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The Entire United States Is Now the Reichstag Building

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Jean: I just can’t get over it.
Bérenger: Yes, I can see you can’t. Well, it was a rhinoceros—all right, so it was a rhinoceros! It’s miles away by now… miles away…
Jean: But you must see it’s fantastic! A rhinoceros loose in the town, and you don’t bat an eyelid! It shouldn’t be allowed!
[Bérenger yawns.]
Put your hand in front of your mouth!
Bérenger: Yais… yais… It shouldn’t be allowed. It’s dangerous. I hadn’t realized. But don’t worry about it, it won’t get us here.

—Eugène Ionesco, Rhinoceros

It’s time to be blunt. The right-wing political alliance anchored by the Republican party and Trumpism coheres around a single concrete objective—taking absolute power in the U.S. as soon and as definitively as possible. And they’re more than ready, even seemingly want, to destroy the social fabric of the country to do so.

They smell blood in the water. They have a strong majority on the Supreme Court and a majority in the federal judiciary overall. Republicans imagine that with the aid of the aggressive campaign of disfranchisement they’re pursuing in forty-three states, they’ll take control of one or both houses of Congress next year. Mitch McConnell devised the playbook against the Obama presidency; with a Democrat in the White House, the GOP’s sole legislative agenda is obstruction, to make certain that no legislation passes, that no appointments are confirmed, to the extent of often enough forcing government shutdowns. Corporate media, punditry, and academics have obscured this Republican strategy with names implying a tit-for-tat perspective, like "partisan gridlock," which, they lament, is causing Americans to lose patience with and trust in government.

Discrediting government and the idea of the public has been a component of the GOP game plan since Reagan, and Democrats have reinforced that message in their own way.

Discrediting government and the idea of the public has been a component of the GOP game plan since Reagan, and Democrats have reinforced that message in their own way. Jimmy Carter ran for the party’s presidential nomination in 1976 partly on his record of having cut the size of Georgia’s government as governor, and as president, he initiated deregulation as a policy priority and imposed the economic shock that paved the way for Reagan. And it was Bill Clinton who announced in his 1996 State of the Union Address, “The era of big government is over,” and he followed through by terminating the federal government’s sixty-year commitments to provide direct income support and housing for the indigent. Reagan attacked the social safety net as a wasteful giveaway for frauds and losers. Clinton, as avatar of the Democrats’ “me too, but not so much” response to Reaganism, insisted that publicly provided social benefits should go only to those who “play by the rules.” Four decades of retrenchment and privatization of the public sector—often under the guise of “outsourcing” for greater efficiency or “doing more with less,” which Clinton and Gore sanitized as “reinventing” government to make it “leaner” and “smarter”—combined with steadily increasing economic inequality and government’s failure to address it in any meaningful way to fuel lack of confidence, distrust, and hostility toward government and public goods, and eventually even the idea of the public itself. And the reactionary capitalist interests that bankroll the ultraright have taken advantage of that unaddressed economic insecurity and stoked frustration and rage into a dangerously authoritarian political force.

It wasn’t such a big step from Rick Santelli’s faux populist 2009 meltdown calling, from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, of all places, for a Tea Party rising to the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection. McConnell’s openly declared strategy of stalemating Democratic initiatives of whatever sort made clear that the Republicans have no commitment to democratic government; every move they made was directed, consciously or not, toward takeover via putsch or putsch dressed up as election. The outcome of the 2000 presidential election was an early augury, as the George W. Bush campaign strongarmed a victory by means of actively partisan intervention by Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State, mobilization of corporate goons to storm the Miami-Dade recount, and turning to a reactionary bloc of Supreme Court Justices to place a fig leaf of legitimacy onto theft of the election. The Gore campaign’s reluctance to fight back aggressively was also an augury of the implications of Clintonism’s victory within the party, as Gore, Kerry, and Obama all ran, and Obama governed, in pursuit of a bipartisan coalition anchored normatively by nonexistent “moderate” Republicans. Hillary Clinton tried that approach as well and thus did her part to put Trump in the White House.

This history is another reason for continued skepticism about Biden’s agenda, even though he has so far been much better than might have been anticipated from the standpoint of addressing working-class and popular concerns. We’ll see how far he goes and how long the inclination lasts, but at least he has been making noises about using government to pursue the public good. Already, however, despite ordering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, he’s embarked on a foreign policy of interventionist imperialism in Latin America and has increased bellicosity and adventurist saber-rattling toward China. And it’s not clear whether even his much touted infrastructure proposal will result in an expanded sphere of public goods or will only fatten up public infrastructure for the private sector to butcher. We can only hope that Biden and the Wall Street Keynesians who speak into his left ear realize how grave the political situation is and don’t succumb to the temptation to try to defeat the reactionary threat with soaring rhetoric and smoke and mirrors. I fear that won’t be adequate.

The threat is serious. Some of the reactionary, authoritarian tendencies that condensed around Trump and Trumpism have been festering and growing in American politics at least since the end of World War II. First Barry Goldwater, then Ronald Reagan brought them out of the shadowy underworld populated by such groups as the John Birch Society, the World Anti-Communist League, various McCarthyite tendencies, Klansmen and other white supremacists, America Firsters, ultra-reactionary groups with ties to shadowy international entities like Operation Condor that has specialized in state-centered terror and death squads in Latin America and its equivalent in other regions, Christian Nationalists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes. During the Reagan presidency the treasonous Iran-Contra operation3 illustrated these reactionaries’ contempt for democratic government. The guide-dog corporate news media sanitized it as a “scandal,” and dutifully shepherded public discussion of it away from the magnitude of the crimes against constitutional government and toward the puerile, soap operatic question “What did he [Reagan, etc.] know and when did he know it?” They’ve been joined in the Trump years by a cornucopia of more or less organized thugs, militant racists and misogynists, open fascists, reactionary libertarians, delusional conspiracists, damaged true believers, and utterly venal grifters—a category that cuts across all the others—and they’re bankrolled by the American equivalent of German Junkers.

This is one reason that fantasies of red-brown or left/right populist alliance are wrong-headed and disturbing. There is no such thing as “right-wing populism;” it is an invention of bourgeois propagandists in the punditry and academy. Its principal intent is, on the domestic front, to discredit the left by association with a putatively dangerous irrationalism, e.g., by equating Sanders and Trump. Deep-pocketed reactionaries who play the long game find the construct useful for creating confusion and dissensus among the nominal left, and some nominal leftists can find the fiction financially appealing or, at a minimum, as yet another in the lengthy skein of gimmicks and quick fixes that will deliver us from the need to organize.5

While parsing their various flavors of reaction can be an interesting and useful undertaking, that’s not my objective here. Nor am I principally concerned with whether some, all, or most of them qualify as fascists or even a fascist front. The point is that, however taxonomized, they constitute an extremely dangerous and organized political force in the U.S. And it is not far-fetched to worry that 2022 or 2024 could mark the end of the proceduralist democracy to which we’ve been accustomed. They’ve been laying the groundwork. In addition to their concerted efforts to restrict voting, Republican-controlled state legislatures have been plotting strategies for attempting to nullify federal laws, passing bills intended to prohibit municipalities from enforcing them. Those legislatures also have been working overtime to eliminate civil liberties, whistleblowing, whatever shards remain of reproductive freedom, and have been legislating a reactionary “culture wars” agenda on a scale not seen since the darkest period of anticommunist hysteria and southern Massive Resistance in the wake of the Brown decision.

Yes, these moves are all elements in a hustle—a loud, massive effort to change the subject by means of scapegoating from attempts to address the sources and effects of horribly intensifying inequality and spreading economic insecurity, as well as from the catastrophe of Trump’s presidency. But they are also steps in preparation for seizure of power. Comparison with the shenanigans of Massive Resistance can amplify that point. In An American Insurrection: James Meredith and the Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962 (Anchor, 2003), William Doyle shows how segregationist governor Ross Barnett attempted to interdict the federal government’s order that James Meredith be permitted to enroll as the first student officially recognized as black at the University of Mississippi. Barnett was a dull-witted and small-minded opportunist and political performer. His tack was to grandstand, privately agreeing to the Kennedy administration’s proposed face-saving gestures, then reneging on the agreement to make still more flamboyant and incendiary speeches. He did this repeatedly, eventually provoking the armed campus riot that drew white supremacist hooligans from several states—including retired Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, a Birchite who ironically had commanded the troops from the 101st Airborne group that Eisenhower sent to Little Rock in 1957 to restore order and enforce the school desegregation plan—and during which federal authorities confiscated a large cache of weapons from cheerleader and later U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s fraternity house. The Kennedy administration had had enough of Barnett and sent the 82nd Airborne to Oxford to put down the insurrection. (Once, in an argument in a Washington, D.C. bar with Christopher Hitchens during the Afghan War, I asserted that no place in the world had been made better by the presence of the 82nd, not even Fayetteville, NC, its home base. That stopped Hitchens in his tracks momentarily and prompted a chuckle. Then my son reminded me that the one exception to that dictum had been Oxford, MS in 1962.)

It wasn’t such a big step from Rick Santelli’s faux populist 2009 meltdown calling, from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, of all places, for a Tea Party rising to the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection.

Barnett, like other segregationist officials, had no strategy beyond aggressive performance of opposition to federal authority; their game plan was theatrical. If left to their own devices, that would no doubt be the limited game of the most ostentatiously vile and imperiously ignorant of the Trumpist operatives in Congress—e.g., serial liar, grifter trainee, and malevolent millennial ignoramus Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). But they aren’t left to their own devices; they’re minions of a broader agenda, whether they understand or care what that agenda ultimately is. Like their congressional ally, degenerate sociopath Matt Gaetz, and dope fiend and Christian Evangelical swindler Mike Lindell, they likely can’t think beyond the immediate grift. Nevertheless, at this moment, they’re the equivalent of the street-fighting thugs of the Nazis’ Sturmabteilung. The game is being scripted, and improvised, at a much higher level by more adroit operatives. De facto Gauleiters, such as Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), McConnell, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) know what they’re doing and have taken advantage of and........

© Common Dreams

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