by guest writer Dennis Rohatyn
News that the U.S. government is spying on protesters in Washington, DC and elsewhere indirectly reveals all the intrigues occurring at this moment. (“US Government Spy Planes Monitored George Floyd Protests,” CNN, June 11, 2020). Trump is using the FBI and the private resources at his disposal because he has lost control over the Pentagon. Indeed, their defection is prompted (in part) by his use of para-military outfits to do his bidding. This undermines the traditional monopoly on force, mislabeled as “separation of powers.” Halliburton did so surreptitiously; Trump is merely more blatant. DoD (the Defense Dept.) was beguiled by Bush and Cheney. Now they are aware of the threat to their fiefdom, and how they are being usurped. Congress, caught in the squeeze, reflects their ambivalence, but is helpless, since all power now rests in the executive branch.
Trump’s commencement speech at West Point (June 12) paid lip service to the notion of an independent (“apolitical”) officer corps serving a country devoted to peace, not war, yet his actions have long since undermined his duplicitous words, much as his bellicosity belies the belated rhetoric of equality before the law, feebly reiterated on camera at the Rose Garden, in the wake of George Floyd.
Meanwhile, COVID rages out of control, as social distancing gives way to racial solidarity and public outrage in the face of authoritarian repression. The cunning of dialectic compels Trump, both to barricade himself behind walls and to cross his own border in a vain attempt to prove that he is neither bigot nor hypocrite. Small comfort to those confined in cages, and denied admission to the land for a small fee.
As dangers mount, Trump grows ever more desperate. An explosion of some sort is not only likely, but imminent. This week, Trump travels to Tulsa, ostensibly to “celebrate” the start of his re-election campaign. Yet it might be the beginning of the end. By choosing to inaugurate his campaign on Juneteenth, and in a city with a collective memory of the KKK, he is asking for trouble. That is both his style and his essence. But this time it may backfire. Tulsa has restless youth, problems with cops, cocaine, and a long history of racial animosity that (like the nation in general) it has yet to overcome. Trump isn’t just walking into the lion’s den; he is deliberately vexing the lion. The lion may roar and scare him away, as Bert Lahr never quite managed. Or it may be docile, since Tulsa is oil country, and an asset to global capital. The mayor (G.T. Bynum), himself running for re-election in 2020 against a field of seven opponents, describes himself as a”red-state mayor” with a blue-state intellectual and moral conscience (“I’m a Red-State Mayor and I Ordered My City To Stay Home,” Op-Ed, NY Times, April 1, 2020). His record on race is ambivalent, yet he shows signs of growth, and is certainly opposed to police brutality, which is as prevalent in Tulsa as it is all across the country. Mayor Bynum may be able to defuse tensions, and make Trump’s visit uneventful. Or he may find himself caught between peaceful protesters and “astro turf” rabble-rousers, intent on starting a riot so that the National Guard will have to be called out (an opportunity that Gov. Kevin Stitt would seize upon in an instant, to burnish his bona-fides with Trump). Blaming the victims would then take precedence over everything, turning the Jubilee inside out. Quod erat demo.
Eventually, Trump’s search for scapegoats (“really bad people”) will backfire. Yet the damage he has already done is incalculable.Even if he saw himself in the mirror, he has distorted it (and nature) beyond recognition. Yet no matter how well-protected from his alienated constituents he may be, he cannot arm or defend himself against his own malice. No one knows what (if anything) will happen in Tulsa.* All we know is that it will be ugly.
The future is bleak; the prospects ominous. Echoes of the past resound: as Mark Twain observed, history doesn’t repeat, it rhymes. Tulsa isn’t Dallas, which Trump visited just the other day, but it has an uncanny resemblance to “nut country,” in 1963. Only this time, the “nut” is housed inside the limousine. All of his lies and all of his spies cannot ease his burden. The swamp is overflowing all around him, and the pressure of inflammatory rhetoric coupled with cynical exploitation of human suffering is increasing exponentially. Sooner or later, the nut will crack. When it does, all hell will break loose, either long before or soon after the fall election. If Trump dies violently, civilian wars will ensue; martyrdom will crown his pseudo-dictatorship. If Pence succeeds him, even as temporary caretaker of a crumbled fortress, ignobles of the robe (the religious right) and ignobles of the sword (mercenary soldiers) will join forces to perpetuate the old regime and insure that the center of imperial power will not fold.
Even if none of that happens, a military coup of some sort is a tempting possibility—as it was when Napoleon took command in revolutionary France, ending the reign of terror by substituting his own. Whatever our fate, the “last best hope of earth” shall perish unless we are prepared to face the worst, and by doing so, find a way to prevent it. It will be a long siege. Those who survive won’t envy the dead. But they won’t believe that the dead did not die in vain. On the contrary. They will be glad of that, at least in one case. Christmas won’t smell like oranges again. And there won’t be much to be thankful for, either, except (once all the noise and smoke die down) our only chance to breathe freely.
June 14 (Flag Day), 2020
*Fearing for his reception if not his life, Trump postponed the event for a day. Holding it on June 20 is a measure of his timidity, not his sanity. Belligerent as he is, Trump is the ultimate coward. He bluffs, blusters, and bullies when he feels safe, but retreats to his bunker at the first sign of trouble. If he had any sense, he would exit the stage, before his hour upon it is up. But he is who he is—and can be no other. Destiny has no character.
image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_rally_in_Huntington_(d).png