Against Tyranny: Buying Time for Democracy

MAPA Newsletter October 2020

Trump Tyrant

by Joseph Gerson

Joseph GersonThe central question in November’s election is the choice between preserving a semblance of constitutional democracy or the imposition of repressive, white supremacist authoritarianism.

As Trump’s enablers urge violence and declaration of martial law if he loses the election, and as the president vows to quickly repress post-election protests, it would be wise  to recall and be inspired by the long history of African-American resistance to the KKK and “legal” apartheid segregation. Similarly, we can draw inspiration from the present-day struggles of the Belarusian democracy movement, which won a landslide election victory and has been flooding the streets to defend its victory ever since.

Donald Trump aspires to be a tyrant, defined as an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution. As his former fixer Michael Cohen has written, Trump hopes to reproduce in the U.S. Vladimir Putin’s transformation of Russia into his personal fiefdom. In Trump’s case, he is ruling in much the same way that he lied, cheated, destroyed and enriched himself with the Trump Organization. He built his wealth and accumulated power by bullying, cheating and crushing contractors and business partners. Now he lies, appoints sycophants to run government institutions, threatens critics, assaults science, and refuses to accept personal responsibility. Hence the 205,000 Covid-19 deaths, our devastated economy, the accelerating climate crisis, immigrants confined to cages, and the campaign to reverse the Civil Rights movement’s achievements.  And from conducting much of his business at Mar-a-Lago to billeting the military and the Secret Service on his golf courses, Trump has increased his wealth at taxpayers’ expense.

Trump and his enablers are doing their best to transform the country into a Banana Republic. Trump appealed to Russian and Chinese leaders to intervene in November’s election. He launched an unprecedented voter suppression campaign – including the assault on the Post Office — while urging his cult to vote (illegally) as many times as they can. His efforts to delegitimize the election are designed to pave the way for a post-election coup d’etat. And to give his new fixer – Attorney General Barr –the playground he needs, Trump and McConnell have packed the courts with 200 right-wing judges.

Trump is the product of forces accumulated over the generations, perhaps beginning with the publication of The Lost Cause in 1866, followed by Jim Crow apartheid, and the Nixon-Reagan “Southern Strategy.”  The latter has parallels to the rise of 20th century European fascism when plutocratic wealth reinforced its power by allying with violent and racist forces, only to be consumed by them. Here we’ve had the creation of right-wing think tanks, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that further corrupted the political order, and the creation of Goebbels-like propaganda agencies: Fox TV and Breitbart.

The Democratic Party has done its part. The Great Recession resulted from the Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton abandoning the party’s traditional working-class base to embrace the “management class.” Repeal of the Glass-Stegall Act opened the way for banks to gamble with casino capitalism. The resulting bubble burst. Ten million Americans lost their homes amid countless other deprivations. Obama saved the neoliberal economy but failed to reverse growing inequality and insecurity fueled by economic globalization and technological transformations. These failures created fertile ground for the rise of right-wing faux populism.

Dark and dangerous times are not new in U.S. history. With courageous actions, large and small, they have been overcome. Jim Crow was buried by voter registration drives in the face of KKK violence, by nonviolent marches in the face of Bull Connor’s dogs and clubs, and by challenges in the courts. Women won the right to vote. Burning draft cards and mass demonstrations contributed to ending the Indochina War, and with the Freeze movement we helped to make the Cold War history.

Yes, Biden is a flawed candidate. But a Biden victory will buy us time to organize for real security – political, health, economic, racial, social, climate and peace security – that we desperately need.

The journalist Charles Blow reminds readers of Edmund Burke’s truism that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [to which we need to add women] do nothing.”

We are NOT powerless.  If we are to preserve something akin to democracy, and press for our and future generations’ rights, we must end Trump’s tyranny. Building a Biden landslide, thus reducing Trump’s ability to pull off a coup, and winning a democratic majority in the Senate are within the realm of possibility. And, as the Protect the Results coalition and others conducts trainings in nonviolence, it’s time to prepare to take to the streets and begin thinking about a general strike.

—Joseph Gerson is a member of the Mass. Peace Action Board, co-convener of its Authoritarianism Working Group, and president of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament, and Common Security.