Authoritarianism or Democracy?

MAPA Newsletter Jul-Aug 2020

Federal troops are sent to Portland, Oregon, without the consent of the the mayor or the governor. Refusing to identify themselves, the troops pull peaceful protesters off the streets and into unmarked vehicles and spirit them away. They fire rubber bullets and tear gas cannisters nightly, injuring demonstrators in the process. The president has threatened to send these “storm troopers” – the notoriously violent Customs and Border Protection agents, as it turns out – to other major cities governed by Democratic mayors, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. These actions are just the latest manifestation of the full-blown assault on democracy underway by the Trump Administration.

Earlier this summer, on June 29, Mass. Peace Action held a webinar to hear from three powerful speakers – Noam Chomsky, Van Gosse, and Ty de Pass – on the struggle between authoritarianism and democracy being waged in our country today. The webinar, which drew more than 350 participants and has been watched on YouTube by 1,633 people since then, allowed for thoughtful analysis and wide-ranging discussion. Read their presentations below or view the webinar at:

—Jackie King, newsletter editor

Noam Chomsky, Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and Professor Emeritus of MIT, has long been a leading critic of US foreign policy, neoliberalism and political corruption at home and abroad. Here, he discusses the convergence of multiple crises confronting us today: the coronavirus pandemic, the threat of nuclear war, the unfolding climate catastrophe, and the deterioration of democracy. Yet the nationwide uprising against police brutality and systemic racism is “completely without precedent” in its scale, its understanding of history, and its level of public support, he notes. These contending forces – those seeking to impose a harsher regime and those struggling against it – will determine whether the human experiment can continue. Read more.

Van Gosse, a Professor of History at Franklin & Marshall College, has written about the New Left “movement of movements” and, in recent years, Black politics between the Revolution and the Civil War. Here he speaks in detail about the steps that Trump is taking – and will extend even further if he wins or seizes a second term – toward “illiberal democracy” or authoritarianism: the takeover of the judiciary, the planting of loyalists in all decision-making posts in the state apparatus, the green-lighting of paramilitary violence, and the federalizing of policing. But there is still reason for hope, as the US electorate moves left on many core issues. Read more.

Ty de Pass, born in New York and active in anti-racism struggles in Boston in the 70s and 80s, is now a member of Simple Justice in Columbia, South Carolina. Here, he explores the long history of structural racism in US history, from the Triangle Trade beginning in the 16th century to the brutal suppression of gains made during Reconstruction, from the enforcement of Jim Crow segregation to the police violence unleashed against black communities today. He notes that, in the post-civil-rights era, a new bipartisan consensus was forged, to dismantle the tenuous social contract of the New Deal and the Great Society, by promoting the myth that an undeserving “black underclass” of predators and deviants needed to be controlled by hard-nosed policing and punishment. Read more.