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Saturday, June 15, 2019


Giving democracy the finger

by Tom Sullivan

Trump administration salutes the separation of powers.

If Donald Trump were from America's other major political party, the host of offenses both criminal and ethical he has committed would have launched a fusillade of congressional investigations, Fox News special reports with screaming chyrons on criminality in the White House, and at the very least, an impeachment inquiry. But IOKIYAR, right?

This week, President "NO COLLUSION, NO COLLUSION - NO OBSTRUCTION!" drew a public rebuke from the chair of the Federal Elections Commission for declaring to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that he would accept "dirt" on his political opponents offered by foreign agents. Donald Trump shrugged off the idea there was anything wrong in a little collusion between him and geopolitical adversaries.

Donny, how many times have we told you not to accept candy from strangers?

The Office of Special Counsel’s Henry Kerner in another rare public rebuke recommewnded White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed for multiple violations of the Hatch Act. This, after Conway responded snidely two weeks ago to challenges from reporters about those violations, saying, “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Trump refused to remove her.

Trump now has the U.S. attorney general and the Department of Justice running interference for him. The department on Friday issued a 33-page opinion supporting Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's refusal to comply with a House subpoena for six years of Trump's taxes. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) invoked "a little-known provision of the tax code" that requires the IRS to furnish tax returns of any individual upon request. Mnuchin refused to comply with "black-letter law" on the matter. Thus, Mnuchin is defying the law with the backing of the Justice Department and the Trump White House.

All the president's men give the rule of law the middle finger.

Who could have foreseen this turn of events? For one, Dave Neiwert, author of "Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump" (2017). In November 2015, the veteran observer of the violent far-right wrote at Orcinus:
Trump is the logical end result of an endless series of assaults on not just American liberalism, but on democratic institutions themselves, by the American right for many years. It is the long-term creep of radicalization of the right come home to roost.
The fascist fringe has been with us for decades, Neiwert wrote, but it has existed for the most part on the fringes, subsumed by the larger culture save for areas where the Ku Klux Klan exercised power in the shadows. What's been missing to galvanize an open fascist movement in America has been a charismatic leader to front it. Enter Donald Trump, "merrily leading us down the path towards a fascist state even without being himself an overt fascist."
Neiwert wrote:
The reality that Trump is not a bona fide fascist himself does not make him any less dangerous. In some ways, it makes him more so, because it disguises the swastika looming in the shadow of the flamboyant orange hair. It camouflages the throng of ravening wolves he’s riding in upon.
Speaking this week with Brad Friedman, Neiwert explained one of the key fascist traits of Trump's movement (from his 2015 post):
The palingenetic ultranationalism. After the race-baiting and the ethnic fearmongering, this is the most obviously fascistic component of Trump’s presidential election effort, embodied in those trucker hats proclaiming: “Make America Great Again.” (Trump himself puts it this way: "The silent majority is back, and we’re going to take the country back. We're going to make America great again."

That’s almost the letter-perfect embodiment of palingenesis – that is, the myth of the phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes of an entire society in its “golden age.” In the meantime, Trump’s nationalism is evident not just in these statement but are the entire context of his rants against Latino immigrants and Syrian refugees.
That he lacks the paramilitary is our luck. His only real ideology is "the Worship of the Donald." What he attracts instead of militant thugs are lots of Florida retirees flying Trump flags from their scooters and patio homes. Neiwert concluded:
America, thanks to Trump, has now reached that fork in the road where it must choose down which path its future lies – with democracy and its often fumbling ministrations, or with the appealing rule of plutocratic authoritarianism, ushered in on a tide of fascistic populism. For myself, I remain confident that Americans will choose the former and demolish the latter – that Trump’s candidacy will founder, and the tide of right-wing populism will reach its high-water mark under him and then recede with him.
Right-wing populism may yet reach its high-water mark with Trump, and recede after him. Only, it has risen higher than Neiwert expected in November 2015, and at risk of breaching the dikes holding back plutocratic authoritarianism. If those fail-safes have not already failed.

As for Neiwert, he's been "temporarily suspended" from Twitter for violating its “sensitive media policy” with the illustration from his 2017 book cover. Neiwert writes at Daily Kos that he refuses to remove it:
And I’m fighting it because the reductio ad absurdum of Twitter’s reasoning for the suspension would leave not just me, but any reporter who works to monitor and expose the activities of far-right extremists, exposed to the constant threat of being banned simply for doing our mainstream jobs as journalists.

"Maybe all this misery is resolved by way of free and fair elections in 2020," writes Dahlia Lithwick. "The problem is that maybe there won’t be free and fair elections in 2020 ... A year and a half is a long time."