Empire in Crisis: “I Did Not Have a Meeting With That Envoy!”

Photo by Ryan J. Reilly | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Ryan J. Reilly | CC BY 2.0


Back in 1974 Richard Nixon was facing impeachment over the scandal known as Watergate.  Several of his closest advisors were facing prison time.  Others still had court dates to prepare for.  The US military was not officially involved in the US war on the Vietnamese, but their munitions and monies were flowing from DC to Saigon.  US intelligence agencies and Special Forces continued to wreak havoc and murder in the landscape of that tattered Asian nation.  The US Left was a shadow of its previous self from only a few years prior, but it still had some power.  Indeed, it could still shake up the establishment.

One of its smaller and more maligned grouplets—the Weather Underground—was in the process of publishing a manifesto for the new situation of the 1970s.  That manifesto, titled Prairie Fire—The Politics of Anti-Imperialism, remains a useful piece of history and analysis.  However, I only mention it because of its brief but insightful remarks regarding Watergate.   “Watergate is a magnificent victory of the struggles of the 60’s, a reflection of the war coming home. Crisis chases crisis as state leaders search for a consolidating strategy. The turmoil is indicative of serious and fatal weaknesses in the system. ….Watergate is a domestic reflection of the empire in crisis.” (16)

It is now March 2017.  Richard Nixon and many of his minions are dead, but the rationale of empire continues to drive the powers that rule the United States.  The current president and his administration is a collection of billionaires, bigots and outright fascists.  Some of the latter are from the so-called “alt-right,” a repackaging of nazi and other fascist thought for the modern social media-driven world.  Others are from the more traditional US fascist milieu that combines right-wing Christianity, racism, and intensely pro-capitalist economics into a vicious stew that defines US history.  It’s as if the anti-fascist slogan “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA” had been realized in the halls of Congress, the White House and every other administrative office building in Washington, DC.  Richard Nixon seems lightweight compared to the potential for fascism the Trump administration portends.

That statement is not made lightly.  When Nixon was running the country, the police state was omnipresent.  Protesters were swept up en masse, some were shot at and some were killed; and that was just the white folks.  Black radicals were targeted for assassination or set up on charges that sent many to prison for life.  Latinos and other non-white radicals were treated similarly; even liberals were harassed, spied on, and arrested by the forces of Law and order.  In the series of investigations led by liberal and other congress people in the mid-1970s, it was revealed that Nixon and his advisors had compiled an “enemies list” that included mainstream media stars like Walter Cronkite and numerous actors and politicians.

It is important to remember that Nixon barely won the election in 1968. However, once he took power he began to consolidate that power into the police state he eventually developed.  Despite all the investigations and trials that took place because of Watergate, the decades since Nixon’s downfall have only seen an intensification of that police state apparatus.  This fact became even truer after the passage of the PATRIOT act in 2001.  When one considers the technological advances that occurred during the same time—advances that make surveillance considerably more universal and much easier—it becomes clear that the infrastructure exists for what could become the most totalitarian state ever.

Given this potential, especially when combined with Trump’s unbalanced behavior, his anti-immigrant positions, his buildup of the Pentagon and his penchant for ignoring even the pretenses of democracy, I am cheered when the shenanigans of his appointees are revealed.  The most recent revelation that Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions lied under oath to Congress is one such instance.  It isn’t that I really care whether or not Sessions spoke with a Russian envoy or that he lied about doing so.  What makes this occurrence (and the reaction to it) is that it has the potential to expose the Trumpists as being as venal as every other politician their president lambasted in the campaign and since.  More importantly, it has provided another possible means to take down the Trump government.

Certain quarters of US political society feign concern about the possibility of Russian interference in the recent US election.  Among those in this segment of the population, there is an implied belief that US national elections are otherwise fair except for some kind of foreign interference.  This belief ignores the essential fact that US national elections have never been fair.  The Constitution was written with a clause that provided southern states with the ability to count their slaves as three-fifths of a vote, despite the fact that those individuals had no human rights, no civil rights and were considered to be nothing but livestock in every other economic and judicial regard. Furthermore, the Electoral College was established to ensure that wealthy propertied white men would sit in the White house.  Once one adds the fact of campaign contributions which are in essence bribes for future favors, even the pretense at fairness is only present to those who refuse to see the essential unfairness of the process.

So, I don’t really care if Russia interfered in US elections.  After all, the US interferes in other national elections all the time.  In fact, it helped Boris Yeltsin become the leader of Russia once the Soviet Union fell; the hypocrisy of Washington getting upset because Russia may have influenced the 2016 election is all too apparent.  Despite the cynicism obvious in this sentiment, I support whatever means it takes to bring down the Trump administration.  Why? Because in doing so, much more than the lies of the Trumpists will be exposed.  One need only review the history of the Watergate scandal to see that much more than Nixon’s venality and paranoia was uncovered in the months and years following the arrests of Nixon’s hit squad called the Plumbers.  Despite the fact that he had (among numerous other things) waged an illegal war by bombing Cambodia and Laos and violated constitutional guarantees to free assembly and unreasonable search and seizure, the crime that brought him down was covering up a burglary.  In the same manner, there are several more reprehensible acts undertaken by the Trump administration than lying to Congress, but that is what may take some of them down.

It is here that I think it important to re-read The Weather Underground’s comments quoted above.  The current situation in Washington regarding Trump and his crooked cracker White House is also “a domestic reflection of an empire in crisis.”  By keeping this in mind, one can ignore the various attempts by the media (from MSNBC to Fox News to CNN to RT and beyond) to frame whatever happens as proof that the system works for justice and the people.  It doesn’t.  What Watergate did show us is that the various power elites that fight for control come together when that control is fundamentally challenged, like it was in the 1960s and 1970s.  If nothing at all comes of this entire episode that in itself is proof of the system’s state of crisis and the conspiracy of the power elites to keep it afloat at any cost to the rest of us.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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