Thursday, October 1, 2020

Begone, before somebody drops a house on you, too

There are basically two ways of overthrowing a reasonably established government: through violence or the threat of violence—the continuum from coup d'état to revolution in which one power is overwhelmed and replaced by another; and through the Machtübergreifung, as Hitler called it, the "snatching over" of the existing power apparatus and then transforming it according to existing forms. I don't think it gets sufficiently recognized that Hitler, or Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, didn't exactly break any laws in their accessions to absolute power (except to the extent that they used law-breaking ascribed to their enemies, the Reichstag fire that provided Hitler with his excuse to declare an entirely legal emergency, the apparent terrorism of the apartment-house bombings crisis that Putin was charged by Yeltsin with managing, which made the otherwise unknown vice president a national figure who could win an election). Hitler's brownshirt thugs didn't play a role in pushing him into the chancellery; that was the conservative aristocrat politicians, Field Marshal von Hindenburg and Erbsälzer Franz von Papen (the title, "hereditary salt maker", dates to the 13th century, when the Papens were one of 48 families of Werl in the Westphalian Basin entrusted with the monopoly on mining the local salt), who found him more sympatisch than the Social Democrats. Putin spent 12 years shoring up his position by legal means before he began having the proper authorities rewrite the law to give him a vehicle for exercising permanent power.

And why did Putin have Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya murdered in 2004 and 2006? And what were Hitler's brownshirts for? To make them look like strongmen as they achieved their aims in a less risky way, as Teri Kanefield writes:

Because being overestimated is how strongmen and wannabe strongmen appear invincible. It makes them feared and respected. It elevates their stature, which gives them power.

The revolutionary and the coup artist seize power, directly, because they have power. The Machtübergreifer bashes his way into the power that is there by being a conman, convincing you he has the power, bluffing and shouting, with more lawyers than thugs, asserting the legality of what he's doing. How many times, indeed, have you heard Trump or his agents explaining some action by claiming that he's "allowed" to do whatever it is, evading the question of what he's hoping to accomplish?

Trump loves you to see the kind of shit he can get away with, but he's pretty careful, in fact, to wrap it in legalisms, often bogus, but enough to keep him looking as if he cared. From the first day in office, when he showed us how he could force his press secretary to tell a ridiculous lie about how many people were on the Mall, he was also getting some henchman of his to get somebody in the GSA to reverse the ruling that Trump was not entitled to hold the lease on the Old Post Office building he was operating as a hotel, in the interregnum between administrators.

And when he and Sessions and Miller decided to contravene US and international law by refusing to hear asylum claims from Central American migrants, they didn't simply do it: they created an entirely new interpretation of the law (section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act), which criminalizes crossing the US border at an undesignated location, applying it to asylum seekers for the first time, allowing the Border Patrol to throw them into criminal detention and herd their children into concentration camps.

When courts stopped Trump from doing the things he wanted to do—banning Muslims from entering the country, building the border wall on the Pentagon's dime, eliminating the DACA program, and so on—he obeyed the judges, but sent his people back to the drawing board to come up with another way of doing it, or allow him to claim he'd done it. The final version of the Muslim ban wasn't a Muslim ban at all, just a pointless difficulty imposed on an almost random selection of people from "shithole" countries, but it looked to supporters and opponents as if he'd shown he had the power to get his way regardless. They're still trying to curtail the census, they're still trying to cripple the Postal Service, but they don't just march in and bash a few heads; they always deploy the lawyers, and try to wear their enemies down. 

Which is why I can't quit insisting that he can't overturn the election, meaning, precisely, that he doesn't have the power—unless we give it to him.

I might add it would be nice to remember how ceaselessly Trump has insulted those people, and how ceaselessly he's mocked their power. If you want to foment a real coup, of course, you don't alienate the military or the premier national law enforcement agency, but even if it's just a bogus coup you shouldn't think you can count on them just because they love their hierarchy. The Pentagon publicly rejected Trump's idea of deploying active duty servicemen in quelling the George Floyd protests in Lafayette Square and elsewhere, a national guardsman denounced the propaganda version of how the Lafayette Square event was handled, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt compelled to apologize for putting himself in a position where it looked as if he was taking Trump's political side; and the brass have been sending out signals just this week that they're not prepared to be used in the election:

Several Pentagon officials said there could be resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals, starting at the top with General Milley, should troops be ordered into the streets at the time of the election.

The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the officials said, would also be unlikely to carry out those orders. In the days after the killing of Mr. Floyd in police custody, General Brown released an extraordinary video in which he spoke in starkly personal terms about his experience as a Black man in America, his unequal treatment in the armed forces and the protests that gripped the country.

That's the main thing. His army of pudgy incels and superannuated bikers and DHS goons can't stop us from counting the votes, and I don't think when it comes down to it the Supreme Court can either. We have to say, "Rubbish, you have no power over me!" 

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