The Sadism of creeping Dictatorship

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

One of the classic techniques of dictatorship is humiliation, a manifestation of the sadism of the regime. Most people want to avoid being made the butt of ridicule, and authoritarian personalities calculate that they will even surrender some rights and liberties to avoid it.

Even if you didn’t agree with him on many issues, Comey did not have an easy job and he put a lot of years and effort into it. If you’re his boss and you want to fire him, you owe him a face to face meeting to explain to him that he will be cycling out. In this case the firing was unwarranted and disturbing, given that he had a 10-year appointment and a presumption of protection from being let go over politics. But nearly as bad as the termination of employment itself was the way it was done.

Comey was personally humiliated. He was giving a talk in Los Angeles when the news came across the television screen. Here you have the Director of the FBI appearing in public and having his dignity abruptly stripped away. He reportedly thought it must be a hoax to begin with.

What is the message here? If you work for the Federal government, you work for Trump. And if you work for Trump, and you cross him or he just decides he doesn’t like the look of you, he will degrade you and make you abject in front of the whole world. Therefore, be afraid, be very afraid.

This technique of abruptness and lack of transparency was also visible in Trump’s attempts at a Muslim ban. The first Executive Order was deliberately issued on a weekend when it is hard to get hold of a judge. People who had duly applied for and received visas and who had spent money on airplane tickets were informed suddenly and without warning that their visas were no good and they had wasted their money on air fare and would have to go back on the next flight. Mothers were split from children, grandchildren from grandparents. People with jobs were not allowed back in to return to them.

Comey to his credit pushed back against the Bannon-Trump Muslim ban, pointing out that “Citizenship alone” is not a “threat indicator.” So it is perhaps not surprising that he was treated by his boss exactly as the Syrians, Libyans and Somalis were.

The message here is to be afraid, to be obedient, not to cross the Boss. It is a shameful message in a democracy, the whole basis of which is that every citizen is equal before the law. The president himself is not above the law.

Rule through sadism and humiliation and fear violates democracy because the most powerful man in the country goes around treating people like shit in order to terrify them into submitting to his will.

These thuggish techniques were also used to fire Sally Yates as acting Attorney General. She was informed that she was history 2 minutes before it was announced on t.v. The letter to her from Trump talked about her betrayal, implying she was let go for treason. Questioning the constitutionality of an executive order is not treason.

Or there was the sudden arrest of a reporter for “disorderly conduct” at the insistence of Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services. Reporters are often disruptive because they keep asking hard questions. If that is an arresting offense, then all of us are in danger. And that is Tom Price’s point.

That is, the same techniques, of sudden pouncing and smearing of reputation have been used over and over again by now not just by Trump but by Bannon and by cabinet secretaries..

The person thus humiliated is not even the real target. You are. Trump is trying to make you afraid to stick your head up, lest it get cut off. Price is trying to intimidate journalists. Bannon is trying to terrify would-be immigrants.

Everyone kept wondering what the first sign of descent into dictatorship would be. This is it. Government by sadism, government by humiliation, government by fear and caprice.

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Related video:

CBS Philly; “Comey Found Out He Was Fired While Watching TV”

26 Responses

  1. I have long thought that Trump is a thoroughgoing sadist. Take, for instance, his notorious habit of not paying small businesses and little contractors who did work on his many projects – deliberately inflicting pain on helpless people over and over again.

  2. If Trump was a democrat the religious right would be jumping for joy as they raised millions of dollars by claiming Trump’s behavior proved him to be the anti Christ.

    • Trump is doing now to James Comey what President Clinton did to FBI director William Sessions in 1993.

      I recall little outrage by the religious right or anyone else at the firing of Sessions.

        • FBI Director Wm. Sessions had directed his agents to vigorously investigate FDIC-insured “agricultural loans” from an Atlanta branch of an Italian Bank of $5.5 billion that were alleged by a bank officer to be facilitated by the CIA and diverted to purchase armaments for the Iraqi military during its war with Iran in the 1980s.

          The “ethics investigation” of Sessions discovered minor infractions – such as using an FBI telephone to call his wife – but it was alleged the real motivation was retaliation for his investigation of the bank scandal. U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob had implicated the “intelligence community” in influencing the direction of the Justice Department prosecution of only the bank officer and not U.S. or Italian officials who were believed to may have knowledge of the loans – which were defaulted upon to the detriment of American taxpayers.

          Many in the FBI respected Sessions and believed he was forced out for doing his job.

          Some links:

          link to nytimes.com figure-in-bank-scandal-links-bush-to-Iraqi-loans.html

          link to motherjones.com

      • But you don’t compare it to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, which specifically was about covering up his crimes. You know, the act that cost him his job, but won’t cost Trump his job.

        • The reason I did not compare it to the “Saturday Night Massacre” is because Pres. Nixon did not fire any FBI director – that sole distinction goes to Bill Clinton.

          Nixon, however, forced CIA director Richard Helms to resign a few months prior to his scheduled retirement for his refusal to invoke the State Secrets Doctrine to help obstruct the Watergate-related criminal investigations.

  3. It looks like someone intellectually weak and with a short temper provoked by Comey’s confident performance before Congress with its detailed, even colourful, account of his reasoning in the Clinton affair, a performance Trump couldn’t match in a month of Sundays. I have faith the American constitution and people are strong enough to counter him move by move at home but his potentially destabilising impact internationally is deeply worrying, with first its threat of further overly assertive military adventures, and beyond that on the global economy where his brand of self-preserving financial finesse could do inestimable damage to whole nations and millions of Western people almost entirely dependant on stable supply infrastructures. It’s a bit like watching a child carrying a cup of nitro.

  4. CREEPING! This is a full gallop! If WE don’t stop this CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE NOW, many innocents will suffer horribly.

  5. So, what’s to be done now? There are plenty of alarmists out there, but they need to somehow penetrate the self-centered ears of an obstinate GOP, otherwise no Special Prosecutor. To this point Comey—whatever one thought of him—was our single remaining check.

    We are now rather quickly reaching a tipping point, beyond which things stand to get ugly, and there may be no turning back from the worst fears of this post. Here’s some pertinent informed thinking of the if/thens involved:

    link to theatlantic.com

  6. The key to getting rid of this would be dictator is to convince the Republicans in Congress that not only their jobs are on the line, but the future of their party. This means getting folks out to town halls, and getting them to write call email and personally visit their Republican congresspeople. This also means SENDING MONEY to the Dems who will be running against these Republicans.

    • Why worry about the future of your party when you’re rigging election laws to create a one-party authoritarian state?

      They KNOW their party can’t survive the demise of White-majority America. They knew it 30 years ago. This is their kamikaze run, their Samson Option: a criminal sprint to bumrush the Constitution and destroy all legal opposition, then demonize the illegal opposition to create a permanent state of emergency. Their voters have no other options their egos can accept.

      By that horrific standard, Trump fits in quite nicely.

  7. Excellent observations. And worrisome. But there are three issues that can’t entirely be ignored. First, Trump is growing increasingly erratic, and is contradicting himself, which clearly suggests something is wrong.

    The second issue is that Republicans in Congress have to decide how far over the waterfall they wish to go with an erratic president. For one thing, Republicans are finding it difficult to keep pace with Trump’s lies and bizarre behavior.

    Third, subpoenas are now starting to show up. Government officials and elected officials start acting different when they have to testify under oath. There are no guarantees about the scenario I’m suggesting. Things are fluid. But an elected official who begins to lie too much often starts losing support quickly.

  8. Just as a point of information, Price was charge with this West Virginia statute:

    link to legis.state.wv.us

    Not disorderly conduct, but specifically disrupting a state process. If anything this seems to be worse, as this law seems to be in part crafted to get around “peaceable assembly” in the general region of any government office — or in this case “freedom of press” in that vicinity. And quite likely the right to petition the legislature for redress of grievances, right?

    So much erasure of rights in just a couple of paragraphs.

    Calling it disorderly conduct really misses the malice in this little statute.

    So that should be emphasized, that West Virginia is trying to subvert constitutional rights with local laws.

  9. For once, we see a hero of this lamentable story rise to the level of classical tragedy. Comey’s farewell letter resonates like the end of Act 4 of Corneille’s final tragedy : Suréna (1674). I cannot correctly translate his sumptuous language. Maybe some people can read it in French. Here is a (revised) Google translation for convenience only.

    SURENA (a great victorious general)
    Pardon is to great hearts a shame to receive;
    Threat has nothing to trouble them.
    While out of the ramparts my suite is scattered,
    That the guard is placed within by Sillace, (a spadassin J-O)
    That the people expect me to be arrested,
    If anyone got the order, he can execute it.
    Whether they want my sword, or my head,
    Say a word, lord, and both are ready:
    No drop of my blood doesn’t belong to my king;
    And if one dares to kill me, he will lose more than I do.
    I have lived for my glory as much as I had to live,
    And leave a great example to those who may follow me; […]

    PACORUS (an Eric Trump of sorts)
    Suréna, my fellows do not like these ways:
    It is false virtues that are so proud of virtues.
    After so many great deeds and reported exploits,
    The king can not doubt what you are worth;
    He does not want your demise : save yourself the trouble
    To attract his anger and deserve my hatred;
    Give your equals the example of obedience, […]
    But remember that a king, when he says, “I will!”
    Farewell: that word is enough, and you must hear me.
    SURENA.
    I do more, I foresee what I must expect:
    I wait for her without fear; And whatever the course,
    I will take care of my glory; Order of my days.

    La fin de l’acte IV de Suréna de Corneille
    SURENA.
    […]
 La grâce est aux grands cœurs honteuse à recevoir ;

    La menace n’a rien qui les puisse émouvoir.

    Tandis que hors des murs ma suite est dispersée,

    Que la garde au dedans par Sillace est placée,

    Que le peuple s’attend à me voir arrêter,

    Si quelqu’un en a l’ordre, il peut l’exécuter.

    Qu’on veuille mon épée, ou qu’on veuille ma tête,

    Dites un mot, seigneur, et l’une et l’autre est prête :

    Je n’ai goutte de sang qui ne soit à mon roi ;
    
Et si l’on m’ose perdre, il perdra plus que moi.
J’ai vécu pour ma gloire autant qu’il fallait vivre,

    Et laisse un grand exemple à qui pourra me suivre ;
 […]


    PACORUS.
    Suréna, mes pareils n’aiment point ces manières :

    Ce sont fausses vertus que des vertus si fières.

    Après tant de hauts faits et d’exploits signalés,

    Le roi ne peut douter de ce que vous valez ;

    Il ne veut point vous perdre : épargnez-vous la peine
    
D’attirer sa colère et mériter ma haine ;

    Donnez à vos égaux l’exemple d’obéir,
 […]

    Mais songez bien qu’un roi, quand il dit : « je le veux… »

    Adieu : ce mot suffit, et vous devez m’entendre.


    SURENA.
    Je fais plus, je prévois ce que j’en dois attendre :

    Je l’attends sans frayeur ; et quel qu’en soit le cours,

    J’aurai soin de ma gloire ; ordonnez de mes jours.

  10. The key insight is the word “sadism”, extended to the conservative movement and supporters in general. No one dares say that sadism is the secret ingredient in American history; that racism was the tribalization of sadism to turn the chosen race into a weapon to conquer and exploit a continent; that sadism is the ultimate White man’s bonus, the thing he chooses to value more highly than uniting with his fellow workers of color to demand better wages and living conditions from the leaders of his tribe.

    Sadism is the heart of the Stanford Prison Experiment, the reason those students who were labeled “guards” became monsters. America has been the Stanford Prison Experiment for 350 years.

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