Thursday Night Owls: You-know-who is gone, but authoritarian foundations are still in place

Thursday Night Owls: You-know-who is gone, but authoritarian foundations are still in place

Night Owls is a themed open thread appearing at Daily Kos seven days a week.

At The Nation, Rafael Khachaturian writes—Trump Has Left the Building, but the Foundations Are Still in PlaceAttention has rightly been paid to his malign influence. But the shift to the right started before his presidency, and promises to continue after it:

It has been an ignominious close to a historical moment that will be measured by its impact for years to come. Already long before the 2016 election, many saw Trump’s rise as a turning point of American politics toward authoritarianism, or even fascism. For some, the Trump presidency was an “aspirational autocracy,” while for others, it was an example of tyranny. Many debated the applicability of the fascist label. Yet, for others still, these concerns overlooked the persistent illiberal and antidemocratic tendencies that ran like a thread through all of American history. According to these more skeptical arguments, focusing on Trump’s would-be authoritarianism both mythologized the pre-Trump years and obscured just how ineffective and weak his time in office had been.

Even as these most recent events confirm a political defeat for Trump and the restoration of a shaky centrist-progressive coalition, the United States continues to experience a slow-burning legitimacy crisis that shows no signs of abating. While the 2016 election did not create an immediate political crisis of the state, it exacerbated antidemocratic and authoritarian tendencies that were already ingrained in American society and political institutions.

These tendencies were decades in the making. The American security state, already nurtured on decades of anti-leftist funding and training, had taken on a new gloss with the War on Terror. The lasting fallout from the Great Recession of 2008 played a major role in the 2016 crisis of the political establishment and Trump’s unexpected rise to the top of the Republican Party. This year alone, the mismanagement of Covid-19 has led to the deaths of over 400,000 people, exposing essential workers and the vulnerable to a deadly disease and fraying the country’s already tattered social institutions, at the same time as structural racial violence brought millions of people to the streets in the midst of this pandemic.

These factors have accumulated to create the most serious legitimacy crisis since the late 1960s. We still do not have enough distance to evaluate the long-term effects of the Trump administration. Nevertheless, we should not try to make sense of the Trump years by approaching them as a radical break with what has come before. Instead, they continued broader and preexisting authoritarian tendencies in American politics—a tide that will be only temporarily stemmed by Trump leaving office. […]

THREE OTHER ARTICLES WORTH READING

TOP COMMENTS • RESCUED DIARIES 

TWEET OF THE DAY

I am honored to be the first male spouse of an American President or Vice President. But I’ll always remember generations of women have served in this role before me—often without much accolade or acknowledgment. It’s their legacy of progress I will build on as Second Gentleman.

— Douglas Emhoff (@SecondGentleman) January 21, 2021

QUOTATION

“They realize that in thirty-four months we have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a peoples Government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.” ~~Franklin D. Roosevelt, State of the Union, Jan. 3, 1936

BLAST FROM THE PAST

On this date at Daily Kos in 2009—Obama Administration Sides with Bush’s DOJ in Spy Case:

A sensitive civil liberties case that has been working its way through the courts for nearly four years is in the news again as the Obama administration “fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.” The case involves the now-defunct, Oregon-based Saudi charity, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.

According to David Kravets at Wired:

With just hours left in office, President George W. Bush late Monday asked U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to stay enforcement of an important Jan. 5 ruling admitting key evidence into the case.
 

Thursday’s filing by the Obama administration marked the first time it officially lodged a court document in the lawsuit asking the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s warrantless-eavesdropping program. The former president approved the wiretaps in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“The Government’s position remains that this case should be stayed,” the Obama administration wrote in a filing that for the first time made clear the new president was on board with the Bush administration’s reasoning in this case.

Given that it has adopted the Bush administration’s position in this case, the question now to be answered is what role “unitary executive” philosophy will play in the Obama administration.

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