Trump’s dirty wars
Dirty war was the term used in the 1970s to describe the reign of terror and murder the military junta in Argentina unleashed against its own people. Nothing approaching that horror has happened here, of course. But, as we proceed deeper into the Trump administration, the notion that “it can’t happen here” rings increasingly hollow. And the parallels are too close to ignore.
Weaponizing the agencies of the state and using them against political, ideological, or ethnic opponents of a regime is a key requisite for carrying out a dirty war. Trump started to wage a verbal dirty war against ethnic opponents—black and brown immigrants from poor countries—on the first day of his campaign. After he assumed power in 2017, Trump set out to carry an actual dirty war, complete with disappearing people into the vast maws of the immigration prison complex, built and filled detention camps, and forcibly separated families.
This required weaponizing the immigration bureaucracy, local law enforcement agencies, even the armed forces. Much of this was lawless, and judges repeatedly rescinded the administration’s initiatives and rebuked its officials. The use of the military for immigration enforcement against families fleeing terror was a significant perversion of their mission, to which the generals objected and were ignored.
The Argentina dirty war against the left was bloody. The American version against immigrants so far has been relatively bloodless, although several people caught up in it have died, including children in custody. Moreover, if Trump had had his way a lot more blood would have flowed. He wanted a wall that would tear people to shreds if they tried to cross. He wanted the military to shoot border crossers.
Fortunately, some people in these agencies pushed back and told Trump they couldn’t do it without violating the law. Trump didn’t care. He said he would pardon them.
The dirty war against immigrants has been chronicled extensively in such books as “Border Wars: Trump’s Assault on Immigration.” It substantiates all assertions above, including Trump’s desire to build a killer wall.
Although that dirty war has not ended, and in fact may be intensified in time for the next election, Trump has already started another dirty war, this one against internal enemies rather the “foreign invaders.” It started with the attempt to weaponize military aid to get the Ukrainian government to declare they were investigating Joe Biden for possible corruption. It was a sham, there was no evidence of corruption, but a mere announcement of such an investigation would damage Biden’s campaign, perhaps fatally.
Going after Biden was no impulsive move but a classical political dirty trick. Trump wanted to frame the 2020 presidential election as a contest between himself and “the socialists” in the Democratic Party, preferably Sanders or Warren although any of the candidates would do except Joe Biden, a proven centrist.
This was all criminal conduct on the part of Trump, but he has no moral code and is arrogant enough he thought he could get away with it. But an honest public servant blew the whistle, the scheme was revealed, and the extortion plot had to be called off. Worse for Trump, Congress impeached him for these actions, but the trained GOP seals in the Senate acquitted him.
This emboldened Trump to go after anyone who told the truth about the Ukraine deal and his primary role in it. This was the dirty war part 2 in full. He made threats against numerous people, including Senator Adam Schiff who acted as the chief prosecutor in Trump’s Senate trial. In the context of the current supercharged political atmosphere this was tantamount to a signal to the many nut jobs who live and die for Trump to hurt Schiff.
Trump acquitted is not acting as a man vindicated. He goes around like a wounded beast, ready and willing to lash out at ambassadors, decorated military officers, even Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican and devout Mormon whose faith this libertine president had the gall to question.
But the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s current push is to replace the “deep state,” by which he really means the Constitution and all the political and legal norms that for over 200 years have flowed from the spirit of that document, with an undeclared monarchy.
The deep state is the force of republican norms and legal protections that put a check on absolutism. Trump tries to reign as the French king Louis XIV did more than 300 years ago, under the principle of “l’etat ce’st moi.” I am the state.
That is what Donald Trump was telling Attorney General Willian Barr through his tweets: I am the state: Punish my enemies and lay off my friends. That is what Donald Trump was saying as he issued pardons to incurably corrupt politicians, presented the Presidential Medal of Honor to a clownish demagogue, and prevented the prosecution of a military officer involved in war crimes.
Each day, as I hear the “people on the street” interviews on news telecasts and read the public opinion ratings on Trump versus his prospective Democratic opponents, all the rationalizations without reasons and the justifications of the unjustifiable, my opinion of the American people sinks ever lower. If this be heresy, so be it.