Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What does it mean that we turn to the Securocrats for our salvation?

In the 1980s, South Africa’s apartheid state developed a Total Strategy to combat the array of global interests seeking to bring an end to its system of state segregation.  Increasingly, power clustered in the hands of intelligence bodies which pursued clandestine operations inside and outside of the country, in the military which waged war in Namibia and Angola while conducting raids in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and in the police forces that were unleashed on townships across the country as the country’s increasingly dictatorial leadership dispensed with even the fiction of constitutionalism.
Onlookers evoked the rising power of a national security state by describing these newly empowered actors as the Securocrats.  The Securocrats were those individuals embedded in ‘national security’ institutions who increasingly dominated decision-making, discourse, and state power in South Africa.  They gradually eclipsed or blended into more representative party and parliamentary structures.
Today, in the United States, we are turning to a similar category of Securocrats for the salvation of our democracy.  
In less than four months in office, Donald Trump has repeatedly launched unconstitutional attacks on the rights of Americans and migrants (fortunately beaten back by the courts), expressed contempt for the judicial system, hostility toward the free press, and impatience with the role accorded to representative institutions.  The president’s advisors have colluded with foreign governments, lied about their collusion, and sought to cover up their collusion.
The president has fired those investigating the extent of and his knowledge of this collusion after attempting to derail their investigations, and lied about the rationale for their firing.  He has failed to prevent his compromised attorney general from interfering in investigations.  He has offered sensitive intelligence to governments which are avowedly hostile toward democratic institutions, international norms, and human rights.   The president’s private properties and businesses are in conflict with his public duties.  
The president has claimed to possess secret tapes, has demanded personal loyalty from public servants, and has engaged in the most transparent kind of nepotism, offering extraordinarily wide briefs and responsibilities to his grossly unqualified daughter and son-in-law.  
Thus far, the most shocking revelations and the most grievous blows against Trump’s credibility have been delivered by American securocrats.  James Comey, the FBI head dispatched to what Trump must have imagined would be oblivion, has used his networks to make public Trump’s threatening blandishments and efforts to halt investigations into his inner circle.  
James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, was more direct.  “I think as well,” Clapper said, having discussed Russian efforts to alter the election outcome, “our institutions are under assault internally.”  Clapper clarified that in his mind, the internal threat came from the president himself, drawing praise from a wide spectrum of commentators.  
Comey and Clapper will be central to any effort to impeach Trump.  And such an effort should come sooner rather than later.  Each week, the president inflicts new damage on our institutions, while his poisonous alliance with the Republican Party relentlessly rolls back financial, medical, legal, environmental, privacy, and welfare protections that benefit the majority of the public.
But what does it mean, that Securocrats like Comey and Clapper, and others who will emerge from the shadows, or lob their assaults from dark corners, will be the people who--if anyone does--bring Trump down?
In the first place, it suggests that there is some combination of power and will lacking in Congress, the body which should have been taking the lead in demanding or extracting these and other pieces of evidence from the recesses of our security state.  The nihilism and partisanship of the Republican Party have rendered its members incapable of participating in good-faith governance.  It implicates the media which failed to do much serious investigation during the primary and general elections.  But it also says something about the power wielded by the Securocrats.
Remember, these are not nice people, or people with any sense of or respect for strong, public, democratic institutions.  Comey’s “gee, shucks, did I really do that?” routine shouldn’t mask his calculated effort to damage one presidential candidate to the advantage of another (which is different from saying that all of Clinton’s woes can be ascribed to his meddling).  His agency has a rich history of violating civil rights and advocating for the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of security.
James Clapper lied under oath to senators in one of many efforts to evade oversight of the intrusive spying programs he oversaw.  These were not off-the-cuff lies, but calculated, premeditated, and repeated efforts to elude democratic accountability.  Clapper also advocated for the removal of congressional scrutiny from the illicit, murderous, and self-defeating program of extrajudicial murder by drones that has persisted across three administrations.
The national security apparatus Comey and Clapper had starring roles in managing let itself be turned into an arm of crusading neoconservatives to take the country to war in Iraq, an event which I think is at the heart of Hillary Clinton’s repeated failures to seek higher office.  The Securocrats have relentlessly infringed on civil liberties in the post-9/11 era, in part because the alternative would be a long, hard look at the broken and self-destructive foreign policy consensus they ensure is replicated down the years across administrations of both parties.  
The Securocrats have consistently behaved as though the public interest is an annoyance to be dispensed with, Congress is an adversary to be evaded, and the very idea of accountability represents a dire threat to national security--better interpreted as their hold on our imaginations and those of elected policymakers.  
Between the war in Iraq, the NSA spying scandals, the drone killings, and the other privacy invasions associated with the Patriot Act, the Securocrats have generated enormous distrust in government and in public institutions.  That mistrust has spilled over from the national security apparatus to other fields of government, and is used to attack the principle of taxpaying, the existence of regulations, the sanctity of citizenship, and the very idea of a public interest and public sphere.  The cynical paternalism of the Securocrats, therefore, bears very real (if not sole) responsibility for the rise of a fascist right and the ascendance of Donald Trump.  
On the one hand, I am rooting for these people to do everything they can to bring down a man and an administration who represent a deadly threat to our democracy, perhaps the worst our country has confronted for many, many decades.  But I am afraid that even if they are successful, it isn’t just the Trump administration that will leave deep scars on our country.  It will be the manner in which the Securocrats might have proven to be our salvation.
We will see scrutiny of their methods melt away if they generate a “win” for democracy against the fascist Trump.  We will see the securitization of our election process, and the Securocrats will make calls about how and when we vote.  We might see the Securocrats become arbiters of our democracy.  We will see Securocrats’ status enhanced at the expense of elected representatives, which will change the balance of power between the Securocrats and those charged with overseeing their activities.  We might very well see an increased willingness of Securocrats to wield their access to state secrets and sometimes ill-gotten information to sway elections.

While Donald Trump needs to be wrenched from office, I fear that the source of his greatest frustration and potential downfall bodes ill for our country and democracy in the future.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Earth Day in Zion National Park

We had visitors from Sweden in town last week, and ended their visit with a trip to Zion National Park in Utah.  The weather was gorgeous, and the pink, orange, grey, and rusty hues of the canyons were rimmed by verdant mesas and framed by bright blue skies.  On Earth Day, we walked to the top of Angel’s Landing, the last stretch of which requires hanging onto a series of chains and trying not to think about the kind of splat you’d make if you put one foot wrong.
The panoramic view from Angel’s Landing looks down the valley onto a series of lower mesas across southern Utah, up to higher ground, capped by a handful of the hoodoos that become grander in Bryce Canyon, and down to where the Virgin River winds through a lush canyon.  The most famous hikes in Zion don’t deliver solitude, but there’s something joyous about seeing people from all over the country and the world, sharing hopes for a beautiful day and a successful hike, and giving voice to the wonder that Zion inspires.
Nothing, I felt sure (other than falling 1,500 feet), could spoil such views.  And then I saw a hat.  “Make America Great Again,” it read.  I had missed it at first, because it wasn’t the bright red variety, but the camouflage model.  
At this point, we had just reached Angel’s Landing itself, and the end of the trail was filled with people, breathless from the ascent and the view.  The man in the Trump hat was loudly exclaiming about the amazing view, the magnificent trail, how easy it had been to take the shuttle to the trailhead, and what an amazing park this was.
I could clearly tell nothing about what drew this man to Donald Trump.  He might have been motivated by Trump’s ethnic nationalism, militarism, anti-immigration rhetoric, or sexism.  Or he might just have wanted to take a gamble and throw a bomb (because “they” are “all the same”) to see what happened.
Perhaps it was the altitude getting to him, but it was clear that there was little critical thought going on in this man’s head as he stood atop Angel’s Landing, Trump hat on, and marvelled at the natural beauty of his physical surroundings, and the physical infrastructure that had allowed him to view them from this vantage point.  
It clearly did not occur to our Trump supporter that if his man had been president when the conservation movement was gaining steam, there would have been no national parks, and few if any public lands.  Donald Trump would have dammed the Virgin River, dynamited the Sentinel, ravaged the Narrows for mineral wealth, and built a sprawling hotel in the floor of Zion Canyon, blasting aside Angel’s Landing to make room for a parking structure and putting the Trump logo on top of whatever remained of the Watchman.  
Donald Trump and his cabinet think that collecting public revenue to invest in national parks and the infrastructure required to take people there.  Roads to small communities, a shuttle system, interpretive centers, and the trails constructed by the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps are not things Trump and his fellow plutocrats believe in.  
They do not believe that clear mountain waters and smog-free skies are the markers of a strong society, or that forests, canyons, and campsites have any value unless you can place a price tag on them.
I don’t know where our Trump supporter placed national parks in his hierarchy of needs.  But he seemed pretty thrilled atop Angel’s Landing.  I wish that he and others would think a little bit longer and harder about the implications of putting into power someone with no appreciation for or understanding of the public good, and about how public spaces like parks and campsites and museums enrich their lives.  
Just that little bit of critical thought could open the floodgates for this man and other voters to contemplate just how badly they’re being played for suckers by a man who promised them the stars, and is instead pursuing confrontation with North Korea to help his ratings, rolling back the protections for our air and water and food, offering tax cuts to the rich, and doing his best to resuscitate racial nationalism as the basis for political thought in the United States.  

Our national parks are one of the things that draw visitors to our country from around the world. They are interpreted by many of these visitors as an example of the national vitality and caring that is lacking in our social relations and civic discourse. Creating these parks required forethought and an understanding of the public good, two of many things that Donald Trump utterly lacks.  

The next time you visit a park, engage critically with your surroundings. When you breathe the fresh air, ask why it is clean. When you board the shuttle, consider what kinds of views about the public sphere ensured it was there. When you tread on the trails, ponder who built them, and who provided the will and the vision. And when you take in the vistas, consider which world views allow for their maintenance, and which call for their extirpation and the erection in their place of monuments to the bloated egos of wealthy plutocrats and their offspring.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Donald Trump and International Policy

U.S. soldiers and global civilians are endangered by
Trump's foreign policy.
Foreign policy seldom featured in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  But when they did, international affairs were discussed in an odd and unfamiliar fashion.  Some Trump supporters, and many Hillary Clinton sceptics, made the curious argument that electing the Republican candidate would actually make for a more peaceful and stable world than his Democratic counterpart.  As with most spurious arguments, this one grew from a kernel of truth.
That truth was that Hillary Clinton represented a violent, arrogant, neoconservative strain of U.S. foreign policy.  From Iraq to Syria, Libya to Afghanistan, Egypt to Israel, Clinton had been on the wrong side of most fundamental issues in recent U.S. foreign policy.  “Wrong” in the sense that she almost invariably advocated violent intervention with little regard for the long-term consequences, the “collateral damage,” or global and regional peace and stability.  For a country with politics still scarred by the disastrous war on Iraq, the decision to nominate Clinton as the candidate of a progressive party was a baffling and self-destructive decision, in some way guaranteeing an advantage to a younger or novice crowd of Republican politicians.  
The argument that Trump supporters and Clinton sceptics (and here I mean people whose scepticism led them to vote for Trump or to leave their ballot blank in November) made was that in contrast to Clinton, Donald Trump represented a kind of benign isolationism.  He might not have an impressive grasp of world politics, cause and effect, or U.S. interests, but his railing against Clinton’s Iraq vote (his own support aside) led some people to believe that he usher in a kinder, gentler, if less informed U.S. foreign policy.
Those who articulated this view, wittingly or otherwise, ignored a host of troubling factors.  Firstly, Trump demonstrated a contempt for international law and U.S. norms in war that eclipsed even Clinton’s bad record.  Trump advocated torture and a whole range of other war crimes and crimes against humanity which made it clear that if we took him at his word--supposedly his selling point--he would prove far worse than the neoconservative Bush and hawkish Obama administrations.
Trump also decried the need for the U.S. to participate in international fora, ranging from the UN to NATO, and launched scathing attacks on institutions like the EU.  Imperfect though each of these institutions were, their existence stemmed from a desire to mitigate the harmful effects of nationalism, which took the world into two now-unimaginably catastrophic world wars.  
Trump’s contempt for human rights, international law and institutions, and embrace of ethnic nationalism should have made it clear to any informed observer that this was a president who would not just perpetuate or initiate dangerous wars, but could actually undo seventy years of peacebuilding and institution-making.  His admiration for strongmen like Putin, his fascination with simple solutions (“bombing the hell” out of ISIS), and his ready use to use terrorism as an excuse for the erosion of constitutionally protected rights, should have rung abundant warning bells for onlookers.
Since coming to office, Trump has continued his attacks on international and regional institutions and alliances.  He appointed Islamophobes, white nationalists, and corporate executives to key positions, while damaging the ability of the State Department to function.   
His otherwise-sidelined Secretary of State recently indicated that the U.S. would follow the oil industry’s own inclination to ignore human rights violations in pursuit of commercial interests, in this case selling arms to Bahrain and waiving the human rights conditions attached to the sale.  The administration has also continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, even as that country continues to massacre civilians in its war in Yemen.     
The U.S. has stepped up its own contributions to the wars in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, with the bombing campaign in the former country intensifying dramatically and taking a toll of civilian lives.  The president received harsh criticism after endorsing a botched raid with many casualties that the Obama administration had for months held off on endorsing, responded by abdicating responsibility for key military decisions.  Letting the “generals” or “commanders on the ground” decide might sound popular, but it ensures that there are no clear political goals confining and directing state violence, and also represents a blatant attempt to dodge responsibility for deadly serious decisions.
Trump has also backed away from U.S. commitments to address global climate change.  Polls show that substantial majorities of Americans believe climate change to be both real and man made, but remain divided on what the U.S. can and should do, and largely believe that they will remain unaffected by climate change.  Trump has taken advantage of this ambivalence to both retreat from our own nation’s responsibilities, while attacking the efforts of states like Californians to shift consumption habits and reduce emissions.   
Thus far, Donald Trump’s presidency has consisted of reckless efforts to undo key features of a democratic post-WWII order, feckless decision-making, a lack of clear planning, abject ignorance of the world writ large, serial irresponsibility, and an embrace of senseless violence without even the Obama administration’s tenuous efforts to protect the lives of civilians.

In addition to putting U.S. soldiers and many civilians in harm's way through his violence and irresponsibility, Trump’s presidency is likely to lead to the kind of global tensions that can explode into wider warfare in surprising places, the continued expansion of international terrorism, an increase in the nationalism that has contributed to many historic conflicts, the emboldening of authoritarian governments around the world, and the imperilling of our planet and the future of many of its inhabitants.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Why we can and should talk about Trump and fascism

As Americans weigh up the damage the Trump administration proposes to inflict with its Republican allies on civil liberties, the environment, economic security, social welfare, and general health and well-being, we are struggling to develop a vocabulary suited for describing the administration and its actions.  A certain degree of controversy has developed around the use of “fascism” to describe the administration or its actions.
People who make this comparison point to Trump’s targeting of Muslims, attacks on migrants, slandering of Latinos, militaristic language, contempt for the press and the courts, ethnic nationalism, anti-internationalism, hostility to labor, and more.
Some object to the term in an effort to defend Trump.  But others object out of an effort to maintain what they regard as historical rigor or integrity.  After characterizing some of the objections, I’ll offer some thoughts as to why, in my mind, the vocabulary is both important and justified.  
  1. Comparing Trump to the Nazis trivializes the violence of the Holocaust.  Cheapening this extraordinarily horrific process by using it as a weapon to attack an American politician who has not created camps or gas chambers is offensive.  Most commentators have been quite careful to use ‘fascism’ rather than ‘Nazism.’  We must remember that the embrace and practice of fascism was not restricted to Germany during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.  Fascists governed in Italy, formed a key part of the Conservative alliance in Spain, and had a presence in Hungary, Romania, and elsewhere in Europe.  In fact, nearly every European country--and some countries outside of Europe--hosted fascist parties and sympathizers.  This was a global ideology.  Nazism was one national variant of fascism.   But it is also worth remembering that Nazism didn’t begin with camps and gas chambers.  
  2. Fascism was a unique product of the European interwar period.  It is ahistorical to seek to identify fascism in the twenty-first century.  Fascism as it emerged in the interwar years was clearly the product of specific developments and circumstances.  But scholars have traced its origins and sources back into the nineteenth century, and have identified global as well as local influences on its emergence.  Crucially, fascism is an ideology.  Ideologies do not respect borders and they do not vanish when their state “hosts” cease to operate within their framework.  They are carried across space and time by networks, publications, and advocates.  We don’t make the same argument about liberalism, conservatism, communism, social democracy, etc.  We embrace the effort to trace strands of thought, variation over time, and the bearers of this ideology.  The same should be true of our treatment of fascism.  
  3. Okay, so maybe there are some broad similarities.  But Trump’s administration doesn’t look exactly like what we saw in Italy, Germany, etc.  Because things aren’t developing in exactly the same way, doesn’t the parallel fall down?  As mentioned above, fascism is an ideology.  Its rise, implementation, and the extent of its success (“success” defined as its ability to exercise real power) varied considerably in each national context.  Hitler’s bodyguards and enforcers aside, fascists in Italy were far more violent in their ascent to power.  Anti-Semitism occupied a different role in each of these fascist states.  Italy maintained closer and more deferential relations to “traditional” conservative institutions than did Germany, and in Spain the fascists were largely absorbed by conservatives.  We also have to treat fascism after 1945 critically, with the knowledge that its proponents are aware that it became widely discredited.  We can thus expect them to modify the way they propose applying the ideology, and to use obfuscatory language to avoid accusations of fascism.
  4. This is the United States.  Our own history is full of malevolent influences and features.  We should pay close attention to those.  This European import is a silly distraction.  The point is not to say that fascism is the only ideology or framework for understanding or talking about the rise of Trump, but rather that it is an important or useful one.  A few points.  Firstly, it is increasingly the case that historians recognize that nations and even continents are not hermetically sealed entities.  Globalization--at the basic level of people and organizations and states communicating and influencing each other across borders and oceans--is nothing new, and historians have documented links between American racial thought and bureaucratic practices and the rise of fascism.  This suggests that fascism and troubling features of our own nation’s past might have been mutually constitutive.  Secondly, there are those in the Trump administration--Stephen Bannon most prominent among them--who draw on and are influenced by others (“Eurasianist” thinkers in Russia, for example) who theorize admiringly about fascism.  If the individuals with whom we are drawing the comparison, and to whom we apply the label, are themselves making explicit comparisons with fascism, surely we refuse to contemplate the connections and associations at our peril.  Thirdly, we shouldn’t let academics’ own version of “American exceptionalism” blind them to the mobility of ideologies across time and space, or well-established links in the past and present between the U.S. and other parts of the world.
  5. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to just refer to authoritarianism than fascism in describing Trump?  There’s probably a case to be made for this.  On the other hand, most scholars would argue that Soviet communism--to take one example--was authoritarian in similar ways to German and Italian fascism, but was built on very different lines.  It did not make the same use of ethnic nationalism, gendered workplaces, and narrative of decline, and it aspired to create a very different kind of state and society, arguably closer to what the likes of Trump discuss.  So authoritarian is probably an accurate term for describing the Trump administration’s broad tendencies, but it doesn’t capture its desire to redefine the nation in much more specific terms.
  6. Ever heard of Godwin’s Law?  It suggests that bringing up Hitler/Fascism is a sure sign a conversation has gone on for too long or is descending into unhinged, personalized attacks.  The expression, “if the shoe fits, wear it” springs to mind here.  
  7. Are there other ways of thinking about fascism in relation to our current moment?  I think that aside from thinking about comparisons, documenting influences, and identifying proponents, it is very important to think about the historical moment, and some parallels between the conditions that led to the rise of fascism in the interwar period, and our own conditions.  In the 1920s and 1930s, the ideological framework of liberalism proved unable to satisfactorily meet many social and economic challenges faced by Europeans and others.  Because liberalism--here defined as an ideology that believes in civil and political rights, and minimal state intervention in the economy--jealously guarded its status as the ideology of democracy, and slandered parties that sought to add economic and social rights to existing civil rights frameworks, liberals’ own failure was increasingly read as a failure of democracy.  People turned to authoritarian regimes which they believed could guarantee them security.  Some admired the speed with which authoritarian communists were able to modernize their economy without the “impediments” of constitutional democracy, while others turned to fascism, which was seen as a strong and robust ideology.  While not necessarily guaranteeing citizens prosperity, fascism offered the prospect of appropriating rights and property from those portrayed as internal enemies of true citizens.  Timothy Snyder has offered a different framework for thinking about authoritarianism, in his short but useful text, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by identifying how, under fascist and other authoritarian regimes, the behavior of individual citizens and their associations was critical for fascists’ rise to power.  Snyder identifies a series of common moments and practices in the ascent of authoritarian regimes as things we should be alert to and act against.

Books that critically examine fascism as an ideology (including in some cases, its continuation into the present)
Kevin Passmore.  Fascism: a very short introduction.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Robert O. Paxton.  The Anatomy of Fascism.  New York: Vintage Books, 2004.*
Stanley G. Payne.  A History of Fascism, 1914-1945.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.
Books that provide overviews and arguments about the rise of fascism in Europe
Gotz Aly. Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State.  New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005.
Richard Evans. The Coming of the Third Reich.  New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
Robert G Moeller.  The Nazi State and German Society: a brief history with documents.  New York: Bedford St Martin’s, 2010.  
Books that provide some broader, contextual history for the rise of fascism
Konrad Jarausch.  Out of Ashes: a new history of Europe in the Twentieth Century.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Mark Mazower.  Dark Continent: Europe’s twentieth century.  New York: Vintage Books, 2000.
Books that are explicitly about our present political moment
Timothy Snyder.  On Tyranny: twenty lessons from the twentieth century.  New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017.*
Books that document historical connections around racial theorizing and practice between the U.S. and Germany
James Q Whitman.  Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.  

Andrew Zimmerman.  Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Bannon and Trump Want to Destroy the State...Where Does Dean Heller Stand?

Photo Credit
Nevada’s absentee senator Dean Heller has declared that he will hold a town hall provided there is no booing.  The senator who missed an opportunity to meet with hundreds of constituents last night at the library on Flamingo seems to think his responsibilities to his constituents are conditional.
While no one likes to be booed, perhaps Heller should reflect on how his unpopularity is a product of the relationship with his constituents and the Trump administration he has established in the past months.  He has supported nearly all of Trump’s nominees, including an attorney general who wants to roll back voting rights, an EPA director who wants to kill the capacity of the agency to protect our air and water, a Treasury Secretary who ran a foreclosure machine and labored for Goldman Sachs rather than the middle class, an Education Secretary who wants to voucherize public schools, and a CIA director who wants to expand domestic spying and kill whistleblowers.
Unsurprisingly, these nominees were a red flag to constituents who worried about civil liberties, and had good to cause to worry as the Trump administration rolled out deportations, an unconstitutional Muslim ban, and threatened to curtail voting rights.  Heller offered support to the administration, and exactly nothing to his constituents during these weeks.
We have now heard from Stephen Bannon that the goal of this administration is the “deconstruction” of the state, and that Trump’s bumbling and “chaos” are actually the unfolding of a plan to gut government as we know it.  Government has been constructed in the past eighty years as a robust entity to serve a public interest and the needs of diverse citizens.
Anyone who wants subsidized healthcare, social security, clean water and air, safe food, education, support for childcare, workplace protections, access to parks and recreation areas, will be hurt badly by Bannon’s efforts to “deconstruct” our public sector.  In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that virtually every American’s life would be fundamentally and horrifically altered without the array of services and protections we rely on and have charged a fairly responsive public sector with providing.
Many of us have long warned that we were up against something more than a run-of-the-mill administration, and Bannon’s words confirm that this is an administration which sees chaos as a method and an end.  Shutting the New York Times and other outlets out of the White House today indicate the administration’s authoritarian efforts to keep the public from learning about its actions.
In light of Bannon’s declaration that Trump’s cabinet exists to destroy the public sector, mounting authoritarianism, and the implications for all voters, left- or right-wing, Heller’s protestations that he will treat this administration like the two that came before it seem dangerously na├»ve.
Nevadans need to hear from their absentee, spineless Senator now.  Does Heller plan to continue enabling Bannon’s efforts to obliterate the public sphere on which Nevadans of all stripes rely, or will he demonstrate that he understands the gravity of the threat posed by this depraved administration and agents of chaos like Trump and Bannon?  As the elevated, frightened, and angry voices of his constituents suggest, Heller is already too late in answering this crucial question.

Dean Heller defends his pro-Trump votes...unconvincingly

Nevada’s senior senator, Dean Heller, is notoriously elusive.  During the confirmation process for Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, Heller has been strikingly inaccessible to his constituents, refusing to hold a town hall, refusing to expand staff capacity to address constituents’ anxieties, and even shutting down the ability of constituents to comment on or react to his social media presence.  Last night, his constituents held a packed town hall in his absence at the Flamingo library branch in Las Vegas, raising the questions they would expect their representative to address in person.  
One group of constituents discovered the only way to meet Heller face to face: by purchasing tickets to attend a chamber of commerce luncheon in Carson City, and use that opportunity to question the senator.  We have a state representative who is literally adopting a “pay to play” approach to his constituents.
Cornered by irate constituents, Heller defended his support of Trump’s cabinet nominees by saying, “I think every president has a right to put their cabinet into place and I support the cabinet put into place.  But that doesn’t mean I support all the policies…I’m going to treat all the policies that come out of the Trump White House the same way [I have those of other administrations]…they’re not always right, but they’re not always wrong…if it’s good for Carson City, I’ll support it.”
This sounds reasonable, on the surface.
There are, however, significant problems with this line of thinking.  Our country has a president who has no experience of government, no history of public service, and no experience of crafting public policy.  His views on many specific policy points are totally unknown, and his views on other have been established to be very dangerous, and are increasingly being defined by courts as un-constitutional or unlawful.
Trump’s ignorance and inexperience, coupled with his very real contempt for democracy and equality before the law, mean that his cabinet appointees are extremely important.  Because of his ignorance and inexperience, they will in some spheres have tremendous latitude in shaping public policy.  Because of his fascist, authoritarian tendencies, they also need to be able and willing to stand up to him.
While I understand the logic of letting a president assemble his own team, senators should be evaluating the worldview that those people bring to bear on their sphere of responsibility.  If Heller’s framework actually is, “if it’s good for Nevada, I’ll support it,” he should be evaluating the likelihood of Trump’s nominees pursuing policies that are good for Nevada.
Several of Trump’s nominees appear to hold worldviews that ensure that basically nothing they propose or support will be good for Nevada, and Heller should have been fighting those people tooth and nail instead of indulging and enabling a dangerous administration.
The new Treasury Secretary has devoted his career to an organization and sector which works consistently at cross-purposes with the well-being of most Nevadans, exploiting people financially and redistributing wealth upwards.  How is someone with this background and his worldview supposed to suddenly have a 180-degree turnaround and reconstruct himself as a Treasury Secretary for the 99% rather than the 1% he’s made a career of serving?
The new Attorney General has demonstrated his contempt for civil rights, his willingness to erode voting rights, his support for mass deportation, and his co-authorship of a bigoted and unlawful Muslim ban.  How is someone who doesn’t respect voting rights, religious diversity, or the moral imperative to protect children and families from the most vicious effects of deportation policies someone who will make reasonable choices for Nevada?  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Donald Trump's People

Photo by Emilio Labrador
On Saturday at a campaign rally in Florida, Donald Trump declared how happy he was to “be among my friends and among the people...with hard working Americans.”  He gave a rambling, fact-free speech attacking the media, the courts, and anyone who doubted his commitment to the middle and working class.  Those classes, he suggested, are the “friends” and “people” around whom he is most comfortable.
At an elite New Jersey golf club in November, Trump said something rather different, according to recordings.  Surveying assembled members of the American elite, the then president-elect effused, “You are the special people!”  He went on to declare, “So, this is my real group.  These are the people who came here in the beginning, when nobody knew how this monster was gonna turn out to be, right?”  
“He’s going to the Oval Office, right?  You,” Trump told the assembled notables, “are going to make it beautiful.”
Politco described how Trump sidled up to a man who was presumably not a member of the beleaguered working class, and said, “We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who are we gonna accept--boy, can you give me some recommendations?”
One can assume that the well-heeled member of the Bedminster club didn’t offer the names of people who are committed to holding his class accountable for their contributions to the public welfare and good.  
Trump’s cabinet picks reflect his status as among the most elite of the 1%.  They are CEOs, party donors, and representatives of the financial sector and its toxic priorities.  In power, free to manoeuvre while the president attacks Muslims, refugees, Latinos, judges, and journalists, they will facilitate a massive transfer of wealth from the public treasury to their private purse, from the middle and working class to the wealthy.  

They are already starting this process by dismantling checks on the financial sector, attempting to drive costs up and accessibility down when it comes to healthcare, eroding regulations that keep our air and water clean, and developing tax breaks for the wealthy that will lead to cuts in services and welfare for the middle class.  There will be more to come.  Unless you’re a member of the 1%, you’re not really one of Trump’s “people.” He’ll wear a hat and put on an act for you.  But listen to what he says when he retreats to the ballrooms and golf courses of his natural habitat.  

Dean Heller Can't Take the Heat

Nevada Independent
Nevada Senator Dean Heller recently caught the eye of scientists, who are reviewing the fundamentals of Linnaean classificatory systems after discovering that Heller has neither spine nor alimentary canal.  They drew their conclusions on the basis of the Republican’s cowardly capitulation in the face of an authoritarian, incompetent administration.
This does not bode well for Heller’s reelection bid in 2018 in a state that is increasingly swinging left.  The Senator has been coasting on his reputation as a ‘moderate’, something it will be difficult to sustain having backed the leadership of Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil to assume control over the upper reaches of foreign and domestic policy, and having given his support to a swivel-eyed economic and religious fundamentalist to run the education department.  
Thus far, Heller’s approach has emulated a vertebrate, rather than one of his fellow invertebrates.  He has essentially played possum and ignored all criticism, refusing to meet with constituents, dodging telephone calls, and refusing to respond to e-mails and letters.  Heller has refused to hold a town hall, and is restricting his events to small, ‘friendly’ communities in the unpopulated areas beyond Reno and Clark County.
Heller seems to think that if he is utterly motionless, we won’t see him enabling a racist, bigoted authoritarian.  He seems to believe that if he ignores Nevadans in Reno and in Clark County in particular, we’ll go away.
His team has now begun aggressively policing his facebook page, deleting critical comments and restricting the ability of some who “follow” Heller to “like” or comment on his dreary, banal offerings.  
Like Trump, who is extraordinarily sensitive to criticism, Heller seems to struggle with vigorous debate, and he and his staff are trying to create a safe space, free of facts and criticism for him, shielding him from constituents, and circumscribing those constituents’ opportunities to interact with their representative.  
But Heller is in for a surprise.  There will be consequences for supporting an Attorney General who attacked voting rights, helped to author the unconstitutional Muslim ban, and has supported mass deportation.  There will be consequences for allowing Trump to staff his Treasury Department with people from the heart of Goldman Sachs.  There will be consequences for enabling the destruction of regulatory agencies that keep the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat safe.  There will be consequences for supporting an authoritarian administration that is seeking to restrict people’s rights and redistribute wealth to the 1%.

Heller’s fervent hopes aside, those of us living in the state’s population centers will not go away just because he pretends we don’t exist.  Eschewing town halls, ignoring the letters, deleting facebook comments, and retreating into the bunker won’t keep us from turning out in November of 2018 and showing Dean Heller the door.