As Different Kinds of Capitalism Take Over the World

The New York Review of Books comes in the mail every few weeks. I’ve never been tempted to switch to a digital subscription, partly out of habit, but also because the version on paper is good for reading and also good for looking at. For one thing, I’d miss the book advertisements, which don’t appear online. A yearly subscription to the paper edition is kind of expensive, but we still have libraries and you can still buy a single copy (although those are kind of expensive too). What I didn’t know until just now is that in addition to a regular digital subscription, you can get a Kindle subscription for the low, low price of $3.49 a month (which translates to $2.09 per issue). The world’s richest capitalist is a money grubber (even now!) who treats some of his employees very badly, but he’s made life easier at times.

I’d provide a link to an excellent article in the September 24th NYRB but, except for the latest edition, all of their articles are behind a paywall. The article is “Can We Fix Capitalism?” by Robert Kuttner. Here’s a bit of the article, which is worth reading all the way through:

For enthusiasts of capitalism, democracy and the market are said to be handmaidens. Both depend on the rule of law. Both express aspects of liberty, prizing opportunity and mobility. During the era of classical liberalism, which began in the late eighteenth century, free commerce and political freedom advanced in tandem. Monarchies gave way to republican rule; open markets replaced royal monopolies and inherited privileges. For about a century the franchise gradually expanded, and markets became the primary mode of commerce. The brand of democratic capitalism that emerged in the West after World War II included not just those earlier hallmarks but such liberal values as tolerance, compromise, and enlarged civic participation, as well as regulatory and social welfare policies to buffer the less savory tendencies of markets. Modern capitalism reflected a grand social bargain.

When communism collapsed in 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall was heralded as ushering in a golden age in which liberal capitalism would be triumphant. Needless to say, things haven’t worked out quite as expected. The social compromises of the postwar welfare state have given way to more primitive forms of capitalism that in turn invite angry reactions by the citizenry. Demagogues have channeled this anger. Today, some form of capitalism is ascendant nearly everywhere. But liberal democracy is in big trouble.

Instead of creating a new golden age, corrupted capitalism has produced alliances between autocrats and oligarchs, epitomized by the regimes of Putin and Txxxx, who both reinforce societies that were already becoming less liberal and more unequal. This is the pattern not just in countries with weak or nonexistent democratic traditions, notably Russia and China, but in the very heartland of liberal democracy, the United States of America. Contrary to standard assumptions about liberalism, autocratic capitalism also coexists and interacts with enlarged global trade, making it harder to defend living standards in democratic nations that once protected their workers and citizens by regulating markets.

In a cycle of reactivity, ordinary people turn not to social democracy—now at its weakest point since World War II—but to the vicarious and counterfeit satisfactions of extreme nationalism. That in turn permits autocrats to pose as populist champions of a mystical People, diverting attention from the economy’s concentrated wealth and rigged rules. This unexpected twist in the fraught relationship between democracy and capitalism is the signal event in the political economy of our age.

In Capitalism, Alone, the economist Branko Milanovic tries to make sense of what has occurred and what the future holds. . . . Milanovic chronicles the rise of authoritarian capitalism, both in nations that once epitomized liberal capitalism such as the US and in countries like China, which are partly capitalist but show no signs of turning liberal. Until recently, as the China scholar James Mann has observed, the widespread hope was that as China’s economy became more capitalistic, the country would become “more like us.” The reality is that we are becoming more like China. . . . 

Milanovic’s first section, on liberal capitalism, offers a smart assessment of how it once worked and why it is now under siege. In the heyday of managed, meritocratic capitalism, societies relied on several mechanisms to equalize income and opportunity. For Milanovic, “strong trade unions, mass education, high taxes, and large government transfers” were essential components. All of these have lost traction as capital has gained more power relative to labor, and globalization has spawned competition to cut taxes, slash wages, and reduce regulation. . . . 

Liberal capitalism, Milanovic concludes, is “reneging on some crucial aspects of [its] implicit value system” via “the creation of a self-perpetuating upper class.” That trend in turn threatens liberal capitalism’s own survival, and makes it less appealing as a model for the rest of the world. . . . 

While Chinese political capitalism is an economic triumph, Russia’s is not. Post-Soviet Russia is basically a petro-state. Its economy has largely failed to generate consumer export industries, the mainstay of China’s success. Vladimir Putin has an understanding with the oligarchs; they can pursue corrupt enterprises as long as they throw some graft his way and don’t make trouble for the regime. His net worth is said to be around $200 billion. In a taxonomy of capitalisms, it would have been interesting to have Milanovic’s insights on why the Russian brand of autocratic capitalism fails while China’s succeeds. . . . 

The most provocative part of the book is the section in which Milanovic addresses a dilemma with no intuitively correct answer: Should we look at the issue of economic inequality as a national or a global question? Most economists and concerned citizens assess it nationally. As Americans, we are troubled that our country has become one of economic extremes. Milanovic insists that the proper lens is global. Income inequality has increased within nearly every nation for the past three decades, substantially driven by globalization. Yet the rise of China, which lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, has rendered the world as a whole more equal.

This cheerful formulation, however, sidesteps the issue of how globalization promotes inequality within nations and thus undermines national democracy. The increased entry of low-wage goods renders high-wage manufacturing labor in wealthy countries uncompetitive. Meanwhile, the greater license for capital in a globalized world promotes deregulation, corruption, the hiding of assets, and exorbitant income for capitalists. The result: greater disparities of income and wealth at both the top and the bottom, and unequal power to make the rules—producing yet more inequality. The consequences for political democracy are grave. As Louis Brandeis was said to have remarked, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Milanovic tends to dismiss the effect of globalization on wealth concentration and democracy within countries in favor of celebrating the rise of China as a gain for global equality. China’s rising GDP, as he points out, has been responsible for about 95 percent of the global reduction in extreme poverty as defined by the World Bank. Milanovic quotes the egalitarian philosopher John Rawls, who argues that if we didn’t know in advance where we would stand in the income hierarchy, we’d favor an income distribution far more equal than the one we have. Why, Milanovic demands, should that principle be applied nationally and not globally? As Rawlsians, don’t we care about the world’s poor and not just the poor in our own land? It’s a good question.

One persuasive rejoinder has been offered by the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik. Nations, he points out, are where policies are made. If we are going to have a socially tolerable income distribution within the polity, that project must be pursued nationally, since there is no global government and no global citizenship. There is an inevitable tension, Rodrik writes, between the policy sovereignty of democratic nations and the logic of globalization. He is emphatic on what should take priority: “Democracies have the right to protect their social arrangements, and when this right clashes with the requirements of the global economy, it is the latter that should give way.”

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The Latest in the Post Office Scandal

We’re in the middle of a pandemic that the president has made incredibly worse. That means unprecedented numbers of voters will mail their ballots this year. Yet the president opposes giving the Postal Service the money it needs, even though he admits that a lack of funds will interfere with ballots being properly delivered.

CNN reports:

The internal watchdog at the United States Postal Service is reviewing controversial policy changes recently imposed under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, and is also examining DeJoy’s compliance with federal ethics rules, according to a spokeswoman for the USPS inspector general and an aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who requested the review.

Lawmakers from both parties and postal union leaders have sounded alarms over disruptive changes instituted by DeJoy this summer, including eliminating overtime and slowing some mail delivery. Democrats claim he is intentionally undermining postal service operations to sabotage mail-in voting in the November election — a charge he denies.

Agapi Doulaveris, a spokeswoman for the USPS watchdog, told CNN in an email, “We have initiated a body of work to address the concerns raised, but cannot comment on the details.”

Last week, Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, and eight other Democratic lawmakers asked the inspector general to launch an inquiry into DeJoy on a number of fronts, including the nationwide policy changes he’s made since taking over in June, as well as whether DeJoy has “met all ethics requirements”. . . .

It’s unclear if the inspector general has launched a full-scale investigation into possible politicization at USPS by DeJoy, a Txxxx ally and Republican donor, or if it’s just reviewing the matter for Congress.

CNN first reported earlier this week that DeJoy still owns at least a $30 million equity stake in his former company — a USPS contractor — and that he recently bought stock options for Amazon, a USPS competitor [and customer]. These holdings likely create a major conflict of interest, ethics experts told CNN, though DeJoy and USPS maintain that he has complied with all federal requirements. . . .

On Thursday, Warren said on Twitter that DeJoy’s “inexcusable” stock options in Amazon should be investigated by the watchdog after CNN published its report detailing the trades included in DeJoy’s financial disclosures.

The relationship between DeJoy and President Dxxxx Txxxx has come under intense scrutiny, given Txxxx’s repeated attacks against mail-in voting and USPS’ key role in delivering ballots.

News of the watchdog review comes one day after Txxxx brazenly admitted that he opposes much-needed USPS funding because he doesn’t want to see it used for mail-in voting this November. The pandemic has led to record-breaking levels of voting-by-mail, but Txxxx has tried to restrict the method because he claims it is rife with fraud and abuse, claims that CNN has fact-checked multiple times and are largely without merit.

Democrats pounced on Txxxx’s comments. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats were pushing to include $25 billion for USPS in the next stimulus bill because that was what was requested by the bipartisan board of governors who run USPS and were appointed by Txxxx.

Further raising questions about the USPS showdown, the White House said Friday that Txxxx and DeJoy met at the White House last week, even though Txxxx said he “didn’t speak to the postmaster general” . . . a few days after their meeting.

A White House spokesman told CNN that their meeting on August 3 was “congratulatory” to celebrate DeJoy’s confirmation by the USPS board of governors, which occurred in early May. . . .

This week, DeJoy acknowledged to USPS employees that recent procedural changes have had “unintended consequences,” but described them as necessary.

“Unfortunately, this transformative initiative has had unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels,” DeJoy wrote in a memo sent this week and obtained by CNN. . . .

Earlier this week, CNN reported on newly obtained financial documents showing that DeJoy holds a large equity stake in his former company, XPO Logistics, totaling between $30 million and $75 million. XPO is a contractor for USPS and other US government agencies.

USPS officials signed off on DeJoy’s financial filings and told CNN that he is in compliance with federal ethics rules. But several outside experts who spoke to CNN said they were shocked that ethics officials approved this arrangement, which apparently allows DeJoy to keep his XPO holdings. One expert even said, “this is a classic case for investigation by an inspector general” . . .

Raising further alarms, on the same day in June that DeJoy divested large amounts of Amazon shares, he purchased stock options giving him the right to buy new shares of Amazon at a price much lower than their current market price, according to the financial disclosures. . . .

In a tweet on Thursday, Warren blasted DeJoy, saying his decision to buy Amazon stock options was “inexcusable.” She also said the USPS inspector general “must investigate this corruption.”

Unquote.

Let’s see how long it takes for the president to fire the Postal Service’s inspector general.

In other news, the Postal Service sent a letter to 46 states saying “voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots” and is simultaneously “removing mail sorting machines from facilities around the country without any official explanation or reason given”. 

Txxxx’s Success Makes Perfect Sense, Part 2 (the Mob Perspective)

From the foreword to Disloyal, the new book by Txxxx’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen:

. . . Let me say it the way Dxxxx Txxxx would: He wouldn’t mind if I was dead. That was how Txxxx talked. Like a mob boss, using language carefully calibrated to convey his desires and demands, while at the same time employing deliberate indirection to insulate himself and avoid actually ordering a hit on his former personal attorney, confidant, consigliere, and, at least in my heart, adopted son.

Driving south from New York City to Washington, DC on I-95 on the cold, gray winter morning of February 24th, 2019, en route to testify against President Txxxx before both Houses of Congress, I knew he wanted me gone before I could tell the nation what I know about him. . . .

Heading south, I wondered if my prospects for survival were also going in that direction. I was acutely aware of the magnitude of Txxxx’s fury aimed directly at my alleged betrayal. . . . Txxxx’s theory of life, business and politics revolved around threats and the prospect of destruction—financial, electoral, personal, physical—as a weapon. I knew how he worked because I had frequently been the one screaming threats on his behalf as Txxxx’s fixer and designated thug. . . .

For more than a decade, I was Txxxx’s first call every morning and his last call every night. I was in and out of Txxxx’s office on the 26th floor of the Txxxx Tower as many as fifty times a day, tending to his every demand. Our cell phones had the same address books, our contacts so entwined, overlapping and intimate that part of my job was to deal with the endless queries and requests, however large or small, from Txxxx’s countless rich and famous acquaintances. I called any and all of the people he spoke to, most often on his behalf as his attorney and emissary, and everyone knew that when I spoke to them, it was as good as if they were talking directly to Txxxx.

Apart from his wife and children, I knew Txxxx better than anyone else did. In some ways, I knew him better than even his family did because I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.

There are reasons why there has never been an intimate portrait of Dxxxx Txxxx, the man. In part, it’s because he has a million acquaintances, pals and hangers on, but no real friends. He has no one he trusts to keep his secrets. For ten years, he certainly had me, and I was always there for him, and look what happened to me. I urge you to really consider that fact: Txxxx has no true friends. He has lived his entire life avoiding and evading taking responsibility for his actions. He crushed or cheated all who stood in his way, but I know where the skeletons are buried because I was the one who buried them. . . .

As you read my story, you will no doubt ask yourself if you like me, or if you would act as I did, and the answer will frequently be no to both of those questions. But permit me to make a point: If you only read stories written by people you like, you will never be able to understand Dxxxx Txxxx or the current state of the American soul. More than that, it’s only by actually understanding my decisions and actions that you can get inside Txxxx’s mind and understand his worldview. As anyone in law enforcement will tell you, it’s only gangsters who can reveal the secrets of organized crime. If you want to know how the mob really works, you’ve got to talk to the bad guys. I was one of Txxxx’s bad guys. In his world, I was one hundred percent a made man. . . .

In the pitiful sight of Republicans throwing aside their dignity and duty in an effort to grovel at Txxxx’s feet, I saw myself and understood their motives. My insatiable desire to please Txxxx to gain power for myself, the fatal flaw that led to my ruination, was a Faustian bargain: I would do anything to accumulate, wield, maintain, exert, exploit power. In this way, Dxxxx Txxxx and I were the most alike; in this naked lust for power, the President and I were soul mates. I was so vulnerable to his magnetic force because he offered an intoxicating cocktail of power, strength, celebrity, and a complete disregard for the rules and realities that govern our lives. To Txxxx, life was a game and all that mattered was winning. In these dangerous days, I see the Republican Party and Txxxx’s followers threatening the constitution—which is in far greater peril than is commonly understood—and following one of the worst impulses of humankind: the desire for power at all costs. . . .

Now, sitting alone in an upstate New York prison, wearing my green government-issued uniform, I’ve begun writing this story longhand on a yellow legal pad. I often wrote before dawn so not to be disturbed in my thoughts when my fellow inmates awoke. I had to report to the sewage treatment plant where some of us worked for a wage of $8 a month. As the months passed by and I thought about the man I knew so well, I became even more convinced that Txxxx will never leave office peacefully. The types of scandals that have surfaced in recent months will only continue to emerge with greater and greater levels of treachery and deceit. If Txxxx wins another four years, these scandals will prove to only be the tip of the iceberg. I’m certain that Txxxx knows he will face prison time if he leaves office, the inevitable cold Karma to the notorious chants of “Lock Her Up!” But that is the Txxxx I know in a nutshell. He projects his own sins and crimes onto others, partly to distract and confuse but mostly because he thinks everyone is as corrupt and shameless and ruthless as he is; a poisonous mindset I know all too well. . . .

Watching Txxxx on the evening news in the prison rec room, I almost feel sorry for him. I know him so well and I know his facial tics and tells; I see the cornered look in his eyes as he flails and rants and raves, searching for a protector and advocate, someone willing to fight dirty and destroy his enemies. I see the men who have replaced me and continue to forfeit their reputations by doing the President’s bidding, no matter how dishonest or sleazy or unlawful. Rudy Guiliani, William Barr, Jared Kushner and Mike Pompeo are Txxxx’s new wannabe fixers, sycophants willing to distort the truth and break the law in the service of the Boss. All this will be to no avail. Txxxx doesn’t want to hear this, and he will certainly deny it, but he’s lost without his original bulldog lawyer Roy Cohn, or his other former pitbull and personal attorney, Michael Cohen . . .

Otisville Federal Prison, Otisville, New York, March 11, 2020

Unquote.

Like I said recently in a post about Casino, the true crime book about Las Vegas, mobsters are used to lying and exaggeration. But I think Cohen is telling the truth about the mob boss millions of Americans (and an antiquated election process) put in the White House.

Txxxx’s Success Makes Perfect Sense

From Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history and Italian studies, for The New York Review of Books:

“As time went on, it became clear that the sickness was a feature, that anyone who entered the building became a little sick themselves,” wrote the journalist Olivia Nuzzi in March 2018 of the Dxxxx Txxxx White House and those who serve it. For a century, those who have worked closely with authoritarian rulers have shown the symptoms of this malady: a compulsion to praise the head of state and a willingness to sacrifice one’s own ideals, principles, and dignity to remain in his good graces, at the center of power.

In his relationship with Republican political elites, as in other areas of endeavor, President Txxxx has followed the model of “personalist rule” used by leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Some of these rulers destroy democracy, and others, like the Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi, govern nominally open societies in undemocratic ways. Yet personalist rule always concentrates power in one individual whose own political and financial interests and private relationships with other despots often prevail over national interests in shaping domestic and foreign policy. Loyalty to this head of state and his allies, rather than expertise, is a primary qualification for serving him, whether as ministers or bureaucrats, as is participation in his corruption schemes.

While some authoritarians have political parties of their own creation at their disposal, Txxxx had no ready-made vehicle for his political ambitions before 2016. He had to win over the Grand Old Party to gain credibility and access to its machine and gain the collaboration of its elites. “Co-optation” is the term political scientists use for the way authoritarians bind individuals and groups to them through buy-offs or intimidation. It can also be considered a form of corruption, given the ethical compromises and changes in personal and professional practices that cooperating with amoral individuals entails.

The journeys that high-level enablers like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Senator Lindsey Graham have taken at Txxxx’s side since 2016 have different motivations. Some saw Txxxx as a means to accomplish their own goals . . . . But collectively, they have contributed to the consolidation of an authoritarian political climate in today’s America, marked by fealty to a personalist ruler who holds his senior associates in thrall through complicity and intimidation.

The Republican Party, and the robust media universe that supports it, had been ready for a far-right, rule-breaking, and polarizing personality like Txxxx. A 2012 assessment by the political scientists Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann captures the crucial elements of an illiberal move that had, by 2016, primed Republicans to accept Txxxx’s candidacy: 

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

This retreat from bipartisan governance is why Txxxx’s open intention to be president of only some Americans . . . was not a deal-breaker for the GOP during the campaign . . . Nor were Txxxx’s many actions that promised a decidedly anti-democratic future for America . . .

Still, the aspiring president needed access and credibility from establishment figures like former Senator Jeff Sessions, who joined the ranks of history’s first-hour enablers—along with Priebus, Txxxx’s first White House chief of staff. These individuals back the extremist when he most needs it—and are often later discarded. Sessions, in particular, is the perfect case history of this phenomenon.

“I have a man who is respected by everybody here… I’m becoming mainstream,” crowed Txxxx, as he introduced Sessions as a surprise guest at a February 2016 event. . . . Sessions beamed and dutifully donned the red MAGA hat handed to him as he left the stage. A year later, he resigned from the Senate position he’d held for twenty years to take up the position of attorney general in Txxxx’s administration that was the reward for his loyalty.

Txxxx also needed people who would lie for him and keep his secrets. Corruption is a process, as well as a set of practices. It involves gradual changes in ethical and behavioral norms that make actions that were once considered illegal or immoral seem acceptable—whether election fraud, lying to the public, treasonous conduct, or sexual assault. The discarding of accountability as an ideal of governance makes keeping the fundamental pact of personalist rule—staying silent about the leader’s incompetence and illegal actions—a lot easier. . . .

The successive purges—FBI director James Comey, US attorneys, government scientists, senior diplomats, inspectors general—the targeting of American intelligence and the press, the attempt to manipulate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which led to Txxxx’s impeachment in 2019… all of it was made possible by the careful enforcement of a covenant of loyalty and silence taken by the GOP leadership. . . .

Txxxx’s acquittal on impeachment charges by the Senate in February 2020, following a trial in which no witnesses were heard who might give damaging evidence, was another stark example of the GOP’s complete subordination to the needs of a personalist ruler. . . . Senator McConnell, a man with “no ideology except his own political power,” as his biographer . . . puts it, stage-managed the non-trial to safeguard Txxxx’s presidency, a cause he has made his own from the beginning.

From the era of interwar fascism onward, one principle of authoritarian–­elite collaborations holds true: once those close to power sign on to protect the leader, they tend to stick with him until the bitter end. Even the June 2020 revelation that Txxxx knew Putin had been putting a bounty on American soldiers in Afghanistan and said nothing—the ultimate betrayal by a commander in chief, and a treason unthinkable under any prior Republican (or Democratic) administration—did not move the dial, even with Senator Graham, whose political brand was once a hard-core patriotism and hawkishness toward Russia.

Graham’s conversion from fervent Txxxx critic to fanatical Txxxx defender has puzzled many. Seen from the perspective of authoritarian history, though, Graham is no anomaly. He fits the profile of the individual who has led a life of seeming rectitude and now experiences the thrill of partnering with an amoral individual. “Is there no bottom?” legions complain on Twitter . . . It is precisely this absence of a bottom that draws many to leaders, like Txxxx, who think big, make the unthinkable possible, and are open about their desire to exercise power without limits or restraints. Breaking the rules, and getting away with it, is at the center of the ethos of macho lawlessness that underpins strongman rule.

Politicians like Graham need only contemplate the fate of their former peer, Jeff Sessions, to know what happens if they break ranks. During his confirmation hearings for attorney general, Sessions behaved in conformity with the omertà around Txxxx’s illegal actions, swearing under oath that he had had no contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. After the news subsequently broke that he had, in fact, met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, contradicting his congressional testimony, Sessions recused himself from the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian interference with the election.

Sessions continued in office but had to endure months of Txxxx’s repeated ridiculing of him, including calling him a “dumb Southerner.” By the time Sessions handed in his resignation, in late 2018, Txxxx had already scouted out a more suitable co-conspirator. He found one in William Barr, a man whom Txxxx pointedly calls “my attorney general.”

Then forced to run for the Senate seat he’d held for so many years, Sessions entered the most delicate phase of the authoritarian leader–follower drama: the quest for forgiveness and a return to grace. “Out of the 100 United States Senators I was the very first one to stand with @realDxxxxTxxxx and I will keep fighting for him and his agenda,” Sessions tweeted in November 2019. To a strongman, though, such a display of weakness only warranted further humiliation. Txxxx loudly endorsed Sessions’ opponent . . . Txxxx dealt Sessions a death blow by tweet: “Alabama, do not trust Jeff Sessions. He let our Country down.” Sessions responded sourly,“Perhaps you’ve forgotten… I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did. It protected the rule of law & resulted in your exoneration,” forgetting that feeling grateful to others is alien to leaders like Txxxx. . . .

“Congress no longer operates as an independent branch of government, but as an appendage of the executive branch,” former House [Republican] Tom Davis told The New York Times in January 2020. Four years after Txxxx won the Republican nomination, the GOP has become a personalist ruler’s dream: a party solely dedicated to defending and promoting the leader, no matter what he says and does. No price, even the mass death of Americans from the president’s willful mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, seems too high to pay to keep the pact of silence about the leader’s criminality and unfitness for office that maintains him in power.

With the authoritarian’s personal needs and desires setting the tone for political life, it is all too tempting to focus all blame on him. And that is routinely what happens when such rulers inevitably exit office. Yet, as the former Republican strategist Stuart Stevens asserts in his new book, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Dxxxx Txxxx, it would be a mistake to conclude that Txxxx had somehow simply hijacked the GOP. The Republican Party had already become a laboratory for American autocracy, a vehicle for power combining a base of white supremacists and gun-rights extremists with leaders like McConnell who had long approved of subverting voting rights and other democratic procedures to maintain their privileges and authority.

The GOP was already becoming “Txxxxian” even before Txxxx himself appeared to complete its self-destruction as a democratic party. Enticing and intimidating individuals into becoming their worst selves as willing collaborators is what authoritarians do best. On this count, Txxxx has succeeded magnificently.

Homeland Insecurity

From Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Even in the hazy, flag-waving days surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack on the United States [Note: when America had a nervous breakdown], there was something about [our] rush to create a massive state apparatus called the Department of Homeland Security that made some people’s skin crawl — and not just the usual patchouli-scented, granola-sated, leftist suspects.

“The word ‘homeland’ is a strange word,” George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told staffers in a memo after some floated the idea of combining federal functions around immigration, customs, domestic intelligence, and law enforcement into one vast department even before 9/11. “‘Homeland’ Defense sounds more German than American.”

The USA had functioned just fine for 226 years without a Department of Homeland Security, and the decision to create DHS was never cast in stone. Even the hawkish Bush administration wasn’t sure it was needed — politically, the pressure came from centrist Democrats . . . eager to show their post-9/11 cojones. Yet once planted in the ground, DHS has grown wildly like choking, invasive kudzu, causing even the libertarian, Koch-Brothers-funded Cato Institute to call it wasteful and declare “Americans are not safer.”

Donald Rumsfeld was very wrong about many, many things . . . but his qualms about a homeland-security state on U.S. soil were right on the money. The bureaucratic waste and the nation’s failure to confront its real threats from stronger hurricanes to a global pandemic have been bad enough. But the real risk of creating a state-security force was that it would follow the beaten-down, jackbooted pathway of every state security force before it and get turned against the American people.

It would be trite and arguably wrong to label as “unthinkable” the scenes out of Portland, Ore., over the last several weeks involving unbadged and anonymous federal agents hiding behind their dark visors and layers of camouflage. They fire choking tear gas at protesters demanding racial justice, or just-barely-less-than-lethal rubber bullets that can fracture skulls. Meanwhile their comrades take activists off the streets in unmarked vans, or arrest them so a judge can order them to avoid protests . . .

These DHS agents from militarized units within Customs and Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have become a kind of secret police accountable only to [the president], some 3,000 miles away, and his appointed lackey now running DHS — even as public officials in Oregon . . . begged them to leave.

. . .  The first wave of serious-but-threat-obsessed Republicans who initially ran Homeland Security for Bush 43 [claimed] to be shocked by the nightly footage out of Portland. “It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities,” Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor who was Bush’s initial DHS Secretary, told a radio interviewer. . . . A U.S. government agency waging war on American people was never the idea!

It never is … at first.

“This is an experiment that has failed and needs to be radically rethought,” Elizabeth Goitein told me. She is co-director of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice . . . [She urges Congress] . . . to insist on major reforms, as well as the naming of a permanent secretary after acting chiefs for the last 15 months.

Those of us who warned about a Portland-style scenario in . . . the early 2000s were called alarmists, cranks, dirty [bleeping] hippies and much worse. The November 2002 vote to consolidate 22 federal agencies into the massive, now-240,000-employee DHS passed the Senate 90-9, as few listened to then-Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold . . . warn we were “weakening protections against unwarranted government intrusion into the lives of ordinary Americans.”

To be sure, the 3,000 deaths on 9/11 exposed flaws that required a major tune-up. The CIA and the FBI didn’t talk to each other, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) was caught flat-footed, and airport security — then close to nonexistent — needed the overhaul that’s been a bumpy success in the 19 years since. But the massive changes wrought by DHS — largely in response to an international terrorism threat that now seems greatly diminished — were just part of a broader “homeland security” mind-set. It saw every problem in America, from desperate refugees on the border to marginalized people demanding jobs and justice, as a nail to be jackhammered by a harsh, militaristic response, powered by armored personnel carriers (APCs) and private prison cells.

Just as Feingold tried to warn us, the homeland-security state began spying on everyday Americans from Day One, first demanding to see your library card and moving up to bulk collection of your emails, enabled by fear-inspired bills like the Patriot Act that seem impossible to get rid of once they’re on the books.

The panic-stricken notion that al-Qaeda would throw America a curveball by attacking some remote town in Idaho or the Pumpkin Festival in Keene, N.H., which obtained one of the Pentagon’s surplus APCs, was the spark that led to the rise of the militarized warrior cop wielding those spare weapons of war. I’m pretty sure it was Chekhov who advised writers never to introduce body armor or rubber bullets in Act One unless someone’s going to use them in Act Three — even if Act Three is Americans marching against systemic racism.

The surge of new, young recruits who signed up to become Border Patrol or ICE agents in post-9/11 America found there weren’t that many al-Qaeda terror plots to thwart — but they fostered an authoritarian culture that found other outlets (no group more enthusiastically backed [the president’s] 2016 election than the union representing Border Patrol agents) and shared a distrust of immigrants, liberals, and dissent.

They’ve been saying this quiet part out loud for years, and it’s getting louder in the George Floyd era. Txxxx’s Pentagon is now training soldiers to see protesters and journalists as “adversaries.” At DHS, it was inevitable that 77 local “fusion centers” that were supposed to help federal, state and local officials cooperate on terrorism would increasingly monitor legitimate dissent like antiwar activists, Occupy Wall Street, or Black Lives Matter. Or that 15 cities, including Philadelphia, would ask the feds for help spying on protests with its high-powered drones.

For everyday Americans who weren’t paying attention as the frog of free speech sat in this pot of boiling water, Txxxx’s immigration crackdown at the southern border should have been the alarm whistle. Again, there were voices back in 2002 that tried to warn us about the militarized, punitive regime that would be created with the formation of ICE, and with viewing immigration not as a social issue but a national security threat.

Goitein told me that some “mission creep” seemed inevitable with DHS, but the arrival of a president without respect for the rule of law has taken things to today’s current dark place. “Customs and Border Patrol — he has let them off the leash, although there’s a culture there that’s predisposed to [his]“strongman” approach.

Bill Ong Hing, now a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, testified back in 2002 against putting ICE under DHS and says today that “Congress created a monster” that conflates immigration and terrorism. Now that monster is putting peaceful protest and legitimate dissent under that same umbrella — and this approach is bleeding down to the local cop on the beat. . . .

Enough already! America had muddled through much of its glorious history without tear gas,or camouflaged robocops — or a massive, now out-of-control Department of Homeland Security . . . one of America’s first great mistakes of the 21st Century.

DHS should be abolished — its component parts rethought, then rebuilt from scratch — not only because the department is wasteful, inefficient, and ineffective against actual threats, but because we’ll be tearing down a neo-fascist mind-set that slowly corrupted America society until it crawled fully formed from the sewers near a Portland courthouse.

It would help in that mission if our policy leaders began to think deeper and realize that DHS wasn’t only one spectacularly bad idea, but symbolic of a militaristic society that can find the directions to send armed forces to Iraq and then to El Paso and finally Portland — yet utterly lacks a moral compass. Yes, even deluded Donald Rumsfeld got one thing right: “Homeland Security” was a dumb concept that sounded worse in the original German.

Question [from a reader]: How can [the president] send troops to Portland without the consent of the governor and mayor?

Answer: Well, that’s the thing. As many of you know, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 aims to bar the government from deploying soldiers on U.S. soil in many (but not all) scenarios — but those green men with the heavy weaponry in Oregon’s largest city [weren’t] “troops,” not technically. There’s no ban on creating these paramilitary outfits in the Department of Homeland Security.

Unquote.

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