Friday, November 18, 2016

The stain of fear

Did her editors make her write these lead sentences?

“It feels like 9/11.” That’s one of the many heartbroken comments I overheard among shell-shocked New Yorkers the wake of the election of Donald Trump. Now, the differences of magnitude and factual reality between the murder of 3,000 individuals and the prophesies of doomsayers predicting fascism under Trump are fairly apparent. ...

Writing at the Atlantic, Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, does not explicate further, but this opening seems to suggest that 9/11 was a more consequential event than the free election last week of our aspiring autocrat by a bare minority of our citizens.

That's nuts. The murderous attacks of 9/11, for all their shock and horror, were pinpricks on the U.S. state. Sure, we the people were rendered numb and aghast by the sight of burning jumpers and the crashing towers, but those events were no threat to this nation or most of us individually. Anyone who had been paying attention to U.S. behavior (especially outside our borders) knew there were people willing to die to hurt us. But the damage they could do was limited to a made-for-TV movie in Lower Manhattan. Our timid, imbecile "leaders" managed to make the aftermath into an ongoing threat, but that's been fully explicated by now.

After her unpromising opening, Greenberg goes on to lay out in all its horror how the crimes of the Bush administration and their extension by the Obama administration eviscerated restraints on torture and civil liberties. She does a clear, honorable, job of it and does not mince words:

With Donald Trump’s inauguration looming, a justified terror that law-breaking policies could return, and that new, aggressive violations of civil liberties could be brought to life, now stalks the republic. With Trump’s cavalier dismissal of civil liberties—through statements like “torture works,” among other things—he alludes to an even broader application of the policies that tarnished the Bush administration. While we don’t yet know whether Trump will fulfill his promises, we do know what happened the last time a president chose to sidestep the rule of law.

Among those lessons: When the White House asks, the rules can be broken as rapidly as dutiful government lawyers can put their pens to paper. ...

No, the horrors of 9/11 were not worse; they (and our reactions) were prelude to today's horror. Greenberg is too realistic an observer of reality not to know this. Maybe her editors will figure it out ...

The photo is one of the less shocking images from the U.S. prison at Abu Ghraib where torture was routinely applied to Iraqi captives by U.S. personnel.


the talking dog said...

Having both lived through the events of 9-11 in NYC (I was at work a block from WTC that morning; I live a mile downwind in Brooklyn), and having met and interviewed Ms. Greenberg (who is indeed, a smart, thoughtful observer and commentator), I can tell you that I personally wouldn't even have considered linking the events of 9-11 and the election of Mr. Trump at all; in terms of the impact to day to day life, Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy was much more comparable to 9-11 (albeit with a smaller death toll and a much larger footprint).

Trump's election is eerily reminiscent, of course, of the 2000 election, where what proved to be a hateful regime calling itself "compassionate conservatives" came into power, and, after a few months of flailing around with massive tax cuts for the rich and failed attempts to privatize social security, was handed the events of 9-11, and responded, famously, by plunging us into a never-ending "war on terror," followed seamlessly by the torture, the surveillance, and the budding autocracy. Indeed, Bush gave us the problematic John Ashcroft for A.G.; Trump has offered full-throated racist Jeff Sessions. Bush relied on his "adult supervision" Dick Cheney; Trump clearly relies on his-- Pence, Priebus, and his Jewish son-in-law helping out with a regime that includes (and unquestionably reached out to) avowed anti-semites.

I can certainly tell you that Muslim people here were certainly "concerned" about "backlash" after 9-11; now, they are absolutely terrified.

In my "optimistic" moments, I remind myself that Bush, and for that matter Reagan, surrounded themselves with party regulars, as Trump is doing, and that he will largely "govern" within two and a half standard deviations of any other generic hard-right Republican, but there's no question that everything feels like it's gone off the rails. For one thing, on the "character" front, possibly for the first time ever, we have a life-long discipline problem about to assume the presidency. We have someone who can't even point to a limited history of public service (including the military), but rather, someone notorious for, despite evident wealth, being a remarkable skin-flint in terms even of limited charitable giving. And, of course, the euphemisms of political life that some have termed "political correctness" (but I would recall George Costanza's "we live in A SOCIETY") have been jettisoned now, up to and including suggestions of rounding up the usual suspects (including Mexicans and Muslims), re-filling Guantanamo Bay, expanding torture, and of course, telling bigotry of all kinds that "you're home now in Donald Trump's White America."

Where as 9-11 resulted in an appeal to our better selves (even if the operational effect led to, well, the wars, the torture, the surveillance and the autocracy), Trump is starting off with an appeal to the baser lizard brain of the angry mob. The best I can say is that maybe institutions and the national tradition of broad-minded welcome-ness will carry the day; I wish I were optimistic about it. I don't think anyone can rationally deny that there are dark times coming-- with every indication that they will be far darker than 9-11 (from which there was no particular reason that torture and perpetual war would be the "inevitable" response), whereas now, our putative autocrat has already told us how he would like to proceed.

janinsanfran said...

Dog: we are in agreement, as we usually are, even when we are not.

Love it that you ran the marathon in that time so long ago before Nov. 8.

Tried to leave a comment at your blog, but Moveable Type was recalcitrant.

the talking dog said...

Alas, being a mere amateur blogger, even having to pay for my own bandwidth and using an MT platform that went obsolete at some point during the Bush Administration, as is the case in what now passes for civil society, these days we kind of have to wing it... the commenting trick on TTD is generally not to click "comments" from the main page, but to click on the post-title, and then comment from the individual post. That usually works... but, if it doesn't, I suspect you know someone who knows how to reach me!

Anyway, life is always too close for me; I kind of joke about being born during the Cuban missile crisis, coming of age during Viet Nam and Watergate (lots of people can say that, of course), going to college with Barack, starting my career with Ed Meese's DOJ, finding myself downtown on 9-11, stumbling into blogging and matters GTMO and... well, I seem to be living some sort of running historical accident. On the running part, my first NYC was that very first one after 9-11... perhaps giving me the wrong impression of marathoning,as I have gone back every year since (except for that Sandy year, of course)... but yes, like the Donald himself, I do it without bothering to trouble myself with being particularly good at it!!! And on that front, few people who have been long-time lawyers in NYC (such as all the adults residing in Stately Dog Manor) haven't encountered the Donald in the course of their professional dealings. He is, unsurprisingly, personally charming, even as he is being a professional scoundrel, invariably trying to avoid his just debts, and invariably trying to use what he perceives as his superior bargaining power to grind down his counter-parties. In some sense, these might prove useful attributes to a President, though he will likely keep the personal pique part, and the "on behalf of the nation" seems a stretch.

He is actually a more interesting character than he presented on the national stage. Nonetheless, he is entirely out of his depth in a way that Barack was too... but Barack had the temperament and at least the intellectual background to have a pretty good sense of what he could do and what he couldn't... the Donald shows no indications of either, and, the best I can say is that maybe the professional wrestler routine he has been running with is as much of an act as it is with most professional wrestlers. Unfortunately, the bigotry does seem to run in his blood, and it came far more naturally to him than anything else.

A lumine. I plan to devote my own life to good works, and can only hope that the micro will eventually push the macro... a lumine.

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