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Monday, 05 February 2018 07:01

Rise of the Ruthless: Authoritarian Republicanism in the US

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AntiFascist 0205wrp opt(Photo: Cristiane Marçal / Flickr)John Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon, used the term "conservatives without conscience" to refer to George W. Bush era neoconservative Republicans. Now, an even more callous strain of conservative Republicanism has taken root under the Trump administration. But the Bush era strain appears to have planted the seeds.

The Bush neoconservatives embroiled the U.S. in a bloody war in Iraq in which millions of lives, both American and Iraqi, were lost. Not unlike the Republican attempt to conceal the facts surrounding the Vietnam War during the Nixon Administration (as disclosed in the Pentagon Papers), the Bush administration had the gall to lie to the American people about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. In the immortal words of the Downing Street Memos, a set of official memos of British Secret Intelligence (M16), "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Under the George W. Bush administration, the misnomer of a boundless "War on Terror" was used to justify the systematic whittling away of respect for human rights. Torture was renamed "enhanced interrogation" without due regard for international law, compliments of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a puppet for the Bush administration. Preemptive, simultaneous war was the covert means to spread "American democratic values" even at the expense of quelling the civil liberties of U.S. citizens at home who opposed the war. A new category of "unlawful enemy combatant" was created, pursuant to the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which referred to "an individual engaged in hostilities against the United States who is not a lawful enemy combatant." The term "hostilities" was never defined, and could have, in principle, included journalists critical of the Bush Administration's war policies.  The writ of habeas corpus, so fundamental to the American justice system, was cancelled by this Act for those so branded, only to have this unconstitutional provision overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This administration did not have a problem with controlling the "free press" by feeding it false information through embedded reporters such as Judith Miller who helped spread Bush war propaganda through the New York Times. In the name of freedom, Iraqi air space was taken over by the U.S. in order to spread U.S. propaganda. At home, "fake news" about the Iraq war was fed to local affiliates of the major networks.  PR agents posed as journalists and interviewed Iraqis who were on board with the Iraqi invasion. "Thank You, President Bush," was one endearing, staged comment that permeated the local airwaves in the states.  Meanwhile, the U.S. "shocked and awed" innocent Iraqi citizens, and left a path of death, mutilation, and devastation.

Nor was it unheard of for these devout conservatives without conscience to pay the New York Times a visit in order to kill a story in the name of "national security." For example, during the second presidential debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush, there was a mysterious lump in Bush's jacket that experts believed was a receiver.  The story was a potential bombshell but, according to a reliable source, was killed when Vice President Dick Cheney paid the NY Times a visit.  Escalation of mass warrantless surveillance was also a defining mark of the Bush administration.  This system of "Total Information Awareness" was not just applied to hunting for terrorists, but was also used to eavesdrop on journalists as a device of "information warfare." 

Blatant conflicts of interest also existed between the Bush administration and corporate interests such as that of Big Oil.  For example, Halliburton got no bid contracts in Iraq despite the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton, and had received at least a $34 million payout from the company when he assumed office.

The foregoing is but a glimpse of the turpitude of eight long years under the George W. Bush administration. Still, this was a nation divided (amid claims by Bush of being "a uniter, not a divider"), with a majority of American citizens (72% according to a 2003 Gallop poll) supporting the Iraq war. While the House of Representatives cafeteria stopped serving French fries, and served "freedom fries" instead, some American establishments jumped on the bandwagon, spilling their bottles of French wine into the streets in patriotic fervor, denouncing the French for not joining the "Coalition of the Willing."

So let us not forget the ripples of this not so distant past, while our nerves are raw with the daily twitters and tweets of Donald J. Trump pounding his chest, and threatening nuclear annihilation of the North Koreans. For such are the Republican Party forerunners of a newer, even more virulent strain of conservatives without conscience, those who have now taken their oath of allegiance to Trump.  What makes this brand of Republicanism even more virulent is that the Bush brand never denounced races of people, called predominantly black nations "shithole nations," proclaimed that some Neo-Nazis were "good people"; or sought to establish a Muslim immigration ban.  Republican leaders such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have now outdone Bush House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Bush Senate Major leader Trent Lott, for the latter were never in the position of standing by while their commander in chief made incendiary racist comments. Nor did they acquiesce while the President rescinded the legal rights of thousands of innocent young Dreamers; and then denigrated them as illegal aliens, leaving their lives in unconscionable limbo.  Nor was the hatred for the press under the George W. Bush administration elevated to an explicit denouncement as "The enemy of the state." Nor did the Bush family receive or enlist help from the Russians; or seemingly receive emoluments by entertaining foreign diplomats in their family-owned Washington hotel.  Indeed, as said, the Bush administration had its share of conflicts of interest, but it did not have the chutzpah to flaunt them. Now conflicts of interest have been normalized and woven into the fabric of business as usual.

 Further, while the idea of "unitary executive authority" was pressed by the Bush administration, it was not so blatantly expanded upon by a leader who had the cheek to refer to the Justice Department as "his" justice department, claiming that he had the "absolute right" to do what he wanted with it.  Indeed, Alberto Gonzales was a puppet no less than current Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but at least there was then still lip service, and Congressional Republicans still had some semblance of the sanctity of separation of powers. And, while the Mueller team finding on Russian collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russians is still to be received, the fact remains that the Trump administration has done nothing to ensure free elections in the aftermath of the 2017 meddling into the presidential election by Russia in favor of Trump.  The conservatives without conscience under Bush would have recoiled at the thought of being controlled by the Kremlin. Neoconservatives such as William Kristol, co-founder of the now defunct neoconservative think tank, "The Project for the New American Century," which provided the blueprint for Bush era foreign affairs policy, have now denounced Trump, much like Baron von Frankenstein did his own monster. Still, such pioneers of a "New American Century" planted the seeds for the likes of a Donald Trump to grow the transition from a democracy teetering on the edge of "unitary executive authority" to full-blown authoritarianism.  

While the Bush administration appointed other neoconservatives to head its government agency, it did not appoint individuals who advocated against the very agencies for which they were appointed.  For example, Trump appointed Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development even though he has spoken out against fair housing initiatives and other social support services. He appointed Scott Pruitt to the Environmental Protection Agency even though he sued the agency several times over climate change protections, and has been quoted as saying that the issue of climate change is "far from settled."  Like the plot of a Batman movie, the scent of a villainous plan to undermine  the welfare of the nation, and even the planet, has permeated the air, while its grand architect feeds his voracious appetite for personal gain.

The Obama administration appears to have been at least a partial temporary remission in the growth of this cancer, but its incipient roots have sprung back up luxuriantly to spawn what appears to be the most virulent strain of anti-democratic, Nazi-like Republican authoritarianism the likes of which this nation has never seen in its relatively brief history.  These are the days that truly test the survival of American values.

With few exceptions the Republican Party has numbed its conscience to American democratic values and human decency, and has made itself an accessory to Donald Trump's predilection for authoritarian rule; oppression of human rights; erratic, unpredictable, and unapologetic responses; and the objectification and exploitation of human beings for his own personal self-aggrandizement.  This has been the coin of other authoritative regimes including the Third Reich.  Obama recently admonished, "We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly," and added that Adolf Hitler rose to power even though the Weimar Republic was a democracy. Let us not forget, however, that authoritarians of this ilk have not, until now, had immediate access to the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet.  What would Hitler have done if he had similar access? Under these formidable and disturbing conditions, anything is possible, while this new breed of conservatives without consciences flatters and rolls over for its new master.