I almost threw a book at the television screen at the start of Trump’s inaugural address last month when he said that this “is the day power transfers..... to you, the people”. How could that be? He didn’t talk during the campaign about strengthening democracy; and, in any event, any serious programme would involve things like citizen juries, participatory budgets etc and would take time to implement properly….
On Inauguration Day power passed only to...... Trump – and we are therefore left with the clear conclusion that he confuses “the people” with himself – as did a certain French monarch when he was famously reported as saying “L’Etat, c’est moi!!”
Or was it perhaps more of a promise that the “real” America he addresses (and assured in that same speech “never to let down”) could be confident that theirs were the only voices/votes he would bother about?? The rest – particularly journalists, judges, civil servants, politicians, experts, academics, protestors – he would simply ignore and bypass. One article this week put it thus -
Trump’s inaugural address carried the stamp of hot ambition even in its (opening) salutation: ‘Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans and people of the world, thank you.’
What were the people of the world doing here? It has been conjectured that Trump was greeting a blood-brotherhood ..that encompassed the followers of Farage, Le Pen, Orban, Wilders and others. Just as likely, given the grandiosity of the man, he meant to suggest that the fate of the world was so implicated in his ascension that it was only polite to say hello.
The next section, however, seemed to see the American people as deciders for the world: ‘We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people. Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come.’ This was immediately followed by an attempt to divide friend from enemy within the US.
“Against me, the establishment (‘Washington’); with me, the people – or rather the people who matter. In the new era of globalisation, ‘politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs.’ For the people, for once, this inauguration day would be a day of celebration, and Trump would rejoice with them: ‘January 20th 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.’
“People power” a la Suisse is all very well – if a bit tiring. But the Swiss have an active citizenry - who can afford to give their time to debate and referenda. Letting a “demagogic kleptocrat” loose who has declared war on those who occupy “the public space” which is the crucial link between the people and rulers.... is something else.....
I have never been a fan of the word “populism”.– on the grounds that it is clearly a derogatory term which is used to cut off discussion…..In a post before the Trump victory I offered some of the elements which I think might reasonably be attributed to the term. Jan Werner-Mueller’s recent little What is Populism? is one of the few books which have so far been written about it and builds on this earlier pamphlet
his short video (from last summer) manages to punch home the key elements and, in so doing, to persuade me that almost all the conditions are now in place in the USA for a significant breach in the democratic process…..See also Umbert Eco's classic 1995 article on "Ur-fascism" which identifies 14 elements of the condition......
And the LRB article I quoted from above then goes on to spell out very dramatically how the much-vaunted Obama legacy could so easily be used to muzzle dissidence and protest -
The national security state that Obama inherited and broadened, and has now passed on to Trump, is so thoroughly protected by secrecy that on most occasions concealment will be an available alternative to lying. Components of the Obama legacy that Trump will draw on include
- the curtailment of the habeas corpus rights of prisoners in the War on Terror;
- the creation of a legal category of permanent detainees who are judged at once impossible to put on trial and too dangerous to release;
- the expanded use of the state secrets privilege to deny legal process to abused prisoners;
the denial of legal standing to American citizens who contest warrantless searches and seizures;
- the allocation of billions of dollars by the Department of Homeland Security to supply state and local police with helicopters, heavy artillery, state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and armoured vehicles; precedent for the violent overthrow of a sovereign government without consultation and approval by Congress (as in Libya);- precedent for the subsidy, training and provision of arms to foreign rebel forces to procure the overthrow of a sovereign government without consultation and approval by Congress (as in Syria);
- the prosecution of domestic whistleblowers as enemy agents under the Foreign Espionage Act of 1917;
- the use of executive authority to order the assassination of persons – including US citizens – who by secret process have been determined to pose an imminent threat to American interests at home or abroad;
- the executive approval given to a nuclear modernisation programme, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion, to streamline, adapt and miniaturise nuclear weapons for up to date practical use;
- the increased availability – when requested of the NSA by any of the other 16 US intelligence agencies – of private internet and phone data on foreign persons or US citizens under suspicion.
The last of these is the latest iteration of Executive Order 12333, originally issued by Ronald Reagan in 1981. It had made its way through the Obama administration over many deliberate months, and was announced only on 12 January. As with the nuclear modernisation programme in the realm of foreign policy, Executive Order 12333 will have an impact on the experience of civil society which Americans have hardly begun to contemplate. Obama’s awareness of this frightening legacy accounts for the unpredictable urgency with which he campaigned for Hillary Clinton – an almost unseemly display of partisan energy by a sitting president. All along, he was expecting a chosen successor to ‘dial back’ the security state Cheney and Bush had created and he himself normalised.