Tag "#BarackObama"

Uncategorized 0 Comments

Why It’s So Hard to Understand That the Violence Your Country Exports Is Terrorism

Attribution bias is a familiar theme in the literature of modern psychology.

“I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”—Winston Churchill, 1920, with regard to the uprising in Iraq.London.On 23 March 2017, Khalid Masood ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, stabbed a police officer with a knife, and then was shot dead. He killed four people in the rampage, which injured an additional forty people and disturbed the equanimity of a major Western city. Masood, who was born in Dartford (Kent, United Kingdom), had run afoul of the law for many years—mainly because of acts of violence and possession of weapons. The gap between the act of Masood and a common criminal is narrow.Two months ago, the head of the Metropolitan Police said that “warning lights are flashing” over the rise of violent crime across England and Wales. The preferred weapon, said Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, was the common knife. Violent crime had risen by twenty-two percent, with the last quarter of 2016 registering 30,838 crimes committed with knives. Masood’s crime could well have been read alongside this data, as a serious problem of an increase in violence with knives as the weapon of choice.Instead, the media and the British political class offered a sanctimonious lesson in civics. This was, said UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, “an attack on our democracy, the heart of our democracy.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that despite this attack, “we will move forward together, never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.” One newspaper suggested that Boris Johnson’s statement was “Churchillian.”ISIS, which has been under serious threat in Iraq and Syria, has called upon people around the world to conduct acts of criminal violence in its name. There is no evidence yet that Masood acted on the instructions of ISIS or that he was following the ISIS edict to attack people in public areas in the West. What is known is that right after the attack, ISIS took credit for it, calling Masood its “soldier.” ISIS social media celebrated the attack. There is a form of delirium at work here—a group weakened now seeks to glorify itself by a pathetic attack by a man with a criminal record, using an old car and a knife.Attribution bias is a familiar theme in the literature of modern psychology. It refers to the problem that occurs when people evaluate the actions of themselves or others based not on the facts but on attributions transferred from inherent biases. Fritz Heider, who first developed this theory in The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (1958), suggested that attributions are made mostly to preserve one’s self-concept—namely one’s sense of self. Rather than evaluate one’s own behavior in a bad situation, one tends to blame others and to disregard the constraints that others operate under. This is typically considered to be a “self-serving bias”—the winner of an election says, “I won because the people voted for me,” whereas the loser says, “I lost because of voter fraud.”Masood’s act has already been pinned on ISIS, and ISIS has already adopted him as one of its combatants. Both decisions are self-serving—the one to deny any native role for the production of Masood and the other to uplift a flagging insurgency. Masood’s own convulsions with racism, his own desire to seek glory above his miserable situation: these are not taken seriously. “Home-grown” terrorists have ‘home-grown’ problems. But the term ‘terrorist’ allows the “home-grown” person to be exported—as it were—to other countries, to defer blame to them—to ISIS, in this case.Al-MansouraThree thousand miles southeast of London sits the town of al-Mansoura, near the city of Raqqa (Syria). Aerial bombardment by the United States in the area around Raqqa had pushed about fifty families to take shelter in the al-Badia school in the town. The US bombings had come to soften up ISIS positions in the towns around Raqqa as hundreds of US forces take their positions in its periphery. The US forces—and their allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces—have sought to seize a major dam on the Euphrates River at the town of Tabqah. This dam is essential to the water supply for Raqqa. The battle over Tabqah, one of the last remaining conduits into and out of Raqqa, will be essential before the US and its allies turns its firepower against ISIS’s “capital.”On 22 March 2017, hours before Khalid Masood conducted his terror attack in London, US aircraft bombed the school. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, says that thirty-three civilians died in this bombing run. Hamoud Almousa of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently says that the number might be as high as 101 civilians. The day before, on 21 March, US aircraft bombed the town of Tabqah, hitting the Maysaloon school, a field hospital and homes on al-Synaa street—killing twenty civilians. A week before, US aircraft bombed the town of al-Jineh (near Aleppo), hitting a mosque and killing forty-six civilians. Col. John Thomas of the US Central Command said that the US aircraft did not hit a mosque. “We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” he said. This statement always suggests that the Central Command knows that it hit civilians, but does not want to make a direct statement one way or another.AirWars, a non-profit group that maintains a record of casualties from aerial bombardment, says that in March alone there have been over a thousand civilian non-combatant deaths in Iraq and Syria as a result of what it calls “Coalition actions”—with the US aircraft inflicting the bulk of the casualties. This considerable spike has led AirWars to suspend its investigation of Russian-inflicted casualties (fifty in March) and to divert its staff to look at those inflicted by the Coalition aircraft alone.The Western media focused on the actions of Khalid Masood and remained silent on these deaths. Brief notes of this or that massacre appeared, but without the focus and intensity of the kind of coverage given to the attack by Masood. No front page story with a large picture, no “Breaking News” coverage on television with correspondents insisting that spokesperson for US Central Command give them more than pabulum. It is as if we live in two alternative universes—one, where terror confounds the population with moral indignation and two, where large deaths from jet fighters are treated as the necessary side-effects of war. One is terrorism; the other is an accident.It does not feel accidental to the people of al-Mansoura or al-Jineh.BinariesI have spent decades thinking about the asymmetry of reactions to these sorts of incidents in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I have written about them, indignation as the mood of these essays. But this is spitting into the wind. It is futile on Facebook, for instance, to make the suggestion that the 2016 Karrada bombings in Baghdad (Iraq), which killed over 300 people, should have driven people to turn their profile pictures into Iraqi flags (as the world had done after the 2015 Paris attacks, when 137 people were killed). “Je Suis Charlie” is easy to write, but not #AmiAvijit. Eyes roll when these gestures are urged, whether through bewilderment at their meaning or exhaustion at their sanctimoniousness. After all, the eye-roll suggests, how could one compare a satirical French magazine with obscure Bangladeshi bloggers who have been hacked to death? It takes an immense act of will to push editors to run stories on tragedies that seem distant even from the places where they occur. All eyes focus on the latest attack in Molenbeek, but few turn with the same intensity to look at the tragedies in Beirut or in Cairo.Over the years I have settled on some binaries that operate to blind thinking about violence in the world. Our days have become hallucinations, with violence always at the edge of consciousness. But violence is understood through these binaries in ways that befuddle those who believe in a universal humanity, those who believe—in concrete terms—that people in Kabul deserve empathy and sympathy as much as people in Berlin. In fact, the scale of the violence in Kabul is so much greater than in Berlin that you would imagine greater sympathy for those in far more distress. But actually the logic of these binaries moves consciousness in the opposite direction.Eastern Malevolence / Western BenevolenceThere is standard belief amongst reporters—for example—that Western actions are motivated by the highest values and are therefore benevolent. The loftiest values of our time—democracy and human rights—are sequestered inside the concept of the West. The East—bedraggled—is treated as a place without these values. It is bereft, a bad student. There is what Aimé Césaire calls “shy racism,” for it suggests that Easterners cannot be given the benefit of doubt when they act, or that Westerners could not also be malevolent in their objectives. The way this logic runs it is the Eastern bombing of Syria’s Aleppo, conducted by the Oriental despot Bashar al-Asad, that is inhumane, while it is the Western bombing of Iraq’s Mosul (250 to 370 civilians killed in the first week of March) that is humane. It would pierce the armor of Western self-regard to admit that its armed forces could—without sentiment of care—bomb mosques and schoolhouses.What about Hitler? Is he not the epitome of Western malevolence? Hitler is the madman, much as white terrorists in the West are madmen. They do not define the society or the culture. No one asks after their attacks for Christianity to answer for their crimes or for Western Civilization to stand condemned. They are not compared to Hitler. The modern analogues of Hitler are always to be found in the East—Saddam, Bashar, Kim Jong-un—but not in the West.It took some guts for the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor to remark that “Churchill was no better than Hitler” —a statement that has led to the routine objections from the British political class. US President Donald Trump insisted on returning his bust to the Oval Office, where he showed it with great aplomb to the UK Prime Minister Theresa May (she gave him a copy of a Churchill speech during her visit). It does not bother either Trump or May that Churchill was a racist, who believed that the “Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” Cliches are mobilized to defend him: he was a man of his time, when such ideas were commonplace. But such ideas were being vigorously challenged from the colonies and from within Britain. Hitler’s Endlösung was not of a different quality from Churchill’s Bengal Famine of 1943. Tharoor’s comparison of Churchill to Hitler will not stick. It will eventually be swept away. Far easier to see Hitler in Bashar al-Assad or in Kim Jong-un than in Churchill or George W. Bush. Hitler was Europe’s aberration, not—as Césaire pointed out—the logical culmination of colonial brutality.State Legality / Non-State IllegalityStates do not normally act outside the confines of international law. If they do, then it is in error. Or there are some states that are not proper states, but “rogue states” that do not behave according to the principles of civilization. Normal states, not rogue states, the logic of shy racism goes, never intentionally violate the laws of war and behave in a barbaric way. Their acts of murder are always unintentional because it would be too costly for them to intentionally murder civilians.When the United Nations Human Rights Council wanted to investigate NATO’s 2011 bombing of Libya, based on UN Security Council resolution 1973, its Brussels headquarters stalled. NATO’s legal adviser, Peter Olson, wrote to the United Nations saying that NATO deserved immunity. “We would be concerned if NATO incidents were included in the commission’s report as on par with those which the commission may ultimately conclude did violate law or constitute crimes,” Olson wrote. What NATO would like, he concluded, was for the UN commission to “clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.” In other words, without any investigation, the UN Human Rights Council should give NATO a certificate of high moral character.If civilians are killed, then it is either entirely accidental or it is because the enemy has used them as human shields. Strange illogical statements emerge from the power centers of the West to befuddle criticism. US President Obama’s drone strike policy allowed his operators to strike at crowds of people who looked like enemies (the “signature strike”). If, later, the intelligence services determined that some of them were not indeed enemies then those civilians would be ‘posthumously exonerated’. But they would—of course—be dead, murdered by a state actor that is not seen to be rogue and that sees itself as abiding by international law.Rogue states and rogue non-state actors do not abide by the protocols of the laws of war, and therefore they are the only ones who violate them intentionally. The violence of the rogue state and the rogue non-state actor is always worse than that of those who are deemed to be legitimate states and legitimate non-state actors. The nuclear weapons of India, Israel and Pakistan are acceptable, but Iran’s nuclear energy program is a grave threat to humanity. A ‘knife attack’ by a Palestinian child is horrendous and it is taken to define not only the Palestinian liberation movement, but Palestinian culture in general. The bombing of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach is accidental and not definitive of either Israeli state action or of Israeli culture. This asymmetry of evaluation is fundamental to the ruling ideas of our time.Violence to Heal / Violence to HurtWhen the US military conducted its massive bombing run against Iraq in March 2003 under the name “Shock and Awe,” it was considered to be in the service of human rights and security. But the language used by its architects was genocidal. Harlan K. Uliman, who developed the theory of “Shock and Awe,” said in 2003, “You take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.” A Pentagon official said of the actual bombing runs, “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” Hundreds of cruise missiles rained on Baghdad. Eventually, after a decade of war and occupation, the violence of the war would claim at least a million Iraqi lives.But yet, the language to define the war is muted. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the war that “from the [UN] charter point of view, it was illegal.” This should mean that US President George W. Bush and his coterie are war criminals. But his successor, US President Barack Obama refused to open an investigation and the world followed suit. Bush’s language about bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq became the anthem. If a million people died, so be it. It was all to heal Iraq, to free Iraq.The violence of the Iraqi insurgency, on the other hand, was immediately considered to be violence intended to hurt, to create problems not only for the United States, but for Iraq itself. The violence of the West is prophylactic, while the violence of the East is destructive.Precious Life / Disposable LifeWhen news broke of the failed US raid on the village of al-Jineh (Yemen), the Western media concentrated on the death of Ryan Owens who was a Seal Team 6 member. There was a great deal of discussion on his death and little mention of the civilians who were killed by Owens’ comrades in that raid. If they were mentioned it was as a number: twenty-eight or thirty. There were no names in the stories, no way to make these people into human beings. Nothing about Mohammad Khaled Orabi (age 14), Hasan Omar Orabi (age 10), Ahmad Nouri Issa (age 23), Mustapha Nashat Said al-Sheikh (age 23), Ali Mustapha (age 17), Abd al Rahman Hasim (age 17), and not even Nawar al-Awlaki (age 8) whose father and brother had been killed in earlier raids. No mention of the names of the forty-two Somali refugees gunned down by a Saudi helicopter gunship, a weapons system provided by the United States. To offer these names would be to give these people humanity.When twenty thousand or more people died because an US-owned factory exploded in Bhopal, Michael Utidjian, medical director of American Cyanamid said in 1984, it is sad but needs to be seen in context. What is that context? Indians do not have the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.” They do not mind when people die, it seems. They have a different standard of humanity. Their lives are disposable. They are not precious. Thirty-three dead here, forty-two dead there. Sad yes, but not tragic. Tragedy is only possible if one has the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.”Legible Narrative / Illegible NarrativeIt would be an illogical narrative to suggest that Western generals want to raze cities. That is not their motivation. When the US flattened Fallujah (Iraq) in 2004, under the command of then Major General James Mattis of the 1st Marine Division, this was not the intent. That the use of Depleted Uranium led to cancer rates fourteen times higher than in Hiroshima (Japan) after the atom bomb was dropped there was incidental, not deliberative. It is impossible to imagine an American, for instance, being cruel in military strategy. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine a Syrian general, such as General Issam Zahreddine, being systematically vicious. It is not possible to see both as ferocious. It would be an illegible narrative if these two stories were set side by side. One is so obviously a better man (Mattis) than the other (Zahreddine). The character of the man of the West always surmounts the character of the man of the East.Violent ShockWho needs censorship when you have ideology? When anything outside the governing ideology tries to make an appearance it is dismissed as the rants of a conspiracy theorist or as “alt-facts.” Terrorism is terrorism and counter-terrorism is counter-terrorism. To break down the distinctions between them is a scandal against civilization itself. Of course al-Qa‘ida is bad and the US military is good! That is ipso facto, the essence of reality.None of this is the blame of individual reporters or editors or indeed of individual readers of the press reportage. It is not something restricted to the West, for these attitudes are shared widely around the world. This is not a consequence of the impact of CNN or of BBC, but of much earlier, much deeper attitudes with deep roots from colonial times. It was an old colonial view that the violence of the imperial armies must have some Enlightenment logic behind them, whereas those of the darker world came motivated by messianism, tribalism, millenarianism or other illogical views of older times.When in the 1950s the British violently crushed the aspirations of the Kenyans, sending thousands to concentration camps and killing—as the historian Caroline Elkins argues – a hundred thousand people, this was done for rational reasons. The Empire had to be protected. The uprising of the Mau Mau, which they were countering in Kenya, could not be allowed to succeed. Indeed, it could not succeed—the British suggested—because it was merely the eruption of older African instincts. Even the name of the group powerfully allowed the British to paint their insurgency in diabolical colors. The rebels called their outfit the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The use of the words ‘land’ and ‘freedom’ suggested a link to the national liberation movements of that decolonization era. They also suggested a rational political platform, to distribute land to the colonized population in a free Kenya. The British insisted on calling them the Mau Mau—the name carrying for a British audience the full flavor of traditional Africa in its sound, the rhythm of a drum, the call from deep in the forest, the sly racism of the denial of the more traditional national liberation force. In the name Mau Mau appeared the forest and in it would dissolve the accusations of concentration camps and mass killings. It was not the British that did those killings, but the Mau Mau. Always the Mau Mau, never Lord Evelyn Baring who wrote that the British had to inflict “violent shock” against the Kenyans or else the British Empire would be defeated in Kenya.From Lord Baring’s Violent Shock to George W. Bush’s Shock and Awe: this cannot be terrorism. It is the business of rational states. Terrorism is what the others do. Always.This article originally appeared on Jadaliyya.
 Related Stories6 Major Ways Donald Trump Is Bringing Chaos to Our LivesBehind Trump’s Bloody War in Yemen: A Saudi Offensive Against IranExplosive Devices in Manhattan and New Jersey All Point to the Same Suspect, Police Say

Uncategorized 0 Comments

Why It’s Fantasyland to Assume Trump Is Going to Leave in a Scandal Anytime Soon

It’s tempting to believe that Trump’s an idiot and Flynn’s testimony could bring him down. Have we learned nothing?

Nothing that has happened in the short and exciting political career of President Donald Trump has any clear precedent, so this week was nothing new in that regard. Cable-news pundits who earnestly proclaimed on Thursday and Friday that the Trump administration had reached a Watergate-level turning point — after barely 70 days in office — may be operating on the assumption that old rules, or indeed any rules at all, still apply.My Salon colleague Chauncey DeVega recently argued that Trump has not, in fact, created an “alternate reality” and his opponents need to hold him to account through the aggressive and activist application of normal politics. That’s a coherent practical agenda, and no doubt a necessary one. I’m not entirely thrilled to be the guy who sits in the armchair wearing a cardigan sweater and says, Yeah, but it might not work. If reality itself has slipped its gears, “Man in the High Castle”-style, we may no longer understand what politics is, or how it works.Michael Flynn’s bizarre reappearance on the scene, demanding immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for testimony about something-or-other, defies any obvious explanation. It’s as if Charlie Brown were haunting the Great Pumpkin, rather than the other way around. (If younger readers do not grasp that reference, that’s what the internet is for.) Or to put it another way, the explanations that suggest themselves seem entirely too obvious, and cannot account for the available evidence.Maybe Trump’s apparently bottomless Russia scandal, which is overloaded with salacious but nonexistent videos and shadowy but unfocused surveillance operations — but almost entirely bereft of hard facts — is about to vomit up its secrets and drive Trump’s presidency onto the rocks. If you believe that one, I’ve got some “Hamilton electors” and a Michigan recount to sell you, and after that we can fix everything by burning Jill Stein at the stake. Liberal overconfidence, willful blindness and rampant wish-casting are what got us into this mess, to a large extent. They won’t get us out.Another possibility is that Donald Trump is trolling us all, as usual, and Flynn’s ploy is a short con that forms part of the Trumpian long con. As people with long political memories have reminded us, providing congressional immunity to Lt. Col. Oliver North during the Iran-Contra investigation, in hopes of burning Ronald Reagan’s White House to the ground, didn’t quite play out the way Democrats hoped. Flynn might well seize upon immunity and fall on his sword, telling investigators that, yeah, he had personally done some questionable or illegal things — a whole lot of them, one suspects — but his boss never knew about any of it and was as pure as the plastic snow around the Mar-a-Lago Christmas tree.In perhaps the only accurate thing Rep. Jason Chaffetz has said in public in the last decade, the Utah Republican described Flynn’s request for immunity as “very mysterious.” This is the congressman who promised endless investigations of not-quite-President Hillary Clinton’s real or perceived conflicts of interest, but has repeatedly said he detects no odor of corruption around Trump because the president is simply “too rich.” Whatever Chaffetz has to say about public land disputes, Georgetown steakhouses or the Final Four is almost certainly mendacious, but he’s right this one time.Quite likely the gentleman from the Beehive State means to imply that of course no one in the Trump campaign or the Trump White House is guilty of any criminal misdeeds, so he can’t understand why the deranged general who told the Republican National Convention to “lock her up” would seek to bargain his way out of prison time. One could put other constructions on the nature of the Flynn mystery, for sure.Chaffetz and other Trump loyalists will no doubt spend the weekend cowering in terror — or trying to lure the media sharks away with scatterings of chum, Devin Nunes-style — because Michael Flynn is self-evidently corrupt and crazy and only God knows what tales he might tell to Congress or the FBI. Flynn was a Trump zealot and a Trump favorite, who got his high-level White House post despite the fact that his former colleagues in the intelligence community had come to view him as a padded-room candidate with a propensity for conspiracy theory, whose capacity for “linear thought” was in doubt. If he is now playing the role of jilted lover back for revenge, Republicans have reason to quail.But here’s the funny part: Democrats and Trump-haters should fear Flynn for exactly the same reason. Even by the standards of liberal magical thinking circa 2017 — in which the CIA, an agency that has undermined or subverted democracy in any number of nations, suddenly becomes the hero of the struggle against despotism — casting that guy as the principled truth-teller who will save America from Donald Trump beggars the imagination.Flynn is a semi-unhinged denizen of the far-right nationalist fringe, who has publicly endorsed the view that Islam is an inherently hostile political ideology, rather than a religion. According to several unconfirmed accounts, he was also intrigued by Pizzagate, the imaginary Clinton scandal that ensnared his even less reality-tethered son, Michael Flynn Jr. (On Friday, the younger Flynn tweeted that reports about his father’s immunity request — contained in a letter from his attorney — were “#fakenews,” a term that apparently now signifies “anything I find displeasing.”) It is vastly more plausible that Flynn would spin outrageous falsehoods in the service of his leader’s anti-Muslim crusade — including casting blame on himself or other, more marginal figures — than that he would ever say anything likely to threaten the reign of the Sun King.At last we find an issue that can break through the partisan paralysis of Washington, on which Bernie Sanders and the House Freedom Caucus can stand arm in arm: Michael Flynn is an untrustworthy kook who should not get immunity for anything. His potential testimony is an ill wind that can blow no one any good. But the larger lesson here is not about Flynn (who was widely known to be an untrustworthy kook before any of this stuff came to light) but about the idiot brilliance of his former boss, the president of the United States.At what point and after how many iterations do we grasp the lesson imparted by Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, two days after the November election? Rule No. 1 for surviving under autocracy, she wrote, was: “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.” Admittedly we must parse this rule carefully in the case of Donald Trump, who tells lies approximately 100 percent of the time he is speaking.Nonetheless Trump means what he says in one important sense, which his opponents keep on missing or misinterpreting. He repeatedly employs a stupid but effective form of reverse psychology that no doubt served him well in hawking ugly, overpriced condos to rich people with bad taste: First he tells you the inherently unlikely thing he’s going to do or say next, and then he does it. He’s like the oily card sharp whose last and most confusing gambit is to tell the whole table the truth about his hand, knowing that we are unlikely to believe him.To Trump’s acolytes, this makes him seem possessed of extraordinary wit and power — or, just as likely, they grasp that the whole thing is a scam and they love it.There are too many examples to enumerate, but the one that preceded the return of Flynnghazi might be the ultimate Trumpian double switchback. When the president first claimed that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower before the election, it played like a crank call from Bozoland, derived from one right-wing talk-show host’s incoherent amalgamation of contradictory reports. Now we’ve reached the point where most Republicans believe Trump’s charges, and where Devin Nunes’ Inspector Clouseau act (I still love you, Lindsey Graham!) — feeding info back to the White House that came from the White House — has bewildered matters so thoroughly that ordinary citizens feel justified in throwing up their hands. LOL WTF #fakenews.Notice how this worked: First Trump made outlandish claims and the media took the bait, subjecting him to relentless mockery — which was gratifying to Trump-haters but likely only solidified his support. Then he promised a clearly skeptical Tucker Carlson, who despite being a Fox News troll has some vestigial allegiance to facts, that supporting evidence would be forthcoming: “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.” Then came the Nunes pseudo-revelations, which didn’t support Trump’s initial claims at all but clouded the picture significantly and made it appear — through a certain prism — that the partisan liberal failing fake-news media had pilloried the president unfairly once again for saying things that were somewhat, vaguely 1.5 percent true.So: another ingenious quasi-victory. I don’t think Trump can govern this way indefinitely — indeed, he isn’t governing at all — and at some point the wheels will come off the bus. But that time is not now. Whether or not the wiretapping claims were a deliberate trap, they functioned that way. Now that Trump has tweeted out his support for Michael Flynn’s immunity request, we need to “believe the autocrat”: The trap is set once again. Trump wants the moonbat general to testify because he knows that whatever Flynn says will help him survive. Those who long to defeat or depose Trump cannot reach for low-hanging fruit or easy solutions. They aren’t real. There’s a long road ahead; kick Michael Flynn to the curb and keep walking. 
 Related StoriesToo Good to Be True? Michael Flynn’s Offer of Testimony for Immunity Sends Up a Lot of Red FlagsLord of Misrule: Don’t Be So Sure the Demise of Trumpcare Is a Defeat for Donald TrumpOops, He Did It Again: Donald Trump Just Can’t Stop Himself from Blurting Out State Secrets

Uncategorized 0 Comments

America Is Barreling Toward Political Anarchy, Not an Organized Fascist State

Fascism requires a program and unity of purpose.

So many of us were wrong, myself included, about Donald Trump. We saw in the jut-jawed, brow-furrowed Mussolini-like posturing, in the blatant narcissism, in the reckless disregard for truth, the anger and incitement to hatred, the declamations that he would fix everything single-handedly on Day One of his presidency, his disdain for democracy and hints that he would lock up his opponents — we saw in all of these things incipient fascism.After the inauguration, I began reading Victor Klemperer’s chilling diaries on the rise of Nazism, I Will Bear Witness, and Sebastian Haffner’s memoir of the early days of Hitler, Defying Hitler. The analogies were all too close. Others on these pages have made similar observations. We were on the verge of something unprecedented, something horrifying. We were on the verge of authoritarian government headed by an ignoramus and possible psychopath. We were on the verge of the end of democracy.And then, last Friday, with the demise of the Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare and replace it with… well, with a massive tax giveaway to the rich, we discovered — I discovered — that I was fearing the wrong thing. It’s not Trump’s ability to marshal the forces of repression that should terrify us. It’s his inability to marshal forces to conduct even the most basic governance. Trump really is a presidential Joker. He knows how to wreak havoc, but he doesn’t seem to know how to do, or seem to want to do, much else.This isn’t to discount the fascistic dangers inherent in Trump. We all know that he has an authoritarian temperament. He likes the binary and berates the latter in the pairs: winners and losers, majorities and minorities (never mind that he won a minority of the popular vote), rich and poor, powerful men and feckless women, bullying America and every other country. He prefers muscle to negotiation, despite his much vaunted, and now much tarnished, skill at dealmaking. He loves strongmen and considers himself one of them.His desire, doubtless, was to Putinize this country with the help of his Republican lackeys. Or perhaps the better analogy is that he wanted to turn the country into one giant episode of The Apprentice, in which everyone vied for his favor. With seigniorial hauteur, he, King Donald, would point thumbs-up or thumbs-down.So here is the good news. Whatever his dreams of dominance and his possible aspirations to one-man rule, he simply does not have the aptitude or the discipline to realize them. We saw that last week. He thought he could bully, charm, finesse, arm-twist and threaten his way to victory, but no one was buying it — in part, I think, because he tried to make it all about his power, not the power of Congress, and he was already on such thin ice before the Obamacare debacle that he didn’t have much suasion with them.Why abet him, those Republican misanthropes may have thought, when at some point, they knew they might have to distance themselves from him? In any case, some of those legislators realized that Trump and his aides were way out of their depth. Hitler was able to parlay his minority into implacable power because he organized a rigid, disciplined crew of sociopaths on a mission. Trump has the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.So that’s the good news — sort of. To have an authoritarian state, you have to possess not just the impulse to authoritarianism but the talent for it, which is more than saying, “It’s going to be great,” or “Believe me,” or telling opponents how “sick” and “sad” they are.Now for the bad news. Two diametrically opposed impulses seem to have been warring in Trump for quite a while — that authoritarian tendency to rule, and a tendency to create misrule. If Trump isn’t a fascist, or at least a successful one, he is something nearly as bad: Donald Trump is a solipsistic anarchist.Of course he wants to accrue power, which may be what misled us into thinking he was a potential fascist. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to know how to do anything with it other than to promote himself and puff his ego, which means that everything crumbles around him. And of course, like most strongmen, he wants to do harm to the less powerful — to wit, immigrants and the poor — but it may be no accident that even his attempts at strong-arming turn out to have the opposite effect: chaos.The truth may be that chaos is more his métier than tyranny. As much as he says he hates losing, we may have actually caught a glimpse of the real Trump, the one sitting at his desk, smug and seemingly self-satisfied after his terrible defeat on Friday. This Trump may have thought he won by losing. No, he hadn’t won the congressional vote. But he had sown disarray, certainly within his own party and gradually throughout the health care system, especially once he joins judicial challenges to curb Medicaid expansion, as he undoubtedly will. The anarchistic tendency prevailed over the authoritarian one. Things fell apart. He wasn’t necessarily an unhappy Joker.This is what many of the pundits, myself included, may have missed in the whole Obamacare repeal-and-replace saga. We thought there was some ideological obsession on the right with repealing Obamacare because it was a government program, because it helped people whom Republicans believed undeserving (the poor), and because it was a signal achievement of the Obama administration: not necessarily good reasons but at least reasons. And we thought Trump, who seemed to have no ideological commitment to anything, wanted to repeal it because it would be a demonstration of his muscle as well as a way to unman Obama. And we may have thought that after repeal, Republicans wanted a new plan that would basically defund Medicaid to injure the poor and further enrich the wealthy with the billions of dollars in proceeds. In short, we may have thought there was some vaguely coherent direction to the anti-Obamacare enterprise.What we didn’t realize going in is that not only was Trump totally clueless about the substance of the bill, apparently looking only for a victory, any victory, to claim, but also that Republicans, for all their professions of having been hatching a conservative alternative to Obamacare for seven years, had no plan at all — and, I would submit, no real desire for one.They couldn’t have done more to sabotage their bill if they had tried, and I have a sneaking suspicion that is exactly what they were doing, some subconsciously, others quite consciously. Repeal? Absolutely. Replace? Not so much. The attempted Trump/Republican alliance, then, was a case of one anarchist making common cause with a whole gaggle of anarchists, neither of whom had the slightest interest in reforming health care, only in creating disorder and then hoping to benefit from it, both politically and financially. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise what the outcome would be. Anarchists don’t work well together.Just think about it for a moment. The Republican replacement was really a non-insurance bill, by which I mean it flew in the face of the most fundamental principle of insurance — the healthy pay for those who aren’t. It is the sort of community of interest that is anathema to conservatives who believe it is every man for himself.The upshot is that you cannot have “conservative” insurance. It isn’t tenable. When you have freedom of choice with every person getting to choose whether to be insured or not, and with those who are insured getting to choose what they want to have covered, you do not have a viable insurance system. You have anarchy. Anarchy was built right into the Republican plan.And that is the other thing I think a lot of pundits and political observers missed over the past eight years and even longer. Republicans never had a viable plan, not just about health care, but about anything, be it tax reform or energy or education. That is why their only remedies are less regulation and more tax cuts.There is a good reason for this, and it isn’t incompetence, though there is plenty of that, too. Republicans may talk tough. They may tout the idea of conservative, market-driven solutions to our problems, but somehow, serious solutions never get presented because, frankly, Republicans don’t have any interest in them.When you come down to it, Republicans are really anarchists dedicated to undermining government in the furtherance of an economic state of nature where the rich rule. What we saw these past few weeks was not the failure of Republicanism, as so many pronounced on Friday, but its logical and inevitable conclusion. Republicans are great at opposing things, destroying things, obstructing things, undoing things. They are really, really terrible at creating things because they have no desire to do so.And now they have an anarchist-in-chief, someone who shares their government phobia, if not their conviction, and whose real crime in Republicans’ eyes wasn’t that he couldn’t secure the passage of a bill, but that he managed to reveal their mess in full public view. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in an open letter to Trump this past Sunday, “It took W. years to smash everything. You’re way ahead of schedule.”There is, however, a method to this madness. Anarchism isn’t nihilism. By undoing government, anarchism undoes the only protection most Americans have against the depredations of the Trumps of this world and against the often cruel vicissitudes of life, like health crises. Take away government, and you strip away those protections. But take away government, and you also enable Trump and his fellow plutocrats to further enrich themselves because there would no mechanism to stop them. This has long been the Republican way: greed disguised as a fear of government overreach. Joker Trump and his Republican cronies are bent on deconstructing government to leave the rest of us defenseless against them.Where that leaves us is a coming flurry of legislative activity that will almost certainly amount to nothing. And it won’t be because of some civil war within the GOP. It will be because the GOP, our very own anarchist party, really doesn’t want anything to happen.Again, Republicans and their presidential anarchist ally can undo things, as they have done with environmental protection. And that is surely no small matter. But tax reform? Forget it. No reform, just huge tax cuts for the wealthy. Infrastructure spending? Not a chance. Another go at health care reform? Yeah, sure. No action, no sweat. Anarchy is their policy.So, no, we are not barreling toward fascism. Fascism requires a program and unity of purpose. We are instead careening toward the first industrialized state of anarchy. Trump promised to blow things up; now he has. The question is whether anyone can put America back together after he and the Republicans are finished with it. 
 Related StoriesWhy It’s Fantasyland to Assume Trump Is Going to Leave in a Scandal Anytime SoonToo Good to Be True? Michael Flynn’s Offer of Testimony for Immunity Sends Up a Lot of Red FlagsLord of Misrule: Don’t Be So Sure the Demise of Trumpcare Is a Defeat for Donald Trump