John Feffer – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 16 Jan 2021 05:03:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 America and the Mob Sat, 16 Jan 2021 05:02:28 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus) – The far right has come out in support of Trump. After the failed coup attempt of January 6, what’s next?

The United States began as a glint in the eyes of an English mob of oddballs, dissenters, and criminals let loose on what they considered virgin territory. Once secure in their new digs, they administered rough justice to the original Americans and any colonist who fell afoul of community rules. Eventually, casting aside their imperial British overlords, the rabble achieved a measure of respectability by creating an independent state.

Even as the United States fashioned an army, a constabulary, and an evolving rule of law, the mob continued to define what it meant to be an American. It policed the slave economy. It helped push the borders westward. It formed the shock troops that rolled back Reconstruction. A twentieth-century version of this mob rampaged during the long Red Summer violence that stretched from 1917 to 1923. It mobilized against the civil rights movement. And during the Trump era, it has reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Portland, and last week on Capitol Hill.

America is motherhood, apple pie…and the mob.

Last week, many a politician decried the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol as “un-American.” Consider, for instance, the words of Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader:

This is so un-American. I condemn any of this violence. I could not be sadder or more disappointed with the way our country looks right now. People are getting hurt. Anyone involved in this, if you’re hearing me, hear me loud and clear: This is not the American way.

McCarthy was not on the same podium with Donald Trump earlier in the day urging on the mob. But he and the president were on the same page between November 3 and January 6. Two days after the election, the California Republican announced that Trump had won. Later, he supported the outlandish Texas lawsuit to overturn the election results, refused to acknowledge Biden’s win well into 2021, and stood up in the House last week even after the mob retreated to challenge the Electoral College results.

After January 6, McCarthy has tried to put some distance between himself and the rabble. He has been willing to consider an official censure of the president and has also indicated that he won’t try to enforce party unity against an impeachment vote. No doubt McCarthy has shifted his stance because he feared for his own life when the insurrectionists stormed the barricades and invaded his sanctum. Trump, enjoying the images on TV, refused McCarthy’s plea to issue a statement calling off his attack dogs. It’s enough to make even the most loyal lapdog bark a different tune.

None of this detracts from the fact that McCarthy, since the election, was the elected representative not of his California district but of the mob. He was their cheerleader, their mouthpiece on the Hill, one of the many suits over the ages who have translated the “will of the people” into official-sounding acts and bills that attempt to preserve the privileges of white people at the expense of everyone else. For that is the beating heart of Trumpism: the Confederate flag, the noose, the closed polling booth, the knee on the neck of non-white America.

The word “mob” makes it sounds as though the violence was perpetrated by a group of mindless rowdies. But there has always been a method to the madness of this particular crowd. Let’s take a closer look at what the latest incarnation of the American mob wants, how it connects to like-minded groups overseas, and what to expect over the next weeks, months, and years.

Against the Globalists

At first glance, the people who descended upon Washington to disrupt Congress on January 6 are almost obsessively focused on domestic issues. They’re not so much America First as Trump First. They have turned against anyone in the Republican Party who has abandoned the soon-to-be-ex-president, and that includes the vice president. They are nationalist and parochial. They are also anti-globalist.

But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t global in their strategizing, their connections, and their aspirations.

One of the core components of the Stop the Steal coalition is QAnon, an amorphous global network that believes that another amorphous global network—of Satanic child molesters— somehow controls the levers of international power. What started out as a conspiracy theory centered on Donald Trump as a St. George figure battling a devilish dragon went global in 2020, attracting adherents in 71 countries by August. One German QAnon group counts 120,000 members in its Telegram account.

Another key member of the coalition is a bloc of white nationalists and militia members that encompasses accelerationists like the Boogaloo Bois, who want to spur a race war to bring down the liberal status quo, and organizations that emphasize male supremacy like the Proud Boys. These groups have forged global links over the last decade in Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and others.

Prior to COVID-19’s outbreak, these chauvinists united around a “Great Replacement” narrative according to which immigrants and people of color are determined to “replace” white people through migration, higher birthrates, or sheer pushiness. When the border closures around the pandemic reduced the salience of the immigration issue, the Great Replacement became a less useful organizing tool. It was into this vacuum that QAnon became the conspiracy theory de jour. Meanwhile, the far right shifted its discourse on “globalists” to challenge their approach to COVID-19, their deference to the Chinese, and their proposed “reset” of the global economy: anything to deflect attention from the obvious failures of the nationalist populists who headed up the countries with the highest number of infections and deaths: the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Although they often disagree about particulars, this array of groups is united by an animus against government. They supported Trump not as the head of government but as someone opposed to government. And they adored him because he didn’t just hate the U.S. government—and the elites that staff it—but global governance as well. The “deep state” was always a canard. The far right despised the liberal state, full stop. Trump attracted an even wider following by squaring off against the expert class: the uppity journalists and fact-bound scientists and Hollywood liberals and hand-wringing academics. Burn it all down, Trump’s followers demanded.

Trump in government, however, represented a certain check on the most ambitious impulses of the far right. True, during his reign, extremists have come out into the streets to protest economic shutdowns, masking ordinances, and #BlackLivesMatter mobilizations. Some extremists planned more violent interventions, like kidnapping the governor of Michigan. But with the administration on its side, with the Senate in Republican hands, with Republicans controlling the vast majority of state legislatures, the far right focused its wrath selectively. It played the ultimate inside-outside game.

After the November election, with Trump on his way out of power, the far right no longer has to place any caveats on its anti-government impulses. First has come an attack on Congress, not coincidentally on the very day that the Republicans lost their Senate majority. Next, the far right is planning an armed march on Washington and all 50 state capitols on January 17. To cap it off, a Million Militia March is planned for Inauguration Day. What happened on January 6 was, despite some prior planning, a disorganized coup effort. What comes next may well be more precisely planned, which may result in a focus on the weakest links rather than the most potent symbols, just as the Oregon extremists chose the easily occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January 2016 rather than the heavily guarded state capitol building.

The storming of the U.S. Capitol, meanwhile, has proven to be a great winnower. The fainthearted, like Kevin McCarthy, have proven to be chaff, as has a number of previously ardent Trump supporters. According to polling conducted after the attack, “a quarter of Trump voters agree that actions should be taken to immediately remove him from office. Further, 41% of Trump voters believe he has ‘betrayed the values and interests of the Republican Party.’” This is an extraordinarily rapid fissure in what had hitherto been an impregnable base of support for Trump.

What remains is a revolutionary core. They won’t muster enough force to make a difference over the next two weeks, not against the 15,000 National Guard likely to be deployed to Washington, DC for the inauguration. After the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, the far right couldn’t handle the avalanche of criticism and could barely muster a couple dozen extremists for a rally one year later in Washington, DC. But it has since altered its messaging and its strategy. Expect even more adaptation over the next months and years.

What Comes Next

The idea that the Civil War was a “war of Northern aggression” has survived 150 years of civic, political, and media education to the contrary. A large section of white southerners, and even a few folks outside the region, cling to their “lost cause” much as Serbian nationalists mourn their defeat on the plain of Kosovo in 1389, Hungarians rail against the loss of territory after the Trianon Treaty of 1920, and the Japanese and German far right has bridled at the “outside interference” that robbed their nations of a measure of sovereignty after World War II.

Prepare for the “stolen election” narrative to serve a similar function for the ForeverTrumpers. This narrative of an unfair political system ties together many of the far right’s themes: liberal institutions are fundamentally broken and corrupted, the mainstream media is compliant in tilting the playing field, and the globalists will do anything to regain power from “the people.” Note, too, how these messages can appeal to a left also angry at the status quo, and you can understand why so many people who voted for Bernie Sanders switched to Trump and why European far right parties have harvested votes from previous bastions of the Communist Party.

Such appeals to fairness – a stolen election is above all unfair – conceal the racist, sexist, and otherwise exclusionary content of the far right’s agenda. An explicitly fascist platform has considerably less broad-based appeal than a cry to right a wrong. Over the next four years, the far right will beat this drum of political illegitimacy. It will claim that nothing the Biden administration does will be legal or constitutional because of its original sin of ascension via a stolen election.

The fallout from January 6 will continue to divide the Republican Party. But the opportunity to brand the Democrats as illegitimate will prove just too addictive to be ignored. Consider the attacks on Obamacare or the successful effort to block Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Even in the face of overwhelming counterevidence, the Republicans hammered on the illegitimacy of the Democratic initiatives. A “stolen election” caucus, composed of the congressional members who survive a corporate and fundraiser boycott, will attempt to pull the Republican Party further to the right, just as the Tea Party did during the Obama era.

The international ramifications of this strategy are equally worrisome. The far right attacks governments not only because they are liberal in the sense of providing government “handouts” but because they follow liberal principles of governance (checks and balances, free press, rights to gather and express dissent). Trump’s attacks on January 6 were not just seditious. They were designed to transform his position and that of his party into something resembling United Russia and Putin’s leadership for life. Trump has always wanted to build a Moscow or a Budapest or an Ankara or a Managua on the Potomac: iron-fisted leadership, no serious political opposition, a cowering press, a cult of personality. He thought he saw his opportunity on January 6.

This is also the ultimate goal of the mob. It doesn’t want anarchy, except as an interim strategy. It wants a strong hand on the tiller, as if Trump were the Great Helmsman guiding the country in a Great Leap Forward (or Backward, given that a mob’s sense of direction is never very precise).

Trump’s hands, however, are being wrenched from the tiller. Even better he is being abandoned by leading members of his party, his social media enablers, his financial backers, and his corporate sponsors. His ambition having overleapt itself, Trump has stumbled, irrevocably. The mob is taking note, even as it falls back to protect its wounded leader.

For the next four years, prepare for the mob and its political representatives to rely on street power to identify, campaign for, and put into office their next Great White Hope.

What’s more quintessentially American than that?

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

KTLA 5: “More than 100 people arrested in Capitol insurrection”

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How America’s Denialism– Elections, COVID, Climate — is Leading to its Downfall Sat, 19 Dec 2020 05:03:54 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – The refusal of tens of millions of Americans to recognize the election results is part of a much larger denialism — of COVID-19, of climate change, and U.S. decline.

The presidential election wasn’t close. Joe Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes, which translates to a margin of 4.5 percent. His Electoral College victory was larger than either of George W. Bush’s.

Yet, Donald Trump still refuses to concede. The soon-to-be-ex-president tried to pressure Republican legislators to overturn the election results in the states where Biden’s margin of victory was narrow. They rebuffed him. His legal team filed 59 suits to subvert the popular will — and lost every one of them. The president has even tried to enlist the help of the Supreme Court, which pointedly ignored him.

All of these strategies have failed. Despite many accusations of fraud, the president and his party have been unable to produce even one piece of credible evidence. Wherever recounts took place — two counties in Wisconsin, statewide in Georgia three times — they confirmed Biden’s victory.

Trump’s latest plan is to skip the inauguration on January 20, 2021 and hold a rally in Florida to announce his intention to run again in 2024.

Trump’s sore-loser performance is pathetic. But the denialism embraced by the Republican Party is far more disgraceful, since it represents the failing of an entire institution as opposed to the psychopathy of a single individual. Worse, this electoral denialism is just one of several large-scale delusions that threaten to undermine democracy, tear apart the country, and compromise efforts to address global scourges like COVID-19 and climate change.

Donald Trump has always been a lose-lose kind of guy. His bankruptcies — financial, moral, and otherwise — have always translated into catastrophe for everyone else as well. Now, in losing the 2020 election, he is determined to do whatever he can to burn down the house.

Republican Treachery

In the Senate, Chris Murphy (D-CT) bluntly described Republican efforts to overturn the election as “the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of our country.” At any other time, this might pass for election-year hyperbole. But a sizable portion of the Republican Party has not just refused to acknowledge president-elect Biden but has actively attempted to subvert the election.

According to a Washington Post analysis, only 16 Republicans in the House and 20 of their colleagues in the Senate have been willing to acknowledge Biden’s victory. One Republican member of Congress even tried to push through legislation condemning any colleagues who call “upon Trump to concede prematurely.”

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton launched a bid to overturn the election results in four swing states that went for Biden, not only did 17 pro-Trump states join the suit, but so did 125 Republicans — including Kevin McCarthy, the top-ranking House Republican. The suit was obviously unconstitutional: states don’t have legal standing to challenge the electoral procedures of other states. “Dangerous garbage” is how one election law expert described Paxton’s act of desperation. The Supreme Court rejected the case.

The Electoral College confirmed Biden’s victory this week. Remarkably there were no faithless electors who changed their votes (there were seven in 2016). Thanks to the Electoral College imprimatur, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador finally reached out to congratulate Biden, with Republican Party grandee Mitch McConnell begrudgingly following suit.

Republican denialists have one last Hail Mary pass. On January 6, Congress meets to confirm the results of the Electoral College. Legislators have the right to challenge the state votes. Several House Republicans have already indicated that they will do so, but they’ll need a senator to join their ranks. Even if they manage this feat, the Republican-controlled Senate won’t support such a coup, not with McConnell warning his fellow senators that it’s a lame-brained strategy. Even if McConnell could be convinced otherwise, forget about getting the Democratic-controlled House on board.

Unfortunately, many Americans also deny the reality of the 2020 election. A third of the American electorate (including 77 percent of Republicans) believes the right-wing messaging around fraud, that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”

Many of these denialists embrace conspiracy theories in which the Democrats were smart enough to manipulate the results of the presidential election while somehow failing to win control of the Senate or prevent the Republicans from recapturing a handful of House seats. Many Trump followers go so far as to believe that the Republicans who control the electoral politics of states like Georgia and Arizona, including governors who voted for Trump, are part of this vast conspiracy. These Republicans have bravely defended the integrity of the election, with the governor of Arizona ignoring a phone call from the president himself as he certified Biden’s victory in the state.

This denialism has a violent component. Armed protestors have shown up outside the home of the secretary of state in Michigan, while officials in other states have received death threats. Even in Vermont, where Biden won 66 to 30 percent, someone wrote to the secretary of state saying that those who oversaw the election should be executed by firing squad.

Nested Denialisms

The refusal of tens of millions of Americans to recognize the results of a free and fair election is part of a much larger denialism.

The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping through the United States, which has the largest number of infections and fatalities in the world. And yet millions of Americans refuse to take the simplest precautions against the disease, such as wearing a mask and avoiding crowded gatherings. Nearly a third of Americans believe that the COVID-19 death toll has been inflated. Four in 10 Americans say that they won’t take a vaccine when it becomes available.

Then there’s the large number of Americans who are in denial about the current climate crisis. Of major countries, only the populations of Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are more in doubt of the science of climate change than Americans. One in 15 Americans doesn’t even think that the climate is changing.

Some of America’s dangerous denialism can’t be measured in public opinion polls. For instance, many Trump supporters are in denial about the changing demography of the United States. By 2045, according to the U.S. Census, white people will no longer form the majority of the American population. Trump did everything in his power to push against that demographic trend by restricting immigration, deporting the undocumented, and throwing his support behind white nationalist figures. Instead of embracing the country’s diversity, many white people cling to their disappearing privileges.

The left is not immune to denialism. You can still find some diehards who refuse to acknowledge Russian meddling in U.S. politics. Some of those refuseniks deny that Vladimir Putin is an autocrat who assassinates his critics, invades his neighbors, works to undermine the European Union, and props up distant dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Then there are those who look the other way at the human rights abuses of putative leftist leaders, like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua or Xi Jinping in China.

But these left-wing denialists have little influence here in the United States. In contrast, the denialism of the right wing, even with Trump leaving the White House, is a matter of life and death, quite literally in the case of COVID and climate change.

The most insidious denialism of all, however, is entirely invisible.

Declinism and Denialism

The United States has the largest economy in the world, measured by GDP. The American dollar is still effectively the world’s currency. America has the most powerful military in the world, thanks to huge annual Pentagon budgets.

But the United States is no longer the world’s sole superpower, as it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

China is indisputably a superpower. According to a more accurate measure of GDP known as “purchasing power parity,” the International Monetary Fund recently determined that China’s economy is actually one-sixth larger than the American economy. China has established global financial institutions that may one day rival the IMF and World Bank. It has simultaneously increased its influence in UN institutions.

And after considerable increases in military spending, China now has a world-class military that is certainly the rival of the United States in the Asian region.

It’s not just China. The “rise of the rest” — the greater global significance of countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa — has been a popular notion for more than a decade. But Americans have been slow to acknowledge the reality of the declining relative power of their country.

Donald Trump vowed to reverse this trend, to “make America great again.” Instead, he only managed to demonstrate how increasingly irrelevant American has become.

The United States has the worst record of dealing with the current pandemic. Its economy has taken a huge hit — especially in comparison with China, which recovered rather quickly. Tens of millions of Americans are going hungry because the government has refused to step in with enough federal assistance. Trump promised to rebuild U.S. infrastructure, but only succeeded in building a small part of a useless wall along the border with Mexico.

And whereas the United States once prided itself on having the best democracy in the world, Donald Trump has clearly undermined that claim, first by winning the election in 2016 under suspicious circumstances, then by governing like a deranged king for four years, and finally by refusing to concede in 2020. Although the 2020 election went smoothly, all things considered, tens of millions of Americans have lost faith in these democratic mechanisms.

When Donald Trump announces his intention to run again for president, tens of millions of Americans will flock to his side. If he ultimately doesn’t run, they will throw their support behind anyone that the disgraced ex-president selects as his successor. They will do so despite all the harm Trump has caused the United States and the world.

For the United States, at least, that might prove to be the most dangerous denialism of them all.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Hankyoreh.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Republicans have become the Party of Zombies and Loss at Polls won’t stop them from Coming for Biden Sun, 29 Nov 2020 05:02:41 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus) – How else would you describe Americans who deny a pandemic that’s killed 250,000 people and the election that repudiated Trump?

The 2017 film Bushwick begins like a lot of zombie flicks.

An unsuspecting couple is walking through a subway station in the working-class neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn. The station is eerily empty. They hear gunfire outside. The boyfriend goes out to investigate, and you know from the conventions of a zombie film that this is a very bad idea. No need for a spoiler alert: he dies.

The girlfriend ventures out to find the residents of Bushwick fighting an invading horde.

But it’s not a horde of zombies, even though they are committed to the same relentless violence. The invasion force turns out to be a right-wing paramilitary bent on securing the secession of Texas and most of the South from the United States.

Why are they in Brooklyn? That’s not entirely clear. The grunts, all dressed in identical black riot gear, are just following orders. They didn’t expect resistance, but the diverse community has banded together, African-Americans and Orthodox Jews and bearded craft beer connoisseurs. So, like zombies, the militia members are killing every resident they encounter.

Militia violence. Rejection of the federal government. Right-wing crazies promoting a civil war. Bushwick was made at a time when Hillary Clinton looked like she’d be the next president and right-wing resistance inevitable.

Instead, the Electoral College tilted toward Donald Trump. As the new head of the federal government, Trump preempted the worst-case scenario. His more extreme followers wouldn’t weaponize their grievances as long as one of their own was “running” the country.

At the same time, Trump implicitly promised to maintain this tenuous status quo as long as he won reelection. In the first presidential debate, Trump told the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group, to “stand back and stand by.” The extremists waited, locked and loaded.

A landslide — against Trump and against his Republican Party enablers — might have put this worst-case scenario to rest. Instead, with Trump refusing to concede the election and the Republican Party celebrating its congressional and state house victories, the country is now inching ever closer to the Bushwick plotline.

Accelerationists like the Boogaloo Bois, who want to bring down the existing system through a violent race war, are chomping at the bit. A raging pandemic has separated Americans into the cautiously masked and the defiantly maskless, further undermining what remains of the country’s cohesion.

As for zombies, they have rampaged across American popular culture at least since Night of the Living Dead hit movie theaters in 1968. They have now lurched off the page and out of the multiplex into real life. For how else would you describe the millions of Americans who deny the effects of a disease that has killed nearly 250,000 people and the results of a free-and-fair election that repudiated Donald Trump?

Jeez, something must have eaten their brains.

The Disease Spreads

In 2016, the virtual equivalent of zombies — bots operating through social media and the comment sections of websites — intervened in the presidential election. In 2020, those bots were less influential. But who needs virtual zombies when Americans themselves have become so willing to spread disinformation?

The Russian intention back in 2016 wasn’t so much to get Trump elected. No one, including Trump himself, thought there was much chance of that. Rather, the disinformation campaign sowed doubt about the political system more generally.

What started out as marginal hobbyhorses became widespread delusions. Don’t trust the candidates, the media, the NGOs. A conspiracy lurks behind the façade of normalcy. The Democrats are actually pedophiles (the Pizzagate conspiracy), the financiers are actually Nazis (the Soros conspiracy), and government officials are part of a deep-state resistance to Trump’s agenda (the Fauci conspiracy, among others).

And then there’s the One Conspiracy that Rules Them All.

The QAnon notion that all the world’s a Satanic child-trafficking ring — Pizzagate raised to the nth degree — is so absurd on the face of it that no reasonable person could possibly entertain it. But plenty of people have embraced equally wacky theories. L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics has been a bestseller for decades, and all too many Americans were willing to believe that Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to deny the existence of something if it remains far away in time or space. Those who live far from the ocean can blithely refute the evidence of the rising waters. That’s not so easy when those waters have reclaimed your land and your house tumbles into the sea.

Misinformation about COVID-19 — that masks are not necessary, vaccines should be avoided, or herd immunity is a viable strategy — has been lethal. That denialism should have disappeared as COVID-19 infection rates began to spread to every corner of the United States before the election. The increasing proximity of the threat should have motivated Americans to come together as one to fight the virus.

At the very least, fear should have kept people at home instead of venturing out to the potential super-spreader events that President Trump was sponsoring as campaign rallies before the election.

But no. Thousands still showed up to what Democrats should have called Trump’s “death rallies.” Even more unbelievably, Trump went on to defeat Biden in those parts of the country hardest hit by the virus. According to the Associated Press, “in 376 counties with the highest number of new cases per capita, the overwhelming majority — 93 percent of those counties — went for Trump, a rate above other less severely hit areas.” Even in hard-hit areas that ultimately voted for Biden, Trump often improved his showing from 2016, NPR reports.

Well, zombies don’t know that they’re zombies. One day they’re ordering BLTs and the next they’re eating their next-door neighbor. They’re completely unaware of how the abnormal has become normal.

The “Stolen” Election

A coup requires at least some public support. The Thai military could count on the Yellow Shirts. The Egyptian military relied on those fearful of the religious leanings of the Muslim Brotherhood. Pinochet courted the rich and middle class.

Where public support is lacking, coups often wither. That’s what happened in the Soviet Union in 1991. This week in Peru, the would-be president who forced the resignation of anti-corruption campaigner Martín Vizcarra stepped down after only a week in office, as protests continued to roil the country and the police killed two demonstrators.

Trump has the backing of millions of Americans who have bought into his allegations of a “stolen” election. As importantly, only a minority of Republican Party grandees has bowed to the inevitable by acknowledging Biden’s victory. That includes a mere four Republican Senators (Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, and Susan Collins).

A number of Republican candidates in this month’s election, including those who were beaten by large margins, are also refusing to concede. Errol Webber, who lost his bid to unseat Karen Bass in a California congressional seat by an astounding 72 percent, now claims election fraud and won’t back down. He’s not alone in his delusions.

The question is: how far will Trump and the Republican leadership go?

It’s not likely that the Pentagon would support a coup, even after the removal of Mark Esper. The militia movement is armed and dangerous, but it’s not even close to being as organized as in the Bushwick scenario. The “Million MAGA March” fell short of its goal by 980,000 people or so.

Trump just doesn’t have the numbers — not the votes to reverse the election results in a recount, not the judges to overturn the decision through a legal strategy, not the support in state legislatures to replace the Electoral College delegates, and not the people on the street for a popular uprising.

That doesn’t mean he can’t still do damage. Just this week, he announced that the administration would sell new leases to oil and gas companies to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. He fired the Homeland Security official who declared the election secure, and narrowly failed to install wacko Judy Shelton on the Federal Reserve board. And he came close to starting a war with Iran just to destroy any last chance of salvaging the Obama-era nuclear deal. His advisors reportedly persuaded him that it would be unwise to bomb the country’s nuclear facilities.

Meanwhile, as I explain in a new article at TomDispatch, not only is Trump throwing sand in the wheels of transition, the Republicans are gearing up to block just about everything the Biden administration will try to do from January on. The Republicans have transformed themselves into a zombie party that relies on a narrow base of zombie support. The party effectively died as a viable political force — absent gerrymandering and voter suppression — before Trump brought it back from the dead.

In films, zombification is a one-way street. Once you start twitching and slavering, there’s no going back. Let’s hope that the analogy doesn’t hold in American politics.


In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev gave a secret speech to the Twentieth Party Congress entitled “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” Today, the speech seems rather boring, full of jargon and acrobatic attempts to separate Stalin’s crimes from the Soviet system. But at the time, it shocked the Communist Party zombies who’d hitherto been unaware (or pretended not to know) of Stalin’s crimes.

Most of those who were well acquainted with Stalin’s crimes were already dead of famine, war, or murderous purges. That’s the thing about plagues: by the time you’re finally convinced of their lethality, you’re on your deathbed. For some, even death is not enough. Compare the Stalinists who proclaimed love for their leader as they were being executed with the COVID-19 patients who continued to deny the disease with their dying breaths.

The Party speech was the first major step in the de-Stalinization campaign that Khrushchev waged into the 1960s. The campaign produced some liberalization of Soviet society, but the Thaw came to an end in a Brezhnev backlash that lasted effectively until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 (and finally published Khrushchev’s 1956 speech for all to read).

Unfortunately, the de-Stalinization that Khrushchev started in 1956 didn’t completely discredit the Soviet dictator. Indeed, according to recent polls, an astounding 70 percent of Russians approve of Stalin’s role in Soviet history.

Trump’s personality cult exerts a similar effect. His adherents are incapable of seeing that the man’s evil extends far beyond his intemperate tweets. No speech by Joe Biden is going to make any difference. Not even denunciations by former Trumpers — Michael Cohen, John Bolton, John Kelly — have done much of anything. Trump’s support only grew from 2016 to 2020.

So, what will it take to avoid the Stalin scenario? In an article about three historical parallels — Reconstruction, de-Nazification, and de-Baathification — I conclude that a mere speech won’t do the trick.

Because Trumpism is a cancer on the body politic, the treatment will require radical interventions, including the transformation of the Republican Party, a purge of Trumpists from government, and the indictment of the president and his top cronies as a criminal enterprise. To avoid a second Civil War, however, a second American Revolution would need to address the root causes of Trumpism, especially political corruption, deep-seated racism, and extreme economic inequality.

In this way, the leader can be properly stigmatized while the followers can be progressively de-zombified.

One thing is for certain: If the Biden administration doesn’t take firm and decisive action against the illegalities of the Trump team, if Biden doesn’t address the root causes of the zombification of half the electorate, the new president will be eaten alive.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Featured photo: h/t PXHere .

After the Erratic Trump, can America Rejoin the World? Tue, 17 Nov 2020 05:02:51 +0000 By John Feffer | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – It simply doesn’t make a lot of sense to entrust leadership to a country with a severe personality disorder.

America may well be divided about Donald Trump, but the rest of the world isn’t.

The soon-to-be-former president has gotten high marks in the Philippines and Israel, a passing grade in a couple African countries and India, and dismal reviews pretty much everywhere else. U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are particularly relieved that Joe Biden will be taking the helm in January. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo summed up world sentiment with a pithy tweet: “Welcome back, America.”

The international community is happy that the American people have taken down the world’s biggest bully. The heads of international organizations – from the World Health Organization to Human Rights Watch – are delighted that soon Trump won’t be undermining their missions. Perhaps the 2020 presidential election will inspire people elsewhere to dethrone their lesser bullies – Viktor Orban in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Narendra Modi in India, even Vladimir Putin in Russia. Short of that, however, the removal of Trump from the international scene will restore a measure of decorum and predictability to global affairs.

With a slew of executive orders, Joe Biden is expected to press the reset button shortly after his January inauguration. The Washington Post reports:

He will rejoin the Paris climate accords, according to those close to his campaign and commitments he has made in recent months, and he will reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization. He will repeal the ban on almost all travel from some Muslim-majority countries, and he will reinstate the program allowing “dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as children, to remain in the country, according to people familiar with his plans.

Just as Donald Trump was determined to delete the Obama administration’s legacy, Joe Biden will try to rewind the tape to the moment just before Trump took office.

That’s all to the good. But the world that existed just before Trump began starting messing with it wasn’t so good: full of war, poverty, and rising carbon emissions. Will Biden to do more than just the minimum to push the United States into engaging more positively with the international community?

Dealing with Russia, China, and North Korea

The paradox of Trump’s foreign policy is that he often treated U.S. adversaries better than U.S. allies.

Trump was constantly berating and belittling the leaders of European and Asian countries that had come to expect at least a modicum of diplomacy from Washington. The abrasive president berated NATO allies for not spending enough on their own defense, and he was constantly trying to pressure Japan and South Korea to pony up more money to cover the costs of U.S. troops on their soil.

Trump loved to insult what should have been his friends: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “dishonest and weak,” British Prime Minister Theresa May was a “fool,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “stupid.”

But Trump was positively glowing about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (“We fell in love”), Chinese leader Xi Jinping (“He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great”), and Russian President Vladimir Putin (“he might be bad, he might be good. But he’s a strong leader”). On the campaign trail in the fall, he reiterated: “One thing I have learnt, President Xi of China is 100 per cent, Putin of Russia, 100 per cent… Kim Jong-un of North Korea, 100 per cent. These people are sharp and they are smart.”

Biden can be expected to reestablish the more routine praise of democrats and condemnation of autocrats. But will the reset go beyond rhetoric?

During the campaign, for instance, Biden hit Trump hard on his China policy. The president, according to the Democratic candidate, wasn’t tough enough on China. Biden pledged to force China to “play by the international rules” when it comes to trade and security. In addition, “under my watch America is going to stand up for the dissidents and defenders of human rights in China,” he has said.

The U.S.-China relationship had begun its slide before Trump took office. The consensus, therefore, is that Biden’s election won’t reverse the trend. As Steven Lee Myers writes in The New York Times, “While many will welcome the expected change in tone from the strident, at times racist statements by Mr. Trump and other officials, few expect President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to quickly reverse the confrontational policies his predecessor has put in place.”

Remember, however, that China-bashing has become a time-honored element of U.S. presidential campaigns. Biden was not different. He saw an opening to criticize Trump and an opportunity to look tough on foreign policy, a perennial requirement for Democratic candidates. Once in office, however, presidents have generally adopted a more business-like approach to Beijing.

My guess is that Biden will largely abandon the tariffs that Trump applied on Chinese goods, because those were self-inflicted wounds that hurt American farmers and manufacturers. But he’ll continue to use sanctions against Chinese companies – on the grounds of intellectual property theft or security concerns – and against individuals associated with human rights abuses. Practically that would mean shifting tensions to more targeted issues and allowing the bulk of U.S.-China economic cooperation to proceed.

More focused cooperation might be possible on environmental issues as well. In 2011, China and the United States established the Clean Energy Research Center to combine efforts to develop technology that can wean both countries of their dependency on fossil fuels. The funding runs out this year. Trump would not have renewed the project. Biden can do so and should even expand it.

Of course, just talking would be a good start. The United States and China need to dial back tensions over Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the global economy. Biden will likely move quickly to lower the temperature so that he can focus on cleaning up some other foreign policy messes.

The same applies to Russia. Despite some rather conventional hawkish language about Russia, Biden is clearly interested in reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. military policy. He is not only skeptical about the huge cost of modernizing the U.S. arsenal but has shown some support for a no-first-use pledge, which would put him to the left of Obama. These positions should facilitate arms control negotiations with Russia, beginning with an extension of New START, even if the two sides remain far apart on issues like Ukraine, human rights, and energy politics.

The prospects for a resumption of negotiations with North Korea are perhaps not as rosy. Biden will probably order a strategic review of relations with Pyongyang, which will conclude after several months with various recommendations for cautious engagement. Those proposals, not terribly different from the ones that the Obama administration embraced in 2008, will not entice North Korea to give up its nuclear program. There might be negotiations, but they won’t be any more successful than the Trump administration’s efforts.

The end result: the same “strategic patience” approach of the Obama years. But perhaps a more flexible Biden administration will allow South Korea to move forward with its own slow-motion engagement with the North.

The Greater Middle East

Trump tilted U.S. policy toward the Israeli hard line. He was a great deal more accommodating of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, particularly around Yemen and human rights. And he substantially escalated tensions with Iran.

Biden’s first and perhaps least controversial step will involve the nuclear deal the Obama administration negotiated with Tehran. Biden has indicated that he favors rejoining the pact, and Iran would welcome such a move. To begin with, he’ll likely negotiate the removal of Trump-era sanctions in exchange for Iran reversing some of the nuclear moves it has made over the last three years.

“One option for a Biden administration to jumpstart the process would be to revoke National Security Policy Memorandum 11, which formally ended U.S. participation in the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, on day one of his administration,” the National Iranian American Council recommends. “Sanctions-lifting could be accomplished by the same mix of statutory waivers, Executive order revocations, and U.S. sanctions list removals as performed by President Obama when implementing the initial U.S. commitments under the nuclear accord.”

It can’t come too soon. Iran will hold its presidential election by June 2021, and the reformists need to demonstrate that their strategy of engagement with the United States is still effective. The reform camp did poorly in last spring’s parliament elections.

Another important first move would be for Biden to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The cancellation of all military assistance, from intelligence-sharing to spare parts for planes, would seriously compromise the war effort, and it’s a move that even some Senate Republicans support. “He should publicly and privately tell the Saudis that he will do this on day one,” Erik Sperling of Just Foreign Policy told In These Times. ​“This will pressure them into negotiations and may end the war before he even enters the White House.”

The Saudis, not thrilled at Biden’s victory, have been slow in sending their congratulations. In addition to his stance against the Yemen war, the next president will take a harder line on Saudi human rights violations, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

On the other hand, Biden might find a bit more common ground with Saudi Arabia in piecing together a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Donald Trump put a heavy thumb on the scale to favor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Biden will seek to correct the balance. Writes Yossi Melman in the Middle East Eye:

It is very likely that once Biden enters the Oval Office, his foreign and national security team will renew contacts with the Palestinian Authority, reinstate the Palestinian embassy in Washington and re-open the US Treasury’s pipes to allow the smooth flow of financial aid to the Palestinians, which were blocked and closed by the outgoing administration.

From sources close to the Biden campaign, Middle East Eye also learned that the CIA will once again cooperate with its Palestinian counterparts and engage in mutual security collaboration to tackle terror threats. But at the same time, PA President Mahmoud Abbas will be asked to tone down anti-Israeli rhetoric and to resume talks with Israel.

Biden favors a two-state solution, but it’s not clear whether this option still exists after Trump and Netanyahu teamed up to undermine the Palestinian negotiating position.

Climate Crisis and Security

Unlike the progressive wing of the Democratic Party – or major political parties in Europe and other countries – Joe Biden has not fully embraced a Green New Deal. Instead he has put forward his “clean energy revolution,” which envisions a carbon-neutral United States by 2050 and would invest around $1.7 trillion into job creation in clean energy and infrastructure.

Biden’s positions on the climate crisis are in marked contrast to Trump’s denialism. According to the president-elect’s website, Biden

will not only recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change – he will go much further than that. He will lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets. He will make sure those commitments are transparent and enforceable, and stop countries from cheating by using America’s economic leverage and power of example. He will fully integrate climate change into our foreign policy and national security strategies, as well as our approach to trade.

This plan, if implemented, “would reduce US emissions in the next 30 years by about 75 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide or its equivalents,” reports The Guardian. “Calculations by the Climate Action Tracker show that this reduction would be enough to avoid a temperature rise of about 0.1C by 2100.”

Achieving the goals of the Paris agreement is certainly a major improvement over Trump. But those goals themselves are insufficient. The pledges at Paris would still result in an increase of more than 3 degrees Celsius, well above the 2-degree target. Moreover, those pledges were voluntary, and many countries are not even meeting those modest goals.

Of course, Biden will face considerable resistance from the Republican Party for even his modified Green New Deal. That’s why he has to focus on the jobs and infrastructure components to force the Republicans to appear “anti-job” if they stand in the way of the “clean energy revolution.”

To pay for his Green transition, Biden plans to rescind the tax cuts for the wealthy and leverage private-sector funds. He hasn’t discussed reallocating funds from a sharply reduced military budget. Indeed, Biden hasn’t talked about reducing military spending at all, though he favors reducing American military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

American Exceptionalism

Joe Biden is rather unexceptional when it comes to his views on American exceptionalism. The Foreign Affairs article that outlined his foreign policy approach was titled “Why American Must Lead Again,” after all.

Granted, Biden was focusing more on the “soft power” side of American leadership: leading on climate change, human rights and democracy, nuclear non-proliferation. His tone in the Foreign Affairs article is a welcome antidote to Trump’s bombast: “American leadership is not infallible; we have made missteps and mistakes. Too often, we have relied solely on the might of our military instead of drawing on our full array of strengths.” He emphasizes diplomacy, international cooperation, openness.

But Biden will be the president of the United States of America, not the Democratic Socialists of America. He believes that the United States has a right to intervene militarily overseas if necessary. He views the United States as a honest broker to mediate in parts of the world – the Middle East, East Asia – where the United States is hardly neutral. He will, like Obama, sell weapons, and lots of them, to almost any country with the cash to buy them (and even some that don’t).

And if that weren’t enough, he’ll have a still-strong “America First” constituency in Congress scrutinizing his every move, eager to label him a “traitor.”

The international community, although welcoming the new president, will understandably remain wary of the United States. Dr. Jekyll will be back in charge in the White House, but who’s to say that Mr. Hyde won’t return in four years, or even make some guest appearances before the next election?

It simply doesn’t make a lot of sense to entrust leadership to a country with a severe personality disorder.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Featured Illustration: Vector Illustration of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Possessed Doctor Unleashes Inner Demons,” at Wannapik Studios

The Goldilocks Apocalypse: No Return to Normalcy after Trump Mon, 16 Nov 2020 05:01:30 +0000 ( – Imagine for a moment that Hillary Clinton had won the presidential election in 2016.

Imagine, in other words, that the “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania had held firm four years ago. Claiming election fraud, Donald Trump would have insisted on a recount and Election Day would then, too, have stretched into election week and election month. Eventually, Trump would have given up, though not without insisting that the “deep state” had stolen his victory.

Once in office, Clinton would have set to work building on the Obama legacy. The United States would have remained in the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear agreement would still be in force, and perhaps a more robust health-care plan might even be in place. Competent civil servants would have taken charge of federal agencies, a tax cut for the wealthy wouldn’t have gone into effect, and the Democrats would have been well positioned in 2020 to reelect the first woman president and build a stronger congressional majority.

America wouldn’t have gone down the rabbit hole of Trumpism. Civic discourse wouldn’t have been coarsened. The country wouldn’t now be in such complete and utter…

Hey, wake up!

If Hillary had somehow managed to eke out a victory in 2016, she would soon enough have faced a Republican Party as hostile to compromise as the one that hamstrung Barack Obama. Opposition from Congress and Republican-controlled states, combined with her own centrist instincts, would have kept the country mired in a failing status quo: an increasingly unequal economy, crumbling infrastructure, a growing carbon footprint, a morbidly obese Pentagon, and other signs of a declining superpower that we’ve come to know so well.

Now, imagine what would have happened when the pandemic struck in 2020. Clinton would have responded more competently than The Donald because virtually anyone over the age of 12 would have been better suited to handle the emergency than he was. Indeed, if the United States had managed Covid-19 with anything faintly approaching the competency of, say, Germany under Angela Merkel, the country would have had, by my calculations, 2.6 million infections and about 45,000 deaths on the eve of the 2020 elections.

That obviously would be better than the 10 million infections and more than 245,000 deaths the United States is currently experiencing.

Keep in mind, however, that Americans wouldn’t have known just how bad the situation could have been. Quite the opposite: having set up a bully pulpit in an alt-right Fox News-style media conglomerate after his loss in 2016, Donald Trump would have led the charge on Clinton’s “mismanagement” of the pandemic and her direct responsibility for all those deaths. He would have assured us that the resulting economic downturn, with striking numbers of Americans left unemployed, could have been avoided, and that he as president would have prevented both those deaths and business cutbacks by immediately closing all borders and deporting any suspicious foreigners. He would have labeled the president “Killer Clinton” and, given the misogyny of significant parts of the American electorate, the name would have stuck.

In 2020, Donald Trump would have run on a platform of making America great again and won in a landslide.

Don’t, however, think of this as just some passing exercise in alternative history. Substitute “Joe Biden” for “Hillary Clinton” in the passages you’ve just read and you’ll have a grim but plausible prediction of what could happen over the next four years.

On the Road to 2024

Hillary Clinton would have faced challenges of every sort if she’d won the presidency in 2016. They nonetheless pale in comparison to what now awaits Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The Republicans are already gunning for the new president. They’re blocking the transition process to handicap the incoming administration. President Trump has forbidden federal agencies from even cooperating with the Biden-Harris team. The 2020 presidential election forms part of the Republican Party’s denialism trifecta: the pandemic, climate change, and now Biden’s victory are all simply liberal “myths.”

The Republican Party will either control the Senate — pending the outcome of two run-off races in Georgia — or, at least, be able to disrupt any major pieces of legislation. The Biden administration will be hard-pressed to roll back the tax cuts the Republicans handed out to the wealthy in 2017, pass a major green infrastructure bill, or expand affordable health care.

When Biden tries to implement a nationally cohesive program to combat Covid-19 through more testing, tracing, and investment in medical equipment, he’s guaranteed to face resistance from a number of Republican governors who have refused even to mandate the wearing of masks. And then there are all those Republican-appointed judges just itching to rule on any legal challenges to Biden’s executive orders, not to speak of a Supreme Court now located in the bleachers beyond right field that will serve as an even greater constraint on an activist agenda.

And those are just the political obstacles. The pandemic is clearly spiraling out of control. The economy has yet to crawl out of its hole. And Donald Trump has a couple of more months to scorch the earth before his army of incompetents are driven out of Washington, D.C.

Then there are the 71 million Americans who just voted for him despite his criminal conduct, gross mismanagement, and near-psychotic view of the world. Short of a nationwide deprogramming campaign, the adherents of the Trump cult will continue to cling to their religion (and their guns). In the Biden years, they’re sure to form an industrial-strength Tea Party opposed to any move the federal government makes. And let’s be clear: their resistance will not be exactly Gandhian in nature.

At the same time, it’s essential to separate their illegitimate complaints laced with racism and misogyny from their all-too-legitimate grievances concerning the American economy. Much of Trump’s base sees that economy, quite correctly, as unfair and the elite as not sharing the wealth. Unless the Democrats succeed in proving themselves to be the party of the 99% and successfully show how the Republicans are the 1% club — by, for instance, publicizing the true impact of Trump’s tax cuts for the rich — the Biden administration will fall victim to charges of elitism, which is a political death sentence these days.

Everything that Hillary Clinton faced during her hypothetical first term in office will apply to Joe Biden in his very real first term. Trump will never give up on the fantasy that the 2020 election was stolen from him. He’ll continue to rally his followers through social media as well as Breitbart and the One America News Network. Even if he doesn’t have the fire in his 78-year-old belly to run in 2024, other true believers will eagerly pick up his torch, whether from his own family or a pool of loyalists that includes Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton.

No matter how well President Biden does in dealing with Covid-19 and how quickly a vaccine comes on line, he’ll be saddled with the responsibility for everyone who dies in the pandemic from January 20th on. Ditto with future economic problems, no matter that they were quite literally dropped in his lap as he entered the Oval Office. All the faults that Trump’s followers refused to see in their own candidate will suddenly be magnified in their vision of Biden.

Trump, in their eyes, was a man who could do no wrong. Biden will be the man who can do no right. A significant percentage of those 71 million Americans will want to make sure that Biden, too, is a one-term president.

Unfortunately, several international examples can serve as models.

The Liberal Interregnum

Beware the right-wing revolutionary movement thwarted.

Donald Trump promised to turn the world upside down: to throw out the Washington elite, radically shrink government, close off borders, bolster white privilege, and restore American unilateralism. As a platform, it wasn’t much more than the photo negative of Barack Obama’s agenda, but it was a clarion call to shake things up that thrilled his followers.

Thanks to a mixture of bureaucratic inertia, liberal resistance, and his own managerial ineptitude, Trump failed to carry out his revolution — and now the elite has struck back. The newspapers are full of columnists, Democrats and former Republicans alike, delirious with anti-Trump triumphalism: “Loser!,” “You’re Fired!,” “Our Long National Nightmare Is Over.” The Dow Jones is celebrating and Hollywood has popped the bubbly, while the foreign-policy mandarins are looking forward to the return of predictability and their version of stability. Even the Pentagon, particularly after the shocking post-election dismissal of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, will be relieved to see the end of the Disrupter-in-Chief.

But the celebrations may prove premature. Just consider recent examples of right-wing populist revolutions elsewhere that were stopped in their tracks by elections.

The Trumpian Viktor Orban was the prime minister of Hungary from 1998 to 2002. His time in office was marked by corruption scandals, tax cuts, and efforts to concentrate power in the hands of the executive. In the 2002 elections, a coalition of the Socialist and Liberal parties ousted him and, governing for eight years, seemed to have put Orban’s brand of authoritarian politics in an early grave.

In the 2010 elections, however, he returned from the political dead and has since transformed his country from a bastion of liberalism into an autocratic, intolerant, uber-Christian friend of Vladimir Putin. In the process, the Socialists became synonymous with a corrupt, economically unjust status quo and the Liberals simply disappeared as a party.

Nor is the Hungarian experience unique. In Poland, the Law and Justice Party has moved the country’s politics steadily rightward since achieving a parliamentary majority in 2015. But it, too, had an earlier experience (from 2005 to 2007) as part of a governing coalition. In between, the more liberal Civic Platform Party took charge, but did little to improve the livelihoods of the bulk of working Poles, ultimately driving ever more voters into the arms of the right-wing Law and Justice Party. In its second crack at power, those right-wing nationalists did indeed push through a number of economic reforms that began to redistribute wealth in a way that fulfilled their populist promise.

In Japan, right-wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a brief opportunity to govern in 2006-2007, only to return in 2012 after a failed effort by the opposition Democratic Party to reform Japanese politics. As the country’s longest-serving prime minister — Abe stepped down for health reasons in August — he succeeded in making Japan “great” again as an inward-looking, jingoistic power.

Right-wing nationalists certainly learned something about wielding power from their first experiences of leadership, while their liberal successors, by failing to offer fully transformational politics, prepared the ground for the return of the right. After a period of tumultuous rule, most people don’t want to jump from a bucking bronco onto another wild horse. So the prospect of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris appointing a competent cabinet and returning to the status quo ante by, among other things, rejoining the World Health Organization, signing onto the Paris climate accords, and welcoming back the Dreamers seems reassuring to many Americans. It won’t, however, be faintly enough to drive a stake through the heart of Trumpism.

Apocalypse Later?

In “The View from 2016,” an essay I wrote for TomDispatch in 2007, I predicted that Barack Obama would win the 2008 election and serve two terms, but also that his administration would make only half-hearted gestures at reform — abiding by the Kyoto protocol on climate change, but not committing to deeper cuts in carbon emissions; canceling a few weapons systems, but not transforming the military-industrial complex; tweaking the global war on terror, but not ending it; and so on.

Apocalypse, I concluded,

“comes in many different forms. There are the dramatic effects of sword and fire and famine. And then there’s the apocalypse of muddling through. That’s what happens when you just carry on with the same old, same old and before you know it, poof, end of the world. It’s an apocalypse that’s neither too cold nor too hot, neither too hard nor too soft. It’s the apocalypse of the middle, the Goldilocks apocalypse.”

In 2016, a hungry bear named Donald Trump emerged from the woods and took out Goldilocks. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

After four years of bracing for a more conventional apocalypse precipitated perhaps by Trump’s itchy nuclear trigger finger, we’re back in Goldilocks territory. More than half the country craves a return to normalcy by dumping Donald Trump and then defeating Covid-19. Under the circumstances, it’s easy enough to forget that the pre-Trump normal wasn’t actually very good. The world was already in the midst of a climate crisis. The global economy was providing anything but a fair shake to everyone and so generating a politics of resentment that propelled Trump and his cohort to power. Countries continued to spend almost $2 trillion a year collectively on war and preparations for it, leaving societies ill-equipped to handle an onrushing pandemic’s war on the health of humanity.

Joe Biden should learn this key takeaway from the Obama years: muddling through not only speeds us toward a Goldilocks apocalypse but makes it so much more likely that another bear will come out of the woods to “reclaim” its house.

Let’s face it: Biden and Harris are card-carrying members of an elite that’s enamored of the Goldilocks middle ground. The only way they could pivot from that position would be by implementing a full-blown green economic renewal that benefitted America’s blue-collar workers while satisfying environmentalists as well. The blue bloods of the Republican Party will inevitably call such a jobs approach “socialism.” The next administration has to push forward nevertheless, appealing over the heads of the Republican leadership to a base that desperately wants prosperity for all.

Remember: other bears are lurking out there and they seem to have acquired a certain taste for cautious politicians. Sure, a few disgruntled ursine types will go into hibernation after the 2020 election. But when the hoopla dies down, others will venture out, angry, resentful, and looking for their next big meal.

John Feffer, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands and the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest novel is Frostlands, a Dispatch Books original and volume two of his Splinterlands series. He is the author of the just-published book The Pandemic Pivot (Seven Stories Press).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 John Feffer


Roll up your Sleeves: It will take more than an Election to Restore American Democracy Sat, 07 Nov 2020 05:02:14 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – American democracy is in rough shape. It’s going to take more than this election to set it right.

You know about the five-second rule. According to conventional wisdom, food that has dropped on the floor can be safely eaten if retrieved within five seconds. Some scientists have even set up experiments to confirm this folk saying.

Of course, all bets are off if your toast falls on the floor buttered side down and you haven’t mopped the kitchen in recent memory.

Today, after a contentious election and with the results of the presidential race still uncertain, we are all now looking down at the ground. It’s been four years since Donald Trump dropped the buttered toast of our democracy onto the floor.

After four years face down in the dirt, can our democracy be picked up, dusted off, and restored to some semblance of integrity?

The 2020 Election

The polls made it look like Joe Biden would be an easy winner, maybe even in a landslide. The Democrats were expected to retake the Senate. The huge number of early votes — nearly 100 million — suggested that the 2020 turnout would be the greatest in more than 100 years. The Democratic Party is supposed to benefit from more souls at the polls.

The polls were off. If Joe Biden wins, he will do so by a slender margin and only after considerable legal wrangling by both parties. The Democrats are now a long shot to win control of the Senate. And the huge turnout has translated into Donald Trump getting more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016, more in fact than any Republican candidate in history.

Texas did not go blue. Neither did Florida or Ohio. The Republican Party went all in for Trump, and he delivered beyond his base.

But Arizona flipped. And Georgia might as well. If the infamous “Blue Wall” holds — at least Wisconsin and Michigan if not Pennsylvania — then Biden will become the next president.

Still, who in their right mind would want to lead the United States at this perilous moment? The pandemic is surging. The economy hasn’t climbed out of its hole. Donald Trump has applied his scorched-earth approach to both foreign and domestic policy. The Republican Party has demonstrated that it delights in playing dirty, refuses to compromise for the national good, and embraces the most malign of Trump’s many fictions from the uselessness of masks to the myth of climate change.

Exit polls, meanwhile, reveal a country divided by more than just party affiliation. Democrats, for instance, overwhelmingly want to contain the current pandemic while Republicans want to focus on reopening the economy. This dynamic explains why so many Trump voters believe the president better handles both the economy and the pandemic, even if the evidence of his mismanagement is obvious to everyone else.

Trump’s “law and order” message also proved influential among Republican voters, despite the president’s blatant violations of law and disruptions of order. Heck, according to a recent judicial ruling, even the president’s Commission on Law Enforcement broke the law!

Perhaps the most sobering conclusion from the election is that nearly half the country is indifferent to the actual mechanisms of democracy. They just don’t care that their president refused to endorse a peaceful transition of power if he loses. They don’t care that he has derided the very act of voting by insisting, as he did early Wednesday morning, on enlisting the Supreme Court in an effort to stop the counting of the remaining ballots (except in those states, like Arizona, where he hopes to catch up). Nor do they see anything wrong with the Republican Party’s efforts to keep certain groups of people away from the polls.

That doesn’t bode well for the future of American democracy, especially if the country continues to abide by the Electoral College. For the last several decades, U.S. presidential elections have resembled Groundhog’s Day — and I don’t mean the movie. Why should one groundhog determine the length of winter? Don’t the other groundhogs get a vote? Likewise, why should a voter in Pennsylvania matter more than a voter in Maryland or Wyoming?

Trump is not the only culprit here. The ground was dirty before he dropped our democracy on it.

The Democrats and their patronage systems, like Tammany Hall in New York and Richard Daley’s machine in Chicago, set some dismal precedents. But now it is the Republican Party that, to preserve its governing majority in the absence of a popular mandate, is warping the rules of the game and breaking the fair rules that remain.

People vs. Putative Adults

Let’s say that Biden ekes out a victory. What’s the damage report on Trump’s four-year assault on democracy?

After the 2016 election, the pundit class asserted that one man, however powerful, could not tear down the 250-year-old edifice of American democracy. There was much talk of “guardrails” and “adults in the room,” all of which were supposed to contain the ungovernable id in the White House.

Over the course of four years, however, Trump systematically disposed of the supposed adults in the room — Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, John Kelly — in favor of yes-men (and one or two yes-women). In addition, through executive orders, judicial appointments, and obsessive Twittering, he moved the guardrails so that he could steer America wildly off the road.

Just before the 2018 midterm elections, I wrote, “it would be poetic justice if what’s left of the mechanisms of democracy — voting, the courts, and the press — can still be used to defeat a potential autocrat, his family, and all the putative adults he’s brought into the room to implement his profoundly anti-democratic program.”

Over the last two years, those mechanisms were in fact on full display. Despite Trump’s full-court press, the judiciary has represented an important check on his power, by blocking some of his attacks on immigrants, his efforts to withhold his financial information, and to throw out ballots.

The mainstream media, meanwhile, continued to nip at Trump’s ankles. The New York Times, for example, published one expose after another about Trump’s record on the pandemic, his taxes, his financial relations with China, and so on.

And now the voters have had their say. Despite all the efforts by the Republican Party to suppress the vote, around 67 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2020, the highest percentage since 1900. Trump supporters did what they could to push against that tide. They intimidated voters. They disrupted Biden events and even tried to run a Biden bus off the road in Texas. They restricted the number of ballot drop-off locations. The post office, run by a Trump appointee, ignored a court order to locate 300,000 mail-in ballots at risk of not being delivered. But voters gonna vote.

Let’s also salute all the people who have made that vote possible. Despite a pandemic, tens of thousands of people showed up to staff polling sites and count ballots. Then there are all the volunteers who participated in get-out-the-vote campaigns by knocking on doors, making phone calls, sending texts, and doing the grassroots fundraising to keep the operations going.

Democracy, in other words, is not just about the politicians and the voters. It requires an immense effort by a veritable army of people. They, not the candidates, are the winners of the 2020 election.

Democracy’s Future

Trump is not done. Even if he doesn’t get his presumed entitlement of four more years, he has two more months to trash his frat house of a presidency before turning it over to the next administration. That means more executive orders like the recent ones that opened up Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging and removed workplace protections from federal civil servants.

If Biden manages to take his place in the Oval Office, he’ll likely face a Republican-controlled Senate that will block his every move (just as the Republicans adopted a no-compromise position after the election of Barack Obama).

Certainly, Biden aims to reverse many of Trump’s executive orders with his own executive orders. That will work in the foreign policy realm, for instance recommitting the United States to the Paris climate accords. But any domestic orders will face court challenges, and suddenly the Republican Party’s strategy of pushing through an unprecedented number of federal judges takes on an even more ominous cast.

Popular will be damned. The Republicans will rely on senators, lawyers, and judges to institutionalize Trump’s legacy.

Unlike 2008, the Democrats will be hard-pressed this time to claim an overwhelming popular mandate after such a close election. Trump voters, meanwhile, are not going away. They’ll continue showing up with guns. They’ll refuse to wear masks. They’ll spread fake news and outlandish conspiracy theories.

They’ll also challenge the federal government — now led by an adversary, not an ally — at every turn. Remember the 2016 standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge when a bunch of right-wing extremists seized government property and faced off against law enforcement? Expect an uptick in outright confrontations between federalists and anti-federalists during the Biden presidency.

Let’s face it: The democracy that Donald Trump dropped on the floor suffered a great deal from the experience. It’s going to take more than an election to put it right.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Featured Illustration: Shutterstock.

Authoritarianism is Growing Around the World, but from Bolivia to Nigeria, People Power is pushing Back Sat, 31 Oct 2020 04:02:35 +0000 Authoritarianism has been on the march for years, but people powered revolutions are pushing regimes toward democracy on nearly every continent.

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – Despite all the obstacles, Americans are voting in huge numbers prior to Election Day.

With a week to go, nearly 70 million voters have sent in their ballots or stood on line for early voting. The pandemic hasn’t prevented them from exercising their constitutional right. Nor have various Republican Party schemes to suppress the vote. Some patriotic citizens have waited all day at polling places just to make sure that their voices are heard.

Americans are not alone.

In Belarus and Bolivia, Poland and Thailand, Chile and Nigeria, people are pushing back against autocrats and coups and police violence. Indeed, 2020 may well go down in history alongside 1989 and 1968 as a pinnacle of people power.

Some pundits, however, remain skeptical that people power can turn the authoritarian tide that has swept Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Narendra Modi into office.

“People power, which democratized countries from South Korea and Poland in the 1980s to Georgia and Ukraine in the 2000s and Tunisia in 2010, has been on a losing streak,” writes Jackson Diehl this week in The Washington Post. “That’s true even though mass protests proliferated in countries around the world last year and have continued in a few places during 2020 despite the pandemic.”

Diehl can point to a number of cases to prove his point. Despite massive popular resistance, many autocrats haven’t budged. Vladimir Putin remains in charge in Russia, despite several waves of protest. Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have only consolidated his power in Turkey. And who expected Bashar al-Assad to still be in power in Syria after the Arab Spring, a punishing civil war, and widespread international condemnation?

Even where protests have been successful, for instance most recently in Mali, it was the military, not democrats, who took over from a corrupt and unpopular leader.

Rather than slink out of their palaces or send in the tanks for a final stand by, autocrats have deployed more sophisticated strategies to counter popular protests. They’re more likely to wait out the storm. They use less overtly violent means or deploy their violence in more targeted ways to suppress civil society. Also, they’ve been able to count on friends in high places, notably Donald Trump, who wishes that he could rule forever.

Pundits tend to overstate the power of the status quo. Autocrats may have the full panoply of state power at their disposal, but they also tend to dismiss challenges to their authority until it’s too late. As Americans await the verdict on Donald Trump, they can take heart that the tide may be turning for people power all over the world.

Overturning Coups: Bolivia and Thailand

One year ago, Bolivia held an election that the Organization of American States (OAS) called into question. The apparent winner was Evo Morales, who had led the small South American nation for nearly 14 years. The OAS, however, identified tampering in at least 38,000 ballots. Morales won by 35,000 votes.

Pressured by the Bolivian military, Morales stepped down and then fled the country. A right-wing government took over and set about suppressing MAS, the political party of Morales. It looked, for all the world, like a coup.

The OAS report set into motion this chain of events. Subsequent analysis, however, demonstrated that the OAS judgement was flawed and that there were no statistical anomalies in the vote. Granted, there were other problems with the election, but they could have been investigated without calling into question the entire enterprise.

It’s also true that Morales himself possesses an autocratic streak. He held a referendum to overturn the presidential term limit and then ignored the result to run again. He came under criticism from environmentalists, feminists, and his former supporters. But Morales was a shrewd leader whose policies raised the standard of living for the country’s poorest inhabitants, particularly those from indigenous communities.

These policies have enduring popularity in the country. With Morales out of the political equation, Bolivians made their preferences clear in an election earlier this month. Luis Arce, the new leader of MAS, received 55 percent of the vote in a seven-way race, a sufficient margin to avoid a run-off. The leader of last year’s protest movement against Morales received a mere 14 percent. MAS also captured majorities in both houses of congress. An extraordinary 88 percent of Bolivian voters participated in the election.

The victory of MAS is a reminder that the obituaries for Latin America’s “pink tide” have been a tad premature.

The Bolivians are not the only ones intent on overturning the results of a coup.

In Thailand, crowds of protesters have taken to the streets to protest what The Atlantic calls the “world’s last military dictatorship.” In the past, Thailand has been nearly torn apart by a battle between “red shirts” (populists) and “yellow shirts” (royalists). This time around, students and leftists from the reds have united with some middle-class yellows against a common enemy: the military. Even members of the police have been seen flashing the three-finger salute of the protesters, which they’ve borrowed from The Hunger Games.

The protesters want the junta’s figurehead, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, to step down. They want to revise the military-crafted constitution. And they want reforms in the monarchy that stands behind the political leadership. Anger at the royals has been rising since the new king took over in 2016, particularly since he spends much of his time with his entourage in a hotel in Bavaria.

It’s not easy to outmaneuver the Thai military. The country has had more coups in the modern era than any other country: 13 successful ones and nine that have failed. But this is the first time in a long time that the country seems unified in its opposition to the powers that be.

Finally, the prospects for democracy in Mali received a recent boost as the military junta that took over in August orchestrated a transition to more-or-less civilian rule over the last month. The new government includes the former foreign minister Moctar Ouane as prime minister and several positions for the Tuaregs, who’d previously tilted toward separatism. Military men still occupy some key positions in the new government, but West African governments were sufficiently satisfied with this progress to lift the economic sanctions imposed after the coup. National elections are to take place in 18 months.

Standing Up the Autocrats: Belarus and Poland

Protesters in Belarus want Alexander Lukashenko to leave office. Lukashenko refuses to go, so the protesters are refusing to go as well.

Mass protests have continued on the streets of Minsk and other Belarusian cities ever since Lukashenko declared himself the winner of the presidential election in August. The last European dictator has done his best to suppress the resistance. The authorities detained at least 20,000 people and beat many of those in custody.

This Sunday, nearly three months after the election, 100,000 again showed up in Minsk to give punch to an ultimatum issued by exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: Lukashenko either steps down or will face a nationwide work stoppage.

Lukashenko didn’t step down. So, people walked out.

The strikes began on Monday, with workers refusing to show up at enterprises and students boycotting classes. Shops closed down, their owners creating human chains in Minsk. Even retirees joined in.

Notably, the protest movement in Belarus is directed by women. Slawomir Sierakowski describes one telling incident in the New York Review of Books:

After receiving reports of an illegal assembly, a riot squad is dispatched to disperse it. But when they get there, it turns out to comprise three elderly ladies sitting on a bench, each holding piece of paper: the first sheet is white, the second red, the third white again — the colors of the pro-democracy movement’s flag. Sheepishly, these masked commandos with no identification numbers herd the women into a car and carry them off to jail.

How many sweet old ladies can a regime lock up without looking ridiculous?

Women are rising up in neighboring Poland as well, fed up the overtly patriarchal leadership of the ruling Law and Justice Party. The right-wing government has recently made abortion near-to-impossible in the country, and protesters have taken to the streets. In fact, they’ve been blockading city centers.

It’s not just women. Farmers and miners have also joined the protests. As one miner’s union put it, “a state that assumes the role of ultimate arbiter of people’s consciences is heading in the direction of a totalitarian state.”

Strengthening the Rule of Law: Chile and Nigeria

Chile has been a democracy for three decades. But it has still abided by a constitution written during the Pinochet dictatorship.

That, finally, will change, thanks to a protest movement sparked by a subway fare increase. Beginning last year, students led the demonstrations against that latest austerity measure from the government. Resistance took its toll: around 36 people have died at the hands of the militarized police. But protests continued despite COVID-19.

What started as anger over a few pesos has culminated in more profound political change.

This week, Chileans went to the polls in a referendum on the constitution, with 78 percent voting in favor of a new constitution. In April, another election will determine the delegates for the constitutional convention. In 2022, Chileans will approve or reject the new constitution.

The protests were motivated by the economic inequality of Chilean society. A new constitution could potentially facilitate greater government involvement in the economy. But that kind of shift away from the neoliberal strictures of the Pinochet era will require accompanying institutional reforms throughout the Chilean system. A new generation of Chileans, who have seen their actions on the streets translate into constitutional change, will be empowered to stay engaged to make those changes happen.

In Nigeria, meanwhile, the recent protests have focused on an epidemic of police killings. But the protests have led to more violence, with the police responsible for a dozen killings in Lagos last week. Which only generated more protest and more violence.

Activists throughout Africa — in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and elsewhere — have been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to challenge the police brutality in their own countries. Accountable governments, transparent institutions, respect for the rule of law: these are all democratic preconditions. Without them, the elections that outsiders focus on as the litmus test of democracy are considerably less meaningful.

The Future of People Power

People power has caught governments by surprise in the past. That surprise factor has largely disappeared. Lukashenko in Belarus knows what a color revolution looks like and how best to head it off. The government in Poland contains some veterans of the Solidarity movement, and they know from the inside how to deal with street protests. The Thai military has played the coup card enough times to know how to avert a popular take-over at the last moment.

But in this cat-and-mouse world, people power is evolving as well. New technologies provide new powers of persuasion and organizing. Greater connectivity provides greater real-time scrutiny of government actions. Threats like climate change provide new urgency.

Sure, authoritarians can wait out the storm. But the people can do the same.

Here in the United States, periodic demonstrations have done little to push the Trump administration toward needed reforms. Nor have they led to his removal from office. Trump delights in ignoring and/or disparaging his critics. He rarely listens even to his advisors.

But the four years are up on Tuesday. The American people will have a chance to speak. And this time the whole world is listening and watching. Judging from the president’s approval ratings overseas, they too are dreaming of regime change.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Featured image via Shutterstock

Pandemic Pivot: The Pandemic is a Wake-up Call for Truly Global Action Thu, 22 Oct 2020 04:01:11 +0000

COVID-19 is an early alert for more serious global crises. So far, the international community has failed — but it’s not too late to get it right.

(Foreign Policy in Focus ) – If the current pandemic is a test of the global emergency response system, the international community is flunking big time.

It has done just about everything wrong, from the failure to contain the virus early on to the lack of effective coordination thereafter. As the predicted second wave begins to build — the world is now adding over 400,000 new cases per day — it is truly disheartening to think that the international community hasn’t really learned any lessons from its snafu.

John Feffer’s new book, Pandemic Pivot [click here].

Sure, some countries have successfully managed the crisis. South Korea, despite several superspreading outbreaks, has kept its death toll to below 450, which is fewer than Washington, D.C. alone has suffered. Thailand, Vietnam, Uruguay, and New Zealand have all done even better to address the public health emergency.

After its initial missteps, China has managed not only to reopen its economy but is on track for modest growth in 2020 even as virtually all other countries confront serious economic contractions.

It’s not too late for the rest of the world. Robust testing, tracing, and quarantining systems can be set up in all countries. Richer nations can help finance such systems in poorer countries. Governments can penalize non-compliance. Even before a vaccine is universally available, this virus can be contained.

But perhaps the most important takeaway from the COVID-19 experience so far has little to do with the virus per se.

The pandemic has already killed more than a million people, but it is not about to doom humanity to extinction. COVID-19’s mortality rate, at under 3 percent, is relatively low compared to previous pandemics (around 10 percent for SARS and nearly 35 percent for MERS). Like its deadlier cousins, this pandemic will eventually recede, sooner or later depending on government response.

Other threats to the planet, meanwhile, pose greater existential dangers.

At a mere 100 seconds to midnight, the Doomsday Clock of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists now stands closer to the dreaded hour than at any point since its launch in 1947. As the quickening pace of this countdown suggests, the risk of nuclear war has not gone away while the threat of climate change has become ever more acute. If fire and water don’t get us, there’s always the possibility of another, more deadly pandemic incubating in a bat or a pangolin somewhere in the vanishing wild.

Despite these threats, the world has gone about its business as if a sword were not dangling perilously overhead. Then COVID-19 hit, and business ground to a halt.

The environmental economist Herman Daly once said that the world needed an optimal crisis “that’s big enough to get our attention but not big enough to disable our ability to respond,” notes climate activist Tom Athanasiou. That’s what COVID-19 has been: a wake-up call on a global scale, a reminder that humanity has to change its ways or go the way of the dinosaur.

Athanasiou is one of the 68 leading thinkers and activists featured in a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, the Transnational Institute, and Focus on the Global South. Now available in electronic form from Seven Stories Press, The Pandemic Pivot lays out a bold program for how the international community can learn from the experience of the current pandemic to avoid the even more destructive cataclysms that loom on the horizon.

The Path Not Taken

Let’s imagine for a moment how a reasonable world would have responded to the COVID pandemic when it broke out late last year.

As the virus spread from Wuhan in January, there would have been an immediate meeting of international leaders to discuss the necessary containment measures. The Chinese government closed down Wuhan on January 23 when there were fewer than 1,000 cases. At the same time, the first cases were appearing in multiple countries, including the United States, Japan, and Germany. On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic a global health emergency.

Instead of working together on a plan, however, countries pursued their own approaches that ranged from the sensible to the cockamamie, the only common element being the restriction of travel and the closure of borders.

The United States and China, embroiled in a full-spectrum conflict over trade, technology, and turf, were barely talking to each other, much less working together to contain this new threat. The United Nations didn’t get around to discussing the pandemic until April. There was precious little sharing of resources. In fact, many countries took to hoarding medical supplies like drugs and personal protective equipment.

To be sure, scientists were sharing knowledge. The WHO brought together 300 experts and funders from 48 countries for a research and innovation forum in mid-February.

Political leaders, however, were not really talking to each other or coordinating a cross-border response. Indeed, a number of leaders were running screaming in the opposite direction. Donald Trump stepped forward to head up this denialist camp, followed by Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico. Authoritarian leaders like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua focused on consolidating their own power rather than fighting the disease.

As the global economy went into a tailspin, there was no international effort to implement measures to contain the damage. Countries like the United States refused to lift economic sanctions on countries hard hit by the virus. International financial institutions issued debt moratoria for the poorest countries but have yet to consider more substantial restructuring (much less loan forgiveness). Trade wars continued, particularly between Beijing and Washington.

Conflict has not been confined to the level of trade. A sane world would have not only rallied around the UN secretary general’s call for a global ceasefire in conflicts around the world, it would have actually enforced a cessation of hostilities on the ground. Instead, wars have continued — in Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan. New violence has erupted in places like the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Military spending and the arms trade have continued unchecked. At this time of unprecedented economic need, countries continue to pour funds into defending against hypothetical threats rather than to defeat the enemy that is currently killing people on their territory. Both the United States and China are increasing their military spending for next year, and they’re not the only ones. Hungary announced in July an astonishing 26 percent increase in military spending for 2021 while Pakistan is increasing its military expenditures by nearly 12 percent for 2020-2021.

Meanwhile, on this economically polarized planet, the ones who have borne the brunt of this pandemic are the poor, the essential workers, and all the refugees and migrants currently on the move. The stock market has recovered its value. Everyone else has taken a hit.

Looking Ahead

The international community took a giant step backward in its fight against COVID-19. Rather than build on the cooperation established in the wake of the SARS epidemic, countries suddenly acted as if it were the 19th century all over again and they could only fall back on their own devices. The hottest heads prevailed during this crisis: right-wing nationalists like Trump, Bolsonaro, Vladimir Putin, and Narendra Modi, who not coincidentally head up the four most afflicted countries.

It’s not too late for a pandemic pivot, a major shift in strategy, perspective, and budget priorities.

The Pandemic Pivot looks at how COVID-19 is changing the world by showing us (briefly) what a radical cut in carbon emissions looks like, dramatically revealing the shortcomings of economic globalization, distinguishing real leadership from incompetent showboating, and proving that governments can indeed find massive resources for economic restructuring if there’s political will.

Our new book lays out a progressive agenda for the post-COVID era, which relies on a global Green New Deal, a serious shift of resources from the military to human needs, a major upgrade in international cooperation, and a significant commitment to economic equity. Check out our new video to hear from the experts quoted in the book.

The coronavirus forced leaders around the world to hit the pause button. Even before the pandemic recedes, many of these leaders want to press rewind to return to the previous status quo, the same state of affairs that got us into this mess in the first place.

We can’t pause and we can’t rewind. We need to shift to fast forward to make our societies Greener, more resilient, and more just — or else we will sleep through the wake-up call of COVID-19.

We won’t likely get another such chance.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Featured Image: Pandemic Pivot: Seven Stories Press.

Institute for Policy Studies: “The Pandemic Pivot”

The Mobster-in-Chief: Will the November Election Be Decided in the Streets? Wed, 30 Sep 2020 04:01:26 +0000 ( ) – The white mobs didn’t care whom they killed as long as the victims were Black. They murdered people in public with guns and rocks. They set fire to houses and slaughtered families trying to escape the flames. In East St. Louis in July 1917, white vigilantes lynched Blacks with impunity.

It was the prelude to what civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson would ultimately call Red Summer. The “red” referred to the blood that ran in the streets. The “summer” actually referred to the months from April to October 1919, when violence against African Americans peaked in this country.

In reality, though, that Red Summer stretched across six long years, beginning in East St. Louis in 1917 and ending with the destruction of the predominantly African-American town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923. During that time, white mobs killed thousands of Blacks in 26 cities, including Chicago, Houston, and Washington, D.C. In 1921, in a slaughter that has been well documented, white citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed the country’s wealthiest African American community (“Black Wall Street,” as it was then known), burning down more than 1,000 houses as well as churches, schools, and even a hospital.

During this period of violence, the mobs sometimes cooperated with the authorities. Just as often, however, they ignored the police, even breaking through jail walls with sledgehammers to gain access to Black detainees whom they executed in unspeakable ways. In Tulsa, for example, that campaign of murder and mayhem began only after the local sheriff refused to hand over a Black teenager accused of sexual assault.

Although white America repressed the memories of Red Summer for many decades, that shameful chapter of our history has gained renewed scrutiny in this era of Black Lives Matter. The Tulsa massacre, for instance, features prominently in the recent Watchmen series on HBO and several documentaries are in the works for its centennial anniversary in 2021. Other recent documentaries have chronicled killings that took place in the immediate aftermath of World War I in Elaine, Arkansas, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

But memories of that Red Summer are resurfacing for another, more ominous reason.

White mobs have once again moved out of the shadows and into the limelight during this Trump moment. Militia movements and right-wing extremists are starting to turn out in force to intimidate racial justice and anti-Trump demonstrators. Predominantly white and often explicitly racist, these groups now regularly use social media to threaten their adversaries. This election season, they’re gearing up to defend their president with an astonishing degree of support from Republican Party regulars.

According to a January 2020 survey by political scientist Larry Bartels, most Republicans believe “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” More than 40% agree that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” In a recent essay on his survey’s findings, Bartels concludes that ethnic antagonism “has a substantial negative effect on Republicans’ commitment to democracy.”

As the 2020 election nears, that party is also desperately trying to flip the script by using fear of “their mobs” and “Antifa terrorists” to drive its base to the polls. “We have a Marxist mob perpetrate historic levels of violence & disorder in major American cities,” tweeted Florida Senator Marco Rubio in response to the Democratic National Convention in August. Not to be outdone, the president promptly said: “I’m the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness, and chaos.”

Of course, this country has no such Marxist mobs. The only real groups of vigilantes with a demonstrated history of violence and the guns to back up their threats congregate on the far right. The white supremacist Atomwaffen Division, for instance, has been linked to at least five killings since 2017. In late May and early June, members of the far-right Boogaloo Bois conducted two ambushes of police officers and security personnel, killing two of them and injuring three more. Over the summer, as far-right organizations spread the meme “All Lives Splatter” around the internet, dozens of right-wingers drove vehicles of every sort into crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters.

The prospect of far-right vigilantes or “militias” heading into the streets to contest the results of the November election has even mainstream institutions worried. “Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90% between January 1 and May 8, 2020,” reports the centrist think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If President Trump loses the election, some extremists may use violence because they believe — however incorrectly — that there was fraud or that the election of Democratic candidate Joe Biden will undermine their extremist objectives.”

As the violence of Red Summer demonstrated, such acts were once a mainstay of American life. Indeed, the not-so-hidden history of this country has featured periodic explosions of mob violence. Racial justice activists rightly call for the radical reform of police departments. As November approaches, however, uniformed representatives of the state are hardly the only perpetrators of racist violence. Beware the white mobs, militias, and posses that are desperate to establish their own brand of justice.

Mob History

When Donald Trump paints a picture of lawlessness sweeping through the United States, he’s effectively accusing the institutions of government of not doing their jobs. In a September 2nd memo, the Trump administration laid out its charges:

“For the past few months, several State and local governments have contributed to the violence and destruction in their jurisdictions by failing to enforce the law, disempowering and significantly defunding their police departments, and refusing to accept offers of Federal law enforcement assistance.”

As president, Donald Trump has refused to take responsibility for anything, not the more than 200,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States, not the pandemic-induced economic collapse, and certainly not the racial injustices that prompted this summer’s wave of protests. Simultaneously above the law and outside it, the president consistently portrays himself as a populist leader who must battle the elite and its “deep state.” With conspiracy-tinged tirades about Democrat-run cities failing to enforce the law, he has already symbolically put himself at the head of a mob — for this is just how such groups justified their extra-legal actions throughout our history.

The right-wing racists who currently bear arms in defense of the president are part of a long tradition of Americans resorting to vigilantism when they believe the law is not protecting their interests. Whether it was the displacement and massacre of Native Americans, the horrors that slaveowners inflicted on African Americans, the wave of lynching that followed Reconstruction, the bloodletting of Red Summer around World War I, the murders conducted by the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist organizations, or even everyday resistance to federal policies like school desegregation, gangs of Americans have repeatedly taken the law into their own hands on behalf of white supremacy.

To be sure, mobs are hardly responsible for all the racist ills of this country. America has always been a place of institutional racism and violence. Slavery, after all, was legal until 1865. The U.S. government and its military did the bulk of the dispossessing of Native Americans. Police departments cooperated early on with the Ku Klux Klan and today’s police officers continue to kill a disproportionate number of African Americans. Mobs have eagerly cooperated with state institutions on the basis of shared racism. But they have also stood at the ready to enforce the dictates of white supremacy even when the police and other guardians of order treat everyone equally before the law.

The mob has occupied an unusually prominent place in our history because Americans have cultivated a unique hostility toward the state and its institutions that goes back to the early years of the Republic. As historian Michael Pfeifer notes in his groundbreaking book, The Roots of Rough Justice, the violent libertarianism associated with the American Revolution and the subsequent lack of a strong, centralized state gave rise to mob violence that gathered force before the Civil War. He writes,

“Antebellum advocates of vigilantism in the Midwest, South, and West drew on Anglo-American and American revolutionary traditions of community violence that suggested that citizens might reclaim the functions of government when legal institutions could not provide sufficient protections to persons or their property.”

Those mobs didn’t necessarily think of themselves as anti-democratic. Rather, they imagined that they were improving on democracy. As Pfeifer points out, many of the vigilante outfits that targeted minorities practiced democratic procedures of a sort. Some adopted bylaws and even elected their own leaders. They held mock trials and votes on what punishments to mete out: hanging or burning alive.

Such mobs functioned both as a parallel military and, to a certain extent, a parallel state.

The two, in fact, went hand in hand. German sociologist Max Weber famously defined the state as possessing a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, but that was the German tradition. In the United States, particularly during its first 150 years, the state only aspired to possess such a monopoly.

Instead, a rough form of frontier justice often prevailed. Before and just after the American Revolution, even whites were its targets, but increasingly its victims were people of color. Slave owners, slave patrols, and ad hoc mobs dispensed justice throughout antebellum America and the tradition of “Judge Lynch” continued long after the abolition of slavery. The pushing of the frontier westward involved not only the Army’s killing of Native Americans but extrajudicial violence by bands of settlers. Historian Benjamin Madley estimates that the Native population in California declined by more than 80% between 1846 and 1873, with as many as 16,000 killings in 370-plus massacres. This “winning” of the West also involved the widespread lynching of Latinos.

The “Right” to Bear Arms

Mobs were able to dispense frontier justice not only thanks to a strong libertarian tradition and a weak state, but also because of the widespread availability of guns. Coming out of the Civil War, this country developed a distinct gun culture sustained by a surge in firearm production. Gun prices fell and so guns fell into the hands of more and more citizens.

Mobs used firearms in the infamous Draft Riot in New York in 1863, which ended up targeting the city’s Black community, and in New Orleans in 1866 when enraged whites attacked a meeting of Republicans determined to extend civil rights protections to African Americans. In their drive westward, settlers favored Winchester rifles with magazines that could fire 15 rounds, giving them a staggering advantage over the people they were displacing. Early gun control laws seldom prevented whites from acquiring firearms because they were mainly designed to keep guns out of the hands of Blacks and other racial minorities.

Even today, widespread gun ownership distinguishes the United States from every other country. Approximately 40% of American households own one or more firearms, a figure that has remained remarkably consistent for the last 50 years. If you look at guns per capita, the United States ranks number one in the world at 120 firearms per 100 civilians. The next country on the list, war-torn Yemen, comes in a distant second with 52 per hundred. With more guns than people within its borders, it’s no wonder that the federal government has often struggled to maintain its monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force.

Gun enthusiasts have erroneously enlisted the Constitution to justify this extreme democracy of firepower. To guard against tyrannical federal behavior, the Second Amendment of the Constitution preserved the right of state militias to bear arms. However, organizations like the National Rifle Association have campaigned for years to reinterpret that amendment as giving any individual the right to bear arms.

That has, in turn, provided ammunition for both the “castle doctrine” (the right to use armed force to defend one’s own home) and “stand your ground” laws (the right to use force in “self-defense”). Armed extremist groups now imagine themselves as nothing less than the Second Amendment’s “well-regulated Militia” with a constitutionally given “right” to own weapons and defend themselves against the federal government (or anyone else they disapprove of).

Improbably enough, for the last four years, the head of the federal government has become one of their chief supporters.

Donald Trump: Leader of the Pack

Long before becoming president, Donald Trump was already acting as if he were the head of a lynch mob. In 1989, he published full-page ads in the New York Times and three other local papers calling for New York City to reinstate the death penalty in response to a brutal gang rape in Central Park. He swore that the city was then “ruled by the law of the streets” and that “muggers and murderers… should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.”

It was language distinctly reminiscent of white mobs bitter about the failure of local law enforcement to execute Blacks accused of crimes. Like many of their predecessors, the accused Black and Latino teenagers were, in the end, found to be quite innocent of the crime. After a long legal struggle, the Central Park Five (as they came to be known) were released from prison. Trump has never apologized for his campaign to kill innocent people.

When he ran for president, he quickly moved beyond mere “law and order” rhetoric. In his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump deliberately cultivated a following among armed extremists. At a rally in North Carolina, for instance, he warned of what might happen to the Supreme Court if Hillary Clinton were to win.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” he lamented. Then he added in his typically confused and elliptical manner of speaking: “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.” He was, in other words, suggesting that followers with guns could do something about Clinton’s choices by shooting her or her judicial picks.

Throughout that campaign season, he regularly retweeted white supremacist claims and memes. At the time, it was estimated that more than 60% of the accounts he was retweeting had links to white supremacists. At his rallies, he encouraged his supporters to get “rough” with protesters.

As president, he’s continued to side with the mob. He infamously refused to denounce neo-Nazis gathering in Charlottesville in August 2017, applauded the armed demonstrators who demanded the reopening of the economy in the pandemic spring of 2020, and defended 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse after he killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August.

Trump has stood up for the Confederate flag, Confederate statues, and keeping the names of Confederate generals on U.S. military bases. In a recent speech denouncing school curricula that teach about slavery and other unsavory aspects of our history, he pledged to erect a statue of a slaveowner in a project he’s been promoting — building a National Garden of American Heroes park. The current administration has cultivated direct links to white nationalists through disgraced figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, as well as current advisers like Stephen Miller.

In his reelection bid, Trump pointedly held his first pandemic rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he excoriated Democrats who “want to take away your guns through the repeal of your Second Amendment” and “left-wing radicals [who] burn down buildings, loot businesses, destroy private property, injure hundreds of dedicated police officers.” In a literal whitewashing of history, he made no mention of the White mobs that had looted businesses and destroyed property in that very city in 1921.

Trump’s exhortations to his followers over the heads of state and local officials appeal to the mob belief that citizens must reclaim the functions of government, if necessary through force. Right-wing militias explicitly embrace that history. The “Three Percenters,” a militia movement that emerged in 2008 after the election of Barack Obama, purports to protect Americans from tyrannical government. Their name derives from the inaccurate belief that only 3% of Americans took up arms to fight the British empire in the eighteenth century.

Of course, three percent of Americans are not now members of such militias and White nationalist movements, but their numbers are on the rise. White nationalist groups increased from 100 in 2017 to 155 in 2019. The several hundred militia groups now in existence probably have a total of 15,000 to 20,000 members, including an increasing number of veterans with combat experience. Far from a homogeneous force, some are focused on patrolling the southern border and targeting the undocumented. Others are obsessed with resisting the federal government, even in a few cases opposing Trump’s various power grabs.

West Virginia University professor John Temple argues, in fact, that not all right-wing militias hold extremist views. “I have listened to many hours of ‘patriot’ conversations that didn’t sound all that different from what you would hear during a typical evening on Fox News,” he writes. “Many seemed to have joined the cause for social reasons, or because they liked guns, or because they wanted to be part of something they saw as historic and grandiose — not because their views were far more radical than those of typical right-leaning Americans.”

This is not exactly reassuring, since the politics of right-leaning, Fox News-watching Americans have grown more extreme. With nearly half of the Republicans surveyed by Larry Bartels prepared to take the law into their own hands, Trump has nearly succeeded in transforming his party into a mob of vigilantes.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the president is a law-and-order candidate. He flourishes in chaos and routinely flouts the law. By siding with right-wing militias and their ilk, he daily undermines the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence.

The debate over defunding the police must be seen in this context. In a country awash in guns and grassroots racism, with a major party flirting with mob violence, getting rid of police departments would be akin to jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire of uncontained extremism. Sure, local law enforcement needs major reforms, massive civic oversight, and right-sized budgets. Police departments must be purged of white nationalists and neo-Nazis. The Pentagon has to stop supplying the cops with military-grade weaponry.

But remember: the police can be reformed. What was once an all-white force now better reflects America’s diversity. The mob, by definition, is not subject to reforms or any oversight whatsoever.

This is no time to permit the return of frontier justice administered by white mobs and a lawless president, especially with a critical election looming. Mob violence has often accompanied elections in the past, with rival factions fighting over the results, as in the street battles of 1874 in New Orleans between Republican integrationists and racist Democrats. Like nineteenth-century Louisiana, the struggle this November is not just about Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about the rule of law versus racist vigilantism.

White supremacy is not going to give up its hold on power without a fight. If you thought you’d seen real American carnage in Trump’s four years in office, prepare yourself for the chaotic aftermath of the November election. The mob is itching to take the law into its own hands one more time on behalf of its very own mobster-in-chief.

John Feffer, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands and the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest novel is Frostlands, a Dispatch Books original and book two of his Splinterlands series.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 John Feffer