Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport

Tuesday (2-21-17) was a black day in US history, conflicted in a time sense, reverting back to the antiradical/anti-immigrant somewhat contrived and organized hysteria of A. Mitchell Palmer at the time of World War One (the notorious Red Raids), and projecting forward to recognizable systemic-psychological traits of authoritarianism enveloped by and serving to define a receptive political culture, long-standing historically and now rapidly maturing in form and more lethal in content. You ain’t seen nothing yet. The foregoing dynamic is only seemingly conflicted. Faced in both directions America in fact expresses a unity or unitary historical-structural development, focused on pre-eminence in the capitalist world, counterrevolution as to the remainder. What has changed over time is America’s greater omnipotence, as military complement industrial, financial, and commercial factors at the expense—given its unilateralism—of other capitalist, socialist, and Third World political economies.

The immigrant is the convenient, easily recognizable target for the remaking of America. It does not require Freud to see the psychodynamics at play here, a generic scapegoat which validates the idea and reality of internal societal division, itself corresponding to hierarchical class-and-power arrangements in the context of interpenetrated frameworks of business and government and the concentration of wealth. What you can do to the immigrant you can do to everyone else, a metaphorical framework of the mind in which leverage is created for achieving separation in all things where ethnocentrism and xenophobia reign. He/she is all of us, absent government, capitalist, military elites who to some degree owe their differentiation from the populace because of the psychodynamics: no greater example of respect for wealth, power, and status than the American, objectively light years outside of ruling circles because of a false consciousness grounded in the workings of capitalist alienation. Upper groups have long won the ideological battle of social legitimacy.

Elites, in a unitary structural paradigm, do not as a rule inhabit separate universes of activity, and rather, as now, gain greater coherence (both as structures—political, economic, social—merge at the top, and common patterns of belief emerge) as a new ruling group, or better, ruling class with demonstrably fascist proclivities. Cutting to the chase, I have in mind by way of explanation the excellent New York Times article by Michael Shear and Ron Nixon, “Trump Details Plans to Deport Millions of Immigrants” (2-21), which, because so neutrally-worded, is the more powerful—if unintended—indictment of current thinking and future action. Trump was not the product of a coup; he had, and still has, significant support at home to indicate that what The Times describes reveals a degree of public complicity on the immigration issue (the article had a second title inside the paper, “New Trump Deportation Rules Allow Far More Expulsions”) which, as “expulsion” implies, is anything but democratic.

The reporters’ opening sentence says it all: “President Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.” Right off the bat we find that aggressive enforcement shall be more inclusive of coverage (any pretext will do, like minor infractions of the law, to start the deportation process) and punitive in execution. As for the full force of the federal government, this makes viable—integral to the machinery and spirit of enforcement—a trickle-down fabric of authority, in which state and local government units are directly involved in the overall process (extremely important, as cities declare themselves sanctuaries, greater opportunities for conflict arise, and the manifest injustice of the policy is recognized). But more, deportation/expulsion does not hinge on the seriousness of the alleged offense, and already there is discussion that no offense is necessary if the official sees or claims to see a threat to public safety.

The sentence which follows in the article fairly bursts with the entertainment of fascist thought on a sweeping basis: “Documents released on Tuesday [2-21] by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.” Ordinarily, verbatim quotations are not necessary (the reader can go to the source himself/herself), but this succinct summary, itself only scratching the surface, is useful in showing how vulnerable the individual has become, and institutions falsified and/or prostituted in the process. Cast the immigrant in a pejorative light, deny privacy considerations and, really, the rule of law to the immigrant, and to me most chilling of all for what it portends, rising reference to detention centers (already figuring in the budgetary plans). And of course, build a self-willed Iron Wall or Curtain to exclude asylum seekers and speed up deportations, here and above a collective schema verging on fascism.

So much of the Trump Phenomenon was clearly communicated to the American electorate, thus affording little opportunity for passing the buck. The US, on the part of both major party’s candidates, signaled substantial agreement on suppression at home, hegemony abroad, with Trump the more articulate (and less politic) of the two, as when in the campaign he treated immigrants as “criminal aliens” and projected fears of rapists as gathering at the border for indiscriminate and horrific home invasion. The climate of repression, coming so early in the functioning of the departments and agencies and the administration itself, a warning of what to expect, can be seen in the statement of John Kelly, secretary of homeland security (quoted by the reporters), “The faithful execution of our immigration laws is best achieved by using all these statutory authorities to the greatest extent practicable. Accordingly, department personnel shall make full use of these authorities.” Aside from the military slant Kelly brings to DHS, what we are seeing already is the increasing prominence accorded to the department, thereby keeping the immigrant at the forefront of the policy context and what that means for publicly-sanctioned nativism and authoritarianism.

Spicer, White House press secretary, noting that Trump wanted to “take the shackles off” the immigration authorities, stated on the 21st that among the new policies “the No. 1 priority is that people who pose a threat to our country are immediately dealt with,” now the immigrant, but who knows what next. Inculcating fear and hostility into the body politic obviously invites fast and loose treatment of the rule of law, Trump, surrounded by generals and admirals in high government positions, already is reaching beyond the constitutional parameters of presidential powers. My criticism of Obama—in this case, for initiating or extending Clinton and Bush II programs anti-civil libertarian in nature—still on immigrants is discriminably better off than Trump in that he reserved deportation for serious crimes, whereas Trump, according to Shear and Nixon, has directed enforcement officials “to seek the deportation of anyone in the country illegally.”

The nerve center in all of this appears to be Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a part of DHS, which, following Trump’s announced intention, is embarked on what could be (if not already is) an inclusive stance on deportation, however flimsy the grounds. A DHS fact sheet states, “Under this executive order, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement. All of those present in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and, if found removable by final order, removed from the United States.” To expulsion and deportation, add removal; not surprisingly, the reporters observe, “The policy also expands a program that lets officials bypass due process protections such as court hearings in some deportation cases.” Wave of the future? Here we see the possibility for creating a precedent (actually the long-term trend in any case) that weakens due process protections in other areas as well, so greatly is the thrust of law and government alike to that end.

New detention facilities are integral to the anti-immigrant project; so, too, is rule 287(g), which gives ICE the power to penetrate downward into the social system, as part of the great chain of repression. There are few if any bright spots on the horizon. The utility of emphasizing policies toward and the treatment of the immigrant is that one’s analytic perspective is not distorted by the multiplicity of issues already arising. A toehold must be established somewhere to criticize the stage of history we have just entered; symbolically, drone assassination symbolized if not personified Obama’s presidency (along with individual and corporate wealth concentration); for Trump, in just a few weeks, we have become acquainted with the underside of totalitarianism, the breakdown of the human personality, accompanied by the further breakdown of social justice and the implied social contract which makes life worth living. Cynicism, contempt for democratic government, lies, conscious or not, are not the seedbed of human freedom. Let all of us become the immigrant and stand up, in anticipation, to fascism, whether still inchoate or latent. The clouds are darkening: Trump is symptomatic of deeper forces rooting out rights long thought inviolable, yet now, under pressure, shown to be fragile (again, the immigrant) and in need of sustainment.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.