Memories of a Daisy-Picking Goalie
I once watched a small youth soccer game pitting two teams of four and five-year-olds against each other. One of the teams had an aggressive thirty-something buzz-cut white dad coach who egged his team down the field until they somehow managed to nudge the ball though their opponents’ goal posts. Winning was a big deal to him. He was a local Republican and general all-around pain in the ass – the kind of guy who fouls you a lot during noontime basketball at the Y.
The other team was coached by a laid-back Democrat, a decent young man with shoulder-length hair and a tie-dye t-shirt. I liked him. For him, the game was about fun and sharing. He’d yell out “good job” and “great kick” whenever one of his kids almost made a decent play. When the other team scored, as it did over and over, he’d call out “nice try” to his goalie, a five-year-old girl who had little idea where the goal was.
He had to hold back from saying that on the sixth goal, scored while his goaltender sat and picked daisies behind the soccer net.
After the game, he reminded his charges that it wasn’t about winning or losing but about “doing your best and working with others.” Which is especially true with nursery schoolers and kindergarteners, which I say even if I as coach would have tried to equip his team to be beaten by 5 to 2 instead of 7 to 0. Mr. Rogers and Dr. Spock would have approved.
“It’s Inevitable They Will Try”
It’s a cute story from little-kid soccer, where who wins is not the point, or at least shouldn’t be.
Things are different in the nation’s politics, where one of the only two viable party teams, the Republicans, has gone fascist and the other one, the Democrats, regularly “bring a butter knife to a gunfight” (as is sometimes bemoaned even in openly Democratic media outlets like MSNBC).
Behold the never-ending meekness of the dithering Dems regarding the fascist criminal Donald Trump, still the top Republican presidential contender for 2024. Here we are 20 months out from a flat-out physical coup attempt conducted by this malignant sociopath after multiple “constitutional” attempts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election failed. Herr Trump just came back to Washington DC for the first time since he boycotted Biden’s inauguration. He’s still selling the big Hitlerian stolen election lie that fueled the January 6th Attack on the Capitol.
The putsch try was telegraphed from the start of Trump’s demented presidency. It was warned about by numerous observers, including Trump insiders like his former “fixer” Michael Cohen (who told Congress in February of 2019 of his fear that Trump would never permit a peaceful transfer of power if he lost in 2020) and his former Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor, who published (under the pseudonym “Anonymous”) a 2019 book titled, well, A Warning. It was predicted three months into the Trump nightmare by the historian Timothy Snyder, who engaged in the following dialogue with Salon’s Chauncy de Vega in April of 2017:
“De Vega: In your book On Tyranny you discuss the idea that Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency…”
Snyder: “it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them. The conventional way to be popular or to be legitimate in this country is to have some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections…[but] neither the White House nor Congress have any policies which the majority of the public like…they could be seduced by the notion of getting into a new rhythm of politics, one that does not depend upon popular policies and electoral cycles. Whether it works or not depends upon whether when something terrible happens to this country, we are aware that the main significance of it is whether or not we are going to be more or less free citizens in the future…My gut feeling is that Trump and his administration will try and that it won’t work. Not so much because we are so great but because we have a little bit of time to prepare. I also think that there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who have also thought about this and would not necessarily go along.”
Nobody should have been surprised by January 6. It was richly consistent with the violent and authoritarian tone, tenor, and record of the Trump presidency and indeed of the Trump candidacy, which astute commentators easily identified as fascist in 2015 and 2016.
“The Rule of Law is Not Self-Enforcing”
It’s five years and seven months after the orange beast climbed into the world’s most powerful office. It’s two years since it launched a many-sided attempt to overthrow the United States’ surprisingly shaky electoral and rule of law (unmentionably bourgeois) “democracy” – an attack that included the conscious deployment of armed paramilitaries and presidentially approved threats to execute then Vice President Mike Pence. Well before the US House January 6th committee’s first hearing, it was abundantly clear that Trump had committed at least nine federal felonies in connection with his attempted theft/cancellation of the 2020 election:
+ Willful destruction of government property (18 U.S.C. § 1361 and 18 U.S.C. § 2071)
+ Conspiracy against rights (18 U.S.C. § 241)
+ Depriving state residents of a fair and impartial election process (52 U.S.C. § 20511[B])
+ Conspiracy to defraud (18 U.S.C. § 371)
+ Obstruction of an Official Proceeding (18 U.S.C. § 1512)
+ Conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties (18 U.S.C. § 372)
+ Seditious conspiracy (18 U.S.C.§ 2384)
+ Coercion of political activity (18 U.S.C. § 610)
+ Interference in Election by Employees of Federal or State Governments (18 U.S.C. § 595)
(Trump also committed a bevy of election-related state felonies, many the subject of criminal investigation and potential indictment in Fulton County, Georgia.)
So, like…when does Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Because the Guys with the AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump get prosecuted? As the organization Citizens for Ethics argued March:
“Donald Trump has been credibly accused of committing at least 48 criminal offenses while serving as President of the United States or campaigning for that office…Despite[this] staggering record…he has not been charged with a single criminal offense… It is…critical that no individual be insulated from accountability simply because they are a national political figure, a former president or a candidate for public office. Choosing not to pursue accountability for fear of the political criticism or consequences is itself a deeply political act…. If Trump avoids criminal prosecution for these potential offenses because prosecutors are unwilling to pursue meritorious and legally justified cases against him, the message to him and future presidents will be clear: you can commit crimes with impunity…The rule of law is not self-enforcing” (emphasis added).
More than 800 individuals have been federal charged in connection with the Capitol Riot, just not its main instigator, who turned from a nonstop Energizer Bunny of election subversion into a mostly quiet television viewer for three-plus hours while his mob attacked “the citadel of American democracy” – the US Capitol – on January 6th. As Congresspersons and his own Vice President fled and hid for their lives, he poured more fuel on the “Hang Mike Pence” fire with a provocative Tweet, refused to order a timely deployment of the National Guard, and called Republican Senators to convince them not to certify Biden’s clear Electoral College victory.
Add Yellow to Blue to Green Light Fascist Consolidation
All these months later, even as the House January 6th hearings (scheduled to resume in September) methodically build a case for indictment – and even as many of Trump’s Capitol Rioters are being (inadequately) sentenced – “We the People” are expected to sit patiently for perhaps six more months while Biden’s sleepy Attorney General Merrick Garland decides “whether or not Donald Trump committed federal crimes.” Translation:
+ Decide whether the US ruling class gentleman’s agreement against prosecuting former imperialist commanders-in-chief whose unspoken job description includes regular crimes against humanity and international law still applies in a case where a US president tried to carry out a coup not against a foreign government but against his own imperial state.
+ Decide whether Biden, Garland and other top Dems have the guts to face the fury of the Republi-fascists within and beyond government if they act in accord with rule of law in the homeland at least.
As if not prosecuting Trump and letting him run loose like Hitler after his mild sentence for the Beer Hall Putsch won’t give a big Green Light to more and worse fascist violence going forward. Green is the color produced by mixing Democratic blue with a yellow streak of cowardice. Dear Hollow Men of the dismal, dithering Weimar Dems: appeasement only encourages fascists.
My cloudy crystal ball says that Garland picks daisies behind the rule of law net while the Republi-fascists under Trump or Ron DeSantis march steadily toward the goal of full triple-branch and “deep state” consolidation.
With its top-dog arch-offender and most of his fellow seditious conspirators avoiding serious punishment (the grinning fascist Steve Bannon is happy to garner fascist street-cred by serving misdemeanor time for giving the January 6th committee the finger) for, you know, trying to “overthrow [unmentionably bourgeois] democracy, the Trump Hall Putsch becomes a big training exercise and object lesson on the path to consolidated fascist state power.
(Meanwhile, Trump is chomping at the bit to announce for 2024 to make it easier to claim that any prosecution of him is “politically motivated” and therefore “illegitimate.”)
“Schedule F[ascism]”: Deep State Personnel and “Revenge Tour” Planning
Anyone one who doubts that such consolidation is the Republi-fascist goal needs to read Jonathan Swain’s recent Axios reporting (based on extensive interviews with dozens of people close to Trump) on how team Trump is planning a complete takeover of the federal government.
Look back at professor Snyder’s 2017 prophesy (quoted above) that Trump and his party would try a coup that would fail since “there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who… would not necessarily go along.”
The Republi-fascists are working hard to fix that. They plan to prevent any repeat obstruction through the resurrection and enforcement of “Executive Order F” – a White House directive issued but never much implemented by Trump and then cancelled by Biden. While Trump continues to fixate on the mythical election “steal,” leading Trump Party operatives (falsely described as “conservatives” in mainstream discourse) are busy putting a sinister spin on the political maxim that “personnel is policy. As Swain reports:
“Former President Trump’s top allies are preparing to radically reshape the federal government if he is re-elected, purging potentially thousands of civil servants and filling career posts with loyalists to him and his ‘America First’ ideology…Trump allies are working on plans that would potentially strip layers at the Justice Department — including the FBI, and reaching into national security, intelligence, the State Department and the Pentagon, sources close to the former president say…During his presidency, Trump often complained about what he called ‘the deep state.’ The heart of the plan is derived from an executive order known as ‘Schedule F,’ developed and refined in secret over most of the second half of Trump’s term and launched 13 days before the 2020 election…As Trump publicly flirts with a 2024 comeback campaign, this planning is quietly flourishing from Mar-a-Lago to Washington — with his blessing… [It] could accelerate controversial policy and enforcement changes, but also enable revenge tours against real or perceived enemies, and potentially insulate the president and allies from investigation or prosecution. … What is happening now is an inversion of the slapdash and virtually non-existent infrastructure surrounding Trump ahead of his 2017 presidential transition. [Right-wing] groups are operating on multiple fronts: shaping policies, identifying top lieutenants, curating an alternative labor force of unprecedented scale, and preparing for legal challenges and defenses that might go before Trump-friendly judges, all the way to a 6-3 Supreme Court.”
It isn’t just about the usual political appointees. It’s about bringing to heel the vast army of officially apolitical civil service professionals who swear allegiance to no party or person but only to the Constitution. (But of course: fascism is among other things about the maximum possible politicization of the state and indeed of life itself, all in subordination to the single reigning party, ideology, and maximal male Leader.)
A Swain shows, “Schedule F” found its origins in the mind of James Sherk, a Republi-fascist ideologue in Trump’s presidential Domestic Policy Council. Conscious that Trump wanted a tool to threaten to fire federal civil servants who objected to his America/Trump-First agenda. Sherk found the weapon his master wanted in Section 7511 of Title 5 of the U.S. Code. As Swain explains:
“This section exempts from firing protections employees ‘whose position has been determined to be of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating character by the President for a position that the President has excepted from the competitive service.’ It struck Sherk that the language in the Code was not limited to political appointees. The wording was ‘confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating.’ Nothing, Sherk thought, stops us from putting career employees into this bucket.”
The “advanced and ambitious” plan to stock the federal bureaucracy with tens of thousands of paranoid-style palingenetic nationalists is being led by a number of “conservative” organizations linked to former Trump administration operatives like former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Justice Department operative Jeffrey Clark (a putschist clown who Trump nearly made Attorney General in his final days): the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), the Center for Renewing America (CRA), and the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI). These “well-funded groups,” Axios reports, “are already developing lists of candidates selected often for their animus against the system — in line with Trump’s long-running obsession with draining ‘the swamp.’ This includes building extensive databases of people vetted as being committed to Trump and his agenda” (emphasis added).
A critical lesson that the Amerikaner authoritarians atop these radical (“conservative”) groups and the Trump inner circle have drawn from his 2020 election loss, his unsuccessful attempt to Reichstag Amerika, and his two impeachments: the need to keep “ungrateful” and “treasonous” personnel out of government from top to bottom. They are putting together the mother of all ideological background-checking machines. Everyone in the next Trump or first DeSantis (see below) administration and in Congress is to be evaluated for ideological and personal allegiance.
The CPI, identified by Swain as “the hub of the hard right in Washington,” is extending this plan to fill the federal government with far-right ideologues to Congress:
“CPI’s immediate priority is preparing to put its vetted people in new GOP congressional offices at the start of 2023. Over the past five years since CPI’s founding, the group has been adding personnel to a database that now contains thousands of names. The CPI team is reckoning on Republicans likely winning back the House and possibly the Senate in the November midterms. That would deliver a tremendous staffing opportunity. These anticipated victories could open hundreds of new staff jobs on Capitol Hill next year — from congressional offices to key committees. CPI’s goal is to have at least 300 fully vetted ‘America First’ staffers to supply GOP congressional offices after the midterms. These new staffers would theoretically gain valuable experience to use on Capitol Hill but also incubate for a Trump administration in 2025.”
Much of the federal judiciary, including the absurdly powerful US Supreme Court, has already been overtaken by the Christian fascist right, of course. As the Democrats pick daisies behind the goal, the Republi-fascists are marching down the field, going for the full trifecta: executive, legislative, and judiciary, with a reach far down into the middle rungs of each branch’s bureaucracy. These inverted Leninists are doing their homework and planning a full court press not really to smash the “administrative state” that they love to rail against and “red pill” as Marxist but rather order to take it over and align it completely with the Republic-fascist agenda.
A chilling indication of how much more “hard right” the “conservative” political and policy structure has gone: longtime “free market” Heritage Foundation’s Trumpy new president Kevin Roberts “plans to spend at least $10 million collaborating with at least 15 conservative groups to build a database of personnel for the next Republican administration.”
As the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas says, “First term they really didn’t know what they were doing, so the administration was hit and miss; now they’ve had four years to figure it out. Steal the election and then restructure the state to fascist specifications. Anyone who doubts the gravity of the current moment needs to read Swain’s reporting” (emphasis added).
(Though the way things are going for Biden, election theft – for which Republican maneuvers are already well in play especially at the state-level – may not even be required.)
Trump Returns to the Scene of His Crime to Call for Emergency Police State Powers
Another thing for fascism-deniers to look at is film of Trump’s speech to the AFPI in Washington last Tuesday. Beyond all the nonsense about the last election, Trump advocated a dystopian future in which he would use urban crime to justify an authoritarian police state under his command. As David Frum writes: “Trump sketched out a vision that a new Republican Congress could enact sweeping new emergency powers for the next Republican president. The president would be empowered to disregard state jurisdiction over criminal law. The president would be allowed to push aside a ‘weak, foolish, and stupid governor,’ and to fire ‘radical and racist prosecutors’—racist here meaning ‘anti-white.’ The president could federalize state National Guards for law-enforcement duties, stop and frisk suspects for illegal weapons, and impose death sentences on drug dealers after expedited trials.” This is a classic fascist calling card: lawlessness in the name of law and order. So much for “states rights,” a right-wing favorite in different situations.
DeSantis in the Wings: “A Trump with Far Less Legal and Other Baggage”
None of this necessarily goes away if Trump gets knocked out of the nomination race by the January 6th hearings, indictments, and intra-Republican feuding. There are signs that this could happen, including new ruptures between Trump and Rupert Murdoch and some FOX News personalities. And, of course, there’s always hope for a long overdue physical collapse. But if Trump is cancelled, politically or biologically, the plan for filling the federal government with America First fascists could easily move from the orange reptile to the arguably more dangerous Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
“As the Republican party adopts an authoritarian political culture and rejects democratic norms and ideals,” the historian and political commentator Ruth Ben-Ghiat notes, “the embrace of extremist ideologies has become a way for ambitious GOP politicians to stand out and capture media attention. Florida, Texas, and other Republican-governed states are becoming laboratories of American autocracy, passing legislation that institutionalizes homophobia, and racism.”
Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where the “illiberal” and “authoritarian” (academic Ben-Ghiat’s preferred terms for describing the governor’s fascism) DeSantis has taken brutal aim at civil, gay, transgender, women’s, immigrant, and voting rights, public health, educational freedom, liberals, and the left while assaulting the independence of the state’s legislative and judicial branches. (Among his many “illiberal” policies, DeSantis is turning his state’s educational system into what Henry Giroux calls “a feral propaganda tool” for neo-Nazi hyper-nationalism, “replicating pedagogies of repression that were at work in Germany in the 1930s” while “banning books and critical race theory, requiring educators sign loyalty oaths, and forcing them to post their syllabi online. He has also instituted legislation that restricts tenure and allows students to film faculty classes without consent, and much more.” DeSantis’s latest fascist stunt is granting military veterans and spouses the right to teach in Florida schools without educational certification.)
DeSantis is a boring public speaker who lacks Trump’s sick stand-up stump charisma with the hard-core MAGA base, but he is popular with Republican voters and could well emerge as the MAGA go-to if Trump finally at long last implodes. And he’s a politically dangerous alternative since, as Ben-Ghiat notes, “he’s younger and smoother, and at first could seem a more palatable figure–a Trump with far less legal and other baggage.” This could win DeSantis a good number of more moderate Republicans who might sit out 2024 or even back Biden if the openly maniacal Trump secured the GOP nomination.
DeSantis would stand a good chance against the stumbling octogenarian Biden, whose cowardly presidency has proved so uninspiring that 75% of Democrats now want their party to run someone else in the next election.
I expect this essay to elicit the same eye-rolling dismissal I got from a number of white male “Marxist” Trumpenlefties who all-knowingly informed me that “the ruling class would never let Trump become president” and who still to this day insist the “the capitalist class won’t permit fascism in the USA.” They might just as well say it: It Can’t Happen Here.
I will address this last moronic narrative in relation to how we understand “the” capitalist ruling class in a future essay.
1. After all this time has passed, US House Democrats and two US House Republicans have just held January 6th committee hearings bringing forth former Trump White House operatives who appear to have understood that their top crime boss posed a lethal menace to the republic only after he unleashed his mob on the US Capitol. The last three committee witnesses only grasped this elementary fact 99.9% of the way through Trump’s presidency? Really?
2. Academics (with wonderful exceptions like Henry Giroux) tend toward cowardly terror and avoidance when it comes to using the dread “F-word.” For an at times amusing account of their remarkable reluctance to call fascism, fascism, see Chapter 4, titled “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial” in my latest book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America.