When Carl Higbie, the spokesman for the pro-Trump Great American PAC, told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II would provide a legal precedent for a registry of Muslim Americans under the Trump administration, it wasn’t all that it seemed. He was not proposing that “we” round up Muslim Americans and put them in detention camps. He was merely suggesting that if the Trump Administration brought back the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which existed under the Bush Administration, it would not be against the law.
But let’s not kid ourselves.
Higbie was clearly floating the idea of a generation detention of Muslim Americans on a national TV network in order to gauge public reaction. Michelle Malkin did a similar thing back in 2004 with her book In Defense of Internment.We have no idea just how far the Bush Administration would have gone had it not been for Hurricane Katrina and the Iraqi Resistance. Since he’s already appointed the fanatical Islamophobe Frank Gaffney to his transition team and has dropped hints that either John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani could be Secretary of State, we may get a better idea under President Donald Trump. A certain type of American reactionary is eternally obsessed with the idea that the United States loses wars like Vietnam or Iraq, not because those wars are unwinnable, but because the politicians and the “liberal” media make the troops fight those wars with “one hand tied behind their back.” Don’t listen to what Trump says. Look at what he does. He’s currently filling his administration with Bush-era neoconservatives. That means there’s a very good chance that we are going to get a second run of the war on terror, only this time with the gloves off, with Trump as Barry Goldwater to George W. Bush’s Lyndon Johnson. The white supremacist American right are aching to show that they can “win” somewhere, anywhere. That means more torture, more attacks on our civil liberties, more persecution of Muslims, immigrants and other minorities.
All of this could have been avoided if the Democrats had impeached George W. Bush after they took back the Senate and the House of Representatives in 2007. It could have been significantly slowed down had Barack Obama worked to restore the “rule of law” after he became President in 2008. But here we are. There are no more restraints on the American ruling class. They are going to get anything and everything they want. What they really want remains to be seen, but let’s just say that when it comes to the ruling class of any nation, the answer is usually “everything.” They will take what we let them take. We let them take our civil liberties under George W. Bush. We let them reach into our pockets for the money to bail out Wall Street under Barack Obama. If they want to privitize Social Security and Medicaid, scrap what little remains of the Bill of Rights, and wage an all out “war on terror and immigrants” under President Donald J. Trump, they’re probably going to get it, at least if we don’t stop them.
We cannot depend on Congress, now under the control of the Republicans, to protect the United States Constitution. If the liberal Nancy Pelosi took the very clearly justified impeachment of George W. Bush “off the table” as soon as she became Speaker of the House of Representatives, we can’t expect the-right-wing extremist Paul Ryan to stand up to Donald Trump if he decides to embark on an unconstitutional registry of Muslim Americans, or a massive deportation of Mexican immigrants. Stranger things have happened. — the only prominent American politician to oppose the internment of Japanese Americans was the right-wing-extremist Robert Taft — but I wouldn’t count on it. The system of checks and balances written into the Constitution to restrain arbitrary executive power no longer works. If Trump effectively tries to abolish the First Amendment by imposing a religious test on Muslim Americans Congress will not only refuse to stop him. They will rewrite the law to make everything legal. If we depend on the Democrats to impeach Trump, they will betray us exactly the way they did in 1987 and 2007.
The “Not My President” marches that have erupted ever since Trump’s victory on November 8 may radicalize small groups of people, but they will ultimately peter out unless they coalesce around a clear objective. Single issue protests, anti-war protests, protests against racism, the protests against the pipeline at Standing Rock, protest against individual Trump appointees, the awful Stephen Bannon, for example, or against specific policies, do not get to the root of the problem, the decades long political process that reduced the Presidential election to a mud-slinging contest between two such horrible candidates. How did it get to the point where we got a choice between a Wall Street stooge and an actual plutocrat, where the most inspiring and radical figure to emerge in 2016 was a 74-year-old, right-wing social democrat who praised Winston Churchill, called Hugo Chavez a “dead communist dictator,” suggested that we “work with our Saudi allies in the war against Islamic extremism,” and refused to do so much as criticize American imperialism and the military industrial complex.
The demand to repeal the Electoral College and elect the President by the popular vote is being driven by a legitimate grievance. Hillary Clinton won 61,963,234 votes to Trump’s 60,961,185. Donald Trump is President mainly because of an antiquated system designed to protect small, rural states over large, urban states. We should by all means work to abolish the Electoral College, but to do it now will not only smack of desperation. It will bog political activists down in a long, drawn out process to amend the Constitution. We should not make the same mistake people did in Wisconsin when they demobilized the ongoing protests at the Wisconsin state capital for a vote on the recall of Scott Walker. 61,963,234 and 60,961,185 are certainly important numbers. More important than that is the number of people who didn’t show up to vote on November 8. The United States has 240 million people of voting age. That means that 50% of eligible voters didn’t think the Presidential election worth their time. Don’t listen to the conservative pundits who tell you that Trump was a popular rebellion against “political correctness” or to the liberal pundits who tell you it was all about race. Donald Trump was chosen by a reactionary minority of only 25% of the American people. Because of gerrymandering and incumbency, Congress, which is supposed to be the most “popularly elected” branch of the American government, is is even less representative.
That’s just the way the American ruling class wants it. It’s even the way the Clinton campaign wanted it. As reported in the Huffington Post, the Clinton campaign lost the crucial state of Michigan, mostly because of it’s reluctance to mobilize voters.
A senior official from Clinton’s campaign noted that they did have a large staff presence in Michigan and Wisconsin (200 and 180 people respectively) while also stressing that one of the reasons they didn’t do more was, in part, because of psychological games they were playing with the Trump campaign. They recognized that Michigan, for example, was a vulnerable state and felt that if they could keep Trump away ― by acting overly confident about their chances ― they would win it by a small margin and with a marginal resource allocation.
If we can’t get a genuine workers party, let’s at least demand a little truth in advertising from the two corporate parties. The Republicans are only “republican” in the most basic sense of the word. They’re not monarchists. The Democrats have long since ceased to be a “democratic” party, democratic with a small “d.” Better names would be “Corporate Imperialist Stooge Formation A” and “Corporate Imperialist Stooge Formation B.” The exact date when the United States ceased to be a democratic republic is up for debate. Neoconfederates will tell you it was the Civil War, when the Lincoln administration built a gigantic industrialized army to bring the South back into the union at the point of a gun. They’re not totally wrong. Right wing libertarians will tell you it was 1913 and the founding of the Federal Reserve. Noam Chomsky makes a very good case that it was 1917, when the Wilson Administration employed a sophisticated advertising campaign along with the brutal suppression of the antiwar left to strong arm the American people into the First World War.
African American and Native American scholars will argue that the United States has never been a democracy, that it was founded on slavery and genocide, but they will often praise the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Indeed, as Chomsky points out, in the 1960s and the 1970s, the American ruling class became concerned about the “crisis of democracy,” the “crisis meaning that there was too much of it. The counteroffensive, which began with a memo written by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell began in 1971. Not surprisingly, the neoliberal outlet The American Prospect is a bit more skeptical than Noam Chomsky. Whatever the exact date or the exact cause of the corporate counteroffensive against the democratic upsurge of the 1960s and 1970s, there’s no question that it’s been successful, leading to what journalist Chris Hedges and the late Sheldon Wolin refer to as “inverted totalitarianism,” a government that has all the formal trappings of democracy but no real popular representation. Such a government depends on low voter turnout, “junk politics” centered on personalities and not genuine issues, and the ultimate dissolution of civil society. There is no greater testimony to Sheldon Wolin’s prescience as a political thinker than the Presidential election of 2016. It was a textbook example of inverted totalitarianism in action.
One possible road out of inverted totalitarianism could be what I’ll call “a people’s impeachment.”
Donald Trump is a grotesque, authoritarian figure who will almost certainly mount an attack on the Bill of Rights that will make George W. Bush look like Louis Brandeis. Since Paul Ryan is unlikely to begin impeachment proceedings against anything that doesn’t threaten corporate power, it’s going to be up to “we the people.” The ongoing direct action and popular protest that we’re currently seeing in the Not My President and Standing Rock water protectors rallies, as well any future single issue, anti-racist or anti-war protests, need to learn the hard lessons of the anti-war protests against George W. Bush, all of which the Democratic Party were ultimately able to coopt and shut down when Barack Obama became President in 2008. In 2005 and 2006, I worked with a group called “The World Can’t Wait: Drive Out the Bush Regime.” They had the right idea, popular protest that destabilized the Bush administration and had as is ultimate objective his impeachment or resignation, but The World Can’t Wait was hobbled by it’s authoritarian leadership and its ties to the often cult like Revolutionary Communist Party. In the end, The World Can’t Wait became more about itself as an organizing than as a radical movement against George W. Bush. After Barack Obama became President in 2008, they simply became irrelevant.
The organizers of the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2014 and 2015 learned some of the lessons of the failure of the Bush-era anti-war protests. They avoided the top down, authoritarian structure of United for Peace and Justice and International Answer, but they had their own flaws. Occupy Wall Street had no clear demands or objectives. Bring back Glass-Steagall? Get money out of politics? Overthrow the gender binary? Destroy the patriarchy? Occupy Wall Street was whatever the local general assembly said it was. Black Lives Matter had what seemed to be a simple demand. End police brutality, but they had no clear program on how to do it. Body cameras? More training? In the end they just seemed to get more expansive and vague. Black Lives Matter’s current program sounds great, but the longer their list of demands get, the more it seems to pull away from the original demand to end police brutality.
The election of Donald Trump, while ominous, also provides an opportunity. A series of mass demonstrations outside of the control of the Democratic Party — and any group funded or related to the Democratic Party — organized in a horizontal manner, but with a clear unifying demand – the resignation of Donald Trump and Mike Pence – could possibly succeed in united Clinton voters, non-voters, and disaffected Trump voters, who are sure to start coming as soon as Trump makes any move against genuinely popular governmental programs like Social Security or Medicaid. These demonstrations should not, I need to be clear, be aimed at pressuring Congress to impeach Trump, but have as their objective the direct removal of the President and the Vice President on constitutional grounds by a mass movement of the people. A requirement that Muslims register with the federal government as Muslims, for example, would be a clear violation of the First Amendment and grounds for impeachment. An illegal war, an unconstitutional attempt to increase the powers of the NSA would be grounds for impeachment. If the Clinton people turn out to be right, and there was Russian collusion with the FBI to elect Trump, and if Trump knew about it, the people would have to be crazy to let Paul Ryan keep the federal government in the hands of a Republican Congress. Ryan will never start impeachment proceedings unless the objective is to stifle a popular rebellion. An end run around Congress to impeach President Trump and Vice President Pence, on the other hand, will force both parties not only to expand Congress but to make all three branches of the federal government more responsive to the popular will.
A “people’s impeachment” of Donald Trump could, in fact, be the restoration of the United States as a democratic republic.