The U.S. at a crossroads: How Donald Trump is criminalizing American politics

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Henry Giroux, McMaster University

Donald Trump has made history again. He is the first president of the United States charged with attempting to overturn a presidential election, violating the rights of citizens to have their votes counted, tampering with a witness and obstructing an official proceeding, among other criminal offences.

He’s also the first president to be indicted. And this is his third indictment in four months — and all of this is playing out amid his campaign for re-election in 2024.

None of the charges brought against Trump are surprising. His legacy as an accused serial liar, self-serving crook, sexual predator and white nationalist
— coupled with his assaults on the courts and supporter of authoritarians globally — are well known.

In effect, he has become the chief annihilator of democracy.

Seven protesters in neon yellow T-shirts hold orange letters that spell out 'justice.'
Anti-Donald Trump protesters hold letters that spell out ‘justice’ in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 3 as former president Donald Trump was set to appear in federal court on charges that he sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
(AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel)

Racism, xenophobia

As Washington Post political columnist Max Boot has observed, Trump has made a mockery out of political leadership, embraced widespread corruption and provided a model for being one of the worst presidents in American history. Boot writes:

“He has trafficked in racism and xenophobia. He has incited violence. He has kowtowed to dictators and trashed our alliances. He has welcomed Russian attacks on our elections. He has locked children in cages. He has called for his opponents to be locked up.”

Put differently, Trump has criminalized both social problems and politics itself.

Trump and his allies have long created a culture of lies, illusions, cruelty and misrepresentation. He has waged an incessant attack on reason, critical thinking, informed judgment and social responsibility. His distaste for Black people, migrants and others he considers disposable is matched by his support for the financial and corporate elite.

His populist pose is not only at odds with his policies, such as reducing taxes for the rich and hollowing out the social safety net, but has also pushed American society closer to an upgraded form of white supremacy and fascism.

Yet, despite the damage Trump has done to democracy, he has almost complete support of the Republican Party and a majority of Republican voters — slightly more than 58 per cent say they still plan to vote for him in the 2024 presidential election if he wins the Republican nomination. He appears poised to clinch that nomination.

Even more troubling are recent polls indicating he’s in a dead heat with U.S. President Joe Biden if they’re the presidential nominees in 2024.

Two men are seen arguing on a large stage from behind their respective podiums.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden participate in a presidential debate in Nashville, Tenn., in October 2020.
(Jim Bourg/Pool via AP)

What explains Trump’s appeal?

Most of media is focused on Trump’s legal troubles. But too little has been written about the conditions that have given rise to his authoritarian politics or why Trump is a national disgrace still backed by millions of Americans.

Trump’s grip on power is a collective nightmare that can only be understood in terms of the historical, economic, political and cultural conditions of which he is the endpoint.

As American anthropologist Wade Davis has observed:

“Odious as he may be, Trump is less the cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent.”

Trump embodies a society that has been in crisis for decades, but especially since the 1980s. This was a period when the right-wing counter-revolution emerged with the election of Ronald Reagan.

A dark-haired man gives a thumbs up while a woman dressed in red waves from a limousine.
Ronald Reagan gives a thumbs up to the crowd while his wife, first lady Nancy Reagan, waves from a limousine during the inaugural parade in Washington following Reagan’s swearing in as the 40th president of the United States in January 1981.
(AP Photo/File)

Since that time, the democratic values that informed the social contract and common good have been increasingly displaced by market values that stress self-interest, privatization, commodification, deregulation and the accumulation of profit and celebration of greed. Civic culture came under attack along with the erosion of the values of shared citizenship.

The market became a template for controlling not just the economy, but all of society. The language of rabid individualism replaced the notion of the common good and gave way to a disdain for community.

Snubbing social responsibility

Under the regime of neoliberalism, social responsibility is now viewed as a liability.

Government was discredited as a force for good, its public infrastructure was eroded and replaced by a culture of cruelty in which matters of compassion, care, and ethical responsibility began to disappear.

What emerged was society marked by precarity, loneliness and mass anxiety. The rising cult of individualism made it difficult for the public to translate private troubles into systemic considerations, weakening the public imagination. The rise of a media environment where politics becomes a form of entertainment helped silence any resistance to a growing culture of lies and greed.

Staggering levels of economic inequality also emerged, setting the ground for dark money shaping politics. This neoliberal poison helped to create a society of political monsters, immune to the virtues and conditions of democracy.

An ornate domed building is seen behind a homeless person lying on a steam vent in a grassy area.
A homeless man resting on a steam vent on the National Mall in 2019 in Washington.
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Democratic freedoms rooted in equality, freedom from fear, poverty and precarity gave way to what are known as ugly freedoms used to mine depths of hatred and selfishness, and redefine citizenship as the exclusive privilege of white Christian nationalists and radical evangelicals.

Harnessed to exclusion and bigotry, the language of freedom was invoked eventually by Trump and other Republican Party politicians to produce policies that have banned books, crushed dissent, limited classroom and workplace discussions about race, whitewashed African American history and justified a virulent anti-democratic politics that echo the ghosts of a fascist past.

America at a crossroads

The most important issues Americans face today are not solely about Trump’s corruption, lawlessness or open authoritarianism — it’s about learning from history.

We must rethink the lies that neoliberal capitalism have told us about how American society defines itself while rethinking what it will take to challenge and overcome the anti-democratic forces that gave rise to Trump.

The 2024 election should be about more than Trump’s ongoing legal travails. It should be a directive for what kind of society Americans want and what kind of future they desire for their children. They should regard the election as a choice between democracy and the further criminalization of American politics.The Conversation

Henry Giroux, Chaired professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the Department of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingThe U.S. at a crossroads: How Donald Trump is criminalizing American politics

Protest intolerance under UK’s new authoritarianism.

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Climate activists call crown court judge ‘unprincipled bully’ during protest

On Monday morning[ Today], 24 activists from Extinction Rebellion sat outside Inner London Crown Court carrying placards with the same message borne by Ms Warner.

The activists said they also handed in a letter to the court stating their intentions.

Lawyer Tim Crosland, who was disbarred for leaking a draft judgment about the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, said the protesters had chosen to be outside the court during another Insulate Britain trial to test Judge Reid.

He said: “He’s backed off, he’s left us alone. He’s exposed himself as an unprincipled bully. Because if he really believed that those signs were interfering with the courts of justice, it was his duty to stop us. And he didn’t.

“Think about what it means for Trudi and others who’ve been arrested. Those prosecutions are completely unsustainable, assuming we don’t get arrested now.”

The protesters, made up of doctors, lawyers and Quakers as well as a rabbi and a former police officer, sat in a row along the pavement outside the court premises showing their placards to passers-by.

Climate activists call crown court judge ‘unprincipled bully’ during protest

Continue ReadingProtest intolerance under UK’s new authoritarianism.

Insulate Britain’s ‘show trials’ expose state efforts to silence activists

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Insulate Britain M25 roadblock September 2021. Image: Insulate Britain.
Insulate Britain M25 roadblock September 2021. Image: Insulate Britain.

Original article by Rob Stuart republished from openDemocracy under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

OPINION: An activist is in jail for mentioning the climate crisis in court. Our judicial system is enabling the state

This week we were delivered the strongest evidence yet that the court cases of Insulate Britain members are little more than show trials – in which the defendant’s guilt has already been determined.

David Nixon, a fellow Insulate Britain supporter, was handed an eight-week sentence for merely mentioning the climate crisis during his trial for participating in a roadblock in 2021.

Judge Silas Reid had ordered Nixon to avoid talking about the climate and ecological emergency. He said, “This is not a trial about climate change, fuel poverty, etc. Matters relating to that are not relevant.”

Nixon disagreed, and used his closing speech to tell jurors: “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator. That is why we sat in the road, to tell the truth about the direction we are heading in and prompt action before it’s too late.”

That this was enough to warrant his imprisonment is absurd – and raises serious questions about this country’s judicial system.

A life-changing experience

In October 2021, I also took action with Insulate Britain. We brought large sections of the M25 and other major roads to a standstill in order to raise awareness of fuel poverty and the climate and ecological emergency.

I now have three separate charges relating to these actions. I am due to stand trial in May, June and one last time in November. By then, two full years will have passed since I sat down in the road in defence of people and planet.

As a first time defendant, this has been a life-changing experience. I had never been in trouble with the law before 2019, and I acknowledge now that I have lived a relatively privileged life in that regard. As a white, middle-class man, I regret not recognising sooner the suffering of others less fortunate than me at the hands of the state.

My faith in the legal and judicial system of this country has been severely shaken. I have felt harassed and persecuted by the state as both my reputation and my livelihood have been unduly threatened. My name and address has been published online by the authorities, endangering not only myself but my family as well. Of course, my mental health has suffered.

Those who advocate for change now face even greater challenges than ever before as they risk prosecution under the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. As if that were not enough, the regime is now trying to push through its equally notorious Public Order Bill, which will give police officers even more power to crack down on protests.

If jurors can’t hear why a ‘crime’ was committed, are they there just to rubber-stamp the state’s decision?

Though neither bill had come into law at the time of my arrest, I could have reasonably expected a statutory charge of wilful obstruction under the Highways Act or an injunction under the Anti-social Behaviour Act. But neither was invoked against me.

Instead, the prosecution chose to break with legal tradition by pursuing the archaic common law offence of causing a public nuisance. This is worrying – if a charge is not defined in statute, there are no prosecution guidelines to follow.

The decision had abhorrent consequences. According to the judiciary, public nuisance is interested only in the consequences of an action, i.e. whether we supporters of Insulate Britain had caused a nuisance to the public. There is no consideration at all of the circumstances of the action, i.e. our motivations for doing what we did.

Insulate Britain supporters are not arguing that we did not cause any inconvenience or disruption to the public – that would be completely disingenuous. We are arguing that we did what we believed was necessary to sound the alarm on fuel poverty and the climate and ecological emergency. We hoped the UK government would heed our demands.

Let us be clear, it is not a lack of popular demand or technological solutions that keeps rich nations such as the UK from addressing the climate and ecological emergency. We could solve this problem if there was the political will to do so.

By denying the circumstances of our actions, I believe Judge Reid and his associates knew that we defendants would not be able to defend ourselves. We cannot minimise our actions (and neither would we want to) and yet we cannot explain ourselves either, without risking contempt of court. The scales of justice seem distinctly one-sided.

If the diverse range of legal and moral arguments in an (alleged) crime of conscience cannot be presented in front of a jury, one must ask what purpose a jury serves. Are jurors there simply to rubber stamp a guilty verdict that has already been decided since before the defendant’s arrest?

A lack of transparency

Last week another Insulate Britain supporter, Stephanie Aylett, narrowly avoided a custodial sentence after also being charged with contempt. Afterwards, she said: “It horrified me that Judge Reid deliberately stripped away all our legal defences and told us that we would be in contempt of court if we spoke about our motivations, strategy or aims.”

Aylett continued: “He prevented us from mentioning climate change or talking about any scientific evidence. It is incredibly difficult to explain the actions we took without being allowed to mention why we did such a bizarre thing.”

I am concerned about a lack of transparency over who had the authority to determine that we would be charged with public nuisance and what process, if any, was followed in reaching this decision.

The government appears to be investing more energy into silencing climate activists than implementing climate solutions

I have learned that many important decisions are made behind closed doors in secretive ‘case management hearings’ up and down the country. The existence of these hearings is not common knowledge, I am aware of them because I have been required to attend several over the past year. In my opinion they are wide open to abuse.

If there was any justice, I would not be facing charges. It would not have been necessary for me to sit down in the road to raise awareness of the climate and ecological emergency. The individuals who place profit before people and the planet would already be behind bars.

Instead, the current regime appears to be investing more energy into silencing climate activists than implementing climate solutions, such as decent home insulation that would benefit millions of ordinary people during the cost of living crisis.

This government does not represent the people, but rather the CEOs and shareholders of big business. They rule by fear, intimidation and coercion.

A few years ago, it would have been completely unheard of for a defendant to be handed a prison sentence for simply mentioning the climate crisis in a court of law. And yet here we are. As children we were warned to remain vigilant to the threat of fascism. It is time to heed those warnings.

Original article by Rob Stuart republished from openDemocracy under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingInsulate Britain’s ‘show trials’ expose state efforts to silence activists