CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
The greatest threat facing America is not “radical Islamic terrorism.” Nor is it North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, eliciting American UN ambassador Nikki Haley’s propagandistic charge that Kim Jong-un is ”begging for war.“ Nor is America’s greatest threat Muslim immigrants’ believed to be intent on gaining power and establishing Sharia law. Nor is it hordes of “criminally-disposed” Mexicans, whose “invading” presence is assumed to require more deportation officers and a border wall. Neither is it “inner city crime.” Nor is it about Black Lives Matter people, who are seen by many as a threat to established white status quo order.
The greatest threat to America is embodied in the man who, ironically, said, “We must maintain law and order at the highest level or we will cease to have a country,” and billed himself as “the law and order candidate.” (“Trump: ‘I am the law and order candidate,’ “ By Louis Nelson, POLITICO, July 11, 2016) The man who now occupies the highest office in the land. Consider the ways in which Donald Trump has warned everyone that he is prepared to assault law and order – to the extent of provoking civil disorder, and possibly even a fascistic coup, to maintain his power.
Before running for president, Donald Trump was not guided by law and order in his business dealings. He faced lawsuits for refusing to rent apartments to black persons in his buildings. (See “ ‘No Vacancies’ for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias,” By Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder, The New York Times, Aug. 27, 2016) He became a one-man vigilante committee, taking out ads in New York City papers, claiming five black and Latino Harlem teenagers were guilty of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park and calling for reestablishing the death penalty. The teens spent several years in jail, and were finally released and awarded $41 million dollars after a serial rapist confessed to the crime and no DNA evidence had connected them to it. (See “Trump continues to blast Central Park Five long after they were exonerated: ‘They admitted they were guilty,’ “ By David Boroff, New York Daily News, Oct. 7, 2016) Trump says he is about protecting American workers, yet, as reported, “At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA TODAY NETWORK document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work.” (“USA TODAY exclusive: Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills: among those who say billionaire didn’t pay: dishwashers, painter, waiters,“ By Steve Reilly, USATODAY, June 9, 2016).
There is also the fraud claims against Trump University. As reported, “Dozens of students and instructors wrote sworn statements describing their experiences, with some calling it a fraud or describing how they were taken advantage of.” Donald Trump finally “agreed to pay $25 million to resolve the litigation,” but “did not admit fault.” Rather, he questioned the “impartiality” of Judge Gonzalo P. Curie, who ruled on the case, because of “his Mexican heritage.” (“Trump University Suit Settlement Approved by Judge,” By Steve Eder and Jennifer Medina, The New York Times, March 31, 2017)
“We must maintain law and order at the highest level or we will cease to have a country,” declared “the law and order candidate.” This is the candidate who encouraged supporters at his rallies to physically assault protesters with: “In the old days they’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks”; “I’d like to punch him in the face”; “If you see someone getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, and I will pay your legal bills, I promise. I promise.” His words drew “cheers and laughter” from rally goers. (“Trump’s endorsement of violence reaches new level: He may pay legal fees for assault suspect,” By Michael Finnegan and Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 13, 2016)
“Law and order at the highest level.” On the international level, Donald Trump said that he was prepared to commit war crimes, like bringing back torture and killing women and children family members of ISIS. Also reported: he “lamented that the U.S. military didn’t steal Iraq’s oil during the second Iraq war,“ telling the CIA,” ‘We should’ve kept the oil . . . maybe you’ll have another chance’ . . . But plundering another country’s natural resources is a war crime according to the Hague Conventions.” (“Trump administration won’t rule out stealing Iraq’s oil: Doing so would be a war crime,” By Aaron Rupar, Think Progress, Jan. 23,2017)
“Law and order at the highest level.” For President Trump, gaining America’s highest office is about exercising dictatorial power, not executing law and order. He depreciated a federal judge, calling him a “so-called judge” for temporarily blocking his travel ban against Muslims and refugees from entering the U.S. (“Trump lashes out at ‘so-called judge’ who temporarily blocked travel ban,” By Amy B. Wang, The Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2017) In a speech to Long Island police officers, he said it was okay to rough up suspects being arrested: like not protecting their head from banging on the side of the police car as they are being placed inside. (“Trump tells police not to worry about injuring suspects during arrest,” By Mark Berman, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, July 28, 2017)
“We must maintain law and order at the highest level.” In Charlottesville, at a “Unite the Right” rally, torch-carrying white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, protested the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. They were reported as march[ing] and chant[ing] the Nazi slogan “blood and soil,” and “the Jews will not replace us” and “white lives matter” – some wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and claim[ing] to be promoting Trump’s agenda.” (“President Trump Calls Democrats and the Media His ‘Enemies’ in New Campaign Ad,” By Jennifer Calfas, Time.com, Aug. 13, 2017) Their reported clash with counter-protesters – who included “ religious leaders, Black Lives Matter activists and anti-fascist groups known as ‘antifa’ “– was climaxed by a 20-year-old alleged Nazi sympathizer, James Alex Fields Jr., plowing his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman, Heather D. Heyer, and injuring 19. (“Man Charged After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence,” By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Brian M. Rosenthal, The New York Times, Aug. 12, 2017) Two state police officers, monitoring the violence-punctuated rally, were also killed when their helicopter plunged and crashed.
Responding to the Charlottesville violence in a prepared statement, President Trump condemned “the bigotry and violence on many sides.” “On many sides,” he repeated spontaneously. His response was met with strong bipartisan criticism for not calling out the racism of the white supremacist groups, whose violent presence in Charlottesville resulted in the deaths of three persons.
Three days later, a defensive “law and order” president, engaging reporters in a heated press conference on Charlottesville, again legitimized the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. “I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you have no doubt about it either,” he said. He challenged reporters with, “What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” A reporter reminded him: “The Neo-Nazis started this . . . show[ing] up in Charlottesville to protest.” Trump replied, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” (“Read the transcript of Donald Trump’s jaw-dropping press conference,” By Christine Wang and Kevin Breuninger, CNBC, Aug. 15, 2017)
Professor, author and activist Cornel West, who was in Charlottesville as a counter-protester, told a different story. He reported: “Twenty of us . . . many of them clergy . . . were singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’. . . . We would have been crushed like cockroaches” by the neo-fascists “if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who . . . saved our lives . . . and I’ll never forget that. Meaning,” he continued, “that you had the police holding back . . . and just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other . . . and with all the consequences that would follow therefrom.” He recalled: “The white supremacy was so intense. I’ve never seen that kind of hatred in my life.” He then warned about “that kind of hatred — but that is just the theater. It’s big money. It’s big military. And it’s the way in which this capitalist civilization is leading us toward unbelievable darkness and bleakness.” (“Cornel West & Traci Blackmon: Clergy in Charlottesville Were Trapped by Torch-Wielding Nazis,” Democracy Now, Aug. 14, 2017) At his press conference, President Trump said nothing about the Charlottesville police watching the violence, rather than keeping the peace.
A defiant President Trump revealed where his sympathies lie. He told reporters that “many” protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue were “other than neo-Nazis and the white nationalists. . . . And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.” He continued, “So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. . . . Is it George Washington next week?” And “Thomas Jefferson the week after?” Trump then revealed more completely which side he was on in saying about those who advocate taking down the Confederate statues, “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.” (“Read the transcript of Donald Trump’s jaw-dropping press conference, Ibid)
It was a “history” and a “culture” that thrived on the enslavement of black persons. The Robert E. Lee statue and most Confederacy statues were erected long after the civil war, standing as terrifying symbols of Jim Crow laws enacted to enforce racial segregation in the South. Political blogger Kevin Drum reveals the role of these monuments, writing, “They were mostly built during times when Southern whites were engaged in vicious campaigns of subjugation against blacks, and during those campaigns the message sent by a statue of Robert E. Lee in front of a courthouse was loud and clear.” (“The Real Story Behind All Those Confederate Statues,” Mother Jones, Aug. 15, 2017)
Columnist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates also reveals what that “history” and “culture” were really about. He is quoted as saying, “The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents ‘heritage not hate.’ I agree – the heritage of white supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder.” (“The Stubborn Persistence of Confederate Monuments,” By David A. Graham, The Atlantic, April 26, 2017)
President Trump’s words about preserving Charlottesville’s “history” and “culture” were embraced by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. He gave Trump’s racism away, tweeting, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” (“Former KKK leader David Duke praises Trump for his ‘courage,’ “ By William Cummings, USA TODAY, Aug. 15, 2017) Duke was at the Charlottesville protest, and was quoted as calling the rally “a turning point. We’re going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in.” He continued, “That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.” (“ ‘Why we voted for Donald Trump’: David Duke explains the white supremacist Charlottesville protests,” Updated by Libby Nelson, VOX, Aug. 12, 2017)
“You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.” Ten days after his press conference, President Trump repeated this attack on the media to his base at a Phoenix rally. His not-so-slickly-wrapped racism having just been unraveled by reporters, a defensive Trump projected on to them his own racist attitudes and behavior, accusing them of “fomenting divisions.” He then told his base, “And yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage. (italics added) You see that.” Many in the audience did,” ‘BOOING.’ “ (“President Trump Ranted For 77 Minutes in Phoenix. Here’s What He Said,” Time.com, Aug. 23, 2017)
This is merely one example of the dangerous symbiotic relationship President Trump has cultivated with many in his base. In Phoenix, he called most of the media “very dishonest,” “dammed dishonest,” “totally dishonest.” “Really, really dishonest people and they’re bad people. And I really think they don’t like our country . . . and I don’t believe they’re going to change.” He implied that members of the press think they are “the elite,” and said, “You know what? I think we’re the elites. (italics added) They’re not the elites” – which elicited ’APPLAUSE’. He had set up the base for these symbiotic-reinforcing words: “The media can attack me. But where I draw the line is when they attack you, which is what they do . . . ‘APPLAUSE.’ “ (italics added) (Ibid)
Trump’s psychopathic lying is why he hates investigative reporters and tries to demonize the press as “the enemy of the American people.” Thus far his constant denigrating of the press has been effective in indoctrinating his base against reporters’ exposing his lies.
Sadly, many in President Trump’s base have no problem with his deviousness. In his rambling Phoenix speech, he presented a litany of his public comments about the violence in Charlottesville: he strongly condemned the “bigotry, hatred and violence,” gave an update saying “racism is evil,” and still later said, “Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the core of America.” (“President Trump Ranted For 77 Minutes in Phoenix. Here’s What He Said,” (Ibid) He falsely accused the press of inaccurately reporting his statements, conveniently avoiding citing the statements for which he was strongly criticized by the press and politicians alike: statements such as saying there is “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” and later, “There’s blame on both sides,” and also equating the “alt-left” with the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. All of this defense of himself in the face of torch-carrying white nationalists groups marching and chanting “the Jews will not replace us,” culminating in an identified neo-Nazi sympathizer ramming his car into peaceful counter-protesters, killing one and injuring many. Nevertheless, most in Trump’s base repeatedly cheered him on in Phoenix, embracing his obvious duplicity in asserting a moral equivalency between the Confederacy statue-protecting white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville.
“We must maintain law and order at the highest level.” In Phoenix, President Trump told his enthusiastic supporters that “law and order” is actually about the privilege of power, not the equality of justice. To the delight of people chanting “Pardon Joe!,” Trump said, “I think he’s going to be just fine.” A few days later Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of violating a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latino-looking people and confining them indefinitely under abusive conditions in what he called his “concentration camp.” The pardon of this federal-law violator is reported to be merely another example of what “critics and experts” say is “Mr. Trump . . . send[ing] a permissive message to people in law enforcement that they can bend the law, if not break it.” (“Trump’s Brand of Law and Order Leaves Leeway on the Law,” By Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Aug. 27, 2017)
According to President Trump, arming local police with military equipment is “maintaining law and order at the highest level.” In August of 2014, police showed up with military gear in Ferguson to put down civil disorder after a white policeman killed Michael Brown, a black teenager. A Boston Globe editorial states about that militarized scene in Ferguson: “Few images were as indelible as those with scores of the city’s law enforcement officers clad in body armor and camouflage, carrying high-caliber weapons, and flanked by armored vehicles.” The editorial’s point: “They resembled an invading army more than a local police force trying to control a protest.” (“Trump order will militarize police and sow fear,” Sept. 5, 2017)
The sight of militarized police in Ferguson sent a dark message about the role police can play as an occupying force in putting down citizens’ constitutional right to protest grievances. That fearsome reality in Ferguson is believed to have led President Obama to rescind supplying local police departments with military armor. Not surprisingly, President Trump lifted Obama’s restriction and authorized arming police with surplus military equipment. Trump has thereby sent a message to people of color to stay in their place in the inner cities, or face an occupying militarized police force. The same message was meant for other protesters of Trump administration policies.
“We must maintain law and order at the highest level.” What role might private militia groups play in maintaining President Trump’s brand of “law and order?” He said nothing about the heavily armed militias that showed up in Charlottesville, ostensibly to “keep the peace.” But that is not how they are viewed by critics. Casey Michel of POLITICO magazine reports, “While there is evidence that some of the militia members stepped into the breach to try to keep the peace on Saturday, many critics contend their presence exacerbated tensions and prevented the restoration of order.” Michel also states, ”When asked why police didn’t do more to stop the bloodshed, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe pointed to the riflemen strolling the streets“ and said, “ ‘It’s easy to criticize, but I can tell you this: 80 percent of the people here had semiautomatic weapons . . . You saw the militia walking down the street,” he continued. “You would have thought they were an army . . . [They] had better equipment than our state police had.” (“How Militias Became the Private Police for White Supremacists,” Aug. 17, 2017)
The private militias are mostly white, which is believed to reveal much about their sympathies and the acceptance of their presence by many white-controlled city governments and police departments. Can you picture armed black militias patrolling the streets of American cities to protect people and keep the peace during protests? The Black Panther Party is reported to have done just that in the 1960s. Exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and guided by a “policy of self-defense,” they protected black citizens from “police brutality.” The also “organiz[ed] dozens of community programs such as free breakfast for children, health clinics and shoes for children.” Their growth and assumed threat to established order is seen in then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ”describe[ing] them as “the number one threat to the internal security of the United States.” Thus, employing a ‘COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) against them,” the FBI raided their offices and killed many of their leaders, effectively ending their black empowerment movement. (‘THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY FOR SELF-DEFENSE,’ Socialist Alternative)
Unlike the Black Panthers, the heavily armed, mostly white-composed, militia groups – whose members are reported “at an all-time high,” with “hundreds of groups claim[ing] thousands of members across the country” – are welcomed or acquiesced to by many city governments and politicians, especially Republicans. Mark Pitcavage, who researches extremists groups for the Anti-Defamation League, says that many militia members no longer oppose the government because it is now “led by the man they supported for president.” (“ ‘We’re not racists’: Private militias bring uncertainty and weapons to protest,” By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY, Aug. 24, 2017)
Mark Pitcavage is also quoted as saying, “You can’t be anti-government if your guy has the top job.” Alex Yablon, writing for the non-artisan website The Trace, elaborates: “With right-wing extremists who venerate the president looking for new enemies, some state and local politicians who are remaking partisanship in Trump’s image may see militias as a way to tighten their grip on power.” In fact, “The Trace has identified at least five occasions, spread across three states, where gun-carrying anti-establishment protesters provided security, demonstrated in support of, or worked for conservative local elected officials or Republican Party functionaries.” (“Right-Wing Militias Are Now Actively Supporting Some State and Local Pro-Trump Politicians,” Aug. 7, 2017)
Yale University historian Timothy Snyder is reported to have “warned after the election to ‘watch out for the paramilitaries,’ saying the ‘end is nigh’ when ‘men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader.’ ” Snyder’s warning: “ ‘When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.’ That’s not quite what’s happening yet, but The Trace found at least five instances in three states where anti-government gun groups aligned themselves with conservative officials and GOP causes.” (“ ‘Watch out for the paramilitaries’ Right-wing militia groups aligning with GOP officials under Trump,” By Travis Gettys, www.rawstory.com, Aug. 7, 2017)
If President Trump were threatened with impeachment for any offense, “the game” of whatever democracy exists in America could be greatly threatened, if not over. Trump let it be known from the beginning that he is capable, and ready, to provoke civil strife to protect his narcissistic, paranoid self-interests. His repeated campaign statement that the election was “rigged” against him signaled that he would not accept defeat. Nor would his base, about whom, he said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” (“Trump: I could ‘shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,’ “ By Jeremy Diamond, CNNPolitics, Jan. 24, 2016)
Enter the private militias: they could become President Trump’s army if the government they have hated tried to remove him from power. Enter also law enforcement officers, who overwhelmingly voted for the “law and order candidate.” Would police departments, with their now re-issued military weapons, enforce the rule of law if Congress tries to impeach Trump? Because, as Trump’s former advisor Roger Stone said, “”Try to impeach him . . . You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection, like you’ve never seen.” (“Roger Stone: Trump Impeachment Would Lead to Civil War,” Fox News Insider, Aug. 24, 2017) And what would the military’s response be if their Commander-in-Chief faced impeachment?
President Trump has already warned how he — and his base — would respond to the threat of impeachment. A psychopath and narcissist, he himself is assumed to be capable of launching a war or declaring a national emergency of another kind to torpedo any grave threat to his rule.
Certain faith leaders and their congregations have admirably challenged the Trump administration’s brutal immigration and refugee policies, planned cuts to health care and other programs serving the least empowered, displays of racism legitimizing white supremacists, and President Trump’s pandering to those evangelical Christians’ eager to debase themselves for power. A major issue remains: how will people of faith respond to the existential threat Trump’s presidency poses to America itself?