When I was a child, world maps in American school classrooms showed the United States at the center of the world. It always confused me, as I couldn't figure out why those land masses on the far right and left edges of the map were cut off. For better or for worse, the days of centering the United States are over. We are living through the end of the American Century.
A friend posted this useful chart on her Facebook page today. It was created, and posted on Instagram, by a graphic designer. When I first looked at it, it made a lot of sense. It’s simple, easy to follow and clearly sets out the steps one should take after one gets tested for the COVID-19 virus.
Then I noticed one glaring issue that makes clear that this flow chart definitely did not originate in the United States. Before reading on—can you spot which chart applies to the United States, and which one applies to, you know, civilized countries?
Apparently, in Australia (which is where the chart’s creator, visual artist Beci Orpin, resides), state- or territory-level public health authorities contact each patient who gets a positive test result to instruct them on next steps. For example, in Victoria, it is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)—as listed in the chart above—that performs this function. The point is that in all Australian states and territories, there are public health workers who will follow up with infected patients and make sure they get the advice and care they need. There are also 31 public health networks (PHNs) that coordinate health services in local areas.
Here in the “greatest country in the world” we also have federal and state public health authorities, but their leadership and funding have been decimated, and they are certainly not contacting every person who tests positive for COVID-19. (Why would they? It’s not as if we have a national healthcare system in the United States. And it’s not as if we have a national strategy of comprehensive testing and tracing of COVID-19 cases.)
So I doctored up Beci Orpin’s chart to provide a US version. Good luck.
Trump has unleashed his secret federal police onto the streets of American cities. Ever since this president’s inauguration, many horrified American critics who could foresee what was coming have nonetheless been reluctant to use the “F” word (Fascism), much less compare Trump and his supporters to the “N” word (Nazi). But just as individuals (and countries) go bankrupt—in the words of Ernest Hemingway—“gradually, then suddenly,” so, too, do democracies slide into fascism gradually, and then suddenly.
Trump’s “secret” police force isn’t so secret anymore, since it has now been reported in multiple credible media outlets that he has been deploying paramilitary officers domestically from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), two components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He has done so by reassigning these officers to the Federal Protective Service (FPS). However, they remain anonymous on the streets, bearing no official government insignia or identification on their uniforms. When they confront protesters, they do not identify themselves. When they make arrests, the vehicles in which they take people away are unmarked.
All of these actions are signs of creeping fascism.
Though by their very nature, these paramilitary operatives are unnamed, they do in fact constitute a new kind of secret federal police. Where have we heard of this before? Let’s see. Remember something called the Gestapo? Yes, I’m going there. It may not be evident to most Americans, but Gestapo is not a German word. Instead, it is an acronym. GE stands for “geheime” which means “secret.” STA stands for “staats” which means “state” or “national” (which we would be more likely to term “federal” in the United States). And PO stands for “polizei” or “police.” So Gestapo stands for secret federal police.
The German Gestapo was created by Hermann Göring in 1933. It became a national agency in 1936, under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler. The Gestapo engaged in extralegal and extrajudicial repression of any activity the Nazi Party considered unacceptable. You’ll recall that the Nazis weren’t defeated until 1945.
I shouldn’t have said “creeping” above. Fascism has long since crept its way into American daily life. We’ve moved beyond “gradually” and have arrived at “suddenly.” Anyone who is not terrified is not paying attention.
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“How did you go bankrupt?” a fictional character named Mike is asked in a well-known American novel. “Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually, then suddenly.” Often misquoted, and misattributed, this quote comes from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises.
The always sharp and incisive Lawrence Reichard — a journalist and activist based in Maine — writes this “Letter from America” to the world. What exactly is happening here? Where will this all lead? I dearly hope his concluding line is prophetic.
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July 23, 2020 Lawrence Reichard
It is an odd thing to live in the United States right now. The greatest empire in the history of the world has devolved into a twisted, macabre, grotesque caricature of itself, and the world looks on in astonishment and horror. My good, dear friend Heidi texts from Cologne, Germany about unidentified government agents snatching Black Lives Matter protesters off the streets of Portland, Oregon and forcing them, with heavy weaponry, into unmarked vans. “This is fascism, no?” she writes. I reply. “Well, yes, it is.”
On night 52 of the Portland protests, a Wall of Moms shows up, to protect the protesters. Mothers in bicycle helmets facing off against government agents equipped for war. The agents wear camouflage, in a city, at night. The point isn’t to blend in — it’s to intimidate and frighten. And federal agents that normally guard the border tear gas the mothers. Mothers. That’s what we’ve come to as a country..
But it doesn’t work. Instead of scaring off protesters, protester ranks swell, as columnists around the country warn of creeping fascism.
It gets worse.
In the midst of a global pandemic, President Trump pulls out of the World Health Organization and threatens to cut funding to the CDC, something he already did well before the pandemic struck — despite clear warnings from the outgoing Obama administration that a pandemic would almost certainly strike at some point.
In October 2019, prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore ranked the US first among 195 countries in pandemic readiness, and number one in all six categories surveyed. Eight months later the US is number one in COVID-19 infections. Number one in deaths. And Trump, in astonishing tone-deafness, brags about the Hopkins study. With a population of 331 million, the US has 142,000 deaths. With a population of 95 million and four percent of US per capita GDP, Vietnam has zero deaths.
My good friend Peter Millard is an MD and epidemiologist. I tell him Trump could scarcely kill more people with COVID-19 if he tried. Peter agrees.
As COVID-19 tears through the South and Southwest, cities in Georgia try to mandate face masks in public, but Georgia Governor Brian Kemp blocks the move. Atlanta, the biggest city in Georgia, mandates masks anyway, and Kemp sues the city. In an extraordinary move, Kemp personally sues Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is isolating at home with COVID-19. In our greatest crisis since World War II, we’re at war with ourselves. We’re eating our own.
Kemp shouldn’t even be governor. In 2018, he stole the election against the dynamic, charismatic African American Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. Kemp was Georgia secretary of state from 2010 to 2018 and he oversaw the closing of 1,688 polling places and the purging of 340,000 voters. Kemp “won” the election by 54,763 votes.
A secretary of state overseeing an election in which he himself was a candidate. We have become a banana republic.
A secretary of state overseeing an election in which he himself was a candidate. We have become a banana republic.
On June 23, 2020, Kentucky held a primary election in which more than 95% of the state’s polling places were closed. Louisville, with a population of 600,000, had one polling place. The media barely noticed.
In a July 19 on-camera interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, Trump refused to commit to respecting the outcome of his upcoming November 3 re-election bid.
And none of this is imagined, invented or exaggerated. I couldn’t possibly make this up.
But there are signs of hope. The Portland protests show no signs of ending. Or even slowing down. In the 58 days since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Floyd’s name has become known the world over and has ignited a global fight for racial justice and equality such as the world had never seen before.
Even corporate America is behind it. Even golf, game of the rich and the corporate. Golf tournaments on TV are now regularly interrupted by 30-second heartfelt racial justice messages delivered by black sports icons. As the messages say, there’s no turning back. Though events are still playing out, history has spoken. And Trump is lining up solidly on the wrong side of this history.
As stated in a New York Times opinion piece, Trump knows only one song. It’s a song of anger, resentment, bitterness, hate and division. But it’s not playing. Trump’s numbers are in veritable free fall and he may take Republican control of the senate with him, reducing Senate Majority leader, kingmaker, and Trump enabler Mitch McConnell to a backbench status little above that of the teenage senate pages that scurry around the chamber floor delivering messages here and there.
History suggests Trump may be heading for the biggest defeat in 231 years of US presidential elections, perhaps eclipsing incumbent Richard Nixon’s 60.7% to 37.5% thrashing of George McGovern in 1972.
The strain is showing. Trump has for decades craved public praise and adulation, and now he faces the biggest test of public approval of his life. Will he respect the November results? He is already laying the groundwork for not accepting them. He has already said the election will be fraudulent, because of mail-in ballots, something the US has used for more than 150 years, and which Trump himself uses.
But Trump may have made a key mistake. On June 1, Trump used tear gas to clear a path through a peaceful protest for the sake of an election-style photo op, holding up a bible — upside down — in front of a Washington church. This from a man who rarely goes to church. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper went with him. Both men later said they didn’t know where they were going or for what purpose. It’s hard to say what’s more shocking: that they — the country’s highest military figures — didn’t know where they were going, or that they publicly admitted they didn’t know.
But the damage was done. Trump had humiliated these career military officers before the world.
In another extraordinary move, both men later expressed regret, for being duped and for allowing themselves to be used as campaign props. And in a point missed by American media, Black Lives Matter likely played a role in those remarkable mea culpas, as BLM has unleashed a global tsunami of reckoning.
Those public expressions of regret must have been deeply humiliating to Trump, but the man who has tweeted 200 times in one day, was silent on this abject rebuke of his rule. The rebuke was reminiscent of congressional testimony earlier in the Trump era in which a high-ranking Pentagon official assured a congressional committee the military would not let Trump get the country into an ill-advised war. It is a measure of the surreal nature of these times that such unprecedented testimony barely raised an eyebrow in the US media.
Given all this, it’s hard to imagine the military would allow Trump to not abide by November’s verdict. But all indications are that Trump doesn’t have the requisite fortitude anyway. Trump has threatened military action against Iran, Venezuela and North Korea, but aside from the seemingly endless US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan — which he inherited — all Trump has done in three and a half years is bomb a far corner of a Syrian air force base where there were, perhaps by design, no Syrian forces. And when peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside the White House, Trump hid in a White House basement bunker intended for use in nuclear war. Trump later claimed he was inspecting the bunker, a claim widely ridiculed in the media.
No, Donald Trump won’t refuse to leave if he loses. He doesn’t have the guts.
As I wrote in my post yesterday (July 21), the law enforcement personnel Trump has deployed on the streets of Portland, Oregon (and has promised to deploy in Chicago, New York and other cities “run by liberal democrats”) come from two sub-agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These are two of three new immigration agencies (the third being U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS) that were created within DHS when it absorbed the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which had been part of the Department of Justice.
Evident in the very names of these two agencies is the fact that their mandates are to enforce immigration and customs-related laws—both at the border (CBP) and in the interior (ICE) of the United States. So why are two immigration agencies being used to patrol the streets in a city that is not on an international border, and to make arrests having nothing to do with immigration or customs enforcement?
As I mentioned yesterday, I think the main reason is that Trump has been rebuffed in his desire to use the military for these types of operations. So he turned to a politicized agency that, by the way, is already the country’s largest federal law enforcement organization, with more than 60,000 law enforcement officers on its payroll. Moreover, unlike other federal law enforcement agencies—such as the FBI, the DEA or the ATF, which have specific domains of authority defined by federal statute—DHS’s statutory authority includes the discretion to transfer agents from one component of DHS to another. The administration is taking advantage of this loophole to second CBP and ICE officers to the Federal Protective Service (FPS), a federal agency whose job is to protect federal property.
But there is another, more insidious reason why it should not surprise us that Trump is using armed border patrol and other immigration enforcement officers as his storm troopers. As Dina Haynes, Professor at New England Law, writes, “Racist, regressive leaders around the world have been instrumentalizing racism, discrimination, and ‘othering’ to further their nativist goals.” Immigrants were Trump’s first scapegoats, but it’s an easy next step to scapegoat anyone who challenges his authority by suggesting that they, too, are somehow “others” who seek to destroy our country. The administration has been quite successful in instrumentalizing anti-immigrant sentiment to justify expanding administrative authority. (This in an administration that purportedly wants to “deconstruct the administrative state.”) The result is the sort of authoritarian crackdowns we are now seeing, including in Portland, where the administration is using national security rhetoric to justify letting DHS operate far beyond its jurisdictional limitations.
In a Facebook post where Angelo A. Paparelli, a highly respected immigration lawyer, posted without comment a New York Times opinion piece about what’s happening in Portland (see Michelle Goldberg’s great column, “Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun”), a contrarian commenter started right in by suggesting that Angelo must “love anarchy” and “hate America.” Nothing in his post, or in his history, would suggest anything of the sort. Why do Trumpers so often resort to this kind of rhetoric? And it rarely helps to respond with facts and figures. These Kool-Aid drinkers have long since absorbed the Orwellian dictate, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Remember, Trump himself said in 2018, “Just remember what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Yes, it’s all fake news—except when it suits him. Then it’s all the Democrats’ fault.
My friend and fellow immigration law warrior Rebecca Eichler recently posted the image I am sharing here. It’s a relevant update of the famous prose poem by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. Fascism is here. In America. Today. The question is: will you resist, or will you collaborate?
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SOURCES AND FURTHER READING (more or less in the order in which the related topics are discussed above):
If you aren’t already reading Heather Cox Richardson‘s daily newsletters, I highly recommend them. She is a professor of American history who brilliantly puts current US events into historical context. She also broadcasts live on Facebook twice a week, and in today’s video she connects the dots to demonstrate how Trump is using the Department of Homeland Security to create a false narrative about violent anarchists on the streets in Portland (and soon other cities as well) in order to scare people into voting for him in November.
Keep in mind that to date, the worst the protesters in Portland have done is spray graffiti on some government buildings and deface a statue commemorating the Confederacy. Meanwhile, unmarked, heavily armed federal officers have cracked skulls and swept peaceful protesters off the streets into unmarked vans. Is this the kind of country any of us wants to live in? A place where the government engages in extrajudicial violence and disappearances?
The military, for all its faults, is an essentially apolitical (not to mention disciplined) institution. After the debacle where Trump manipulated the military into clearing the streets near the White House of protesters so that he could pose with a bible in front of a nearby church, military leaders made it clear that they would not let themselves be used like that again.
So now Trump is using law enforcement officers from the Department of Homeland Security — especially two of its sub-agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — to serve as his storm troopers. DHS is a thoroughly political institution, created by the George W. Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, and CBP and ICE, which are both full of virulently right-wing white supremacists, are more than willing to do Trump’s bidding.
In 2016 (and again in 2018), it was caravans of supposedly violent immigrants who were said to pose a national security threat to our country. (Funny how news of the caravans essentially disappeared after the elections.) In 2020, it will be purportedly violent anarchists in — wait for it — Democratically-led cities who allegedly pose an existential threat to our democracy. The language to this effect that 45 used in his recent “Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence” is extraordinarily deceptive, incendiary and dangerous. When has a nation’s government ever gone to such lengths to protect monuments to traitors? The so-called violent left-wing extremist is just a straw man. The real threat comes from the government-sanctioned brown shirts on our streets.
Richardson also makes the point that although most presidents want to be re-elected (except for the few, like LBJ, who chose not to run for a second term), the lengths to which Trump is going to gain re-election is unprecedented in American history. After all, what’s the worst that can happen if a president is not re-elected? That he (or, someday, she) is condemned to a life of too much golf and millions of dollars in lecture circuit earnings? It’s not a bad gig.
But in Trump’s case, something worse awaits him, as it is almost certain that once he leaves office, he will be subject to multiple criminal charges. The only thing protecting him from indictment now is a Department of Justice policy (it’s not even a law) that a sitting president cannot be subject to criminal charges. So he is using all of the government resources at his disposal to distract the populace from his disastrous lack of leadership that has allowed a virulent coronavirus to kill thousands of Americans, and to convince the electorate that only he can save us from the violent overthrow of the US government.
It’s all utterly despicable, and leaves me in deep despair. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is stripping the country for parts while they have the chance. We are living through the end of the American Century, brought to you by our sponsor, Trump Inc.