The calling card of fascism is lawlessness in the name of law and order
– Yale philosopher Jason Stanley
Insofar as Donald Trump is campaigning in, as opposed to subverting, the 2020 presidential election, his main selling point is Law and Order.
That might at first seem odd. Crime is not Americans’ top issue right now. We are preoccupied first and foremost with trying not to die from the pandemic that Trump has deliberately fanned across the nation and with trying to keep our economic heads above water during the epic recession that has been fueled by that pandemic. Crime is a marginal concern compared to those concerns.
But the fascist Trump isn’t trying to reach most U.S. citizens. He knows he can’t, but he also knows he doesn’t have to. He’s trying to rally enough of his racist white base to vote so that he can prevail in an election he expects to be tilted his way by the Electoral College, by racist and voter suppression, by right-wing intimidation, and by presidential assaults on the mail-in voting process that is required by his pandemic.
Let’s be crystal clear about what Law and Order means when that phrase issues from the mouth or the Twitter feed of the orange fascist animal. It is code language for “crack down on Black people” and civil rights protesters.
Tens of millions of Americans demonstrated the moral force and courage to rise in protest lethal racist police brutality and to proclaim that Black Lives Matter (a slogan Trump viciously calls “hate” language) this summer. Trump and his fellow white nationalists like Stephen Miller, Sean Hannity, William Barr, and Tucker Carlson see this great people’s protest wave as a racist and authoritarian opportunity. They are fanning the virus of white fear and reaction, selling the George Floyd rebellion to “heartland” whites as a “terrorist” and “communist” assault on the American social and legal order that is being led my mysterious outside and conspiratorial actors.
Trump Law and Order is meant to ignite the authoritarian president’s white Amerikaner base in accord with the classic Social Darwinian “Us versus Them” mindset of fascist and other far-right politics.
Also consistent with the fascist political playbook that Trump and his gang operate from, Trump has no serious respect for normal bourgeois and constitutional law and order. “The calling card of fascism,” the Yale philosopher Jason Stanley recently commented on National Public Radio, “is lawlessness.”
It’s illegal to lock people up for seeking asylum in your country. Trump doesn’t care. He’s got concentration camps full of asylum seekers and other prospective migrants on the southern border. He has told border patrol agents that it’s okay for them to shoot migrants because he’ll pardon them pardon them later.
It’s illegal under the Hatch Act to use the White House as a prop for partisan campaigning. Trump doesn’t care. He recently used “the people’s house” to accept the white-nationalist party’s presidential nomination, essentially moving the last day of the Republican National Convention to the White House lawn. The lawn was adorned with a giant Trump-Pence campaign sign.
Trump routinely uses White House press conferences to rail against his hapless Democratic Party opponent Joe Biden.
It was an abject criminal abuse of power for Trump to try to extort Ukraine into digging up political dirt on Biden. UkraineGate is far from Trump’s worst crime, but it was monumentally illegal and got him justly impeached. Trump didn’t care. During the open partisan farce that passed for his “rule of law” trial in the U.S. Senate, his demented attorney Alan Dershowitz argued that Trump can do anything he wants to get re-elected.
Trump himself has preposterously claimed that the Second Article of the U.S. Constitution means that “I can do anything I want.” The man literally proclaims himself above the rule of law, consistent with the fascist playbook.
It’s illegal under the Emoluments Clause to use the White House as a private profits source for the president and his family. Trump doesn’t care.
It is against longstanding federal policy and ought to be formally criminal to rush vaccines into the public before they’ve been proven safe. Trump doesn’t care. He is pressuring the federal Food and Drug Administration to do precisely that because he hopes it will help his chances of re-election.
It’s illegal to interfere with the delivery of the mail. “Whoever knowingly and willfully obstructs or retards the passage of the mail, or any carrier or conveyance carrying the mail,” reads the U.S. Statutory Code, “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”
Trump doesn’t care. He’s openly crippling the U.S. Postal Service to disrupt and help discredit the mass mail-in voting that is required by the pandemic that he is illegally spreading.
It is illegal to vote twice in a U.S. election. Trump has just repeatedly told his supporters to do precisely that this fall!
It’s illegal for a militia thug like Kyle Rittenhouse (or anyone else) to murder anti-racist civil rights protesters (or anyone else) in the streets with an assault weapon (or with one’s bare hands or any other kind of weapon, of course). Rittenhouse isn’t even old enough to legally possess and carry an assault weapon.
Donald Trump defends Rittenhouse’s slaughter of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum in Kenosha, Wisconsin two weeks ago. If Trump could pardon Rittenhouse, he would do it, just like he pardoned the fascist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, like he pardoned the racist war criminal Eddie Gallagher, like he symbolically pardoned Saudi Arabia for vivisecting the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
I could go on with other examples of the basic point. When you look closely and honestly at Trump’s record, you realize what he means by Law and Order. He means Trump’s Law and Trump’s Order. And Trump’s Law and Order is a 21st Century white nationalist Amerikaner Law and Order. It’s a fascist law and order according to which unarmed and peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters marching in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King are “Marxist” “terrorists” and armed fascist thugs both inside and outside of government are servants of the common good.
Now, most of the people here and across Illinois are going to do the voting thing and try to get Trump out through the ballot box. I get that, given the existential and – I’ll say it again – the fascist menace that is Donald J. Trump. I might even have to do it myself (though I find myself stepping back from being able to nearly every time the Democrats’ insultingly doddering, right-wing candidate opens his mouth). The fascist malignancy Donald Trump is truly (as Noam Chomsky says) “the most dangerous criminal in human history.”
But let’s be clear: voting under the U.S. party and elections system is two minutes choosing between absurdly binary ruling-class options once every 1,460 days. The bigger question is what people are going to do before and after those two minutes. This relates to broad policy issues and to the necessary struggle for a new society beyond the reigning imperial and eco-cidal mixture of patriarchy, racial oppression, and class rule.
But it also relates to the upcoming election itself. Trump has made it abundantly clear that he is not going to let the populace remove him power simply through a normal rule-of-law election. He’s not going away without an epic struggle in the streets before, during, and after the election.
Trump and his operatives and allies are doing everything in their considerable power they can to subvert a standard bourgeois-constitutional election. Besides his efforts to cripple and de-legitimize mail-in voting, the white nationalist Party of Trump (the formerly “republican” party) is deploying an army of likely armed “poll watchers” to intimidate minority and other likely Biden voters this November.
Trump has proclaimed that “the only way I can lose the election is if it is rigged.” This is an openly reckless call for his armed “tough guys” to wreak havoc in the streets while his personal fascist attorney general William Barr ties the outcome up in court and the contest potentially moves to the House of Representatives in early December.
Seen alongside Trump’s paranoid-fascist description of Black Lives Matter activists as communist “terrorists,” his repeated past allusions to the likelihood of “civil war” if the “left wing” (corporate and imperial) Democrats’ “try to remove me from office,” and his support for the teen fascist killer Kyle Rittenhouse and other armed “vigilantes” (e.g., the gun-waving McCloskeys), this is a clear provocation that raises the specter of far-right bloodshed.
Trump’s former personal fixer Michael Cohen and the senior White House official “Anonymous” have both advised Americans that Trump will not leave the White House peacefully. These warnings came before Trump’s arch-authoritarian impeachment defense and before he deployed federal paramilitaries to crush protests with illegal chemical agents (and much more) in Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. (I write from a city under barely cloaked federal paramilitary occupation right now – Chicago. Federal agents stood just blocks away during a recent Refuse Fascism protest in downtown Chicago).
We are heading towards a profoundly dangerous situation. The ruling- and professional-class experts who formed the Transition Integrity Project (TIP) to “war game” out the likely outcomes of the 2020 presidential election this summer examined four different scenarios: a narrow Biden win; a Trump win with an Electoral College victory but a big popular vote loss, like in 2016; a period of extended uncertainty as in 2000; a big Biden victory with decisive leads in both the Electoral College and popular vote. The last scenario is the only one in which the TIP does not see the nation likely heading into catastrophe, with a constitutional standoff, violence in the streets, and huge disinformation campaigns. How best to avoid such a nightmare?
Georgetown law professor and TIP co-founder Rosa Brooks argues for popular mobilization starting now, not just after the election, when it could be too late: “When people unite to demand democracy and the rule of law, even repressive regimes can be stopped in their tracks. Mass mobilization is no guarantee that our democracy [? See below] will survive – but if things go as badly as our exercises suggest they might, a sustained, nonviolent protest movement may be America’s best and final hope.” (Rosa Brooks, “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” Washington Post, September 3, 2020, emphasis added).
Now, just to be clear, I don’t think we have a democracy at all in the U.S. right now. Abundant and exhaustive research shows that the US has long been a corporate and financial oligarchy or, if your, prefer plutocracy, under the command of the un-elected de facto dictatorship of money/capital/concentrated wealth. That said, professor Brooks is on to something on what constitutes the best way of averting a catastrophe after November 3rd: “a sustained, nonviolent protest movement [is, no may be about it – P.S.] America’s best and final hope.”
Like my many friends in Refuse Fascism, I advocate mass mobilization to take Trump and his fascistic regime down before he can steal a second term or throw the nation into a prolonged and bloody constitutional crisis, even a civil war. Show the nation’s ruling class that there will be Hell to pay if they let him do it.
Even if Trump loses and can be somehow convinced to leave, there’s no telling what kind of havoc he will let loose prior to his official departure date. The notion of leaving this malignant fascist maniac in power until that day is irresponsible. Trump and his Christian fascist monkey-veep need to be forced-out now.
*A much shorter version of this essay was delivered in Chicago Federal Plaza during Refuse Fascism’s Day of National Protest last Saturday.