In 1933 the German parliament passed a law that turned itself into a rubberstamp in favor of Adolf Hitler. In 2020 the Republican Party decided not to issue a platform. Instead, they turned themselves into a rubberstamp in favor of Donald Trump.
According to media reports, a hodgepodge of federal agencies are contributing to an identified goon squad roaming the streets of cities like Portland and Seattle. They are kidnapping, not arresting, protesters. Unidentified men are not policemen. No one has to go with them. No one should go with them.
You don’t want to lose your job. How would you feel if getting fired would mean that you would spend the rest of your life in prison? You would do anything to keep working.
That’s the position in which Donald Trump finds himself.
The president is the target of a myriad of congressional, state and federal investigations into his business practices. Trump could resign in exchange for a deal with Mike Pence to pardon him as Ford did for Nixon, or hope for a victorious Joe Biden to do the same in the spirit of looking forward, not backward.
But a presidential pardon wouldn’t apply to the biggest threat to Trump’s freedom: the New York-based inquiries by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York’s attorney general and the Manhattan D.A.’s office into hush payments that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made to Playboy model Karen McDougal and the adult-film actor Stormy Daniels, violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause and into Trump’s business practices in general.
It’s highly unlikely that, as long as he continues to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump will be frog-marched into a police van. Many legal experts argue that presidents enjoy at least temporary immunity from prosecution. Department of Justice memos dating to 1973 state that, as a matter of policy though not law, a sitting president should not be indicted.
If Joe Biden maintains his double-digit lead in the polls, however, Trump stands to lose his executive immunity from prosecution early next year. At age 74, even a five-year prison term could effectively become a life sentence. What would Trump be willing to do to avoid that?
In the back (not all the way back) of Trump’s mind has to be the possibility of canceling the election.
There has been speculation, from such notables as Hillary Clinton, that Trump might refuse to leave the White House if he loses to Biden. Indeed, Trump has fed rumors that he plans to discredit the results in case of a loss. He says mail-in balloting would be plagued by fraud and foreign interference and refuses to commit to accepting the results. If I were the president, I would reject this option. Refusing to leave would be far from certain to allow him to remain in office more than a few weeks or months.
Another crisis scenario making the rounds has Republican governors loyal to Trump refusing to certify the results in their states. Under one of the more arcane sections of the Constitution the final result would be determined by the House of Representatives under a one state delegation–one vote scheme. Most states are majority Republican so Trump would probably win. Trump shouldn’t go with this plan either. Relying on feckless governors in the House of Representatives process would leave too much to chance.
Only one approach comes close to guaranteeing that Trump remains at the helm for the foreseeable future and thus out of the clutches of New York prosecutors: canceling the election entirely.
On or about November 1st, he takes to the airwaves.
“My fellow Americans,” he intones, “we are a time of unprecedented crisis. We are deep in the dreaded second wave of the coronavirus. It would be reckless and irresponsible to ask people to go outside and stand in line, risking death, in order to cast a vote that can easily be cast next year, after we have a vaccine. Moreover, the streets of many of our cities have been overrun by rioters and looters. We can’t have an election without law and order. Therefore, we will delay the vote until our safety can be guaranteed. God bless America.”
Never mind that the riots will have been provoked by Trump’s own federal government goons, the so-called Federal Protective Service, or that the pandemic will be raging because of his own incompetence, denial and inaction. His argument will ring true with his Republican base and a few moderates. As usual, Democrats will be stunned, clueless and impotent.
Trump has set the stage for a too-dangerous-to-vote argument.
Black Lives Matters protests were winding down before he sent FPS to Portland and Seattle. Thanks to these violent agents provocateurs the crowds of angry protesters are growing, buildings are burning and people are getting killed. He wants to send thugs to Chicago and other cities as well. By October they could be all over the country, spreading chaos.
After downplaying the threat of COVID-19 for months, the president has radically reversed course. He is wearing a mask in public, urging others to do so and resuming coronavirus-themed press briefings, replacing public health officials as the face of the crisis response. The new messaging: COVID is deadly. Mail-in ballots, the social-distancing alternative to IRL voting, has been discredited by the GOP; anyway, it’s too late to implement it now. Just watch: he may call for schools to remain closed, another switch.
There is no legal mechanism for canceling a federal election. The Supreme Court can’t do it. There are no exceptions, not even for nuclear war. The U.S. system will have broken down.
What will happen next? We have seen it many times in many other countries. Trump and his associates will not be able to allow the media to talk, the courts to rule or the politicians to criticize his coup.
Trump, former president and now dictator, will censor and suppress dissent to protect his regime. Martial law will be declared. Media outlets, including social media online, will be seized and censored. Lists of potential critics and opponents—leading Democrats, academics, intellectuals, pundits, even political cartoonists—will be drawn up. Those on the list will be arrested, or worse.
They say it—fascism, authoritarianism—can’t happen here. But if you’re Donald Trump and you think you’re about to lose and go to prison, what other option do you have?
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Right-wingers conflate nationalism with patriotism. But they’re not the same thing. Patriots love their country because it does good things; for nationalists it’s our country right or wrong. A lot of stuff nationalists call patriotic couldn’t possibly be more un-American.
The singing of the national anthem before sporting events, and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, are prime examples.
The latest nationalism vs. patriotism controversy arrives courtesy of Colin Kaepernick, the African-American pro football player blackballed by the NFL for kneeling in silent protest over police shootings of blacks rather than stand for the signing of the national anthem alongside his teammates and fans before games. The “take a knee” movement has spread throughout the league, largely in response to President Trump’s crude remark that those who refuse to stand during “The Star Spangled Banner” are “sons of bitches.”
At football games and similar events where the anthem is sung, standers far outnumber kneelers — and that’s weird. Because if one person is kneeling against police brutality, then it stands to reason that standing up means you support cops gunning down unarmed black people. Are there really that many racists?
That, and when you stop to think about it, the whole idea of rote rituals to prove our loyalty run completely counter to what most Americans, liberal or conservative, think their country is about.
As I have written before, lefties and righties don’t have the same ambitions for the U.S. Following the tradition of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the Left idealizes individual rights. They dream of a country where everyone is not only created equal, but treated accordingly. The Right values empire. Rightists’ ideal America is a global military and economic superpower.
Still, the two sides have something in common. They want to be left alone, to live their lives as free of government interference as possible. Progressives want the government out of their bedrooms. Traditionalists want it out of their incomes. Totalitarianism — a form of government whose control over citizens’ daily lives leads to the requirement that everyone attend one meeting after another and report dissent to the authorities — could no more catch on here than North Korean-style displays of signs flipped by synchronized flags or parades of military hardware (though Trump wants to start those).
Like the singing of the anthem at games, the Pledge of Allegiance reflects a totalitarian impulse you find in fascist and authoritarian regimes, not democracies. The U.S. and Canada are the only countries on earth where national anthems are played at the start of sporting events. Even in many authoritarian states, the requirement that children (and athletes) swear fealty to the nation (or, as here, its flag) would be considered too creepy to contemplate.
When your country is crazier than Zimbabwe, it’s time to take stock — even if you’re a Republican.
Other nations require oaths of allegiance from those taking public office, like members of parliament. Some ask the same of foreigners seeking to become naturalized citizens. But the U.S. may be the only nation on earth to have a widely-used pledge of allegiance.
Children who refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance are routinely punished, criticized and ostracized, even in public schools. I know — it happened to me in elementary school. Kaepernick, a top-tier athlete, has been denied employment. These are obvious violations of the all-American value of free speech and expression guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The addition of “under God” in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy era and its rancid loyalty oaths, further violates another core principle of Americanism, the freedom to worship as you please or not at all as protected under the Establishment Clause of the US. Constitution.
In one respect, however, the Pledge of Allegiance owes its origins to something that couldn’t be more American: a huckster out to make a few extra bucks.
Why do Americans pledge allegiance to the “flag,” as opposed to the nation or its government? It boils down to capitalist greed. The origins of the Pledge date to 1892, when James B. Upham, the marketing executive of the popular children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion used the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas to promote a conference in honor of the American flag. He pushed the Pledge in his magazine as a way to promote nationalism and sell flags to public schools. Schoolhouses purchased 26,000 flags the first year alone.
Kids reciting the pledge were supposed to raise their arms at the same time — yep, the Hitler “sieg heil” salute before Hitler. World War II put an end to that in American schools.
Having traveled extensively, I have observed that the countries whose governments insist upon the most extravagant displays of nationalism line up neatly with those with the least personal freedom. In authoritarian China and the police state of Turkmenistan, national flags and banners extolling slogans and quotes of the ruling party festoon every government office and pedestrian overpass. As Turkey moves away from democracy and closer to autocracy, Turkish flag stickers multiply on automobiles.
It is the opposite in the European democracies. A Frenchman who hung a French flag from his front porch would be ridiculed by his neighbors, socialist and Le Pen supporter alike. It is not that the French and the Dutch and the Spanish and other Europeans do not love their countries as much as Americans do; if anything, most Europeans are grateful that their countries are not like ours. They are patriots. And they remember World War II, when those who liked to wave flags and insisted on loyalty oaths to the state turned out to be dangerous.
Everyone should sit out the singing of the national anthem. It’s archaic and uncomfortably reminiscent of fascism.
It is time to leave the Pledge of Allegiance where it belongs, on the dungheap of history, remembered as a clever way to move piles of colored cloth.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) 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.)
No one should get fired for his political beliefs.
Not even a Nazi.
I am disturbed by the news that some of the white nationalists who attended the violent “Unite the Right” hatefest in Charlottesville last weekend are being outted on social media. Attendees have been on the receiving end of threats and doxxing. It was reported that a restaurant worker in Berkeley was canned after he was exposed on Twitter.
Needless to say — it ought to be, anyway — I hate Nazis, Klansmen and the like. Their politics and values are exactly the opposite of mine. Still, no one should get fired for parading around with torches like it’s Germany in 1933.
This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Nothing in our outdated constitution prevents an employer from firing you on account of your politics. In 2004 an Alabama company even fired a woman for having a John Kerry for President bumpersticker on her car.
It is a free speech issue.
A business has the right to control its employees’ behavior in order to protect its image. Particularly in a liberal stronghold like Berkeley but anywhere really, no one wants a waiter wearing a swastika tattoo or spouting racist views. But if Top Dog restaurant can fire a racist dude for racist views he expresses thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to prevent Google from firing a software engineer for sexism — or you for whatever you happen to believe.
Firing a worker for their politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, McCarthyism is immoral and McCarthyism ought to be illegal.
As usual during episodes like this, many of my comrades on the left are gloating over what they see as righteous payback against violent, racist, anti-Semitic thugs. This makes me very uncomfortable, and not just because it feels more like the “human flesh search engine” online vigilantism that occurs in China than the United States, where the MYOB ethos ruled pre-Internet.
I don’t deny that this is personal. My political views have gotten me targeted by a cyberstalker/identity thief, fired by a publication over a cartoon that appeared elsewhere in another venue, and defamed by a newspaper as a favor to the local police chief who’d cozied up to the paper’s publisher. I’ve been working long enough to observe that what’s popular today gets censored tomorrow, and vice versa. Top Dog gets plaudits for firing a fascist; next time the victim could be a garden-variety Democrat.
“Historically it’s more dangerous as an employee to be associated with racial justice and the NAACP, than it was to be affiliated with the KKK,” notes Walter Greason, a historian and professor at Monmouth University.
A sign posted by Top Dog management reflects a common view: “We do respect our employees’ right to their opinions,” the sign read. “They are free to make their own choices, but must accept the responsibilities of those choices.” The question is, should those “responsibilities” include being deprived of a livelihood?
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve read some variation of “You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.” Or, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in 1891: “A employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”
True, that’s the law. What I’m arguing is that free speech will always be meaningless until the constitution is amended. Workers should be protected from retribution for what they think and say.
We live in a capitalist society. Except for those born rich, we must work or else starve. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will employment. And jobs are hard to find. Under these conditions, without workplace free-speech protections, employees must think twice before they attend a rally, post a controversial memo, join a party or slap a bumpersticker on their vehicle. Are you willing to risk unemployment, poverty and perhaps homelessness — not just you, but also your spouse and children? If the answer is “yes,” God bless you. History is made by people like you.
For many others, though, the answer is “no, I can’t afford free speech.” The upsides of free expression are intangible while the downside risks are terrifyingly brutal. A 2016 Harris poll found that 33% of U.S. employees are afraid to talk about politics at work. Increasingly workers have to worry about losing their jobs as the result of talking about politics outside of work too.
The American workplace is a fascist state. It’s time to overthrow the millions of little Hitlers who think the fact that issuing a paycheck turns their employees into slaves subject to thought control.
Just don’t talk about this around anyone who knows where you work.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) 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.)
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.)
After president-elect Donald Trump’s 10-15 minute scheduled get-to-know-you with lame-duck president Barack Obama ran an hour and a half, too many of my friends who ought to know better contacted me with some variant of “maybe everything really is going to be OK after all.”
No. It really isn’t.
SNL’s Dave Chappelle says he’s “going to give Trump a chance.”
We should not.
Trump’s wide-eyed expression as he sucked in his new DC digs, pathetically reminiscent of the stupefied expressions of Bolshevik revolutionists wandering the Winter Palace, brought it home: the barbarians are at the gate.
Do not be fooled by what the media is attempting to present as a smooth transition of power, a quirky one to be sure, but generally falling within American political tradition. Do not believe Trump’s condescending tweet damning liberal protesters with faint praise. “President Trump” cannot end well.
Remember how, the morning of the election, the New York Times gave Trump a 15% chance of winning? Given that I’ve been saying The Donald had an excellent chance of winning for many months, maybe you should be scared when I tell you what I think there’s really a 15% chance of: another presidential election in four years.
Here’s how I think the early years of the Trump Administration will play out, and why.
Before we get started, forget impeachment. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the chances of Republicans impeaching a Republican president are pretty much zero.
Second, forget constitutional checks and balances. Weimar Germany had a lovely constitution, in many ways better than ours, but constitutions are mere paper unless they’re enforced by people. Current examples: Guantánamo, immigration prisons, drone assassinations and secret black site CIA prisons are all brazenly unconstitutional. If Trump and his henchmen want to trash legal and political precedent, nothing institutional will stop them.
Finally, Democrats who place their hope in recapturing Congress in two years need to get real. There aren’t enough available red seats for that to happen in 2018. If anything, they’ll probably lose even more ground. Trumpism is here to stay, for at least four years.
I use the method used by some authors to write character-based novels
in order to game out presidential administrations. Rather than outline the plot in advance, these novelists develop characters, throw them into a situation, and watch what they do.
As with those novels, it isn’t hard to predict how a president and his closest advisers will respond when faced with a given political development. All you have to do is consider their personalities, resumes and policy preferences.
Looking at Ronald Reagan’s 1981 cabinet, which included a dentist as secretary of energy and an anti-environmentalist as secretary of the interior, it was obvious that the US government wouldn’t lift a finger to slow down the raping of the planet. While invasion of Iraq wasn’t exactly predestined, it came as little surprise that a Bush Administration full of neoconservatives who had called for the invasion of Iraq saw the 9/11 attacks as a reason/excuse for what they wanted to do all along.
It’s already clear that Donald Trump’s cabinet and closest advisers will come from the fringes of the paranoid far right. Among the highlights:
Ben Carson, being considered to head the education department, doesn’t believe in evolution.
Chris Christie, currently facing criminal charges over Bridgegate, is up for attorney general; so is Rudy Giuliani, a fascist who wants to force Muslims to wear electronic monitoring tags or bracelets so the government can track their whereabouts. (What, no crescent moon patch?)
Then there’s possible Secretary of State Newt Gingrich, who wants to deport Muslims who believe in Sharia law, and Interior Secretary Sarah Palin, who thinks shooting wolves from a helicopter is sporting fun.
I’ve examined all the lists of cabinet prospects. Not a liberal or a leftist among them. No centrists either. At best, we’ll wind up with a few relatively sane right-wingers mixed into a majority of complete lunatics.
These, headed by the delightfully clearheaded and thoughtful Donald Trump, are the characters of our story.
Now add the situation. Imagine 6 or 12 or 18 months from now, when these characters face the inevitable political crisis: terrorist attack. Natural disaster. Economic meltdown. Race riot. Nuclear crisis.
These aren’t personalities predisposed to respond to these challenges with introspection or compromise. Beginning with Trump himself, these are people with a cop mentality who, like a hammer, see everything as a nail to be pounded into submission.
Bear in mind, they’ll be 6 to 12 to 18 months inside the Washington Beltway bubble. Trump’s canny campaign instincts, his intuitive understanding of populist anger that got him elected, will have been dulled by lack of interaction with the public. Moreover, Team Trump will be 6 to 12 to 18 months into an unprecedented period of constant left-wing criticism and street protest. Think Richard Nixon: they’ll be deep inside a bunker mentality.
Everyone in the cabinet room will favor moves to curtail civil liberties: tracking and cracking down on leftists, preventative detentions, new police forces to protect the state and ferret out illegal immigrants and those who hide them, the use of drones to kill Americans on American soil (something Obama said was OK), even more abusive NSA surveillance.
In my book “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” I described the president-elect as “an accidental authoritarian.” He thinks of himself as a patriot, a good man. He hasn’t been planning to lead a plot against America.
Trump’s fascism will come about naturally, caused by the perfect storm of his ego, his CEO mentality, the politics and personalities of the men and women with whom he is surrounding himself, and a set of developments that are all but inevitable.
Canceling the next election? For these characters, it will be an easy call.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Support independent political cartooning and writing — support Ted on Patreon.)