Category Archives: Authoritarianism

The Quiet Coup

Does William Barr appear to be easily manipulated?  Do you really think he lacks inner strength?  James Comey thinks so (James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr).  How about Mike Pompeo and Stephen Miller?  Does Donald Trump have them acting out of character?  Do you think Lindsey Graham does his bidding out of fear?  Is Mike Pence really cowed into submission, or does Steve Bannon stroke Trump’s ego because he lacks intestinal fortitude?

All of the above have forceful personalities.  They didn’t arrive at their stations through lack of will or low self esteem. To suggest they’re being idealistically manipulated is nearsighted and dangerous.  William Barr, the others, and much of the Republican Congress appear sycophantic not out of fear or lack of self-control; they behave that way because they and Trump are kindred spirits.  They’re not just groveling; they like what Trump likes, they want what Trump wants, and they’re strong and willful enough to go after it, even if it requires a curtsy.

Have you heard about the coup?  There actually was one, but not the coup ballyhooed by Donald Trump.  The real “coup” started long ago in a barely noticed manner; it triggered the quiet rise of authoritarianism which now animates Trump’s presidency.  Amanda Taub laid it out in The Rise of American Authoritarianism.  The 2016 article (prior to Trump’s election) is both prescient and sobering.  It deserves a more thorough reading than what’s summed up in the following quick takeaways:

  • The authoritarian profile is characterized by the desire for order and a fear of outsiders.  It looks for a strong leader who promises necessary action to protect from outsiders and prevent feared changes.
  • Authoritarian personalities are drawn to the clearest and loudest authoritarian voice.
  • Covert authoritarian personalities (latent authoritarians) can be moved to overt authoritarian behavior.
  • The authoritarian personality increasingly sorts into the Republican Party (law and order and traditional values).
  • Authoritarians and latent authoritarians compose a large enough bloc to be politically powerful.
  • The authoritarian personality is not a new or Trump phenomenon; it will endure.

Religious institutions have authoritarian roots and thus provide low hanging fruit for aspiring autocrats (especially when spiritual morality has the depth of a bumper sticker).  Taub’s article provides inference of a religious component, but falls short of citing its paternalistic tradition and devotion to dogma and prophecy as instrumental in forging an authoritarian profile (ex. Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus).  It does go far, though, in explaining and describing what’s seen in American politics today.  It also sheds light elsewhere.  There’s instability and much to fear around the globe: immigration, economic turmoil and disparity, religious/social upheaval, climate change, famine, and the ever present reality of violence and war.  It’s an opportune time for the rise of authoritarian and despotic leadership that we see arising throughout the world.

“The Rise of American Authoritarianism” article shows that authoritarian personalities have slowly sorted into the Republican Party over the last fifty years.  That bloc now seems to have reached a controlling influence: 55% of surveyed Republicans scored high or higher on the article’s authoritarian scale.  In blunt terms, half a century ago the party began the process of culturing authoritarian minded voters that now dominate the Republican electorate (and consequently, its primary elections).  More and more Republican representatives sent to Washington (or elsewhere) are apt to be sympathetic (or owing) to authoritarian values.  The profound result of all this is the election of a president who cultivates authoritarian passion.  Perhaps more ominous, though, is a contingent happening: court appointments.  Court nominations at all levels are ideally chosen as vectors of impartiality.  Everyone knows the opposite is true: candidates are chosen that appear most likely to express perceived bias in future judicial proceedings.  Trump and the Republican Party are shaping the judicial system accordingly: two appointments to the Supreme Court (a third is likely) and record setting confirmations of judges to federal appeals courts.  They won’t all, of course, perform as expected, but a general bias will take place beyond the expected conservative/liberal slant: with or without awareness, throughout the court systems, decisions will be made that reflect sympathy with authoritarian ideals.  The judges will be in place for decades and their decisions much longer.  Each one of those sympathetic decisions will pave the way for future authoritarian inroads.

It doesn’t take all that much representation to determine our country’s direction.  Somewhere between 50% and 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in presidential elections (about 40% for midterms).  Combining the two, perhaps roughly half of all eligible voters are shaping political destiny.  In 1992 Ross Perot, a third party candidate, received nearly 20% of the popular vote.  That was an anomaly; third party votes generally have significance only as spoilers in close races between the two major parties (Republican and Democrat).  Usually the winning presidential candidate receives roughly half of all votes cast.  Because nearly half the country takes a pass on Election Day, the winning candidate receives about half of a half (one quarter) of potential votes.  Within each party are factions vying for political influence.  To gain dominance, a faction need only appear to represent half (or even less) of perceived party supporters.  If that party wins, it means roughly half of a quarter (one eighth) of the eligible voting population may dominate in determining national direction.  That’s all it takes.  A president (and more) can be politically empowered by as little as an eighth (or less) of the voting population.  In the face of voter apathy, an energized eighth of the American electorate can democratically nudge the country down the slippery slope to authoritarianism.

If it’s contended that Trump has neither the time nor the tools to actually push the country into irrevocable authoritarianism, it’s sobering to view what’s transpired in a short amount of time.  To his political base and much of the Republican Party, Trump has quite successfully delegitimized the news media, the Department of Justice, political opposition, and judiciary constraints.  Through all the fiascos of his first two years, Trump still enjoys Republican popularity and support.  It’s not just how much he’s managed to do (or undo) in a short amount of time, but how little he’s had to do it with.  He’s not the most gifted politician, but what if he was?  Trump has demonstrated that an authoritarian base is here and ready to use.  A tainted judicial system is in place; it will progressively soften to autocratic appeals over the coming years.  What if one really gifted comes along: someone cunningly intelligent, someone with a coherent plan and political savvy, someone with charisma and charm?

Donald Trump didn’t create the wave, but he adeptly rides it.  Fifty some years ago the old Republican Party sought to seduce and control the authoritarian personality.  The seduction succeeded, but not the control; the old guard lost it.  The new Republican Party is now home and voice to American authoritarianism.  It won’t be silenced through an impeachment or a single presidential election cycle.  It’s here for the long haul.  Figure heads like James Comey and Morning Joe pundits portray Donald Trump as a larger than life puppet master, a maestro manipulating those around him into groveling postures of obsequiousness.  The conjecture provides nearsighted assurance that Trump has a unique presence and those around him are uniquely weak: all will be better when Trump is gone.  It’s dangerously complacent; it’s not seeing the forest for a tree.

They’re not at the gate.  The authoritarians are in the castle.  There’s no time left for wishful thinking or complacency.

Trust Nothing

Utilizing the power of celebrity (an unprecedented phenomenon for the expansion of capital in the west), today’s global influencers such as Thunberg, are fully utilized to create a sense of urgency in regard to the climate crisis. The unspoken reality is, they are the very marketing strategy to save capitalism. This is a very “inconvenient truth”.

Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer

And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.

— Albert T. Beveridge (Speech in the Senate. “Congressional Record”, Senate, 56th Congress, 1st session,1900)

The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard…

Luther Standing Bear

I want to try to tie together several societal and cultural trends that have been developing beneath the surface (or at least beneath the surface most of the time) for several years. One thing that the Trump presidency seems undeniably to embody is a kind of seismic shift into open fascism — a shift that is global in nature. This is not to suggest that Trump is anything other than a continuation of what came before, but that the very forces that brought the Donald to the Presidency have also made visible the tendencies toward fascism globally.

This is the age of marketing. Only that age began forty years ago, more or less, so this is now the age of hyper marketing or ultra marketing. And that all topics and concerns, literally everything, from education to policing to surveillance to nuclear disarmament, to green or ecological concerns, to politics (sic) to gender and race are all in service to further a total indoctrination of the populace (meaning mostly, but not exclusively the West) and a way to protect capital and solidify the power of the ruling elite. And perhaps it’s not exactly to protect Capital so much as to set the stage for a post capitalist new feudalism.

The global landscape now features in Brazil (5th most populous country on earth) a new openly fascist president in Jair Bolsonaro. This is a man who openly admires Hitler, and suggests he’d kill a son if he found out he was gay. Not to mention his adoration of Israel and bromance with Bibi Netanyahu. (contradiction you say?.. on the surface yes, but perhaps not if one examines all this more closely). Bolsonaro wants to sell off the rain forest, and has all but issued a mass death warrant to indigenous tribes and activists protesting the denuding of the Amazon basin. In India, the second most populous nation on earth, Modi has defined himself and his party the BJP as a nativist neo fascist authoritarianism.

…while we don’t have a fascist nationalism which was in Germany, what we are witnessing is semi-fascist nationalism along religious sentiments.

— Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, The Hindu, June 2017

In Hungary there is Victor Orban, and across Europe are a host of nativist ultra reactionary racist politicans; Geert Wilders in Holland, Matteo Salvini in Italy, or AfD political leader Alexander Gauland in Germany who dismissed Nazi era rule as mere “bird poo” in an otherwise spotless history of German triumph. Or Jimmy Akesson of the Swedish Democrats, or Jussi Hallo Aho of the Finns Party in Finland, or the crack pot religious fanatics of the Law and Justice party in Poland (close with Orban’s party) or, in some ways, the most pernicious of the new reactionary neo fascists is Kristian Thulesen Dahl, head of the Danish People’s Party, a svelte well tailored and hip new fascism growing in legitimacy in the formally tolerant Scandinavian country. Dahl, a Knight of the Danneborog, likes to call his party “an anti Muslim party”. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, from the ostensively center right Venstre Party (it’s not, it’s full on reactionary) is almost equal to Dahl in his xenophobia. The previous Prime Minister (Anders Fogh Rasmussen) left the post in 2009 to head up NATO. (!) A position that then was taken by former Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg (Labor Party). So here we have these supposedly liberal politicians eagerly rolling over and piddling themselves, on command, from the US joint chiefs.

Running beneath all of these “anti immigration” parties is a revanchist colonial mentality. And that’s the point. The corporate media provides cover by stressing that immigration is a ‘real’ concern. The very framing of this question is just another tactic in the rehabilitation of fascism. Never is any mention made of *why* there is an immigration *problem*. And if an aside is voiced it never targets US.and NATO Imperialist wars but rather suggests this is a clash of civilizations thing, echoing the seemingly forever durable Samuel Huntington meme. The fact that all that post 9/11 anti Islamic mythology has been debunked matters not at all. It doesn’t matter because people in the West WANTED to believe it — it reinforced a fantasy that they had clutched to their psychic bosoms long ago. The infidel, the barbarian hordes, and the uncivilizable tribes that threaten that bastion of civilization, white Europe. None of the anti immigration parties now on the ascendent in Europe has voiced opposition to US and NATO military affairs. Victor Orban (Fidesz Party) is rapidly coming to seem Europe’s answer to Donald Trump, or perhaps the new Berlusconi.

90% of all newspapers and media in Hungary is owned by Fidesz party loyalists. And Orban has drastically rewritten the constitution to allow himself enlarged powers. Not for no reason has Steve Bannon called Orban the most exciting politician in Europe. Also note, the Fidesz Party began as an anti-Communist youth group.

But the point is that those lurid drawings of the caves in Tora Bora or videos of dogs being gassed…as practice….or the yellow cake in Niger…were lapped up like milk in the U.S. The photos of Abu Ghraib came and went.

In the U.S. there is now a shifting away from the acute individualism of the ‘snowflake’ privileged and a reforming in the guise of a nostalgia laden colonialist or slave owner. And if you think that an exaggeration then just remember Bill Maher’s tirade last week where he referred very approvingly to the Monroe Doctrine and mentioned Venezuela as part of “our back yard”. I mean, it is stunning, it really is. The new colonial is replicated in another guise by the Israeli military. As I have noted before the IDF no longer bothers much with the ‘most moral army in the world’ argument and just cuts straight to hyper efficient killing machine and overlords of their region. They are applauded as such, too.

In my anecdotal experience the last few weeks I have had countless social media interactions in which my interlocatur was young(ish) white and reasonably well off financially. And two things have emerged as through lines: one was an indelible and core racism. Especially anti black racism, and a clear tendency toward antisemitism. And second, a refusal to surrender privilege. The white privilege is more protected than ever, psychologically. And with that comes an outright refusal to criticize US policy — unless it is viewed as Trump’s policy. And often these two things are buried. They are deeply entrenched, though. I would wager that a vast majority of white America is unmoved by the achievements of the Innocence Project. Freeing black men is simply not something white people can get behind. But it is also the return of the mid 20th century hagiographic adoration of cowboys, the frontier, and rugged individualism. And with hunting. Now there is also a growing anger. I mean, people are losing their lives. Families live under freeway overpasses. There are no jobs. And a new desperation is gripping the nation.

So intersecting then, are this new material desperation and a nostalgic self definition that includes Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, as well as an open embrace of teen symbolism and a kitsch nostalgia for the past as created by Hollywood — 70s styles, or 80s styles, etc. Anything but the present. For there is no style to the present. There is only escape from it. And the ruling elite are not unaware of all this either. Both major parties have the same identical goals. Both protect their privilege and both strategise ways or campaigns to capitalize on the discontent they see around them. (Enter Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. And not to beat this drum again, but the woman is a cretin. The examples are countless. But she remains telegenic and so desperate are people, liberals, to find a new standard bearer, that her gaffes are simply ignored.). The marketing of new candidates meant to suggest “change” is less effective than it was for Obama in his initial run. But it still works. But something else is behind all this. And that is touched on most acutely and brilliantly by Cory Moorningstar in her exhaustive 4 part series The Wrong Kind of Green.

And this is really, for me, something that has been nagging at me during those insomnia hours before dawn. Nagged at me while taking long walks ….and that is how the Ecological and Environmental Crisis is being marketed. And from that, how to process or trust the various conflicting alarms that are a constant now. And for many on the left to even say this much is dangerous. When I wrote that piece on Green Shaming I had started to touch on the outer husk of this, but Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer did simply extraordinary work in researching the mechanisms of exploitation involved in the construction of a new grammar and style for this false Green awareness. The environmental crisis, all too real, is viewed as just another business opportunity. Only it’s more than that, too.

Now when I say it’s an age of hyper marketing, it is useful to really remember that almost everyone who is visible in media is being handled. Or “handled”. Everyone. EVERYONE. And nothing is ever what it seems, if it is visible to the mass public. It is an age in which the very idea of trust has been so eroded as to be almost anachronistic.

Fifty years ago Adorno warned of empty activism. And today that warning has migrated to green actions. It is worth bringing in Venezuela here, as another kind of example. Max Blumenthal wrote in an exhaustive piece on Juan Guaido, that…

While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories. Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power. Though he has been a minor figure in Venezuelan politics, he had spent years quietly demonstrating his worthiness in Washington’s halls of power.

—Max Blumenthal, Grayzone, January 29, 2019)

He was manufactured, much as Goldman Sachs and the IMF and other establishment banking entities manufactured Macron. In fact, it’s the way, on a larger denser and more complex level, Barak Obama was manufactured. It’s the same structural composite that results in the marketing of Pussy Riot or pick any of a half dozen (at least) child victims of US/NATO wars. In fact much of the persuasion of public opinion comes out of invented narratives that either are starkly revisionist or simply never happened. Jessica Lynch was a branch of how that works. But the US and UK (in fact, this is something of a UK specialty) produce just oodles of eye witnesses or “real” Syrians, or Libyans or Haitians or Iraqis or Venezuelans. Much as at one time the manufacturing of eye witnesses to Milosevic’s cruelty were all over the place. And the fact that nearly always these fake “authentic” voices cannot keep their stories or facts straight doesn’t matter –for exactly the same reason it didn’t matter OBL wasn’t in those Tora Bora caves, the ones that didn’t exist.

This brings me back to the Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer in-depth article. The link is here:

But one of the key targets for Western green business has been the global south, and in particular Africa. Not surprising that the US military also “pivoted” to Africa (sic) under Obama.

Gore, with a net worth of approx. 350 million dollars, pays much lip service to subjects of inequality, wealth disparity and poverty. Thus, it is useful to actually take a look at what the much hyped green energy revolution actually looks like, when played out in real life and exactly who is being served by the so-called “green revolution”. M-Kopa Solar – “Power for Everyone” is a pay-per-use solar power provider (in the form of solar kits) created for impoverished African countries by white uber rich capitalists. The countries thus far include rural Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. M-Kopa is the brainchild of Jesse Moore (CEO), Chad Larson and Nick Hughes —who helped develop M-Pesa, which has more than 19 million users in Kenya. Included on the M-Kopa board of advisors is Colin Le Duc, a founding partner of Generation Investment Management and the Co-CIO of Generation’s growth equity Climate Solutions Funds. Other investors/lenders/partners include Shell Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At this juncture, before we continue, it is vital to note that in 2015, M-Kopa estimated that eighty percent of its customers lived on less than $2 (USD) per day. By 2015, M-Kopa had reached over $40 million of revenue.

Naomi Wolf wrote not too long ago…“When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.” But I think that is actually almost too optimistic. People want to believe mythologies that sanctify their own privilege. And this identity-based thought structure, one dimensional by its very nature, then promotes what amounts to a 21st century kitsch mythos. Or as Margaret Rosler said, “people want the fake”.

I am suggesting, in short form, that history matters. And it matters on several levels. Which is why it is being erased. This was a slave owning country in which 12 presidents owned and worked slaves. It was built by slaves and by indentured Chinese workers and it produced Manifest Destiny, a belief in American territorial expansion regardless of the cost. It was at least partly driven by Christian zealotry, and partly by greed. But also by a violence and cruelty which seems to have been the fusion of a variety of factors both historical and cultural. The public wants to find stories that flatter them and provide some, however fleeting, sense of their own significance and power. No country on earth produces men as insecure as the United States. And today, amid the waste of a destroyed union culture, and dead manufacturing base and loss of steel and auto makers…the U.S. worker is forced further and further into a fantasy laden infantilism. This is the world that goes to celebrate the life of sniper Chris Kyle, an unbalanced borderline sociopath and serial liar, at the Houston Astro Dome. This is much of the culture of the flyover states. It is racist at its core, it is aggressive, driven on by deep lacerating insecurities, and it is despises and distrusts intellect and education. The other large group is the city dwelling white liberal, college educated, and today, confused, alienated, suffering serious fertility failures and increasingly medicated with psychotropic drugs and anti depressants. This is much of the target audience for new green marketers.

One might think that if someone were conscious enough to recognise that global ecology was compromised and that pollutants were destroying fresh water, and the land, and that global warming was quite possibly going to make huge swatches of land non arable — you might think that person would look for solutions in a political frame. After all it was global capital that had brought mankind to this historic precipice. But instead, many if not nearly all the people I speak with, frame things in terms of personal responsibility. Stop driving big diesel SUVs, stop flying to Cabo for vacation, stop eating meat, etc-. But these same people tend to not criticize capitalism. Or, rather, they ask for a small non crony green capitalism. I guess this would mean green exploitation and green wars? For war is the engine of global capitalism today. Cutting across this are the various threads of the overpopulation theme. A convenient ideological adjustment that shifts blame to the poorest inhabitants of the planet. And here you find Bill Gates and other NGOs working to “help” the developing (sic) nations through population control.1

Jacob Levich writes…

The Rockefeller Foundation organized the Population Council in 1953, predicting a “Malthusian crisis” in the developing world and financing extensive experiments in population control. These interventions were enthusiastically embraced by US government policymakers, who agreed that “the demographic problems of the developing countries, especially in areas of non-Western culture, make these nations more vulnerable to Communism.”2

And this raises yet another question. The wrong kind of green, to put it in Morningstar’s term, is one that is all about the protection of capitalism. Green anti communism. There are links here between AVAAZ, and Otpor, and the USAID and National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House et al. The world of NGOs has grown in both size and power.

…the evil empire Buffett, Gates and Rockefeller built in the private sector is mirrored in the evil networks of NGOs they — along with Clinton — have constructed to provide cover for widespread environmental devastation, ethnic cleansing and Indigenous genocide committed by their corporate investments. Using bagmen like Tides Foundation in cahoots with magicians like Bill McKibben at 350 dot org, and sleight-of-hand artists like Tzeporah Berman at Tar Sands Solutions Network, Buffett, Gates, Rockefeller and Clinton have become thick as thieves in producing political theatre to distract us from the parade of refugees in their caravan of doom.”

— Jay Taber, Wrong Kind of Green, October 2013

Hollywood acts as an arm to this media intoxication when it comes to the military. Watch virtually any action, sci-fi or suspense movie these days and notice how militarism is seamlessly laced through most of the plot lines. Military hardware is easily available for these productions. Soldiers are almost always cast as virtuous. And this also demonstrates the strain of pernicious authoritarianism within American culture. FBI and CIA agents, detectives, prosecutors, all of them are portrayed with an air of troubled, perhaps flawed, but intact unassailable nobility.

— Kenn Orphan, Counterpunch, 2019

There has been a rightward shift in nearly every field one can find or think of. Recently in Norway I read this…

A majority in Parliament asked the government in 2015 to replace its appeals court jury system with a combination of professional and lay judges. Now the historic reform has taken shape, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Instead of having a 10-member jury decide on guilt or innocence in Norway’s most serious criminal cases, they’ll now be heard in Norwegian appeals courts by two professional judges and five lay judges chosen from the public. The reform changes the way cases have been decided for 130 years.

— News in English Norway Aftenposten

In other words, this is a shift toward a bias for conviction. Two judges will simply determine the case and manipulate or bully if need be, the citizen jurors. The change was made because juries were increasingly found to be unable to follow the complexity of many cases. Lay another gold star on the destruction of public education in Europe and North America.

The racism of most Americans can be tracked, too, in how they digest mainstream propaganda about Venezuela. Many feel kinship with Maher’s position. This is OUR backyard. How dare that uppity “dead communist dictator”(to use Bernie Sanders description) Chavez deign to GIVE us free heating fuel and gas. The presumption. For many this was like the help talking back. Americans by and large are quite indifferent to the accuracy or not of the demonizing of official US enemies. From Castro to Milosevic to Aristide to Assad and Gadaffi …to the DPRK or Mao or Hugo Chavez. As the national front used to say in England…’the wogs start at Calais’. For white America there is always a residual racism and Puritanism at work in their thinking.

Also, one sees the confusion in anti nuke protests. Dennis Riches has done great work in compiling info and arguing the case. He wrote:

If this recent anti-nuclear drive actually succeeded in getting the nuclear powers to ratify an international treaty declaring nuclear weapons illegal, the world would be left with the United States undeterred with a vastly predominant power in conventional weaponry. Intercontinental ballistic missiles would be refitted with precision conventional bombs capable of putting any nation on earth back in the Stone Age within a matter of weeks. This was already achieved with the attacks in attacks on Serbia (1999), Iraq (1991, 2003~) and Libya (2011). All of these were illegal under international law, which raises the question of how the international community would enforce compliance with a new international law banning nuclear weapons. In addition to the fact that international law is ignored continually during so-called peacetime, Russell and Einstein pointed out in their 1955 manifesto that treaties banning nuclear weapons would be abrogated the minute world war breaks.

— Dennis Riches, Lit by Imagination, a blog of Dennis Riches

In other words, nuclear disarmament is seen through the lens of American exceptionalism. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Secondly, insofar as it breeds in itself tendencies which— and here too we must differ—directly converge with fascism. I name as symptomatic of this the technique of calling for a discussion, only to then make one impossible; the barbaric inhumanity of a mode of behaviour that is regressive and even confuses regression with revolution; the blind primacy of action; the formalism which is indifferent to the content and shape of that against which one revolts, namely our theory. Here in Frankfurt, and certainly in Berlin as well, the word ‘professor’ is used condescendingly to dismiss people, or as they so nicely put it ‘to put them down’, just as the Nazis used the word Jew in their day.

— Adorno, Letter to Marcuse, 1969

Adorno was wrong in much of what he did in that later period (calling in the cops for one). But there is a seed of truth in his complaint, too (the Ocasio Cortez phenomenon is evidence of this, I’d say). Much of today’s green left seems profoundly uncritical of the US state department apparatus for propaganda and its infiltration (or creation) of NGOs and activists groups. Or just the predatory capitalists of Al Gore’s Generation Investment…

At this juncture, seeing as we are being led to believe that “sustainable investments” are the pathway to solving our planetary crisis, it might be wise to ask in what sustainable corporations Generation Investment is investing. Generation Investment has created a focus list of some 125 companies around the world in which it invests not based on how sustainable the business is, but rather, “on the quality of their business and management”.

Generation Investment’s portfolio and investments include multinational corporations with horrendous records of malfeasance, such as Amazon, Nike, Colgate, MasterCard, and the Chipotle restaurant chain, with heavy investments in health and technology. And as all of these corporations are heavily invested and/or dependent on fossil fuels, how an investment firm can justify investing in these companies is anyone’s guess. Generation Investment board members include eco-luminaries such as Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and the founder of nonprofit Mary Robinson Foundation. Robinson serves as president to Richard Branson’s B Team, which is managed by Purpose – the public relations arm of Avaaz.

— Cory Morningstar, The Wrong Kind of Green

The problem with discussions of global warming and the destruction of the planet is that so much of that discussion has been coopted by Capital. And it’s often very difficult to quickly know who to trust. One response I get a lot is, well, YOU have to change. This I take it means doing all kinds of feel good greeny things. And yet none of what I can do is going to matter to Bolsonaro as he burns down the Amazon. For that is political. And he is a fascist. And when Bernie Sanders and Ocasio Cortez, or Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris sign off on the coup in Venezuela, this is not and cannot be separated from the occupation of Afghanistan or the slaughter in Yemen, or mass incarceration and a violent militarized domestic police. The deep colonial Orientalism of American culture is tied to how one must start to talk about the environment. They are not separate issues. Sanders, besides slandering Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution, also trashes the BDS movement. What is one to make of this, exactly? And yet his popularity stays intact.

Any green change starts with the overthrow of capital. And that means that it rejects all military activity by the U.S. and NATO. Global warming drove the apocalyptic California wild fires last summer. But thirty or forty years of urban building, of the wrong shrubbery being planted, and crowded subdivisions intensified the fires. And, the practices of fire prevention.. paradoxically made those fires much worse.
Building in or near fire-prone forests has also led to fire prevention land management practices that paradoxically increase fire risk. For instance, policies for preventing wildfires have in some areas led to an accumulation of the dry vegetation that would ordinarily burn away in smaller natural blazes. “The thing that gets missed in all of this is that fires are a natural part of many of these systems,” said Matthew Hurteau, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico studying climate impacts on forests. “We have suppressed fires for decades actively. That’s caused larger fires.
— Umair Irfan, Vox, December, 2017
The frame is not to protect nature but to protect property, and that leads to problems.
The short equation then is this: if it’s a business opportunity, it’s not going to help anything. And if you find yourself on the same page as the US state department and Pentagon you might have to step back and take a breath. The supreme irony is Democrats in particular, who continue to drive the Russia-gate story, having no problem with getting rid of Maduro and replacing him with — for the moment — Juan Guaido. But the real purpose behind the attack on Venezuela is to get rid of socialism in ‘our back yard’. Getting massive oil reserves is a nice bonus but the priority is to turn back the so called Pink Tide. Much as Yugoslavia had to go, so does Venezuela. With Bolsonaro, and Macri in Argentina, and Ivan Duque in Colombia, the forces of reaction are being put in place. (It is worth noting that while Trump’s cabinet is stocked with Domionists, the Supreme Court has had a heavy influence of Opus Dei members and that in Brazil Opus Dei rules the third largest bank…fascism and religion are always intwined). And for white America, this feels almost nostalgic. Adding Elliot Abrams to the mix only heightens that nostalgic feeling. For this suddenly feels like Reagan’s America again. Cowboys and the frontier — and the shining light on the hill. Only now, it all takes place, this kitsch B western, in the shadow of global ecological crises. Crises caused by Capital. By Wall Street and an elite class of 2% that owns more than the bottom 50% of the planet. By a system of exploitation in which human suffering is a foundational component. It’s just like Reagan’s Norman Rockwell fantasy, except now with an all child cast.
The political spectacle is now narrated by ten year olds. Bana Al-Abed is only the latest in this line of manufactured wag the dog props for the Western spin machine. The White Helmets are another branch of the fake. Absolutely invented, only in their case of a particularly grave robber morbidity. The aforementioned Pussy Riot, and AOC is in a sense another version of this. Young lithe and almost (!) childlike. Certainly not fecund and maternal. For that is a threat. Americans see the world as a Hollywood period film. Bring back the Casinos in Havana, that’s so romantic. Same as the Romanoff balls were romantic. Same as colonial salons from Calcutta to Singapore were romantic. An afternoon tea on the verandah at the Raffles Hotel, now those were the days. Nostalgia is a safe psychic retreat now. Even if it’s all make believe. In fact, there is a strange psychic disposition that desires the fake. That wants the artificial. I think it is perhaps fake is associated with fantasy, with the world as if it is a children’s book.
American’s idea of politics is also shaped in large measure by Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing. This is probably not even a tiny exaggeration. This is the vision and fantasy of the educated liberal class in America. But for all their self described tolerance and progressiveness, they will still vote for those Democrats who want a coup in Venezuela and who signed off on all of Trump’s defense spending increases. For the bourgeoisie always side with fascism. That’s simply a fact. In the end they will side with the authoritarian and far right wing, and protect their small corner of the sandbox. And even if one tries to explain that sandbox may well become a sweatshop — they seem undeterred. In the end the liberal press will embrace Bolsonaro, too. As they now do Bush Jr, and well, Elliott Abrams. Negroponte can’t be far behind. The plan is clearly to rehabilitate fascism. Globally. The School of the Americas is due a feature film, no doubt.
  1. See Depa Provera and other reproductive health services.
  2. Aspects of India’s Economy, No 57, 2014.

Brazil’s Neo-Liberal Fascist Road to Power

The decisive electoral victory of far-right Brazilian presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro startled politicians and analysts of the traditional parties of the left and right.

The possible implications for the present and near future raises a number of fundamental questions whether it represents a ‘model’ for other countries or is the result of the specific circumstances of Brazil.

We shall proceed by outlining the socio-economic events and policies of Brazil which led up to rise of the highly authoritarian, neo-liberal Bolsonaro regime. We will then discuss if similar circumstances are emerging elsewhere and whether anti-authoritarian popular-democratic politics challenge the threat. We will conclude by evaluating the future of far-right regimes and their enemies.

Brazil :Two Decades of Military Rule and the Legacy of Impunity

Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship between April 1964 and March 15, 1985. Though the military formally withdrew from the regime it retained many powers and prerogatives, including impunity for the thousands of cases of arbitrary violations of human rights, including torture and assassinations.

However, during the height of the so-called ‘economic miracle’ during the 1970s, sectors of the middle class supported the rule by the triple alliance of private business, state enterprise elites, and the military. Only when the regime faced a major crisis in the early 1980’s did the military give way to electoral politics. The authoritarian legacy remained embedded in the political culture of the military and its followers. With the deepening economic crises of neo-liberalism, the corruption of civic culture and the increase of crime during the second decade of the 21st century, a militarized political movement headed by Jair Bolsonaro came to the fore.

The Social Bases of the Authoritarian regime

Most commentators have emphasized the amorphous mass of voters’ discontent with political corruption as the basis for the rise of the right. Moralism and insecurity with street crime were cited as the driving force of right-wing extremism.

Yet powerful economic power elites played a decisive role in propelling Bolsonaro to power. While masses were in the street, the Brazilian National Agricultural Confederation, the Federation of Banks and other prominent elite associations provided the funds, the legitimacy and legislative muscle. Over 40% of the Senate and Congress was controlled by the ‘ruralist bloc’, which came out in favor of Bolsonaro. Many of the voters who previously supported ex-President Cardoso’s center-right candidate Geraldo Alickman defected to the authoritarian right reducing his estimated vote by half.

The judiciary, under the influence of the agro-business and banking elite exploited political corruption to discredit and prosecute the center-left and the traditional political parties, leading to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the arrest and prosecution of the leading left candidate Lula Da Silva.

From Authoritarianism to Fascism

Bolsonaro’s appeal to the elite is grounded in his program of savaging the working class: he promises to freeze public salaries for twenty years; lower pensions and increase retirement age up to twenty years; increase the role of the military and police in repressing strikes and land reform movements; end all restraints on pillaging the Amazon forest; lower taxes for the rich, deregulate the private economy and privatize the public sector.

In effect the Bolsonaro’s policies follow the script of a corporatist-neoliberal state: fascism with ‘free markets’. The pro-military policies are code words for mass repression; his pro-business strategy is disguised by an embrace of ‘family values’ and virulent hostility to working women, Afro-Brazilians, gays and indigenous people. His crusade against crime excludes bankers, landowners and industrialists who bribed politicians and congress-people – only the latter were prosecuted.

The Future of Neo-Liberal Fascism; Wave of the Future?

Will Bolsonaro’s version of neo-liberal fascism set the mark for other Latin American countries? Will his regime intervene and overthrow progressive countries? Will his victory in Brazil spur similar developments throughout the world?

In the aftermath of Bolsonaro’s first round electoral rout, the real (Brazilian currency) rose 3% against the dollar and the stock market jumped 4.5% in expectations of the total de-regulation of markets, and the privatization of the entire public sector.

Though Bolsonaro is compared to President Trump, there are both similarities and differences. Both share hostility to minorities, flaunt a rabidly chauvinist ideology and embrace ‘nationalist’ slogans. Yet Bolsonaro cannot embrace Trump’s protectionist policies and trade war with China. The agro-business elite in Brazil, which is an essential social bloc, would not permit him to undercut their vital export markets.

Bolsonaro’s neo-liberal fascist policy resonates with several regimes in Latin America, namely Colombia and Argentina. In Colombia large scale militarization and death squads’ collaboration in support of neo-liberalism have been in place for decades prior to Bolsonaro’s rise to power. Moreover, Colombia’s oligarchic regime does not depend on the mass base and charismatic leadership of a ‘fascism’ regime.

Argentina under President Mauricio Macri might like to imitate Bolsonaro, but his dependence on the IMF and its austerity program precludes any ‘mass base’ which might have been mobilized at the start of his neo-liberal regime.

This takes us to consider the stability and duration of the Brazilian experience of neo-liberal fascism. Several considerations are foremost.

Bolsonaro’s embrace of radical attacks of wage earners, salary employees, pensioners, debtors, small farmers and business-people may erode his ‘mass appeal’ and charisma.

The mass electoral fervor may not withstand the deterioration of basic socio-economic living standards.

Bolsonaro’s regime lack a congressional majority will obligate him to form alliances with the same corrupt parties and politicians which he denounced. The post-election political deal making may disillusion many of his ‘moral’ supporters.

If his free market program deepens social polarization and the class struggle, general strikes may result – though Brazil lacks the Argentine working-class tradition.

The agro-mineral elite, the military and the bankers will back Bolsonaro’s ‘war on crime’, and even benefit from the war in the slums, but unless he can stimulate investments, export markets and incorporate skilled workers and innovative technology, Brazil would be reduced to becoming merely an agro-mineral economy run by oligarchs and warmed over corrupt politicians.

Bolsonaro’s hostility to blacks, women, gays, trade unions and urban and rural social movements may win votes, but it does not increase profits and growth. Reactionary policies may attract amorphous middle-class voters, but it is not a program for governing nor does it serve as a coherent economic strategy.

There is no doubt that the explosive appeal of the ‘anti-establishment rhetoric has initially successful. There is no doubt that the military-regime alliance can withstand and repress a popular backlash, but can the regime rule sitting on bayonets?

The defeat of neo-liberal fascism in Brazil and its possible imitators elsewhere depends on the scope and depth of organized resistance. Bolsonaro’s ability to implement his assault on the living standards of the popular classes will depend on the scope and intensity of the class struggle. For starters Bolsonaro has won an election – but it has yet to be determined whether neo-liberal fascism is a viable, durable alternative to populist nationalism and social democracy. Likewise, it is not yet evident that the declining Left, fragmented and discredited can regroup and offer an alternative road to power.

Resisting Illegitimate Authority in the Era of Trump

In the current era of Trump, much of American society finds itself frustrated, angry, and traumatized by an authoritarian president whose leadership is being perceived increasingly as illegitimate. Oddly, a large reason for Trump’s success in getting elected in the first place as well as his continued seemingly inconceivable support is largely due to the illusion that he is anti-authoritarian and will shake things up and create change.

Trump, of course, is no anti-authoritarian. Rather, he is an authoritarian who resists power only when he doesn’t have it. Anti-authoritarians challenge and resist all forms of illegitimate authority. Bruce E. Levine, in his newly released book, Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian, tells us that the traits of an anti-authoritarian include a compulsion to speak out against cruelty and illegitimate authority no matter what the political cost, a willingness to sacrifice one’s own freedom for the cause of freedom, a compulsion for truth-telling, and a repulsion with hypocrisy. In his profiles of several U.S. anti-authoritarians, Levine details how, from Thomas Paine to Ralph Nader, many of them experienced great rejection, marginalization, and suffering for their views.

Trump so often lies, doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and has engaged in so many cruel and hypocritical acts that not only is there an anti-Trump resistance, but Trump may actually be the greatest contributor to this movement. Those anti-authoritarians who are already part of this resistance may find direction, comradery, and support in Levine’s profiles of anti-authoritarians who suffered before us, fighting so many of the same battles.

Levine makes clear that his book is not about Left versus Right or Democrats versus Republicans, but, rather, it is about challenging oppression, coercion, blind submission, and hypocrisy. Such a trove in a time when these factors are rampant is refreshing, indeed.

For quite some time, a powerful allegiance between politicians, Wall Street, and the military industrial complex along with clergy have often provided a means through which dissent in the United States has been silenced. In recent times, mental health professionals have become the new clergy. As Levine states, “By pathologizing and thus depoliticizing malaise, psychiatry helps maintain the status quo, meeting the needs of the ruling power structure” in the same way that police and clergy have controlled the population in times past.

Many who would likely oppose illegitimate authority are increasingly being drugged and outcast as mentally ill at a young age. A label of mental illness and the powerful tranquilizing drugs that tend to accompany these labels, now commonplace among American youth, are powerful means of delegitimizing dissent.

Doctors, along with politicians and military personnel, are historically among the most authoritarian of professionals. They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and assuring that resistance and opposition be silenced. A perfect example of this can be seen in the recent expulsion of Peter C Gøtzsche, MD, an internationally respected founder of the Nordic Cochrane Center, a purported independent evaluator of medical research. Gøtzsche, because of his years of opposition and non-compliance, was voted out after his very vocal criticism of the corruption in pharmaceutical company funded research and the falsehoods being spread to the public. His stance not only threatened a lucrative and powerful partnership, he dared to actively challenge the status quo and break rules. Doctors, particularly psychiatrists and psychologists, have also been a central force in genocide, as defined by the United Nations, both during Nazi Germany as well as within the United States, especially with respect to Native Americans, past and present.

Levine notes: “Today, a potentially huge army of young anti-authoritarians are being depoliticized by mental illness diagnoses and by the attributions that their inattention, anxiety, depression, and disruptiveness are caused by defective biochemistry—and not by their alienation from a dehumanizing society and their resistance to illegitimate authorities.”

In addition, children are being indoctrinated through the school system to blindly obey and never think independently, lest one be labeled a troublemaker or worse. Levine describes how the educational system has directly contributed to our difficulty in assembling and effectively being able to fight back against an authoritarian regime.

A century ago, when only 6% of Americans graduated high school, Populists had power to form cooperatives and politically astute organized resistance, effectively challenging corporations and politicians. Now that 85% of Americans graduate high school, little organized resistance exists beyond symbolic marches that affect little to no change whatsoever. People who don’t eventually conform and submit are considered “behavioral problems” or “oppositional,” and few are willing to embrace such accusations, even as children.

As Paul Krugman notes in “Why it Can Happen Here,” the death of democracy is a very real possibility in America. And, our education and mental health systems are almost guaranteeing it, as the more we drug, diagnose, and indoctrinate our children, the less likely anybody will have the will, capacity, or awareness to resist authority.

In examining the history of those who have sacrificed much in the name of justice, Levine provides us all many warnings, while also imbibing hope. He highlights both the ways in which anti-authoritarians can basically ruin it for us all (i.e., The Ted Kaczynski/Unabomber) as well as providing examples of ways anti-authoritarians foster compassion and peaceful resistance while honing one’s rage into getting things done.

From Malcom X’s rebellion against the oppression of capitalism to Edward Snowden’s exposing how the U.S. government is spying on its people, anti-authoritarians have paved the way for many to have the advantages and civil rights that currently exist. Levine’s Resisting Illegitimate Authority is an anti-authoritarian handbook of sorts. We all need anti-authoritarians who will challenge and overcome illegitimate authority—without them, we will never be the Land of the Free and certainly not the Home of the Brave.