The Resisters are the Real ‘Fascists’
The misuse of political terms has long been a pet peeve of mine. The right likes to label anything they disagree with as ‘socialism’ or, if they’re in especially high dudgeon ‘Marxism’ (both Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are notorious practitioners of this bad habit).
In a certain sense though this is understandable; political rhetoric invariably has some aspect of persuasion to it and, more often than not, an oppositional persuasion at that (convincing someone to be ‘for’ you by convincing them to be ‘against’ your antipode is a legitimate and effective tactic in debate). To that end there is a tendency to use political terms as pejoratives even if it takes liberties with academic definitions; flow is a critical component of rhetoric and discussing the distinctions between, say, Marxism and progressivism or traditional capitalism and contemporary neoliberalism tends to bog an argument down.
But no political term is more abused in the recent lexicon than the hoary old chestnut ‘fascist’. Now as a term ‘fascism’ has always been susceptible to abuse, usually used in the place of the more accurate but less inflammatory ‘authoritarianism’ (e.g. Augusto Pinochet, a leader who used authoritarian measures to introduce Chicago School style free market reforms — the very opposite of fascist economics — to Chile is nonetheless described as a ‘fascist’).
The unlikely victory of Donald Trump has seen the misuse of ‘fascist’ rise to never-before-seen heights with his every action seeming to merit the dread tag. Nothing has attracted this toxic political slander more than Trump’s immigration policies (both the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ and his enforcement of immigration laws). While it is true that fascist regimes are typically anti-immigrant, it still seems an inappropriate characterization in this particular case; fascist regimes usually oppose immigration based on concerns over national culture or ethnic identity while Trump’s argument is more consistent with Christian Democracy, its concerns rooted in public safety (crime and terrorism) and economic security (wage suppression and job security). [Author’s note: Ironically, Trump shares common ground here with traditional leftists, opposing the neoliberal tendency towards reducing all labor to a globally fungible commodity.]
One attribute though that is most definitely present in a fascist regime is the presence of a national police/state security apparatus working actively in furtherance of a particular party/state clique. This is indeed something we can see at work in the US right now; however, contrary to the wailing of the Resisters and the bleating of the fake news media, this despicable development is coming from the anti-Trump side of the divide.
This Intelligence Community/Democratic Party/mainstream media nexus is nothing new, being at work at least since the election. First there was the ridiculous Buzz Feed/CNN ‘Russian hooker’ story (ably debunked here and here). Then there was the disconcerting news that transcripts from telephone conversations were being leaked (here and here).
This disquieting development broke new ground the past weekend with the ouster of NSC Chair Michael Flynn. Subjected to a constant and concerted stream of leaks since his appointment was announced (which in itself is part of an even greater scheme on the part of the former administration to coordinate opposition to the new administration), Flynn was caught on a wiretap of dubious origin discussing a matter of foreign policy (in this case sanctions) with a foreign official (in this case the Russian ambassador). Whether or not Flynn’s conversation was against the law — debatable since no one has ever been prosecuted for violations of the Logan Act — what‘s absolutely certain is that the leaking of the wiretap was indeed a criminal act, both against Flynn (leaking information during an ongoing investigation) and the country itself (release of classified material).
More than just its directly criminal nature, this act on the part of the Intelligence Community, using information gleaned through electronic surveillance to affect the ouster of a public official, is a dangerous violation of our democratic norms. The Week — hardly a right-leaning source — put it quite well:
In a liberal democracy, how things happen is often as important as what happens. Procedures matter. So do rules and public accountability. The chaotic, dysfunctional Trump White House is placing the entire system under enormous strain. That’s bad. But the answer isn’t to counter it with equally irregular acts of sabotage — or with a disinformation campaign waged by nameless civil servants toiling away in the surveillance state.
As Eli Lake of Bloomberg News put it in an important article following Flynn’s resignation,
Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do. [Bloomberg]
Those cheering the deep state torpedoing of Flynn are saying, in effect, that a police state is perfectly fine so long as it helps to bring down Trump.
Eli Lake’s piece from Bloomberg — again, hardly a right-leaning source — is worthy of greater consideration:
Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals…
In normal times, the idea that U.S. officials entrusted with our most sensitive secrets would selectively disclose them to undermine the White House would alarm those worried about creeping authoritarianism. Imagine if intercepts of a call between Obama’s incoming national security adviser and Iran’s foreign minister leaked to the press before the nuclear negotiations began? The howls of indignation would be deafening.
This to me is where the youth and — let’s be honest, lack of maturity — of the average Resister becomes clear. Older, wiser, more level-headed people should understand the dangers inherent in allowing secret police agencies, with their wiretapping and eavesdropping capabilities — to say nothing of the the personal information they hold in the form of tax returns and background checks — to interfere in either partisan politics or the forming of public policy. In the 1970s, as people who are familiar with the era are aware, such abuses were the subject of the rather extensive Church Committee hearings. (Of course a major contributor to the shocking ignorance displayed by the average twenty-something Resister is the deplorable state of our public education system — I doubt whether the average university grad has even heard of the Church Committee).
I suppose it only goes to show how all things eventually come fill-circle, as Marx said: First as tragedy, then as farce. In the late-60s genuine radicals railed against a national security establishment that conspired against the will of the people. And now, 50 years later, phony radicals are found hoping for that very same thing.