Trump’s Answer to Structural Racism? Police State Fascism.

With protests against police violence spreading like wildfire, Trump is responding with authoritarianism—and an ever more violent crackdown.

Christopher D. CookJune 4, 2020

Trump has set democracy in his sights. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

The con­flu­ence of a fero­cious­ly dead­ly pan­dem­ic, mass unem­ploy­ment, the police mur­der of George Floyd and surg­ing author­i­tar­i­an­ism is plung­ing the Unit­ed States into chaos.

After decades of creeping omens and warning signs, under Trump, it appears that fascism has arrived in America.

More than 100,000 Amer­i­cans have died and over 40 mil­lion have been ren­dered job­less by the coro­n­avirus cri­sis. The virus of racism runs far deep­er, an endem­ic fea­ture of Amer­i­can soci­ety for which there is no quar­an­tine, no sin­gle vaccine.

The Trump administration’s fascis­tic response to the protests over Floyd’s mur­der at the hands of the Min­neapo­lis police threat­ens to divert atten­tion from a long-deferred con­ver­sa­tion about sys­temic racism to the president’s mil­i­taris­tic response. But these issues are thor­ough­ly inter­twined. As actor George Takei com­ment­ed, Trump is hold­ing a knee on the neck of Amer­i­can Democ­ra­cy, and the GOP is the three cops just watch­ing it hap­pen while pro­tect­ing him.”

Before our eyes, we are wit­ness­ing the unrav­el­ing of a nation’s myths of itself. What began as a vicious and racist police mur­der of George Floyd has now erupt­ed into soci­ety-wide upheaval over unac­count­able polic­ing, racism, and an increas­ing­ly author­i­tar­i­an Trump administration.

On Mon­day, June 1, we saw anoth­er police slay­ing of a black man: Louisville, Ken­tucky police shot and killed David McA­tee, a beloved busi­ness own­er who was protest­ing the police killing of Bre­on­na Tay­lor. Lat­er that day, Louisville May­or Greg Fis­ch­er fired the city’s police chief. On Tues­day, Atlanta May­or Keisha Lance fired cops who bru­tal­ly yanked an African-Amer­i­can col­lege cou­ple from their car and struck them with a taser gun. In cities across the coun­try, police depart­ments have vio­lent­ly sup­pressed peace­ful pro­test­ers, egged on by the president.

Yet none of this police bru­tal­i­ty appears to be enough for Trump, who blast­ed gov­er­nors for being weak,” insist­ing they must dom­i­nate” pro­test­ers who are ris­ing up to decry police vio­lence. In a June 1 speech, Trump threat­ened a fed­er­al mil­i­tary crack­down on dis­sent: If a city or state refus­es to take the actions that are nec­es­sary to defend the life and prop­er­ty of their res­i­dents, then I will deploy the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary and quick­ly solve the prob­lem for them.”

In his call with gov­er­nors that same day, Trump said the protests are like a move­ment, and it’s a move­ment that if you don’t put it down, it’ll get worse and worse, this is like Occu­py Wall Street.” To put down this nation­wide move­ment of mil­lions call­ing for an end to police racism and bru­tal­i­ty, Trump is promis­ing to invoke the Insur­rec­tion Act of 1807 to over­ride Posse Comi­ta­tus Act restric­tions on using the mil­i­tary for domes­tic law enforcement.

Trump and his Sec­re­tary of Defense Mark Esper insist on dom­i­nat­ing” what they call the bat­tle­space” and crush­ing dis­sent. This essen­tial­ly amounts to an act of war on Amer­i­can civil­ians, says Ray Mabus, Navy sec­re­tary under for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma: When his sec­re­tary of defense says that they have to dom­i­nate the bat­tle­space’ it means equat­ing Amer­i­cans to an ene­my and wag­ing war on your own citizens.” 

The ACLU posits that Trump may have vio­lat­ed inter­na­tion­al law by hav­ing pro­test­ers tear-gassed to make way for his pho­to-op: This appears to be gross­ly unjus­ti­fied use of a chem­i­cal weapon on pro­test­ers and rais­es seri­ous human rights con­cerns under inter­na­tion­al law.”

After decades of creep­ing omens and warn­ing signs, under Trump, it appears that fas­cism has arrived in Amer­i­ca. When a pres­i­dent threat­ens a mil­i­tary crack­down on peace­ful pro­test­ers, that’s unmis­tak­able fas­cism — pre­cise­ly the kind that politi­cians in both U.S. par­ties have decried as author­i­tar­i­an­ism” in oth­er coun­tries (par­tic­u­lar­ly when they are social­ist or com­mu­nist-led). When police and Nation­al Guard tanks roll through a Min­neapo­lis neigh­bor­hood, with police scream­ing at res­i­dents to get inside now,” and threat­en­ing to light em up,” fir­ing paint­balls at peo­ple stand­ing on their front stoop, that’s fas­cism. When a pres­i­dent claims he has absolute pow­er,” and rou­tine­ly attacks media and jour­nal­ists — a key pil­lar of democ­ra­cy — as fake,” that’s fascism.

Fas­cism is defined by Webster’s New World Dic­tio­nary as a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment char­ac­ter­ized by rigid one-par­ty dic­ta­tor­ship, forcible sup­pres­sion of oppo­si­tion, pri­vate eco­nom­ic enter­prise under cen­tral­ized gov­ern­men­tal con­trol, bel­liger­ent nation­al­ism, racism, and militarism.”

By this pop­u­lar def­i­n­i­tion, we are about two-thirds of the way to this un-promised land of polit­i­cal repres­sion. Today’s meld­ing of height­ened pres­i­den­tial pow­ers (expand­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly under Oba­ma), monop­o­lis­tic lev­els of cor­po­rate pow­er, a heav­i­ly mil­i­ta­rized and unac­count­able police state, and Trump’s author­i­tar­i­an lurch togeth­er imper­il the Amer­i­can experiment.” 

This fas­cist turn may be dilut­ed by pop­u­lar anti-fas­cist action, and the remain­ing shreds of U.S. democ­ra­cy — but it is now insin­u­at­ing itself firm­ly into the state. America’s police state has grown dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the past 50 years since the Nixon administration’s expan­sion of mil­i­ta­rized polic­ing. Sur­veil­lance, intim­i­da­tion and bru­tal­i­ty against dis­sent have been increas­ing­ly promi­nent since the civ­il rights and anti­war move­ments of the 1960s.

For black and brown peo­ple, racism-fueled polic­ing has been here all along — stamped from the begin­ning,” as author and schol­ar Ibram X. Ken­di puts it in his best­selling book of that title. Now, many white Amer­i­cans are get­ting an acrid taste of this tox­ic dead­ly force. 

In a 2014inter­view, renowned schol­ar Angela Davis not­ed, There is an unbro­ken line of police vio­lence in the US that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery.” 

Not lost in this moment is the pro­found irony of Trump back­ing the gun-wield­ing, most­ly white lib­er­ate” gath­er­ings, which saw atten­dees thumb­ing their noses at shel­ter-in-place rules aimed at stem­ming the dead­ly pan­dem­ic. Just a month ago, police gen­tly abid­ed these armed assem­blies that vio­lat­ed pub­lic health orders, and Trump and oth­er right-wingers cel­e­brat­ed their First and Sec­ond Amend­ment rights.

Now, when diverse unarmed folks assem­ble peace­ful­ly to demand an end to racism and police bru­tal­i­ty, these rights seem to have evap­o­rat­ed. As Bill Mad­den tweet­ed, In case you missed it, fas­cism has arrived in Amer­i­ca: Trump ordered the police to tear gas, and shoot with rub­ber bul­lets peace­ful pro­test­ers near the White House — so he could have a pho­to-op hold­ing a bible.”

Trump’s assault on civ­il lib­er­ties is star­tling even to vet­er­ans of pres­i­den­tial author­i­tar­i­an­ism such as Carl Bern­stein, co-author of All the President’s Men,” who remarked: We have now watched an armed attack, insti­gat­ed by the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, on peace­ful, law-abid­ing demon­stra­tors exer­cis­ing their Con­sti­tu­tion­al rights. All of Trump’s actions and words have etched today as a grim moment in Amer­i­can history.”

In 2009, writer Gore Vidal pre­dict­ed the rise of Amer­i­can author­i­tar­i­an­ism, observ­ing the coun­try was, already then, rot­ting away at a fune­re­al pace. We’ll have a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship fair­ly soon.” That soon” now appears to be upon us.

This incre­men­tal coup is not com­plete, of course, and there is time to bring it to a halt. The answer is strate­gic resis­tance, such as we are see­ing with the spread of mass demon­stra­tions across all 50 states. Even as Trump clamps down with more police mil­i­tarism, peo­ple are ris­ing up and resisting.

This resis­tance is not only essen­tial — it is an expres­sion of what Amer­i­ca is sup­posed to be about. As Trump and the police state crush the myth of Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism,” the surg­ing anti-racist move­ments offer an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rec­ti­fy the obscene­ly unequal and unjust real­i­ties of Amer­i­can life.

Christo­pher D. Cook is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of Diet for a Dead Plan­et: Big Busi­ness and the Com­ing Food Cri­sis. His writ­ing has appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Nation, the Los Ange­les Times and else­where. You can reach him at http://​www​.christo​pherd​cook​.com/.
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