From Richard Heinberg
This month’s Museletter brings together three essays that sound alarms on the early days of the Trump administration.
Millions of Americans now share the profoundly disturbing experience of watching and waiting as their nation lurches toward authoritarianism. In a previous essay, I described the Trump administration as a “presidency in search of an emergency”—i.e., a crisis that could be used as a pretext for seizing unchecked power. I opined that the emergency could come in the form of an economic meltdown, a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster.
As a result of the events of the last two weeks we now know what the crisis will almost certainly be (a terrorist attack) and how it will be used—namely, to do the following:
- Nullify the constitutionally mandated independence and authority of the courts.More on this below.
- Shut down congressional investigations. These are soon likely to include probes into collusion with Russia to influence the election (if the worst of the allegations are substantiated, Senators and Representatives could soon be bandying a word that starts with “T” and rhymes with “reason”), along with financial conflicts of interestthat go vastly beyond the recent dustup with Nordstrom’s. The evidence of profound misdeeds is getting so hard to ignore that even a Republican Congress will likely eventually get rambunctious. The forced departure of national security adviser Michael Flynn can only fan the furor, rather than quelling it (again, more below).
- Criminalize dissent. Millions have already taken to the streets to voice their displeasure with the new administration, and thousands are showing up regularly at congressional town hall meetings. The time-proven ways authoritarian governments discourage anti-government activism are to increase surveillance and to heighten the perceived risks entailed in joining protests (prison time or worse).
- Rein in and discredit the mainstream media. White House strategist Steve Bannon has called the media “the opposition party.” Authoritarian regimes always attempt to marginalize and control the press and broadcasters. Given a sufficiently compelling national emergency, criticism of the government could be declared unpatriotic and even criminalized (as happened during World War I).
The events of the week of February 6 provided some clues on how Trump’s war on the judiciary is likely to play out. Jack Goldsmith writes that the way the executive order banning entry by residents of seven Muslim-dominated nations was drafted suggests a couple of possible interpretations. One is that White House Counsel Donald McGahn is simply incompetent; the other is that the executive order was deliberately botched in order to flush out judicial opposition for later retribution: “….Trump [may be] setting the scene to blame judges after an attack that has any conceivable connection to immigration. If Trump loses in court he credibly will say to the American people that he tried and failed to create tighter immigration controls. This will deflect blame for the attack. And it will also help Trump to enhance his power after the attack.”