The Threat of Authoritarianism in the U.S. is Very Real, and Has Nothing To Do With Trump

The Threat of Authoritarianism in the U.S. is Very Real, and Has Nothing To Do With Trump. By Glenn Greenwald.

Asserting that Donald Trump is a fascist-like dictator threatening the previously sturdy foundations of U.S. democracy has been a virtual requirement over the last four years to obtain entrance to cable news Green Rooms, sinecures as mainstream newspaper columnists, and popularity in faculty lounges. Yet it has proven to be a preposterous farce.

In 2020 alone, Trump had two perfectly crafted opportunities to seize authoritarian power — a global health pandemic and sprawling protests and sustained riots throughout American cities — and yet did virtually nothing to exploit those opportunities. …

  • While Trump radically escalated bombing campaigns he inherited from Bush and Obama, he started no new wars.
  • When his policies were declared by courts to be unconstitutional, he either revised them to comport with judicial requirements (as in the case of his “Muslim ban”) or withdrew them (as in the case of diverting Pentagon funds to build his wall).
  • No journalists were jailed for criticizing or reporting negatively on Trump, let alone killed, as was endlessly predicted and sometimes even implied….
  • There were no Proud Boy insurrections or right-wing militias waging civil war in U.S. cities. …

Bashing Trump was far more likely to yield best-selling books, social media stardom and new contracts as cable news “analysts” than interment in gulags or state reprisals.

Boastful and bizarre tweets aside, Trump’s administration was far more a continuation of the U.S. political tradition than a radical departure from it. …

The single most revealing episode exposing this narrative fraud was when journalists and political careerists, including former Obama aides, erupted in outrage on social media upon seeing a photo of immigrant children in cages at the border — only to discover that the photo was not from a Trump concentration camp but an Obama-era detention facility (they were unaccompanied children, not ones separated from their families, but “kids in cages” are “kids in cages” from a moral perspective). …

Is the US a democracy anymore, even before the 2020 election?

Whether the U.S. was a democracy in any meaningful sense prior to Trump had been the subject of substantial scholarly debate. A much-discussed 2014 study concluded that economic power has become so concentrated in the hands of such a small number of U.S. corporate giants and mega-billionaires, and that this concentration in economic power has ushered in virtually unchallengeable political power in their hands and virtually none in anyone else’s, that the U.S. more resembles oligarchy than anything else:

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” …

The way covid was handled greatly profited the authoritarians in control of society:

But the premises of pre-Trump debates over how grave a problem this is have been rendered utterly obsolete by the new realities of the COVID era. A combination of sustained lockdowns, massive state-mandated transfers of wealth to corporate elites in the name of legislative “COVID relief,” and a radically increased dependence on online activities has rendered corporate behemoths close to unchallengeable in terms of both economic and political power.

The lockdowns from the pandemic have ushered in a collapse of small businesses across the U.S. that has only further fortified the power of corporate giants. “Billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter (27.5%) at the height of the crisis from April to July, just as millions of people around the world lost their jobs or were struggling to get by on government schemes,” reported The Guardian in September. … Meanwhile, though exact numbers are unknown, “roughly one in five small businesses have closed,” AP notes …

Employees are now almost completely at the mercy of a handful of corporate giants which are thriving, far more trans-national than with any allegiance to the U.S.

These COVID “winners” are not the Randian victors in free market capitalism. Quite the contrary, they are the recipients of enormous amounts of largesse from the U.S. Government, which they control through armies of lobbyists and donations and which therefore constantly intervenes in the market for their benefit.

This is not free market capitalism rewarding innovative titans, but rather crony capitalism that is abusing the power of the state to crush small competitors, lavish corporate giants with ever more wealth and power, and turn millions of Americans into vassals whose best case scenario is working multiple jobs at low hourly wages with no benefits, few rights, and even fewer options. …

Monopolies on political expression:

That Facebook, Google and Twitter are exerting more and more control over our political expression is hardly contestable. What is most remarkable, and alarming, is that they are not so much grabbing these powers as having them foisted on them, by a public — composed primarily of corporate media outlets and U.S. establishment liberals — who believe that the primary problem of social media is not excessive censorship but insufficient censorship.

As Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) told Mark Zuckerberg when four Silicon Valley CEOs appeared before the Senate in October: “The issue is not that the companies before us today is that they’re taking too many posts down. The issue is that they’re leaving too many dangerous posts up.” …

I continue to view the brute censorship by Facebook of incriminating reporting about Joe Biden in the weeks before the election as one of the most significant, and menacing, political events of the last several years. That this censorship was announced by a Facebook corporate spokesman who had spent his career previously as a Democratic Party apparatchik provided the perfect symbolic expression of this evolving danger. …

The new rulers really are authoritarian:

The dominant strain of U.S. neoliberalism — the ruling coalition that has now consolidated power again — is authoritarianism. They view those who oppose them and reject their pieties not as adversaries to be engaged but as enemies, domestic terrorists, bigots, extremists and violence-inciters to be fired, censored, and silenced.

And they have on their side — beyond the bulk of the corporate media, and the intelligence community, and Wall Street — an unprecedentedly powerful consortium of tech monopolies willing and able to exert greater control over a population that has rarely, if ever, been so divided, drained, deprived and anemic.

All of these authoritarian powers will, ironically, be invoked and justified in the name of stopping authoritarianism — not from those who wield power but from the movement that was just removed from power. …

Those most vocally screaming about growing authoritarianism in the U.S. over the last four years were very right in their core warning, but very wrong about the real source of that danger.