Tuesday, December 27, 2016

America - No President - the view from n+1 // Tom Engelhardt - The Future According to Trump

. During the presidential campaign, Trump went on record, repeatedly, steadily, and memorably in front of us all  -  in the debates, in the press, in his campaign communications  -  to register that he would not obey the norms of the republic. He would not submit to the rule of law, and he would not act in the interests of the republic as a citizen. He would not submit to the result of the election, or a smooth succession, if he lost the vote. He did not acknowledge the independence of the judiciary. He had not paid his share of taxes to the state... Trump served a salutary function as long as he was not elected, in showing the compromises and corruptions of American society in his own person. He could say, and show, that the “system was rigged” and corrupt because he had done his best to make it so… “I alone can fix our nation because I have contributed at the highest level to its destruction and corruption” is not an admission that can command loyalty or legitimacy. It is a whistle-blowing admission that forfeits standing. Trump can only be understood, paradoxically, as an enemy of the republic… 

The task for “good people” is noncooperation. This is how to communicate what the republic can and cannot allow... The ordinary, unromantic, and vilified forms of disobedience may turn out to be most needed. Refusal of allegiance. Refusal of participation. Not showing up. Leaving key government jobs, or staying in those jobs to slow down or stall illegitimate actions. Daily refusal to go along with orders coming from an illegitimate executive..

… Racism, nationalism, and patriarchy belong to a common project. All nationalist programs reduce women to breeders for the nation, expelling, degrading, or killing those they don’t want. Nationalism is not kind to gays, lesbians, or gender nonconformists, either. At best, women can hope to be exceptions — honorary men granted the privilege of oppressing other women. The respect, pride, and affection benevolent patriarchs have for women is similar to the sort they have for their dogs. The difference is not in degree but kind: the love of masters for their pets can be deep, but it’s not the love of equals.

If political progress resembles the movement of a train, the front car chugging toward a still-distant horizon of possibility, reaction attacks the station, the point of entry where people linger, hesitate, and imagine getting on board. We thought we could take the entry point of feminism for granted, believe in the permanence of its basic achievements: the franchise and representation in government, the right to pleasure and the right to solitude, 100 cents on the dollar for our labor, the freedom to decide when and whether to have children. We assumed our own generation’s fight would be for new and better things, for ways of being and thinking not available in the past — not for the achievements won by our mothers and grandmothers. But while we had our eyes on the horizon, the rear car was derailed, the station besieged. The challenge, now, is to expect nothing but still demand everything: to fight our mothers’ fight and our own at the same time….

... There is every reason to expect the worst. We should prepare for an increase in deportations, further militarization of our borders and police forces, cuts in social programs (with particular damage to minority communities), and an increase in hate crimes. Democracy itself may well be at stake...

WE DO FEEL READY to blame someone. Clinton’s campaign was doomed from the start. “Not our President”? Not our Party either. The Democrats — festooned this season with celebrities and capitalists to an unthinking degree — rarely talked about what workers and the dispossessed needed to build their lives. Most voters could hardly name a thing Clinton was for. Instead, the campaign piped into every swing-state living room a nonstop stream of American success, the sunshine pabulum of the DNC: “America is great because America is good,” “America is already great.” Anger, loss, and economic trauma could be overcome by a genial disposition, an endless exhibition of proper behavior with an extra helping of negative ads correcting Trump for his crude (never “criminal”) actions.

If voters didn’t know what Clinton was for, they knew what she was against: Donald Trump, and people who did things like him. Her strategy was “disqualification.” Clinton ran on “competence”: She was, as her supporters never ceased to remind us, “the most qualified presidential candidate in history.” The message was engineered to resonate with white-collar women familiar with being passed over for senior-level jobs. But it put a new twist on the politics of ’60s neo-conservatism, combining it with the meritocratic strain that’s ruled the Democratic Party since the ’80s. No need for a straightforward, easily intelligible ideological call  -  the people versus “the billionaire class,” say. Just: Trust us. Our policies are healthy and good for you.

This story about the ultimate triumph of the most talented may well have sounded familiar to voters struggling to stay above water. It may even have prompted many of them not to vote. When they lost their jobs, or struggled to stay afloat as incomes stagnated and costs rose, they were repeatedly told that their misfortune was their fault. They didn’t have the right skills, they had failed to keep up. Why did they stay in “sunset” industries? Why couldn’t they just go to college and get a “good job” like the meritocrats? The working class didn’t lose out because politicians considered them expendable. They lost, they were told, because they were not competent.

It was this rhetoric that moved Trump beyond criticism. If the trouble with Trump was that experts called him incompetent, or that he should have been disqualified for saying things that, while terrible, could be spun as “honest,” then the trouble with Trump was the trouble with the struggling voters themselves. They, too, had been told that they were incompetent, that they were unqualified. To turn against Trump would be to turn against oneself. To embrace Trump was to embrace a particular version of oneself, to give free rein to impulses that on other occasions  - four and eight years ago, for instance -  had been restrained. One does not need to sympathize with this logic to understand its force….

Enemy of the Republic - IT IS FAR BETTER to “overreact” to a moment that sets up the means for tyranny than not to react. Better to seize hold of the abnormal than turn violation into the normal. If the polity is not the state but its citizens, the most important thing individual Americans can do is deny Trump aid, collaboration, agreement, and acceptance. Not accept, not adjust, not adapt, not appease, not conciliate. There is something sinister in the media’s “ten-step plans” to adjust to a President-Elect Trump, as if this were a personal upset needing therapy rather than a question of democratic legitimacy itself.

For the time being, many Americans may have to be political to an unusual degree, and political in a new way. One should consider citizens’ capacity to resist and disobey. To what extremes of disobedience and resistant behavior do peaceful Americans know how to go? The ordinary, unromantic, and vilified forms of disobedience may turn out to be most needed. Refusal of allegiance. Refusal of participation. Not showing up. Leaving key government jobs, or staying in those jobs to slow down or stall illegitimate actions. Daily refusal to go along with orders coming from an illegitimate executive. Refusal of bureaucrats, tasked with reporting on citizens, to report if it could put their subjects in jeopardy. Refusal of enforcement agencies to enforce. Refusals and resignations in the armed forces. Refusal of those tasked with cooperating with the government to cooperate.

The old rule of thumb for a republic is that all points of view and methods of politics can be endured except the one that denies rule of law in the republic. This alone can and should be treated as a threat, as if coming from outside. During the presidential campaign, Trump went on record, repeatedly, steadily, and memorably in front of us all - in the debates, in the press, in his campaign communications -  to register that he would not obey the norms of the republic. He would not submit to the rule of law, and he would not act in the interests of the republic as a citizen. He would not submit to the result of the election, or a smooth succession, if he lost the vote. He did not acknowledge the independence of the judiciary. He had not paid his share of taxes to the state. He would not separate his policies from personal enrichment. In this sense, he was like many of his class. Trump served a salutary function as long as he was not elected, in showing the compromises and corruptions of American society in his own person. He could say, and show, that the “system was rigged” and corrupt because he had done his best to make it so...

The thing before our eyes, in other words, is the installation of an extralegal and extrajudicial personality into the presidency — an office that has been expanded, through Republican and Democratic administrations, decade after decade, to dangerous excesses of power. This includes the proliferation of executive orders that have the force of law. Executive orders make the President not merely someone presiding over a tripartite government but a premodern monarch or führer. 

But it is the more ordinary coercive powers of the executive that add urgency to the situation: The Department of Justice. The Attorney General. Federal prosecutors and the FBI. The Department of Homeland Security. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the TSA. The Department of the Treasury and the IRS. The Department of Defense and the military. Having witnessed the Republican Party fail to eject Trump as a candidate and nearly half of the voting citizenry elect him through the Electoral College, does the system itself have any capacity to restrain such an extralegal personality from reaching the inauguration?

THE BEST WAY to prevent a tyrant’s rule is not to seat him at all -  even at the risk of unfairness to an individual who might have become better than his word. We’ve seen the slogan and heard the chant “Not my President,” but the slogan should instead be “No President.” Trump is no President in his attitudes and beliefs, but we should decide we do not have a President, through the paradox of the legitimate election of an illegitimate officeholder. The most valuable lesson the United States could learn in 2016 is that it can get along without a President. It would throw weight back onto Congress - the place where political power should lie in a democracy. This is close to how the country ran during the years of Radical (or “Congressional”) Reconstruction, when Congress all but seized power for the last two years of President Andrew Johnson’s reign.

The instinct of “respectable” politicians and the mass media is to regularize and contain, to cooperate and appease  - wrongly, and dangerously. This moment places a pressure on individual conscience and judgment, as each isolated person is reminded to join others in a collective will to refusal. It also leaves many of us twiddling our thumbs much of the time, hoping that those individuals who must take orders will refuse or resign. The task for “good people” is noncooperation. This is how to communicate what the republic can and cannot allow.

Along with this must come greater cooperation among ourselves, a commitment to building democratic institutions inside and outside the existing parties. It should not have come as a surprise how little civil society exists among the left, how little prepared we were to pursue projects of social justice against a revanchist administration. We enter this reactionary era more atomized and isolated than we should be.

But there are signs of response. The wave of “joining” that has already taken place in the wake of Trump’s victory — the proliferation of meetings and organizational sign-ups, the sudden jump in members of the Democratic Socialists of America, the frenzied petitions and Facebook posts urging us to call our representatives and make demands — is the first step toward creating a denser, less pliant movement. Organizations should grow large enough to command assemblies on the level of a neighborhood in addition to that of a city. (There is a virtue, as Wordsworth held long ago, in “the talk / Man holds with week-day man in the hourly walk / Of the mind’s business.”) The move to transform the Democratic Party and to build organizations outside it in the hope, forever deferred, of a true party of the left, ought to turn political parties from more than volunteer door-knockers who come around every four years to ask for votes in swing states. This would have been the project no matter who the President. It has only acquired new salience and urgency... read the full article:
https://nplusonemag.com/issue-27/the-intellectual-situation/no-president-2/

Tom Engelhardt - The Future According to Trump
Since at least Dwight Eisenhower, American presidents have been in the camp of the assassins.  With Eisenhower, it was the CIA’s plot against Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; with John Kennedy (and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy), it was Cuba’s Fidel Castro; with Richard Nixon (and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), it was the killing of Chilean President Salvador Allende in a U.S.-backed military coupwhich was also the first 9/11 attack (September 11, 1973). ..In 1976, in the wake of Watergate, President Gerald Ford would outlaw political assassination by executive order, a ban reaffirmed by subsequent presidents (although Ronald Reagan did direct U.S. Air Force planes to bomb Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi’s home).  As this new century began, however, the sexiest high-tech killer around, the appropriately named Predator drone, would be armed with Hellfire missiles and sent into action in the war on terror, creating the possibility of presidential assassinations on a scale never before imagined...
Can you doubt that we’re in a dystopian age, even if we’re still four weeks from Donald Trump entering the Oval Office? Never in our lifetimes have we experienced such vivid previews of what unfettered capitalism is likely to mean in an ever more unequal country, now that its version of 1% politics has elevated to the pinnacle of power a bizarre billionaire and his “basket of deplorables.” I’m referring, of course, not to his followers but to his picks for the highest posts in the land. These include a series of generals ready to lead us into a new set of crusades and a crew of billionaires and multimillionaires prepared to make America theirs again.

It’s already a stunningly depressing moment -- and it hasn’t even begun. At the very least, it calls upon the rest of us to rise to the occasion. That means mustering a dystopian imagination that matches the era to come. I have no doubt that you’re as capable as I am of creating bleak scenarios for the future of this country (not to speak of the planet). But just to get the ball rolling on the eve of the holidays, let me offer you a couple of my own dystopian fantasies, focused on the potential actions of President Donald Trump.

There is already an enormous literature -- practically a library -- of writings on our unique president-elect’s potential conflicts of interests. He does, after all, own, or lease his name to, various towers, elite golf courses, clubs, hotels, condos, residences, and who knows what else in at least 18 to 20 countries. That name of his, invariably in impressive gold lettering, soars to striking heights in foreign skies across the planet. These days, in fact, the Trump brand and its conflicts are hard to escape, from Bali, the Philippines, and Dubai to Scotland, India, and the very heart of Manhattan Island. There, in my own hometown, at a cost to local taxpayers like me of more than a million bucks a day, the police are protecting him big time, while the Secret Service and the military add their heft to the growing armed camp in mid-Manhattan. They are, of course, defending the Trump Tower -- the very one in which, in June 2015, to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” he rode that escalator directly into the presidential campaign, promising to build a "great wall," lock out all Mexican "rapists," and "make America great again."

That tower on busy Fifth Avenue is now fronted by dump trucks filled with sand (“to help protect the Republican presidential nominee from potentially explosive attacks”) and, with the safety of the president and his family in mind, the Secret Service is reportedly considering renting out a couple of floors of the building at a cost to the American taxpayer of $3 million annually, which would, of course, go directly into the coffers of a Trump company.  (Hey, no conflict of interest there and don’t even mention the word “kleptocracy”!)  All of this will undoubtedly ensure that New York’s most Trump-worthy building, aka the White House North, will be kept reasonably safe from intruders, attackers, suicide bombers, and the like.  But much of the imperial Trump brand around the world may not be quite so lucky.  Elsewhere, guards will generally be private hires, not government employees, and the money available for any security plans will, as a result, be far more modest.

With rare exceptions, the attention of the media has focused on only one aspect of Donald Trump’s conflict-of-interest issues (and they are rampant), not to speak of his urge to duck what he might do about them, or dodge and weave to avoid a promised news conference to discuss them and the role of his children in his presidency and his businesses.  The emphasis has generally been on the kinds of problems that would arise from a businessman with a branded name coming to power and profiting from, or making decisions based on the money to be made off of, his presidency.  Media reports have generally zeroed in, for instance, on how foreign leaders and others might affect national policy by essentially promising to enrich Trump or his children.  They report on diplomats who feel obliged to stay at his new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue just down the street from the White House; or foreign heads of state reaching out to him via his business partners in their lands; or Trump brand deals that are now going through in various countries thanks to his election victory.

The focus is almost invariably on how to cope with a president who, for at least the next four years, could stand to profit in mind-boggling ways from his various acts in office (or simply from the position he holds, even if he does nothing). And make no mistake, that issue might indeed edge Trump’s presidency into the truly dodgy, not to say paradigm breaking, when it comes to the history of the White House. But don’t call that dystopian.

What few people (the Secret Service aside) are thinking about is the ways in which conflicts of interest could consume the new president by threatening not to enrich, but impoverish him (and his children). Head down that path and believe me you’re instantly in dystopian territory.
Here’s a scenario for you:… read more: