Sunday, July 26, 2020

On Trump, This Is No Time to Mince Words

      Donald Trump has benefited from a certain squeamishness among his opponents about labeling him for exactly what he is ever since Hillary Clinton declined during the 2016 campaign to call him a racist. The tell-all memoir from his niece Mary Trump now makes clear that, apart from his racist rhetoric and racist policies, Trump is in fact a racist, who casually uses the n word and anti-Semitic slurs in family settings.
      Trump benefited as well from a certain hesitation among his critics about labeling him as a fascist despite the evident elements of fascism in his campaign. Trump’s current policy of sending federal forces into Democratic-led cities demands labeling him for what he is. “I have held off using the f word for three and a half years, but there is no longer any honest alternative,” Robert Reich, the former Obama secretary labor, tweeted last month [June 2]. “Trump is a fascist, and he is promoting fascism in America.”
      Jennifer Szalai, a critic at The New York Times, noted Reich’s tweet in her recent review of books about fascism: On Tyranny by the Yale historian Timothy Snyder and How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale and son of Jewish refugees from World War II. Szalai contrasted Reich’s tweet with the previous hesitation among Trump’s critics to describe him as fascist.
      “The word fascism is so loaded that even some of the president’s most vociferous detractors had long been reluctant to use it,” Szalai wrote. “Ever since Trump became the Republican Party’s standard-bearer in 2016, the term has been floated and then dismissed for being too extreme and too alarmist, too historically specific or else too rhetorically vague.”
      One dictionary defines fascism as “far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, as well as strong regimentation of society and the economy . . .” Certainly, Trump’s campaign harked to the kind of far-right, ultranationalism that Hitler and Mussolini espoused. He also displayed the same penchant for theatricality and violent thuggery that they wielded to gain power.
      John McNeill, a professor of history at Georgetown, was among the experts who noted the elements of fascism in Trump’s campaign before the election. Writing in The Washington Post three weeks before the election, McNeill listed, among other common attributes, Trump’s hypernationalism, militarism, glorification of violence, and leader cult. “Fascists,” McNeill noted, “always looked to a leader who was bold, decisive, manly, uncompromising, and cruel when necessary.”
      Behind in the polls and helpless against the coronavirus pandemic, Trump needs something to demonstrate his prowess as a leader. He turned to deploying federal forces in a number of Democratic-led cites in an effort, in his own words, to “dominate” cities supposedly beset by widespread anarchy and out-of-control crime.
      The National Guardsmen and Border Patrol agents dispatched, supposedly, to protect federal property may not be brown-shirted storm troopers, but dressed in camouflage with no IDs visible they are behaving more like Trump’s paramilitary wing than as professional law enforcement. In Portland, Oregon, for example, federal agents have been seen arresting protesters without cause and pushing them into unmarked vehicles. Christopher David, a Navy veteran, suffered two broken bones in his hand when an unidentified federal agent beat him with a baton after David had approached the line of officers to challenge them to obey the Constitution.
      For his part, Portland’s mayor Ted Wheeler describes the federales’ presence as worse than unhelpful: like pouring gasoline on a fire, he said. Wheeler himself succumbed to tear-gas early Thursday morning [July 23] after the feds released canisters of some irritating gas while the mayor was speaking with protesters. Wheeler told the crowd that the feds’ presence amounted to “an unconstitutional occupation,” according to news accounts.
     "The tactics that have been used by our federal officers are abhorrent,” Wheeler said. “They did not act with probable cause, people are not being told who they are being arrested by, and you've been denied basic constitutional rights.”
      The critics of Trump’s tactics include two of President George W. Bush’s former Homeland Security chiefs: Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge. Chertoff described Trump’s tactics to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent last week [July 22] as “very problematic" and "very unsettling."
      Appearing on the PBS NewsHour [July 23], Ridge likened Trump’s tactics to “a reality TV approach” unlikely to help local authorities resolve urban problems. The former Pennsylvania governor told moderator Judy Woodruff that there was “no conceivable scenario” in which he would have agreed to federal agents’ presence in cities without prior consultation with and agreement from the local authorities.
      As acting DHS secretary, Chad Wolf disavows any need to have local buy-in. “I don’t need invitations by the state,” he said on Fox News [July 20]. “We’re going to do that whether they like it or not.” Speaking to the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, Snyder noted that authoritarian regimes such as Franco’s Spain and tsarist Russia also deployed border agents against domestic enemies. “The people who are used to committing violence on the border,” Snyder explained, “are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.”
      Even if the historical analogy is imperfect, Trump’s policies are fascist and no more than barely lawful. The time to mince words has long since passed.

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