Saturday, February 4, 2017

How to tell if Trump is creating an authoritarian tyranny

I believe the Trump administration has the potential to be a real threat to freedom in America.  This is ironic, because Trump has come to power under the banner of conservatives and the Republican Party whose ideology has freedom and independence at its core. As a friend pointed out to me, this is not about the old right vs. left ideological divide, it is about populist based authoritarianism.  This is happening not just in America.  

The problem is the very real potential that Trump is instituting an authoritarian regime.  How can we tell?  It turns out that many people who have suffered under authoritarian rule are trying to tell us what to beware of.  I reproduce some main points here so as to have them as a reference for myself going forward.  

This is a longer than normal post because there is a lot to be aware of.

First up is from Europe, actually from Poland which is dealing with this problem now -  They list strategies of authoritarian rule in Poland. I quote and condense below. Does any of this remind you of Trump and some of his team?

  • ·         They will come to power with a campaign based on fear, scaremongering and distorting the truth
  • ·         They will divide and rule.  They will call their supporters Patriots, the only “true Americans”
  • ·         Through convoluted laws and threats they will try to control mainstream media and limit press freedom. They will ban critical press from their briefings, calling them “liars”, “fake news”. They will brand those media as “unpatriotic”, acting against the People
  • ·         They will create chaos, maintain a constant sense of conflict and danger. It will be their argument to enact new authoritarian laws, each one further limiting your freedoms and civil liberties
  •            They will distort the truth, deny facts and blatantly lie. They will try to make you forget what facts are
  • ·        They will incite and then leak fake, superficial “scandals
  • ·        They will propose shocking laws to provoke your outrage
  • ·        In the meantime they will push through less “flashy” legislation, slowly dismantling democracy
  • ·         When invading your liberal sensibilities they will focus on what hurts the most – women and minorities. They will act as if democracy was majority rule without respect for the minority
  • ·         They will try to take control of the judiciary. They will assault your highest court
  • ·         They will try to limit freedom of assembly, calling it a necessity for your security
  • ·         They will distort the language, coin new terms and labels “thief”, “liar” or “traitor” will automatically mean the opposition, while a “patriot” or a “true American” will mean their followers
  • ·         They will take over your national symbols, associate them with their regime, remake them into attributes of their power
  • ·         They will try to rewrite history to suit their needs and will smear any historical or living figure who wouldn’t approve of their actions, or distort their image to make you think they would
  • ·         They will alienate foreign allies and partners, convincing you don’t need them. They won’t care for the rest of the world, with their focus on “making your country great again”
  • ·         They will eventually manipulate the electoral system. They might say it’s to correct flaws

What to do?  Counter distortions with truth, educate, illuminate the real facts, refuse to be divided from fellow Americans, stay alert, don't get worn out by the relentless propaganda and distortions and give up.

Next up is David Frum of The Atlantic.  It is a long thoughtful article and worth reading and keeping as a reference. His point is that modern authoritarian rule is unlike the 20th century dictators from Hitler and Mussolini to Mao and Castro.  They dominate in different, harder to see ways. Perhaps the biggest tool of the modern authoritarian like Putin is to create a nation of cynics who cannot distinguish fact from fiction. During the campaign there was actual fake news against Hillary - e.g. that Hillary ran a pedophilia ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor in Washington D.C - patently ridiculous but believed by some!  Trump has taken over the fake news label and now applies it to real news that is critical of him.  This is the most dangerous thing he has done so far, and it has terrible consequences.

Here are some key highlights of that article.

"Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out...“The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao. Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.
It is essential to recognize that Trump will use his position not only to enrich himself; he will enrich plenty of other people too, both the powerful and—sometimes, for public consumption—the relatively powerless. Venezuela, a stable democracy from the late 1950s through the 1990s, was corrupted by a politics of personal favoritism, as Hugo Chávez used state resources to bestow gifts on supporters.

Polarization, not persecution, enables the modern illiberal regime.

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it— The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.

“Get used to being stigmatized as ‘opposition,’ ” ... “The basic idea is simple: to delegitimize accountability journalism by framing it as partisan.”

 Mostly, however, modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist. All reporting serves an agenda. There is no truth, only competing attempts to grab power.

By filling the media space with bizarre inventions and brazen denials, purveyors of fake news hope to mobilize potential supporters with righteous wrath—and to demoralize potential opponents by nurturing the idea that everybody lies and nothing matters.
A would-be kleptocrat is actually better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers with false beliefs: Believers can be disillusioned; people who expect to hear only lies can hardly complain when a lie is exposed. The inculcation of cynicism breaks down the distinction between those forms of media that try their imperfect best to report the truth, and those that purvey falsehoods for reasons of profit or ideology. The New York Times becomes the equivalent of Russia’s RT; The Washington Post of Breitbart; NPR of Infowars.
A survey by YouGov found that by December 1, 43 percent of Republicans accepted the claim that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.
I’ve talked with well-funded Trump supporters who speak of recruiting a troll army explicitly modeled on those used by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Putin to take control of the social-media space, intimidating some critics and overwhelming others through a blizzard of doubt-casting and misinformation

Trump and his team count on one thing above all others: public indifference. “I think people don’t care,” he said in September when asked whether voters wanted him to release his tax returns. “Nobody cares,” he reiterated to 60 Minutes in November. Conflicts of interest with foreign investments? Trump tweeted on November 21 that he didn’t believe voters cared about that either: “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”
And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered.

Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American."

The above by David Frum is profoundly important to understand, as far as I can tell.  It is not yet the destiny of this administration that it become authoritarian, but Trump and his minions have given us plenty to pay attention to and be wary of."
My conservative friends may angrily say that Obama was an authoritarian tyrant using presidential powers in dictatorial ways.  And I am sure they can cite examples of executive over-reach. Perhaps so, for example when he unilaterally decided to stop the deportation of the children of illegal immigrants, or established stricter environmental protections, etc.  However, Obama's over-reach was for what he considered to be the benefit of the country.  
I think Mr Trump's abuses will start out with policy to please his followers, but end up with the real goal of being much more about establishing himself as an American king, complete with the accumulation of fabulous wealth for himself and his cronies, and with the take over of the United States by his avid supporters in the Confederacy.  The South is trying to rise again, with too much of what that might mean to all but the favored white aristocracy.
I believe America has entered a new era that is creating a clarion call to patriotism - the patriotism of awakening of the fundamental spirit of America - the spirit of freedom, the spirit of refusing to be crushed by authoritarian rule. It is not to be allowed by a free people.