Defending the US Against Looming Presidential Dictatorship

At least Vladimir Putin is gaining his  dictatorial powers democratically. He got elected by a solid majority of Russians, and then he went to the Russian Duma and asked for a constitutional change to allow him to continue to be elected through 2030.

Here in the US, we have created a presidential dictatorship through sleight of hand, Congressional cowardice and public lethargy.

It happened back in September 2001, after the 9-11 attack — you know, the one that we’re supposed to believe was conducted by a bunch of barely competent fliers from Saudi Arabia and that somehow the entire US intelligence apparatus couldn’t uncover plotting their destructive attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon,  and that the US military couldn’t stop.

(Note:  If you think the official story we’ve  heard about this attack that killed nearly 3000 people, from both corporate media and government, is what actually happened, check out this article I wrote in Counterpunch in December, 2005.  I don’t pretend to know what really happened, but I know what we’re told happened didn’t.)

Following that attack, Bush, Cheney and a shell-shocked and completely irresponsible Congress passed two catastrophic measures, creating a huge new raft of laws and court rulings that are still with us. One, passed on September 18, 2001, while the wreckage of the WTC was still smoking, was the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a resolution that launched the so-called “war” on terror — a war that was defined as occurring everywhere in the world including inside the US and that, although just against Al Qaeda, later was interpreted by President Bush and Cheney, then president Obama, and now President Trump, to mean against all those, foreign and domestic who can be called terrorists. (Since then crime gets called terrorism, including the Occupy Wall Street movement and peaceful protests against police violence.)

The second law, the so-called United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act or USA PATRIOT ACT (really, they did name it that to get Patriot in the title!), passed on October 26 It created a vast police state network of spying on US citizens — all citizens — and also created a Homeland Security Department, a vast new police state agency awash in new paramilitary police forces — ICE, the Border patrol, the Federal Protective Service (formerly security guards at federal buildings), as well as 99 obscure and totally untransparent interagency operations in virtually every major city called Fusion Centers where the intelligence personnel from every agency from the Defense Department and CIA to the FBI, DEA, ICE and Secret Service to State police and local police as well as corporate security units all work and share information.

The lynch-pin to this whole web of autocracy or tyranny was a legal decision drawn up by John Yoo, a Deputy US Attorney General in the Bush Administration who came up with the specious argument, later supported by a right-wing Supreme Court, that in time of war, presidents have virtually unlimited powers. It was the so-called “unitary executive” theory under which, during wartime a president needs to have the powers of not just the executive branch, but also the legislative and judicial branches in his or her hands at the same time.

Now whether or not that theory makes sense in something like the Civil War, when the survival of the nation was at stake, or World War II, when the US was totally mobilized in an epic war on two fronts in Europe and the Pacific, the idea that it was justified by a congressional AUMF to combat a raggedy bunch of Middle Eastern terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan, who were in any case largely ignored by 2002, when the Bush-Cheney gang pulled US troops surrounding the remains of their numbers in the mountains of Bora-Bora and later launched a totally unjustified and disastrous war on Iraq in 2003 (after first obtaining a second AUMF from Congress for that outrageous and illegal invasion, the point should have long ago been clear to every honest member of Congress (I know, there are probably only ten of them if I’m being generous), that there was no reason for the 2001 AUMF to remain in force for even a year, if that.

It has never been rescinded. Neither has the 2002 AUMF for that matter.

So Trump, the wannabe Mussolini of the 21st Century, has the authority, according to various court rulings over the intervening years, to pretty much do whatever he wants — snatch little kids from their immigrant parents and lock them up in dog cages in the desert, send camo-clad heavily armed and unidentified paramilitary thugs from the Customs and Border Patrol force and other federal police-type agencies into cities around the country over the objections of their city and state elected officials to arrest and confine citizens without charges of notification of anyone, to spy on us all without a warrant, to put anyone on the Terrorist Watch List (there are now over a million names on it, including this author’s) — a list that is accessible to every police department in the country, which should make every pretty uncomfortable about being stopped by a cop for failing to signal before a turn.  (I should note that you have no right to know if your name’s on the Terrorist Watch List maintained by the FBI, and if you do discover you’re on it by getting four capital SSSS letters marked on your boarding pass when you fly, and the special closed-door person and bags inspection that goes with it at the gate before boarding, there is no way to find out who “nominated” you for the list and no way to get off it).

This is America today. Trump is going full tyrant, announcing plans to sent his personal paramilitary goon squad to a city near you soon, if he thinks the local government and police can’t “control” legitimate protests, often against police brutality these days.

It’s like the end of America. The end of the Bill of Rights.  Remember Freedom of Speech and Assembly and Seeking  Redress of Grievances? Remember the Right to Face one’s Accuser?  Remember no Arrest with Charge, No Unreasonable Arrest? All gone.


Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

Congress passed that 2001 and that 2002 AUMF that supposedly hav3 this nation officially in a state of war. Are we actually at war by any stretch of the imagination?  No of course not.  The “War” in Afghanistan, billed as the longest in US history at 19 years and running, involves several thousand troops mostly sitting around in and around Kabul and Kandahar while US planes periodically bomb a few Taliban and various civilian men women and children every now and then. The Iraq War meanwhile  is ancient history. Almost no American troops are in that country, and mostly those who are protect the huge American Embassy compound in the Capital of Baghdad — a fortified Green Zone that attracts rocket attacks like clover attracts bees.

Congress should acknowledge this absurd situation and pass a resolution right now terminating both AUMC resolutions. End the non-war state of war and with it, all of Trump’s “unitary executive” authority to pass laws, ignore congressional mandates, ignore court orders, shift Contressionally-allocated spending to his pet projects and send federal troops into civilian protests to create mayhem.

If Congress-members won’t do that and do it now, every one who fails to do so should be tossed out on their over-padded asses on November 3 or at the next available opportunity.

We need to start camping out at our Senators’ and House members’ local offices with signs demanding an end to Trump’s “unitary executive” powers and to the two AUMF resolutions that enable them. And we need to demand that Biden, the housebound presumptive Democratic Candidate for President should also take a strong position on ending both wars officially by terminating the two resolutions. (He needs to be reminded that one of the unitary executive powers Trump may try to claim could be vacating the Nov. 3 election result.)

You heard it here:  End the AUMF’s!  And shut down the USA PATRIOT Act!

Pass the word to everyone you know.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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