subsidy, support and collusion. And it would strive to keep its base mobilized through the endless multiplication of Big Lies, distractions and carefully circulated rumors to keep the defenders of democracy off balance. The latter would include.. disinformation in blog, speeches and twitter feeds..and drawing kompromat more intimately into the nerves of American politics. It would institute a series of disruptive acts to disable criticism of these tendencies...
So where are we now? Well, racist and anti-imigration strategies have escalated. White Nationalism is growing. (Did you note Trump's critique of the Academy Award for "Parasite", a film by a South Korean Director set in South Korea, and his public nostalgia for "Gone With The Wind", a film set in the South during the Civil War? ) Fox News, right wing blogs, twitter campaigns, and Fascist Trump diatribes intensify weekly. As others who have studied leaders who seek to be tyrants have said, never assume the extreme statements are mere rhetoric. They announce plans and intentions.
Illustration: Paul Hoppe
Mid-level appointees in the State Department, Justice Department, FBI and Intelligence Agencies are squeezed by Trump increasingly every week, cowing many and translating their replacements into minions to demean rivals and protect him. Disinformation machines.
   The lower courts are shaky, as McConnell continues to flood the court system with right wing appointments. And the consolidation of a right wing majority on the Supreme Court is ominous.
The Republican defeat of Impeachment charges against Trump by Democrats in the House-- after he pressed Ukraine to intervene in the U.S. election on his behalf--has shown that Republican Party leaders are not really cowed by the President. Rather most are eager supporters of his practices. And more recent assaults by Republicans in the House against Intelligence officials who told them that Putin is again invading the 2020 election on Trump's behalf shows the same thing. Republicans are part of the Trump offense team, so no knowledgeable observers should be surprised when the effect of new Intelligence report led Trump to fire the Acting Head of Intelligence rather than instigating policies by him and other Republicans to fend off the next Russian election attack.
William Barr has profoundly corrupted the Justice Department, first, "summarizing" the Mueller report before slow releasing it to confuse an inattentive public, second, investigating the origins of the FBI investigations into Russian/Trump connections rather than continuing the investigations, third, refusing to forward a whistleblower report until the hero had to take action into his own hands, and fourth, quietly intervening in prosecution cases to impede legal investigations and conviction of Trump cronies and to promote investigation of his critics and opponents. Unrecorded meetings between Putin and Trump remain secret, even as Putin and Trump collude to shape the next American election.
Trump parades a host of autocrats and dictators before the public, promoting an atmosphere which encourages the exercise of autocracy here. Indeed, his public tweets attacking court decisions, actions in his own bureaucracy, etc., are not tactical mistakes, as some of his apologists assert. They are designed to warn every potential critic that he has the means and the intention to go after them if they protest. Tweets, fascist rallies, and constant helicopter simulations of press conferences simultaneously express his rage and enact his long term strategy. Each move is designed to promote despair among defenders of democracy and to fill the most ardent supporters with disinformation they love to disseminate. 
One sad symptom of the current condition is how too many academics continue to call Trump a "populist", thereby underplaying the real grievances of the working class he has captured, underestimating the extreme danger he poses to democracy, bypassing the powerful role of affective contagion in sustaining the Trump movement, and refusing to engage how a recent history of soft neoliberalism by many leaders of the Democratic Party helped to pave the way for the Trump revolt in the first place.
   The populist label is thus doubly mistaken, since in its application to the Left it misrepresents the depth of the unattended grievances of many who have now been captured by Trump and in its application to the Right it underplays the depth of the threat Trump poses to democracy. The anti-populist gang in the muddled middle still think that a return to old "guardrails" will suffice, even though Trump actually came to power when several of those guardrails were in place. They did not stop him then and they do not suffice to stop him now, or a successor in the future. The moderates will probably now try to prop up the neoliberal Bloomberg as their new candidate, repeating the errors that promoted the Trump movement revolt.
Similarly, while the pluri-populist Left must support and protect the independence of valiant news outlets such as MSNBC and CNN, it is way past time for the latter to curtail the legal and constitutional analyses of what is happening. They need to give much more time to the pluri-populist Left to explain what is happening and what to do about it. We warned of these dangers when moderates and legalists were still reading judicial opinions and telling us to allow the legal system to correct everything. And we rejected Barr at the outset when many legalists told us that he would probably be a responsible Attorney General. They fell for his rhetoric. It takes activist politics to support the rule of law, not mere discussions of legal precedent. The legalists were way too optimistic in telling us how the Law would prevail once the Mueller Report was published, too; they were also simplistic in focusing their analyses of the Impeachment trial on constitutional issues.
Trump is a lawless autocrat who rides over and slides under the law every time he can. And he then enacts policies and makes laws to punish his adversaries. His core supporters admire this and provide cover for it. Any moderate analysts still "surprised'' by his autocratic approach are out of touch. For instance, do Republicans and Bill Barr actually support a strong or sovereign Presidency, as they say and critical-legalist newscasters have often reported recently? No. They advance such a doctrine ONLY when a right wing Republican President is in power. Did you hear juridical thugs such as Dershowitz or Barr espouse that view when Clinton or Obama was President? No. Will they embrace it if Bernie becomes President? No. They are frauds. Using this story line to divert attention from their commitments to autocracy and support of a lawless President.
What is to be done? First if Trump instigates a new Reichstag event when he falls behind in the election we must take to the streets, stopping all business as usual. But he may, rather, crawl around like a python, squeezing his institutional prey rhythmically, letting up for a moment now and tightening again then. He has become adept at gradually tightening and extending his regime of corruption, intimidation and alignment with other autocrats. So, we must give active and whole hearted support to Left populists and pluralists such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as they press for rapid reduction of inequality, health care for all, and radical policies to come to terms with the climate crisis before it is too late. As things stand now, and as I argue in Climate Machines and Fascist Drives..,Trump translates immigration flows and other effects amplified by an escalating climate crisis into support for a new fascism, as he labels climate change a hoax.
Another thing about Left pluri-populist movements is that they mobilize protest groups, draw new constituencies into the fray, and inspire voting among younger citizens. During a time when Trump works to discourage and intimidate activism, pluri-populist movements are more essential to democracy than ever. The participants in them grasp the urgency of the situation. They can tell time.
To support a moderate Democrat today, then, means treading water as the new fascist flood deepens and widens. Moderates lag behind in discerning what we and they are up against on several intercoded fronts. They continue to be "shocked" every other day. They feel they are risk averse when in fact they persistently underrate two of the biggest risks staring them in the face: fascism and galloping climate change. A third is nuclear holocaust. 
The Senate's defeat of the Impeachment trial emboldened Trump to squeeze the screws tighter. A 2020 election victory for him--which is very possible given the structure of the electoral college, Putin's concerted campaign on his behalf, white triumphalism, the rampage of climate denialism, and Republican voter suppression--would pull away the last major restraint democratic citizens exercise over him. The others are either gone or slipping away. There is indeed a real danger that Trump will refuse to step down if he loses a close election. Much of his rhetoric is designed to prepare supporters at his rallies for that eventuality. We most definitely must take to the streets and close things down in that event. You certainly can't count on the Supreme Court. The Bush/Gore case taught that lesson.
What time is it? If it was 8:00 pm in October of 2017, it is 11:40 pm now. Midnight means consolidation of a new fascism. Some moderates, realists, and pragmatists will find such a finding to exaggerate, I am sure; but they have said that with respect to every such warning over the last several years. The vice continues to tighten. The crisis is now. 

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

*Special thanks to Bonnie Honig, Derek Denman, Jairus Grove, John Buell and Tom Dumm for feedback on this piece.


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