Seeing the popularity of Donald Trump’s nationalism and authoritarianism, many liberals and progressives are reading up on the history of fascism in Europe and wondering about the future of democracy in the USA.
What really makes Donald Trump and other authoritarian Republican candidates so dangerous is George W. Bush and Barack Obama have already created a legal and organizational framework for exercising the powers of a dictator.
Consider the powers claimed by President Obama:
- To wage war on his own say-so by means of bombs, drone attacks, Special Operations, proxy armies or any other means short of massive use of American ground troops.
- To order the killing on his own say-so of any person he says is a threat to national security.
- To preside over a secret national surveillance system that potentially reaches every citizen and covers the whole world.
- To prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal abuses of power.
- To give immunity from prosecution to torturers, crooked bankers and other high-level criminals.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an attack on Libya, a nation whose government was no threat to the United States, and reduced it to bloody chaos, where radical jihadists flourish. Now Obama is carrying on a proxy war to overthrow the government of Syria, which also was no threat to the United States, and which, if successful, would create more bloody chaos where ISIS terrorists would flourish.
The Department of Homeland Security exists in theory to protect Americans from jihadist terrorists from abroad. But it was used to coordinate a nationwide crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters, which, whatever you think of them, constituted no threat to the security of the homeland.
To sum up: The President has the power to commit acts of war, with no accountability. He has the power to sign death warrants, with no accountability. He presides over a vast surveillance apparatus which can be used to spy on dissenters and he prosecutes those who reveal abuses of power.
What power would be lacking for a would-be dictator? Maybe you think President Obama has enough restraint and good judgment to be trusted with such power. But he is not going to be in office after January, 2017. Somebody else is.
Recently the U.S. Congress did enact one restriction on abuse of power. Congress banned torture and limited interrogation to what is now permitted in the U.S. Army field manual. But, oddly enough, this does not seem to bother Donald Trump, who continues to promise that, if elected, he would authorize torture.
How could Trump promise to do something that is against the law? Well, torture was against international law all along. And there is another law, called the War Powers Act, which forbids the President to engage in acts of war without congressional authorization except in an emergency, and then to get authorization within 60 days. President Obama has disregarded this law, without consequences, so why couldn’t President Trump disregard the anti-torture law?
During the Watergate era, President Richard M. Nixon broke the law and abused the power of his office. There were countervailing forces in Congress, in the courts, in the press and in his own administration that held him in check and made his accountable. Where are today’s checks and balances?
I’m not arguing that President Obama is the same as Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie or some of the other authoritarian Republicans. My argument is that he, along with George W. Bush before him, has made it much easier for any of them to exercise the power of a dictator.
Democrats, unless they repudiate their own administration, cannot argue against military aggression, assassinations or crackdowns on dissenters as matters of principle. All they can say is that the Republicans go too far down a path they have already taken.
The Political F-word: When and how should we talk about fascism? by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.
Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path by David Neiwert for Orcinus.
Donald Trump is a fascist: It is the political label that best describes the GOP front-runner by Jamelle Bouie for Slate.
GOP candidates voice growing support for torture by Steve Benen for MSNBC.
All the Infrastructure a Tyrant Would Need, Courtesy of Bush and Obama by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic (2013)
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers by John Feffer for Counterpunch
No, NSA Phone Spying Has Not Ended by Robert Hackett for Fortune.
How Obama Took the Brakes Off the War Machine by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.
To Defend the Iran Deal, Obama Boasts That He’s Bombed Seven Countries by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.