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The Slow Bipartisan Slide to Authoritarianism

2018 January 17
by Ian Welsh

The funniest thing about Trump are those who feel he is of a piece, separate from US history and somehow a break from it. That this government is significantly, qualitatively worse than those that came before, rather than an extension of it. (A good example is immigration policy, about which Trump is somewhat worse than Obama, but only somewhat, and where Obama had a chance to end Bush’s policies, he embraced them, instead.)

We now have the spectacle of the success of the cloture vote for re-authorization of section 702 of FISA, which allows warrantless spying on Americans who have contact with foreigners, and which has been changed to allow the database of all such conversations to be searched, trolling for crimes.

These seems like a fairly clear violation of the Bill of Rights prohibition on, well, warrantless searches, but there you go.

Eighteen Senate Democrats crossed the line to make this possible and so did 65 House Democrats. Obama, of course, supported the FISA bill (which was bad even without this newest addition).

Indeed, going back to 2001, the Patriot Act, the 21st century “daddy” of authoritarian overreach was opposed by only one Senator out of 100 (and he’s no longer in the Senate).

One can cavil that at least less Democrats voted for this, but somehow “enough” always do, and those who know how legislatures work will suspect that those who didn’t were given “walks” so they can say they voted against.

There are three likely possible outcomes of our ongoing realignment period. One is left-wing populism. The second is right-wing populism (a very different thing, and not what Trump is actually doing. Its policies are what Bannon prefers.)

The third is an authoritarian surveillance state which attempts to freeze current power relationships for as long as possible.

And that’s what too many Democrats and Republicans are more than okay with; that’s what they want.

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124 Responses
  1. Tom W Harris permalink
    January 21, 2018

    Ahhh, the good ol’ days…when some of us thought the blue team maybe could be might be worth a goddamn. Clinton raised severe doubts about that, and Odollar made it clear they were just another red team.

    Clinton just wanted to be liked and make a ton of post-presidential money. As the ultimate Manchurian candidate, Obama was more ambitious. How he got even one fucking vote outside the black community still floors me. A candidate who openly laughs at his base and breaks his campaign promises during the election is only there to demoralize and destroy the party. He’s now being well paid for his efforts.

  2. Willy permalink
    January 22, 2018

    The irony and beatings shall continue until morale improves.

  3. Tom Robinson permalink
    January 22, 2018

    Consumer protection budget to zero, diplomacy staff cut in half, environmental protection abandoned, arch-conservative justices appointed all over. Just the same as the Dems would do? Uh, no. Not at all.

  4. different clue permalink
    January 22, 2018

    @Tom W Harris,

    In election 2008, Obama got a lot of votes from people wanting to prevent 4 or 8 years of a President McCain, and then 8 years of President Palin after that. Think about that. McCain and Palin got me to vote for Obama. It should not be a mystery.

  5. Tom W Harris permalink
    January 22, 2018

    @Tom Robinson,

    Not “just the same,” but “working in tandem.” When Obama took office, people wanted the Old Deal back. They got foreclosure, and the banks got our tax money – under threat of martial law.

    Come on everybody, do The Social Issue Shuffle.

  6. Tom W Harris permalink
    January 22, 2018

    @different clue,

    I had the opposite reaction – I voted McCain because I thought Obama was so much worse. I still think so.

  7. realitychecker permalink
    January 22, 2018

    @ TWH

    If that is true, then I wish you would contribute more here, because you know how to think outside the way-too-limited conventional box. A rare and precious thing in theses times, and even in this place. 🙂

  8. Tom W Harris permalink
    January 22, 2018

    It’s a perk of getting old – when you’ve seen it all before, several times, tou eventually get the point.

  9. realitychecker permalink
    January 22, 2018

    Some of it is age and experience, and some is just willingness to think.

    Just keep it up please. Even if it looks increasingly hopeless.

  10. MojaveWolf permalink
    January 23, 2018

    @RC, TWH & DC — I hear you all. I bailed on the Dems presidential choice from 2008 onward, pretty much what Tom W & RC both said. (I believe DC did in 2016 as well, if I recall his statements correctly?)

    As much as I agreed w/Tom W’s logic in 2008, I could not bring myself to vote for McCain given the general awfulness of his campaign, and the whole “Drill Baby Drill” crap. To the Greens my protest vote went.

    In 2016, my thoughts were best summed up by one of the posters in the election night open thread on Naked Capitalism, (I think it was a Julia? or maybe a Chi-something?) who said “My greatest fear is that one of them will win.”

    I was going to vote Green again until Bernie/Tulsi became an official write-in in Cali, and … honestly, that was more than a protest vote. With no hope whatsoever, I was genuinely praying for some sort of miracle vote-wave to keep either of the main party candidates out. (I actually can make a better case in my own head for voting Trump than HRC, even in retrospect w/him being at or beyond my worst-case scenario in a variety of respects, and that is even tho I think Hillary is probably a well-meaning person and Trump is . . . not . . . but I got no quarrel w/who anyone voted for because the two main choices were so awful; it was liking asking Oberyn of Dorne to choose between Tywin and Cersei Lannister)

    This is why I can’t join or support “the resistance”–they seem to think bringing back the same people who got us Trump in the first place is effective “resistance.” NO. I want my resistance to be real, and worthwhile.

  11. Willy permalink
    January 23, 2018

    About the only thing most everyday people have in common these days is a growing feeling of powerlessness, and an increasing need to take it out on some other entity or team. Not enough of them know where that feeling is coming from – that they have no power because the republic is broken and then the entire culture as well.

    Is it being suggested here that they need to discover first, that the other “entity or team” which they’ve chosen as The Enemy, is actually filled with other “growing feeling of powerlessness” people just like themselves, and that the true enemy actually lies elsewhere?

    Hugh may be right. Instead of repeating the same things over and over again a better idea might be to form a focused and credible vision of where most people would want to go.

  12. different clue permalink
    January 24, 2018

    @Tom W Harris,

    Here is what I expected from a President McCain. A near-immediate war with Iran, which he had been calling for for years. He has been seething with unrequited hate and rage ever since Vietnam, mainly against the protesters and the peace movement. He would have launched a war against Iran to show how we could have won the war against Vietnam, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. So that’s what I voted against more than anything else.

    And of course we are getting the deregulationary approach under Trump that we would have gotten under Palin, so that part of it is meaningless anyway. But still, war with Iran was delayed and perhaps prevented if Mattis , McMasters, McCain and etc. can be prevented from getting their desired war even still, even after all this time.

    So I don’t regret my vote-for-Obama the first time. The second time I voted for Anderson ( the “other” white mormon).

  13. different clue permalink
    January 24, 2018

    @Mojave Wolf,

    In 2016, I voted for Trump. I voted FOR Trump. I want to make that very clear to every piece of Clintonite filth and Obamazoid garbage who might be reading this site. Because of sewage like YOU! I voted FOR Trump.

    I read the sewage which all those fecal clintonites wrote about Sanders over at The Confluence. I will not forget, and I will not forgive you scum. Ever. EVER.

    That was not the only reason, of course. I voted aGAINST Hillary’s desire to topple Assad in order to install her beloved Cannibal Liver Eating Jihadis in power in Syria. I voted aGAINST Hillary’s desire to entrench the NaziNazi Banderazi coup regime in Ukraine and her desire to start a nuclear war against Russia. Things which all the Pink Pussie Hat garbages all supported and voted for.

    So yes. I voted FOR Trump. For TRUMP.


  14. realitychecker permalink
    January 25, 2018

    @ dc

    Keep that fire burning, brother. ((dc))

  15. hvd permalink
    January 25, 2018

    I agree with DC but also agree with MW. As much as I defend Trump against the trumped up Russophobic charges against him as well as some of the other nonsense spewed against his “style” and the “style” of his followers there is just no way that I can defend his governance. Court appointees are abominable (yes I can’t defend recent Dem appointees but Trump’s are really really bad). His administrative actions suck (FCC is one example and yes I know it is occasioning some not insignificant blowback that may be for the good), same, including parenthetical, applies to AG’s pot war. Although I think defense of American workers is long past due I think the way DT is going about it, his idea of immigration reform, tariffs on washing machines and solar, etc. are laughably bad. The best that can be said of his foreign policy is its a shambles, a little less bellicose perhaps than the neocons but an incredibly dangerous mass of confusion. All this was as obvious before the election as was Obama’s mendacity before his. As Hugh has constantly reminded us – we are only allowed to choose between shit sandwiches.

    Can’t get on board with those of you who would try to defend the indefensible in Trump, but can hope, all evidence to the contrary, that there will be blowback sufficient to turn the tide.

  16. realitychecker permalink
    January 25, 2018

    The best way to view Trump, IMO, is that he shows the vulnerability of the duopoly, and he simultaneously gets us closer to the point where public anger might reach a critical mass.

    But I also think the pushback on insane political correctness and open immigration lunacy is a good thing, through and through. On trade and foreign policy, he is playing a jiu jitsu game with some intractable problems, I think, and the results will take some time to sort out.

  17. different clue permalink
    January 25, 2018


    Thank you for the kind words. I will now proceed to disappoint you by saying yet again that I am not likely to get violent nor will I do anything outside the strict letter of the law.

    That said, I think people might want to figure out what “violent non-violence” might look like. Violent-in-spirit ends and goals pursued by oh-so-technically non-violent means. Uncivil Obedience. Passive Obstructionism. Things like that.


    I find very little Trumpublican rules or ways or means to be defensible. I didn’t expect that I would. I realized that voting for Trump was voting for years of pain and decay. I felt it had to be done to keep the Evil Clintonites out of the office, and to break the emerging Clinton Dynasty the way Trump appears to have broken or at least frozen the Bush Dynasty.
    We will spend the next four or eight years marching along a Road of Broken Glass. The only thing which will redeem all that pain and misery is the effective extermination of the Clintonite Party and the Obamazoid Party from existence and from off the face of the earth.
    That way a space might be opened up for legitimate left or leftish or liberadical or Newer Deal or other such parties to emerge.

    If we can’t exterminate the Clintonites and the Obamazoids from existence, then all this pain will have been for nothing.

  18. realitychecker permalink
    January 26, 2018

    @ dc

    It does not “disappoint” me that you abjure violence. It should never be considered unless it is forced upon you. Then it becomes irrational to NOT consider it.

    It is a sign of the times that one cannot suggest a conversation that might involve talk about violent resistance without being characterized as urging immediate violent action. We are a binary society now, only absolutes get considered, everything in the middle is considered too complex to deal with. Our brains are being conditioned and shaped to be useless for anything except corporate purposes.

    I would submit that maybe the conversation should start with a consideration of what the very concept of freedom means to us, how much of it we have a right to expect, at what point we are outraged enough to consider physical resistance to its constantly shrinking primacy in our thoughts, etc.

    It’s needs to be a big conversation, but folks are fearful to even start it. That is the best indicator of how much freedom we have already lost.

  19. Willy permalink
    January 28, 2018

    The national trajectory would have probably continued the same with Hillary. Bernie’s people were hoping with him it would have been less so. But with him as president and a republican congress the tribal noise would have been deafening. More of the same but louder – no real change.

    Could you expand on how Trumps presidency with a Republican congress is getting people “closer to the point where public anger might reach a critical mass”?

  20. realitychecker permalink
    January 28, 2018

    Who did your lobotomy?

  21. Willy permalink
    January 28, 2018

    It’s needs to be a big conversation, but folks are fearful to even start it.

    I wonder why.

  22. realitychecker permalink
    January 28, 2018

    Willy, you forfeited your right to interact with me in a serious way a long time ago, and you can’t even be honest about the why of that. But you’ve been relentless.

    Pursue your supposed learning journey with others. I can’t take you seriously, so I won’t waste any more time responding to you.

  23. Tom Robinson permalink
    January 31, 2018

    @Tom W Harris Am I understanding that you think that consumer protection also would have been gutted by Dems, environmental protection would have been wiped out and its destruction planned by a coal company CEO advising the president, net neutrality tossed out, national monuments cut way back? So somehow the lack of penalties for Wall Street, or the disgraceful destruction of Libya, or the continued chickenshit drone wars are so awful that we might as well let Trump do the same AND screw the environment, consumers, net neutrality, and parks? What kind of bleak values are those?

    I’m not arguing for Hillary; she was a terrible candidate. But I am wondering when someone here is going to acknowledge just how awful and antiquated Trump is, especially on climate change, and how he and his party are far more destructive than their opposition on many domestic issues.

  24. Tom W Harris permalink
    January 31, 2018

    @Tom Robinson:

    I don’t disagree with any of that. Trump and the Rs are much worse on domestic issues than the Ds. But on the economic issues (medical care, SS, e.g.) they work as a team.

    And on foreign policy, the Ds are much worse. They are the drivng force behind the anti-Russian crusade which could destroy humanity.

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