Never go full fascist
by MATTHEW GAULT
Donald Trump, Republican candidate for president of the United States, is a fascist. During the second presidential debate in St. Louis, Trump advocated the jailing of his political opponent, kept his war plans secret, promised to bring law and order to the land and twisted the words “Muslim ban” into “extreme vetting.”
A subdued Trump took the stage amid a hail of accusations about his predilection for sexual assault and the assumption that he’d trot out Bill Clinton’s past misdeeds. Just after 15 minutes into the debate he did just that.
Viewers across the globe tuned in expecting to watch a reality T.V. shit-show. For the first half hour, the candidates met those expectations.
When dust settled and Hillary Clinton and Trump had wasted their venom in petty squabbles and old scandals, moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz pulled the candidates into more substantive issues such as healthcare, energy policy and Syria.
But not before Trump went full fascist and promised to jail Clinton should he win office.
“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” Trump said at the end of a long speech calling on Clinton to apologize for everything from rigging the Democratic primary to spreading misinformation about Pres. Barack Obama.
“And we’re going to have a special prosecutor … and we’re going to look into it. Because you know what? People have been — their lives have been destroyed for doing one fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Clinton responded to the screed by telling people to go to her website to check Trump’s facts. “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” she said.
“Because you’d be in jail,” Trump responded like a practiced heckler. The audience hooted. In a year of madness and lowered standards for politicians, this was one of the most dangerous exchanges I’ve heard.
At the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, many on the left called for incoming president Obama to prosecute the outgoing president and his team for war crimes. There were a lot of reasons that didn’t happen and one of the biggest was that, for a democracy to work, political opponents shouldn’t use the mechanisms of the justice system to punish each other.
It’s the hallmark of fascist dictatorships the world over — from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Kim Jong Un’s North Korea — to use the organ’s of the state to discredit, jail and murder its political opponents. Stalin did not just assassinate his opposition. First, he took them to court.
When North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho defected to the South, Pyongyang criminally charged him with child rape. Jailing political opponents is the stuff of dictators and shouldn’t happen in America. Just ask Eugene V. Debs.
Another worrying policy statement came from both candidates — they want safe zones in Syria.
The moderators asked to Trump if he still wanted to instate a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. He took issue with the phrasing and, like all budding dictators, wallowed in euphemism.
“It’s called extreme vetting,” Trump began. He pointed out that Clinton and Obama wanted to let in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. “This is going to be the great Trojan horse of all time.
“We have enough problems in this country. I believe in building safe zones.” Clinton also advocated the creation of safe zones to protect people from the war.
But there are no safe zones in war and in Syria places traditionally thought of as off limits, such as hospitals, are now targets. Let’s call safe zones what they are — internment camps for people trapped behind a border. Limiting the freedom of movement of those attempting to flee war isn’t just unsafe, it’s a death sentence.
In 2009, Sri Lanka bombarded a U.N.-declared safe zone. In 1995, Bosnian Serb military leaders oversaw the murder of 8,000 Muslims in another so-called safe zone. These wrong-headed attempts put civilians in a vulnerable pen where it’s easy for combatants to slaughter them. The only way to stop the loss of life is to allow them to flee. The only way to escape a war zone is to leave it. Safety is never guaranteed for those who stay.
Trump spent the rest of the night excoriating his opponent and the Obama presidency. He went down the Trump talking points checklist. Clinton created the Islamic State, check. Trump won’t explain his military policies because he wants to surprise America’s enemies, check. He doesn’t know shit about Russia, check.
Clinton, by contrast presented reasoned and well-explained military policies that sound like a throwback to Neocon hawkishness mixed with Obama-era shadow war. “The situation in Syria is catastrophic,” she began.
The former secretary of state then took a few minutes to explain the trouble in Syria as she sees it. She put much of the blame on Russia for propping up the Assad regime, advocated a no-fly zone and safe zones then promised she’d be tough on Moscow.
“We need some leverage with the Russians because they’re not going to come to the negotiating table for a diplomatic resolution unless there is some leverage over them,” she explained. “And we have to work more closely with our partners and allies on the ground. But I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia.”
“I would not use American ground forces in Syria,” she promised. “I think that would be a very serious mistake.” Unless those ground troops are special operations forces, which she endorsed a few sentences later.
Clinton then doubled down on the Obama-era doctrine of assassinating high value targets, saying she’d pay special attention to Islamic State leader Abu Omar Al Baghdadi. “I would also consider arming the Kurds,” she concluded. A stance sure to make Turkey and other NATO allies uncomfortable.
Trump, as usual, offered few specifics and promised to resolve all the issues very quickly. He also pointed out how many generals, admirals and Medal of Honor winners had endorsed him. Of Aleppo, he said, “I think that it basically has fallen. Okay? It basically has fallen.”
Which is a grotesque misunderstanding of a complex situation. Aleppo is divided. Rebels control the east and the regime controls the west. Hundreds of thousands of civilians still live in the embattled city. It has not “basically fallen.”
Trump capped off the talk of Syria and Russian aggression by throwing his running mate, Mike Pence, under the bus. During the veep debate, Pence took a tough stance on Russia — standing in contrast to his running mate. The moderators asked Trump about it.
“He said provocations by Russian need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved with airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets, of the Assad regime,” Raddatz said, paraphrasing Pence.
“He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree,” Trump replied. Good to know where Mr. Trump stands when faced with the most aggressive Russian regime since the Cold War.