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Surprising exactly no one, Trump has announced his intent to send Nonspecific Federal Law Enforcement (NFLE) into more cities after seeing how, uh, successful that has been in Portland. As Zoe Carpenter called it recently in The Nation, Portland is and always has been a pilot program. Proof of concept.

It's a transparent authoritarian move that is likely to backfire in the short-term (between now and the election, which of course is what this is all about). He's hoping that there will be enough of a backlash that he can revel in "chaos in the streets" footage and pull a Nixon. It's pretty difficult to argue that you, the person who introduced the chaos, is the only person who can stop it. I mean, there's a kind of logic to that. You almost have to admire it. But right now, if you think there are undecided / fencesitting voters who aren't sure about Trump but will be really impressed by Cop Rock 2020, I think you are fooling yourself. Every single person who responds positively to "unidentified cops whisking people into vans" is already on board with Trump, believe me. "I'd vote for Biden if I thought he'd do more secret police stuff" is not a voting bloc.

I'm more focused on the long-term danger, the precedent this establishes. I've been throwing R.G. Swing's book "Forerunners of American Fascism" at people a lot lately, and there's a good reason: people think Trump is a fascist. He's got characteristics, and certainly counts as an authoritarian, but he's what Swing characterizes as "pre-fascist." He's the guy you get before the proper fascists show up. He's the canary in the coal mine. He's the warning sign, the warm-up act, the clown who fools around with things that someone else will do later in deadly earnest.

See, the saving grace with Trump is that he's a moron, a narcissist, and a giant child. He can't focus on anything long enough to do it "properly.

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" He will send Federal law enforcement into cities the same way he does everything else: without forethought, with no clear sense of what the obvious consequences of his actions will be, with no logic greater than that he thinks it makes him look Strong. He cannot understand anything except in terms of ratings (attention) and self-aggrandizement. He has no ideological commitment to anything, good or bad. He isn't committed to this, just as he isn't committed to any decision he's ever made. Odds are he'll reverse course shortly, as he always does.

In the future, though, the American right will find its Hitler. And by that I mean, someone 100% ideologically committed to what he is doing. Someone like Stephen Miller or Tom Cotton (although maybe someone more outwardly appealing is required) for whom things like "Send snatch squads around to disappear people" is the core of their entire worldview. Trump doesn't have that. The man spends most of his life watching TV and beefing with the media on Twitter.

When that person arrives in American politics we will be in trouble deeper than anything we can imagine at the moment. Because someone who is committed, really committed, to doing this stuff will have the benefit of Trump warming up the stage for him.

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"Sending in Federal troops" will strike people as something that has already happened, and something that ultimately was resolved – probably by Trump losing interest in it. And if there's anything to learn from the history of fascism, it's that when things go from "bad but fairly normal" to "pits full of bodies", they make that leap real quick. So quickly that it disorients all the institutions that are supposed to be able to prevent it. While everyone is standing around scratching their heads going "What? Is this really happening?" it will already be too late.

What Trump wants more than anything is adulation, and when he doesn't get it (or get enough of it) he changes course, like a divining rod that finds whatever he thinks will earn him pats on the back. Once an even more dangerous person is in power, that won't save us. They will focus on whatever evil it is they want to inflict on us and nothing will discourage them.

This kind of escalation in policing has another more immediate risk, too. It makes "normal" – i.e., policing without jackboots snatching people in vans – seem a lot more appealing. For some people, it will even seem satisfying. Maybe Biden wins the election and takes things back to "normal", e.g. before Trump, and it will strike us as so much better that we'll feel like we've found heaven. But "normal" in the context of policing means 1000 people getting killed by cops annually, mostly people of color, and a thoroughly broken criminal justice system from top to bottom.
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When someone turns the heat up to 120, 100 seems comfortable in comparison.

With Trump, much of the incoherent sort-of-a-worldview he espouses is metaphorical, because doing the things he says should be done requires focus, dedication, and hard work. It requires him to put smart, capable people in charge of tasks, not his idiot kids and hangers-on and the dregs of the Federal bureaucracy. He isn't willing to do work, or to surround himself with people based on any criteria beyond nepotism. In the future, someone willing to do the work, to press on toward his or her (but likely his) goal, and put people capable of doing ghastly things efficiently and effectively in positions of power.

When that happens, it will already be too late.

21 thoughts on “PILOT PROGRAM”

  • The More Appealing Than Stephen Miller Or Tom Cotton Guy in question is already in the U.S. Senate, and his name is Josh Hawley. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts he’s the 2024 GOP nominee. He’ll run as the dewy, fresh-faced alternative to Old Man Biden (or his Scary Black Lady VP), win comfortably, and it’ll all be over.

  • This concept is what's been scaring me ever since the GOP refused to/couldn't squelch his clown candidacy. We are so far beyond normal that everything is just noise. Bannon's concept of flooding the zone with shit is already working. I can sit and make a list of no fewer than 50 things that would have ended ANY other presidency.
    I'm already making plans to leave. Biden better not pull an Obama and "move forward" without rooting out all this filth and dreck. And if Biden loses? I'm gone before January.

  • All Power to the People says:

    I've been saying all along to people claiming Trump is a fascist that he is little more than a senile old man who yells at the television. (His real danger has always been the ideologues, like Miller and McConnell, that he has enabled.) Unfortunately the one thing that the Biden/Pelosi Dems have any competency at all in is kicking their own base in the teeth; they've been demonstrating during this entire administration that they're more than happy to go along with (when they're not actively supporting) any authoritarian whim he happens to have, and I have no doubt that when your actual fascist shows up they'll be more than happy to lick his (and it will be a "him", of course) boots, too.

  • Indeed the water rapidly spirals down the drain in a clockwise direction making a tremendous gargle and swoosh as it hits those rusty old pipes. We are soo screwed in so many ways . . .
    Turn off the lights on the way out after flushing.
    And wash your hands.

  • The characterization of Trump as “moron, narcissist, and giant child” is accurate. Intellectual and ethical dishonesty from leftists is what leaves even that man in position to reprise Nixon’s victory in 1968 (and 1972) as the avatar of law and order.

    The arrestees in Portland are presumptively guilty of multiple federal felonies. The same set of mouthbreathers have, on a nightly basis, tried to burn the federal courthouse, assaulted federal officers, and left a trail of intent on surveilled social media.

    The dumbest thing Sinclair Lewis ever said was “It can’t happen here”….with right-wing religionists in mind, anyway. Like Huey Long back then, today the heirs of Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and Castro are far, far closer to toxic authoritarian sway in America.

  • Yes, the Nation's going down the tubes, not that there was all that much for Trump to piss away after a half century of transitioning from materialist to "Mammonite wet dream". Still looks like a toss up between the second coming of NAZIs and short victorious war gone wrong for an epitaph on the National grave marker.

  • Nancy Pelosi is right now passing more money and military weapons for the DHS "stormtroopers" which she denounces on Twitter. She's literally making a choice right now, it's on her desk today: "more money for stormtroopers" or "less money for stormtroopers" and choosing "more". You always wonder about, say, the government of Germany in 1932 or so – what were they thinking? Well, now you know: exactly what Nancy Pelosi is thinking.

    If Biden is somehow elected, he'll do nothing about Trump's criminality (pardons for everyone on day 1), and the next Republican candidate will tee off on the (accurate) list of Democratic failures to sweep the Democrats out of office forever. If Trump stays in, I'd predict another four years exactly like these last 4.

    The next Republican president is likely not Tom Cotton or similar people. It's Tucker Carlson.

    The US overall is at that stage where the government has lost legitimacy in the eyes of most younger people, but still retains legitimacy in the eyes of older people. It's only a matter of time before collapse, which is now inevitable. Don't know what direction it will fall, but I do know no one under the age of 30 thinks it's worth saving. Maximum time before collapse is perhaps 20 years. Could easily happen sooner.

  • Q.E.D. where the intellectual and ethical heft of the typical jejune leftist is concerned. At least Mtt managed to spell "fascist" correctly.

  • “The arrestees in Portland are presumptively guilty”? WTF does that idiot not understand about innocent until found guilty?

  • Congrats on paying attention during "Law & Order" reruns, Bruce. Indeed, that is the trial standard.

    As you doubtless know too, reasonable suspicion is required to detain, and probable cause to arrest.

    Barring insanity or diminished capacity (no small bar with that crowd), the evidence is overwhelming.

    By no means would I cheat them of trial. I was just countering inanities about false or random arrests.

  • @inkberrow: How's that bootpolish today?

    @democommie: 40% sit out elections, mostly poor, minority, and disabled, because the effort of going to the polls doesn't match their interests. Given a choice between the guy who threw millions of black kids in prison and the guy who wants them to throw white kids in with them, it just doesn't pay. "Blue no matter who" is a hard sell when Pelosi keeps shoveling money at DHS while they keep putting kids in cages and black bagging protestors. Maybe blame Lords Democratic for foisting these febrile control freaks on us in the first place.

  • Safety Man! says:

    @ Tim H.

    This is my biggest fear. The original back-to-work program is to launch a gigantic war somewhere, especially with tons of young people with little-to-no employment prospects. If you ran a modern-day Milgram Experiment where people could press a button to launch a missile at Mongolia and also neutralize their student-debt, we would fracture the earth’s crust.

  • Wylie Fuller says:

    This post is on my list of "things to bury safely in the ground and hope they survive the next 60 years". You've succeeded in writing a post on-par with pre-war political cartoons and primary sources I remember reading. Shivers.

    I'm sure there's overlap in readership of this blog and John Michael Greer. He wrote a series of blog posts in 2017 (available on one of the Archdruid mirrors) on the coming of fascism in America. I took away "fascism isn't selfish short-term buffoonery", it's directed, efficient, and appears to resolve some issues with running a democratic***ish*** government when citizens' interests diverge.

    "A good many of the people who liked to insist that Weimar Germany [in the late 20's and early 30's] was a fascist state got to find out—in many cases, at the cost of their lives—that there really is a difference between a troubled, dysfunctional, and failing representative democracy and a totalitarian state, and that a movement that promises to overturn a broken status quo, and succeeds in doing so, is perfectly capable of making things much, much worse.

    To explore the way that [might unfold], let’s engage in a little thought experiment. Imagine, then, that sometime this spring, when you visit some outdoor public place, you encounter a half dozen young people dressed identically in bright green T-shirts, surplus black BDU trousers, and army-style boots. They’re clean-cut, bright, and enthusiastic, and they want to interest you in a new political movement called the American Peoples Party. You’re not interested, and walk on by…"

    As a Canadian living very close to the border I'm torn between "care like heck for the people I'm with", "flee north", and "plug my ears / break out the snacks". Really appreciate your writing.

  • @ Mojrim:

    You're probably right.

    If they want the pain to stop they're going to have to do something.

    Vote for Biden (as it appears he is the candidate or put up with another four years worse than this period.

    Sorry, I don't have any feel-good news.

    A lot of those who sat out, btw, are not in the demographics you describe.

  • Our representatives have been trained to believe they represent the elites of our society, our votes merely confirm their fitness to serve those elites. Presidential candidates who show signs of continuing the error of the class traitor Roosevelt will find difficulties… The TL, DR is with the state of campaign finance it's next to impossible to do much except polish Wall $treet's brightwork, they've forgotten they're a part of a larger economy and tied to it's fate.
    Pelosi and the DNC are along for this unpleasant ride as much as the rest of us.

  • @democommie: Perhaps not in 2016 specifically, but that year saw a lot of people turning their backs on the Dems. I'm speaking of the 40% chronic non-voters. They showed up for Obama because he looked like something new but not Clinton because she self-evidently wasn't. You don't get those people by running right.

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