In American politics a politician can express a tone in complete contrast to their reality. It’s the tone that voters believe.
More and more, the media seems especially enraptured with political candidates whose policy positions are vague to the point of being nonexistent. It helps if you are somewhat good-looking, young, and have a certain charisma if you want to appeal to today’s journalists. But no one cares about what you want to do to actually help people.
This past week more than 300 American newspapers colluded — if the word fits… — to simultaneously publish editorials declaring themselves, contra Trump, not “the enemy of the people.” Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that it too did not consider the press to be, in a phrase that evokes the rhetoric of the former Soviet Union, state enemies.
The Boston Globe organized this journalistic flash mob.
“The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful,” the Globe‘s editorial board wrote. “To label the press ‘the enemy of the people’ is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries.” President Trump has repeatedly derided the media as “the enemy of the people” and purveyors of “fake news” on Twitter and at campaign rallies.
The First Amendment guarantee of press freedom, the Globe wrote, “has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.”
Is it really?
The surprise election of Donald Trump has elicited more the-sky-is-falling handwringing than any other political event in my lifetime (I will turn 55 next week). Very Serious People have warned in Big Important Newspapers that the rise of Trump harkens the transformation of the U.S., and other Western democracies, into fascist states. Even before he took office, the ACLU called Trump “a one-man constitutional crisis.”
No doubt, Trump’s rhetoric evokes the president’s authoritarian instincts: deriding his foes as anti-American, calling for and ordering mass deportations, supporting torture, and yes, press-bashing showcase the mindset of a man who doesn’t support democratic values and probably doesn’t even know much about the history or philosophy behind them.
But let’s separate Trump’s crude rally remarks and crass online rants from his Administration’s policies. What is he actually doing? How does his day-to-day governance represent a radical departure from the norms established by presidential precedents?
When you set aside Trump’s talk in order to focus instead on his walk, it is hard to conclude that he is an outlier by American standards. A better analogy, a friend observes, is Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer commonly associated with AIDS. It can kill you. But it’s not the main reason you’re having problems.
In other words, Trump isn’t — despite what 300-plus newspaper editorial boards would have us think — a root cause of American crisis. He is a symptom of preexisting conditions. This is important. Because if we delude ourselves into thinking that getting rid of Trump will fix what ails us, things will only get worse.
Running down the list of what offends people about Trump, there is nothing here we haven’t seen before — and ignored when other presidents did them.
Trump stands accused of colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election. There is still zero evidence that this happened. It’s still just vague insinuations leaked to newspapers with histories of cozying up to the CIA-FBI-NSA by anonymous CIA-FBI-NSA spooks.
There is, on the other hand, ample evidence that Ronald Reagan colluded with Iran to delay the release of the 52 American embassy hostages held in Tehran in order to destroy Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.
Richard Nixon colluded with a shadowy Taiwanese business executive with ties to South Vietnam in order to scuttle the Johnson Administration’s last-ditch attempt to negotiate peace between South and North Vietnam just before the 1968 election. Nixon squeaked by the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, by 0.7%. LBJ said Nixon was guilty of “treason,” but nothing happened.
Trump has been criticized for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, including separation of children from their parents, and rightly so.
But there is nothing new about Trump’s actions on immigration. Bill Clinton deported 12 million people, George W. Bush deported 10 million and Obama deported 5 million. (Obama’s numbers were lower but more robust because he ordered ICE to charge illegal immigrants as criminals. They faced prison if they returned. Previous presidents merely sent them home on buses and planes.)
As the National Immigration Law Center points out, “President Trump is exploiting the tools and infrastructure set in place by previous administrations to (1) expand the definition of who should be banned and deported and (2) militarize federal agencies and build up the deportation machine.”
Separating children from their parents at the border began under Obama, albeit in smaller numbers.
Trump has legitimized the “alt-right,” i.e. the psychotic right-wingers we used to call Nazis, Klansmen and fascists. Even after a fascist murdered a woman and injured others at an alt-right riot in Charlottesville, the president wallowed in false equivalence: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Coddling racists is disgusting. But it’s not new to American politics.
During the 1990s then-First Lady Hillary Clinton called some African-American youth “superpredators.”
Reagan relied on racist dog-whistles during his 1980 campaign, which he launched in the small Mississippi town where the Klan murdered four Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “I believe in states’ rights,” Reagan said. States right was political code for supporting racial segregation.
On substance, legislation and regulation, Donald Trump is virtually indistinguishable from his predecessors, many of whom are responsible for far more serious attacks on democracy.
George W. Bush alone is guilty of far more heinous crimes. He introduced the dangerous explosion of “signing statements” in which the president signs a bill into law and then crosses his fingers behind his back, secretly ordering that the law not be enforced. And he invaded Iraq preemptively, an extreme violation of international law, which states that nations may only go to war in self-defense or when faced with a grave and imminent military threat.
Where Trump differs from previous presidents is in tone. He is obnoxious and obscene. He lies — loudly. At least in public — they all swear in private — Americans like their leaders calm, deliberative and low-key.
It isn’t surprising that Trump’s trash-talking is freaking people out. But we shouldn’t conflate rudeness with an existential threat to democracy. Democracy, decency and civility were never real American values in the first place. That, not Trump, is the real problem.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
We keep hearing that Democratic officials are being polite and deferent to president-elect Donald Trump because they respect America’s tradition of smooth transitions of power. Given what Trump has said during the campaign, and the people he has appointed so far, however, that may not be appropriate.
Donald Trump wants to deport three million illegal immigrants, and he’s willing to split up families to do it. Expect resistance: street protests, networks of safe houses, American citizens willing to risk prison to hide undocumented workers.
Barack Obama deported two million — more than any other president. Thousands of kids lost their parents. Yet demonstrations were few. Anglo solidarity was nowhere to be found. Same action, different reaction. Why? As we’ve seen under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, progressives go to sleep when Democrats are in the White House.
Trump will be deplorable. But as the unrest that followed his victory signals, he’ll have a salutary effect on American politics: Liberals will resist the same fascist horrors for which they’ve been making excuses under Obama (and would have continued to tolerate under Hillary Clinton).
Ironically, their struggle will be made all the more challenging due to the fascist moves promulgated by Barack Obama, a president revered by liberals — but whose administration has been characterized by a stream of fascist policies.
Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA and other government agencies are spying on all of our communications: phone calls, email, texts, video, even snail mail. But the fiercest reactions came from people outside the U.S. It was 2013 and Obama was president. For the most part liberals — the political faction you’d expect to raise hell — trusted their charming first black president not to abuse his powers.
Trump will inherit Obama’s Orwellian surveillance apparatus. During the campaign, he said “I wish I had that power.”
When Obama took over from Bush in 2009, he issued a symbolic denunciation of the torture his predecessor had legitimized and institutionalized. In practice, however, nothing changed. Sending a clear message that he approved of their actions, Obama ordered his Justice Department not to prosecute anyone for waterboarding or other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” saying infamously that it was time to “look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.” He went to Langley to tell CIA agents he’d watch their backs. He refused to issue a presidential executive order banning torture by the CIA.
Trump will take over that bureaucratic infrastructure of torture, including the legal opinions issued by Bush’s White House counsel that Obama failed to annul. During the campaign, Trump pledged to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” whatever that means.
Upon taking office Obama tepidly attempted to follow up on his campaign promise to close Guantánamo concentration camp. But he caved in the face of congressional opposition. Though Obama has managed to winnow down the number of inmates in America’s Cuban gulag to double digits, his lackadaisical unwillingness to expend political capital on the issue has left the camp open. It has also legitimized the formerly unthinkable practice of holding prisoners indefinitely without charging them with a crime or putting them on trial.
Trump says he’ll keep the camp open, expand it, and “load it up with some bad dudes,” including American citizens whose politics he doesn’t care for.
Part of the justification given for indefinite detention is the Bush-era Military Commissions Act of 2006, which eliminated the right of habeas corpus, the right to a speedy and fair trial enshrined in Anglo-American law for eight centuries. Under the MCA, the U.S. government can throw you into a concentration camp where you’ll never see your family or a lawyer. As far as we know, Obama never availed himself of this power.
Do you trust Trump to exercise similar restraint? Thanks to Obama’s failure to get rid of the MCA, Trump may make good on his promise to disappear U.S. citizens.
Obama has vastly expanded Bush’s program of drone assassinations of political opponents to nasty American client states like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. His Tuesday “kill list” star chamber has issued hits against thousands of people; 98% of the victims have been hapless bystanders.
Could President Trump deploy drones against American citizens (or non-citizens) on American soil? Yes, he could, says Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder. Obama could have declared that he — and future presidents — did not have that power. Better still, he could have asked Congress to pass a law banning domestic drone killings. Instead, he went golfing.
From what we know of Trump’s likely cabinet appointments, the next few years promise to devolve into a dystopian nightmare of authoritarian repression the likes of which few Americans ever imagined possible. As we head into the maelstrom, it will be tempting to look back fondly upon the Obama years as a period of relative calm and liberalism.
But don’t forget the truth. Fascism under Trump will merely continue Obama’s fascism with a smiley face — a fascism that we let him get away with for far too long.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
If you lean left, the only presidential candidate who shares your values is Dr. Jill Stein. But she can’t win. The two major parties have left — sorry for the pun — you and your concerns high and dry.
Certainly, Donald Trump is not your man. Though he has recently made noises to the contrary, Trump has repeatedly argued that wages are too high and that America’s pathetically low minimum wage should remain at its present poverty level. He’s a fan of torture. Trump calls the police — the police! — “the most mistreated people” in America. The governing philosophy that best approximates his ideology is authoritarianism. His opposition to “free trade” and the Iraq War aren’t nearly enough to justify casting a vote for him.
Polls show Hillary Clinton heading toward the White House. But that prospect should make liberals shudder in horror. Like Trump, Hillary is an enemy of human rights and the struggle for equality and justice. But she’s worse than him in one important respect: she’ll send the Bernie Sanders wing of the party packing.
A right-wing Trump presidency would galvanize the Left. We saw that during the Nixon, Reagan and Bush Jr. years, which generated massive street protests. But DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) like Bill Clinton and Obama have the opposite effect. Satisfied that a Democrat is president, progressives tend to stay home, their criticisms muted to the point of nonexistence. Under Democratic presidents, outrageous acts of repression — like Obama’s brutal coordinated raids on the Occupy Wall Street movement — are received by liberals with little more than a mildly annoyed tweet. Look for the Left to be defanged under First Woman President/DINO Hillary Clinton.
Don’t vote for Trump. But don’t fall for the same identity politics crap that tricked progressives and liberals in 2008.
Obama made history as the first black president, but he didn’t share the liberal politics or values of most black Americans. On the issues that matter most, he turned out to be a right-winger: expanded old wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (he voted six times to fund the Iraq bloodshed), new wars in Libya and Syria and Yemen and Somalia, drones gone wild, and talk about mass deportations — no president has ever expelled more illegal immigrants than Obama.
Corporate media political observers say that progressive stalwarts Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will influence cabinet picks and policy in a Hillary Clinton administration. But the tea leaves as well as her track record suggest that right-wing forces – particularly Wall Street and the war industry – will exert a much stronger gravitational pull.
Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know that top Hillary Clinton insiders consider Bernie Sanders to be a “doofus,” that she looks forward to an interventionist foreign policy, will continue to be highly secretive to the point that she would love to wage war covertly, and considers Wall Street bankers to be the most qualified people to write financial regulations.
Like her husband, she is likely to choose cabinet members who lean right. The one possible exception would echo Bill’s. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a liberal, is being considered for the relatively minor post of secretary of labor, where Robert Reich famously languished without portfolio or influence before leaving in disgust after a few years. All the others are conservatives.
Pro-Hillary Democrats argue that Clinton might nominate big-time liberals to the Supreme Court. But the judges she has on her shortlist for SCOTUS vacancies are closer to the centrist wing of her party. Obviously she will nominate Democrats for seats where Donald Trump would nominate Republicans. But I wouldn’t look for a seismic shift there.
What liberal Democrats should worry more about than anything else is probably her current saber-rattling with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. First, she’s challenging the Russians’ alliance with Syria and threatening to shoot down Russian planes.
She’s blaming Russia to deflect revelations about her machinations against Bernie Sanders. “We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks [like the WikiLeaks DNC and John Podesta hacks], these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election,” Hillary Clinton says. Why does she expect us to take government agencies at their word? After all, these are the same idiotic spooks who supposedly convinced her that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass distraction. No one has presented the slightest evidence, much less proof, that Russia was involved in the hacks.
It’s irresponsible and scary to accuse a nuclear-armed nation of wrongdoing without solid proof. People in the know say that her over-the-top rhetoric has convinced Kremlin officials that she plans to start a war with Russia.
It’s no secret that Hillary Clinton has always been a foreign policy hawk, a corporatist on domestic economic matters, and an incrementalist in general. (Personally, I don’t see how you can call for incremental changes on problems like poverty and unemployment and keep a straight face. Here’s 10% of a job!)
Problem is, she is all but certain to enter office under conditions that will magnify her conservative instincts. House Republicans will still be in a position to block anything ambitious. And it will be all but impossible for Clinton to claim a mandate in an election where the vast majority of voters were motivated by fear and contempt for Trump rather than affirmative support for her and her proposals.
So if you are a member of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, there’s only one thing to do after Election Day. Roll up your sleeves and start organizing protests — regardless of who wins.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)