By now we are well accustomed to learning about a mass shooting somewhere in the U.S. and seeing the statement that authorities are determining whether the killing represents an act of terrorism or “merely” something else. The “else” is, presumably, less serious, less grievous, less disturbing, at least if you’re not among the victims or their families.
But there is another kind of terrorism that that may not directly lead to deaths but that has broad impact on many more people and leads to, among other things, loss of freedom. I refer to political terrorism. We know about it from observing other countries with “less democratic” and “less free” societies. In those countries, you step out of line, and you get imprisoned, disappeared, shot, poisoned and so on. If you’re “lucky,” you just lose your job, maybe your home and possessions and possibly your reputation. Political terrorism can take other forms as well. Among them are public humiliation, shunning and so on.
In one way or another, all of these non-violent (so far) forms of political terrorism have arrived on our shores and are embodied in the practices of the Trump administration. They didn’t come from overseas, however, and can’t be blamed on “foreigners” or “immigrants.” These are all home-grown right here in the US of A. USA! USA! USA! All part of “Make America Great Again.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines “domestic terrorism” as “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/terrorism The FBI’s definition of “international terrorism” also includes a violence component.
The common elements are “violent crimes” and bitideological goals” that in the domestic case arise from domestic “political, religious, social, racial, or environmental” beliefs.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “terrorism” is broader: “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” bit.ly/2zbV86n The root “terror” means “a state of intense or overwhelming fear.” No physical violence is required.
When I started this post, Donald Trump had already become the quintessential American-bred political terrorist. Here is some, a tiny fraction, of the overwhelming, incontrovertible proof. The only potentially missing element is violence but in the United States, at least for now, fear serves almost as well as violence to fulfill the monarchical aspirations of the putative dictator that sits in the people’s house.
It was fear, for example, that motivated Trump’s henchmen in the United States Senate, who, refusing to look at the evidence, but with plenty of proof before them even without additional witnesses, decided to ignore their oaths of office and constitutional obligations by voting against the Articles of Impeachment. It is reliably reported by a U.S. Senator present on the scene that “In Private, Republicans Admit They Acquitted Trump Out of Fear,” https://nyti.ms/395DTAs
In the United States Senate, like in many spheres of life, fear does the business…. History has indeed taught us that when it comes to the instincts that drive us, fear has no rival…. Playing on that fear, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, sought a quick impeachment trial for President Trump with as little attention to it as possible. Reporters, who usually roam the Capitol freely, have been cordoned off like cattle in select areas. Mr. McConnell ordered limited camera views in the Senate chamber so only presenters — not absent senators — could be seen.
And barely a peep from Republican lawmakers.
One journalist remarked to me, “How in the world can these senators walk around here upright when they have no backbone?”
Fear has a way of bending us….
For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:
“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”
“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”
“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”
My colleagues know they all just might. There’s an old Russian proverb: The tallest blade of grass is the first cut by the scythe. In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out….
I have asked some of them, “If the Senate votes to acquit, what will you do to keep this president from getting worse?” Their responses have been shrugs and sheepish looks.
They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.
As Senator Murray said on the Senate floor in 2002, “We can act out of fear” or “we can stick to our principles.” Unfortunately, in this Senate, fear has had its way. In November, the American people will have theirs.
When I started drafting this post, Trump was operating through non-violent fear, but that has changed. Trump wants the country to “reopen” and doesn’t much care how many people are exposed to the death-dealing coronavirus in the process. He was tweeted to his followers that they should LIBERATE Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota, leading to swarms of his lunatic followers blocking entrances to hospitals, calling for the firing of one of the few experts who seem to know what’s going on and intimidating a few governors into prematurely reopening beaches and other public places. Groups of angry people, almost all white men, many carrying guns, bearing Confederate flags and emblazoned with swastikas have descended on some state capitols to “demand” that the governor re-open immediately. In some cases, they have physically challenged police assigned to protect state property and personnel from violence and interference with government processes. Wearing no masks, they have screamed directly in the faces of officers who, presumably following orders, simply stood their ground and made no arrests.
These actions, at the behest of the President of the United States, are acts of terrorism by any reasonable definition. Trump is willfully inciting violence against state authorities who will not bend to his insane will by reopening their states to dangerous behaviors that will kill people as certainly as a Trump-adoring neo-Nazi with an AR-15. The appearance of Confederate battle flags and swastikas at these gatherings of Trump supporters are clear evidence of their beliefs.
To be clear, I am in complete agreement that the First Amendment allows people to peacefully protest government policy, no matter how misguided that protest may be. But, as I had to tell a (now former) Facebook friend the other day, the right to protest does not confer the right to endanger others. Society has adopted rules and processes, some of which are slower to move than we would like, to protect everyone’s “rights.” So, to use a well-worn example, you cannot shout fire in a darkened theater, and you can’t drive 50 in a 25 mph school zone. Those “freedoms” are limited to protect others freedom.
The “reopen immediately” crowd seem to think they are the only ones with “rights” that matter. Trump has openly encouraged them, calling them “good people.” He said the same thing about the neo-Nazi crowd that marched in Charlottesville, leading to the death of a counter-protester.
Further evidence of Trump’s fondness for Nazis and what they stand for lies in his decision to dishonor the Presidential Medal of Freedom by awarding it to Rush Limbaugh, whose career, as described by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2020, has been marked by “hate-filled racism, homophobia and misogyny, all characteristics favored by Donald Trump throughout his own career. https://wapo.st/35y1UiK This is the same medal previously given to the likes of Rosa Parks, Elie Wiesel and George Balanchine.
Citing multiple examples, Rubin noted that Limbaugh is the “embodiment of divisive, hateful right-wing media rhetoric, which, just like Trump, casts Democrats as evil and the media as enemies of the people.” Further, “a president who considers himself as president of only his supporters and who has debased and cheapened our language and our politics, making the reprehensible perfectly acceptable, would of course want to honor someone of Limbaugh’s ilk.”
Republicans, who claim to be offended by the accusation they were knuckling under to Trump on impeachment (before they knuckled under on impeachment) and collapse on the fainting couch when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rips up her copy of Trump’s historically divisive and dishonest address, cheer Trump’s selection….
Trump’s great lie is convincing Americans that white males no matter what their conduct — Brett Kavanaugh, convicted war criminals and, most of all, himself — are victims of elites. That, in turn, gives them license to unleash bigotry and engage in intolerable, unhinged conduct, all in the name of vindicating themselves from oppression. That mentality of grievance, propagated effectively by Limbaugh, is nothing more than cover for white nationalism. The country should denounce, not honor, its practitioners.
Here are a few of Limbaugh’s other statements that Trump agrees with; apologies to those who find these deeply offensive. It is important that they not be lost to history. Limbaugh speaks:
“Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”.
[To an African American female caller] “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”
“I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”
“You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [the confessed assassin of Martin Luther King]. We miss you, James. Godspeed.”
“Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud.”
“Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” while holding up a photo of 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton on his 1993 TV show.
“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?”
Discussing the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison: “It’s sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank. Sort of like that kind of fun.”
Those are the principles that appeal to Donald Trump and apparently to roughly a third of the American voting population. Terrorism by any other name is still terrorism. November is coming. Prepare.