Trump, GOP path to tyranny comes into focus
The resistance needs a counter-intelligence unit
The essence of any true tyranny is the use of police power to crush dissent. If leaders can arrest and intimidate detractors, then they can maintain the appearance of legitimacy and even the trappings of democracy — elections and free speech — without risk of serious challenge. It’s difficult for a resistance to form or get elected, if its leadership is being jailed or in constant legal battles. Trump’s use of fake news and manufactured allegations, his aggressive immigration enforcement, attacks on constitutional protections, conspiratorial tone and pursuit of loyalists to head law enforcement and regulatory agencies could serve to lay the groundwork necessary for the use of the police power against his political enemies. Through ICE, courts made friendly through judicial appointments and control of the justice department, he and the GOP could systematically suppress opposition in the following ways:
- Manufactured crimes and evidence — The resistance has mostly laughed off the Q-Anon phenomenon with its wild suggestion that Q-Anon is a national security operative with knowledge of a secret operation by Trump and others to roll up an international child porn ring supposedly run by Democrats. It’s outlandish, but what if Q-Anon actually is a national security operative, but one working for the Russian government to help Trump? What if Q-Anon is laying the groundwork for a massive ‘kompromat’ campaign using child pornography planted on Democrats’ computers by Russian hackers? It’s something they’ve done before on a small scale. A Russian dissident in London was arrested in 2016 after such material was found on his machine but charges were dropped after a forensic analysis of the computer found the material to have been planted.
Others have fallen victim to this ploy as well. In 2016, The New York Times did a lengthy expose on Russia’s extensive use of kompromat both to control its own population and attack enemies abroad.
Use of evidence planted on computers by Russian hackers was one technique highlighted. From the article: “On the ‘dark web,’ an area of the internet that requires special software and authorization codes to enter, suspected Russian hackers openly offer to plant evidence of pedophilia as a way to destroy an enemy.”
Furthermore, “The idea that Europeans and Russian opponents of the Kremlin are sexual deviants with a taste for pedophilia is a strange but recurring theme in Russian propaganda.”
All it would take for a campaign using the mass planting of evidence to work would be law enforcement that took the evidence at face value. That can happen if Trump has his people in control of it, and Trump has publicly embraced Q-Anon. Recently, Trump said that he would investigate Democrats, if they investigated him. He also said that he would be better at it than they were because he knew more than they did. What did he mean? What does he know? If he is working with the Russians, could this be it? He’s been hinting that he has dirt on Democrats. Given what happened in 2016, shouldn’t the resistance take that seriously?
Even without Russian help, Republicans have successfully smeared democrats with endless multimillion dollar investigations from Congress for years. We all remember the Starr investigation of Whitewater, a host of mini-controversies and the ridiculous accusations surrounding Vince Foster’s death. Republican Darrell Issa’s house committee manufactured or exaggerated one so-called scandal after another during the Obama administration using selective leaking of private testimony, suspicious framing of innocuous evidence and the placement of limits on what witnesses and evidence could be submitted by Democrats. Both the House and Senate under Republicans instigated multiple investigations of Benghazi. When one investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, they created another. Actual wrongdoing had nothing to do with it. They still want to conduct more investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails despite the fact that’s it’s already been thoroughly investigated. Accusations of massive improper voting by illegal immigrants have been constant despite the lack of any evidence. In the last election, Republicans accused Democrats of outright vote fraud in California and Florida on the basis of nothing. The list goes on and on.
Imagine the investigative powers of Justice put to work with that same politicized view and level of prejudice against Democrats and other political enemies. Much has been made of the possible effect on the Mueller investigation of Trump’s appointment of loyalist Whittaker to attorney general. But we should also be concerned about what a Trump loyalist could do with the powers of Justice. We have so far been protected from unfair accusations by standards of evidence and the mostly non-partisan professionalism of federal law enforcement. But objective standards of evidence can be replaced with partisan ones that see any evidence of Democratic guilt as automatically credible and any evidence of innocence as automatically suspect. Professionals and professionalism can be replaced with partisans and demands for loyalty to the president and party. Whittaker is a big step in that direction. William Barr may indeed be a professional but his evident partisan blinders — like Ken Starr before him — may make him just as dangerous.
The resistance needs a counterintelligence operation to investigate and disrupt Q-Anon and other such operations. (which Q-Anon can be expected to style as an attempt to shut down a law enforcement operation). Additionally, Democratic members of Congress and their staff need to be having regular intensive scans of their computers both at work and at home to look for intrusion. What’s more, we need to be on the lookout for Democratic members who suddenly change their tune on Trump like Lindsay Graham did in the last year. We also need to be on guard against the other ways Trump and the GOP can use law enforcement against us, like:
2. Selective enforcement — If being a member of the ruling party means that you are shielded from prosecution or harsh sentencing and being a member of the opposition means you are subjected to the letter of the law, relentless investigation, vigorous prosecution and harsh punishment for even minor offenses, that is a strong incentive to join or at least not oppose the party in power. It also becomes a means of assuring future loyalty if members of the ruling party can be encouraged toward criminal behavior on the promise of such protection. Once they’ve committed a criminal act under such protection, they better not stray lest they lose that protection.
African-Americans have been subject to selective law enforcement for years, but we’ve also already seen the GOP use this on the national stage. Examples include:
A. Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was vigorously prosecuted by Republicans in the 90s and we’ve now learned that Trump wanted to order the Justice department to prosecute Hillary Clinton over minor infractions regarding the handling of classified information in emails. However, the GOP has been entirely uninterested in pursuing accusations of payoffs to women to suppress their claims of sexual affairs, claims of sexual misconduct against Trump or reports of his use of an unsecured mobile phone. They spent years investigating Whitewater trying to find some kind of financial scandal in Clinton’s past, but are uninterested in concerns about Trump’s potential violations of the emoluments clause currently while in office or potential money laundering at the companies he once managed. Instead, the GOP has used investigative bodies to investigate those investigating such matters.
B. The GOP alleges fraud in elections in Florida and elsewhere on the basis of no evidence, but refuses to examine accusations of voter suppression by Democrats and largely didn’t acknowledge clear evidence of fraud in north Carolina until it was clear it affected the Republican Party primary as well as the general election.
C. The justice department under Sessions has investigated leaks to the media and found Trump enemies Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok guilty of violating FBI policy, but no finding has been made regarding allegations that a cabal of senior FBI officials in the New York field office were Hillary haters who were leaking negative material about Hillary for political purposes in 2016.
D. Trump has threatened to use the IRS to audit Jeff Bezos because Bezos has opposed him, but argues that tax charges against his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, are unfair. This threat demonstrates how Trump can use federal agencies to intimidate businesses. Federal agencies that oversee mountains of regulations easily become tools for oppression under selective enforcement as there are so many rules and they are sometimes open to such wide interpretation that it could become possible to find something to charge almost anyone with. The administration could then eliminate rivals to businesses that are administration friendly.
Attempts at prejudicial enforcement have largely been thwarted so far by the integrity of the country’s criminal justice system. But it should be clear to everyone how Trump can eventually undermine that integrity by putting his people in the judiciary and federal law enforcement positions.
3. Incompetent enforcement — it is estimated that hundreds of American citizens have been swept up in immigration raids over the years and as a result wrongly imprisoned or even deported. Hundreds more legal residents have experienced the same thing. And much of that was during the Bush and Obama administrations, which were trying not to wrongly detain people.
Scaling up enforcement in the way Trump has and doing it sloppily makes such mistakes more likely. But in an administration like Trump’s, these sorts of mistakes are a feature not a bug. Those wrongly detained are disproportionately likely to be Democratic voters. And if Trump’s demand for summary deportation of those picked up by ICE without any kind of judicial oversight were ever allowed by the courts, it would mean Trump would have the power to summarily deport political enemies. Furthermore, if he could get rid of birth citizenship and the GOP could replace it with their own standard that defined Democrats as un-American, he could then begin mass arrests and deportations of all sorts of people.
4. Selective laws — Another way Trump and Republicans could potentially use law enforcement against the opposition is to write laws that target opposition populations. This may seem hard to do in a country that demands equal protection of the laws, but it’s actually not if the law is written to target behaviors common to a particular population. For instance, anti-sodomy laws apply equally to everyone but obviously target gay men who more commonly engage in this activity.
Likewise, laws in the 80s and 90s that targeted crack cocaine use applied equally to everyone but targeted black populations because this was their preferred method of consuming cocaine while the preferred method of whites was in powder form.
This last election, we saw a voting law come into play that required everyone to have a street address on their ID in North Dakota. This applied equally to everyone but it was largely Indian populations living on reservations that didn’t have street addresses.
If Republicans gains full control again, expect to see more laws like this.
Every day, it seems less and less far-fetched to believe that Trump and the GOP could get away with misusing law enforcement in these ways. Regardless, the possibility cannot be ignored given the magnitude of the impact if it were to happen on a large scale. If Trump were able to freely start using law enforcement to jail opposition leaders using whatever unexamined legal justification he and the GOP cooked up, it would become very difficult to sustain an effective political opposition. At that point, the resistance would need more than a strong political movement. It would need an army.