Monday, February 23, 2004

I'll Never Let You Go...

Many people, both Democrat and Republican, are just now beginning to realize that not only CAN Bush be beaten in November, but that he likely WILL be. Commentators with an ear to the conservative movement describe the mood of core conservatives as fearful for the future. The end of Republican dominance of the Federal government is coming, and they know it. What's more, with a legacy consisting of an ailing economy, massive deficits, and severe damage to America's credibility around the world, the current right wing leadership of the party won't be getting another chance to run things any time soon, possibly not ever. Will January 2005 see just another peaceful transfer of power, or will Republican leaders decide that they cannot risk letting go? Many will face hard questions or official investigation for what they have done. Some will face indictment, imprisonment, and ruin. Might a trapped and desperate right wing of the GOP become an even greater threat to the nation once they are defeated at the polls?

The core conservative base of the Republican party is eroding. Persons of strong religious convictions and rural populations are both declining as a percentage of the population. Fundamentalism is growing, but only by cannibalizing other sects, while consistent church-goers decline as a portion of the population. This Administration is the last gasp of the conservative movement's quest for political power to compensate for declining cultural significance and numbers. It is a truism that elite groups who see their power waning fight the hardest to project and preserve their values through the political process. The proposed Federal Marriage Amendment is an example of such a desperate attempt by an embattled and fading minority to enshrine their values in the Constitution. Can you imaging the founding fathers imagining they needed to protect the meaning of marriage in the Constitution? Rear-guard cultural movements only succeed for a time by becoming increasingly oppressive; and there's the rub.

The GOP does very poorly amongst the fastest growing, most dynamic demographics in America. While it is true that Red states in recent elections have grown and gained electoral college votes, they have done so by becoming more competitive for the Democrats, not by adding populations amenable to the GOP. If the GOP continues to base it's support on it's current demographic segments, they will soon become a permanent minority. The GOP is betting heavily on Hispanics, a family-oriented and largely culturally conservative Catholic population, as the future of the party, but they have not met with much success in courting those votes.

"So what?" you might ask. Even if Republicans lose control, they will eventually rebound; major parties always either rebound or reform, so what's new? That is true, but the policies demanded by the right wing's fundamentalist, ignorant, rural, southern, 'fuck-you boy' core constituencies have become so distasteful to other portions of the electorate that the GOP may need to alienate their base and rebuild the party around more moderate positions to become competitive once again. At the same time, the party has failed to deliver on the right wing's core agenda. The true acolytes of those constituencies, such as Gary Bauer, are now expressing dissatisfaction with what the GOP has rendered unto them. Thus, even though the Republican party will no doubt rise again, the faction of ultra-conservatives that now hold the party hostage will likely not rise with them. View it as a desertion of the party by right wing conservatives, or as a realization by the politicians of right wing that the rest of the country will only stand for so much of the right's agenda, it doesn't much matter; the right wing is headed for the wilderness again. Many in the right wing are going to see defeat in November as a permanent end to their power in the GOP, and thus in America. What if they decide not to let go?

The right wing has demonstrated again and again a complete disrespect for America's civic traditions and legal institutions, not even sparing the prerogatives of their fellow party members. Long standing agreements on cooperation, power sharing, preventing fruitless conflict, and respect for the rule of law have been damaged or cast aside repeatedly by the right wing of the GOP in their drive not just to govern, but to rule. Redistricting in non-census years, twisting and breaking long standing procedural rules and traditions in Congress, Bush's assumption of the Presidency, which is widely held to have been illegitimate, and his war on Iraq, which many consider an unconstitutional usurpation of Congressional authority, are just a few of the ways the right wing of the GOP has proven, again, and again, their contempt for the rules which keep an unruly, competitive polity working somewhat amicably. Such rules are not trivial. They are aspects of a hard won wisdom about coexistence. Recall that this nation once raged with a civil war that ate the souls of a nearly a million Americans. We are not a pacific people.

This Administration will have about 2 months remaining in office once they become lame ducks. What sequence of events might give them pretext to refuse to hand over power? What legal tools and justifications might be used? I really don't know if the many outrageous actions and policies of this Administration's last three years are a well laid plan, or a series of crisis management solutions to rising problems. But either way, the result looks very much like the events and policy choices which led to our clearest model for how to destroy a modern Constitutional democracy: Alberto Fujimori's Peruvian coup of 1992.

The crisis which laid the legal and institutional ground work for Fujimori's coup was also terrorism. Fujimori's responses to crisis pose alarming parallels with our own 'War on Terror'. Fujimori formed 'faceless' secret courts that could try accused terrorists in secret for vaguely defined offenses such as 'justifying terrorism' and 'provoking anxiety'. We, too, have adopted draconian and ill-conceived offenses such as 'providing material support to terrorist organizations', which can encompass almost any transaction with almost anyone who is defined as a 'terrorist organization'. Of course, the privilege to define 'terrorist organization' lies entirely within the discretion of the Executive. Thus, any group or person can easily be labeled as a terrorist, based not on proof, but on media innuendo, secret evidence, and misinformation. Once 'properly' defined, all members, associates, and contacts linked to the accused 'terrorist organization' can be justifiably disappeared. This is how Fujimori's junta justified the disappearance of its foes, and it is how Bush and right wing could legally deal with their critics.

The second tool of Fujimori's reign of terror was to allow the police, prosecution, and penitentiary to operate in secrecy regarding terror cases, beyond the reach of defense lawyers, the press, and the public. The result was thousands of political prisoners and roving death squads. Those who challenged the system too openly could easily be pulled into it. Lawyers and family members too determined in their advocacy and inquiries after victims were frequently also drawn into the system, and imprisoned or killed. The Bush Administration has laid the groundwork for such a secret police force, as well. With secret warrants from secret FISA courts - or even without warrants under PATRIOT or the provisions of PATRIOT II which continue to tiptoe into law - the FBI can search anywhere, investigate freely, eavesdrop on anyone, seize anything, including all of your financial assets, arrest nearly anyone as a terrorist or sympathizer, detain them (more or less permanently), and deny them access to family, lawyers, and the courts. Citizens can then be tried in secret by military tribunals beholden only to the President, and a sentence of death can be imposed, which only the President may review. Non-citizens fare far worse, disappearing on the thinnest of immigration law pretexts, or just mere suspicion, deported to third countries to be tortured, or simply held indefinitely in undisclosed locations until they are forgotten, or die. If you are overseas, American or otherwise, watch your step. The President says the CIA can decide to assassinate you.

Behind this veil of secrecy, lacking the right of habeas corpus and access to counsel, torture and extra-judicial murder thrives. Political critics, bold protesters, and enough random innocents to foster terror and obedience can be liquidated justifiably. It is still unknown exactly how many the Fujimori regime murdered, and the tools and methods used in Peru lurk within our own laws, created out of fear of terrorism. There are strong suggestions that torture has crept back into the toolkit of American interrogators behind the veil of secrecy the Administration has drawn over the detainment camps of Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Secrecy always breeds human rights abuses, and frees despots to eliminate their foes and critics away from the view of the public. This system is what we have built in response to 9/11, and it lies wait to enslave us.

How could the kind of naked abuses of the Fujimori regime be tolerated by the American people? Again, terrorism provides lessons in social control. In Fujimori's Peru it was Shining Path Narco-Terrorist attacks around Peru, which so frightened the public that most approved of Fujimori's 'emergency' usurpations of power. In today's America it would surely be 'Al Qaida' attacks on the homeland that would stampede the people over the cliff. It wouldn't necessitate all that much: coordinated attacks over a brief span of time on key infrastructural elements such as airlines, telecommunications facilities, government and military installations, accomplished by an alarming combination of conventional, biological, chemical, radiological, and data weapons, would cause much chaos and fear, even if little actual harm occurred. The media could be counted on to amplify the impact of any attacks far out of proportion to their actual significance. Widespread attacks of sufficient frequency and scope could justify in the minds of many a temporary state of emergency under Executive Orders, both long standing and newly instituted, designed for just such exigencies. The attacks could justify detaining hundreds, or even thousands of possible confederates, collaborators, and supporters of terror, pending investigation or under material witness warrants. Key transportation, communication, and media facilities could be seized under the emergency powers of the Executive and operated by the military. Once the immediate threat passed the Executive would be in control of strategic infrastructural elements allowing it to effectively control all movement and communication. Continuing danger of attacks would justify continuing the 'emergency' conditions, and fear and apprehension of the populace would prevent people questioning openly the Administration's failure to transfer power. The secret apparatus of oppression, now fully in motion, would swallow anyone who dared voice any organized dissent.

Don't think it could happen here? Fujimori dissolved the Peruvian Congress, purged the Courts of justices whose politics he disagreed with, dissolved and rewrote the Constitution, disappeared and murdered thousands, and still enjoyed a 70% approval rating, and reigned for eight years before fleeing to amnesty in Japan in 2000. Bush engaged in a brutal war of aggression against a nearly prostrate foe, killing thousands of innocents, costing taxpayers hundreds of billions and many soldiers their lives. He justified it all with outrageous lies and suborned intelligence, and still enjoyed a nearly 90% approval rating, even though fully half of Americans had only weeks before opposed the war and millions participated in the largest marches seen in modern history. External threats can unite people behind even the most transparently dictatorial actions. Fear can make many willing throw our rights away and despise the Constitution, and even democracy itself.

The GOP has already used electoral fraud and judicial treason to install a President, we mustn't assume they are above a Peruvian-style autogolpe to keep him there. Democrats cannot afford to relax our vigilance when the election is over; not until a Democrat is in the White House, the football's been passed, and the lock has been changed on the Oval Office liquor cabinet, can Democrats begin to feel safe once again. In Peru, the groundwork laid to combat terrorism was quickly built into a fortress for the rule of a Terrorist. That same groundwork has been laid down in this nation. As soon as we are able, we Democrats must destroy every last vestige of it. We will never be safe from tyranny until is gone. Too many people around the world have naively told themselves, "It can never happen here," only to awaken to a kicked in door in the middle of the night. It can happen here. We mustn't make it easier.

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