With the Trump administration floundering and the movement opposed to him expanding, we need to be prepared for a possible shock doctrine moment, whether intentional or not, that could be used to unify the country around an unpopular president and shut down political dissent.
In 2001, even after one of the most difficult and questioned presidential races ever, President Bush was still approaching 60% approval at this stage of his presidency, rising to 62% by mid-April. In March, the first signs of a recession hit, ending ten years of growth, and his popularity plummeted to 51% by the end of summer. His administration started to weaken.
Then September 11 hit. The country rallied around the President. A few days after the attack, Bush had the highest approval ratings in Gallup history at 90%. His popularity began to drop, approaching pre-9/11 numbers, but then he began the war in Iraq and his popularity returned to 75%. It took until the end of 2003 for his popularity to fall to pre-9/11 levels.
The US attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. This period of turmoil was used to pass the PATRIOT Act on October 26, which curtailed civil liberties and dissent while expanding government surveillance powers.
A vibrant protest movement against corporate globalization, which had begun in Seattle in 1999 was planning a mass protest of 100,000 people in Washington, DC against the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund in late September, 2001, was destroyed and confused about how to respond after 9/11.
The Democratic Party became openly complicit in moving forward on US wars and in support of the Global War on Terror, which has become a never-ending war. Bush’s opponent, Al Gore, gave multiple speeches endorsing Bush’s war on terror and an attack on Iraq, even urging the US to focus on attacking Iran.
A struggling presidency became a powerful war-time presidency.
What lessons should the protest movement of today take from the 9/11 experience and similar events that have occurred, e.g. the 1933 burning down of Reichstag under Hitler, which turned him into a dictator even though his party did not have a majority in the legislature?
The lesson is that even a bumbling president can become widely supported and very powerful and that a strong political movement can be destroyed in a moment of crisis. What can we do to prevent that?
We need to be aware of the possibility, examine the potential crises that can occur, recognize what is really happening, explain it quickly and be organized to prevent harm from being done.
There are three major areas where a crisis could occur that could turn any president, even Donald Trump, into one that people rally around and give great power to: (1) An economic collapse; (2) A terrorist attack on the United States; (3) A major war. These can each be something the administration is complicit in creating or something that is a natural occurrence, blow-back, from US economic and foreign policy. The movement needs to be ready to respond. We can’t fall into a fervor of patriotic unity that gives Trump a blank check.
People in the movement need to be prepared and consider what they can do to make sure the political culture does not fall for a manufactured or real crisis. People need to be ready to respond by pointing out that the crisis was caused by the US political system, of which Trump is a symptom. It is critical to point the finger of blame back at the system — and do so immediately — and to be ready with an agenda that changes the system in a way that protects people and the planet.
- The US and World Economy Are Fragile
The US and world economy are fragile because of policies put forward by both parties that have created a top-heavy economy of highly-concentrated wealth. Most people in the United States are economically insecure. Research shows that two-thirds of people in the US cannot even handle a $500 surprise expense. Tens of millions are entrenched in poverty because of government policies and, under Trump policies, this is likely to worsen.
The US economy has underlying flaws that make it more fragile than it seems. While the dominant view is Trump has been given a strong economy, there are key indicators showing that a recession could hit, indicators that continue today. Forbes predicts Trump’s economic plan could send the US into the worst recession since the Reagan era. US News and World Report points to five reasons the US will face recession under Trump.
Nafeez Ahmed points to more fundamental and long-term problems in “How the Trump Regime Was Manufactured By War Inside the Deep State.” He points to a systemic crisis which has its foundation in the cost of energy extraction, which will make it impossible to create a growing economy. The Energy Return On Investment (EROI) has dropped from 100 to 1 to 10 to 1 today meaning the world is getting less energy for its extraction investments over time, making it impossible to increase economic growth. Trump, building on the policies of Obama, Bush and those before them, is increasing energy extraction, which could accelerate the decline in EROI and lead to economic collapse.
- Terrorist Attack Contrived or Blowback
A terrorist attack on the United States will most likely be provoked by US foreign policy. The US has been in continuous war since 9/11 and before that, it was a hegemonic, dominant world empire – the largest empire in world history.
There is lots of reason for blow back against the United States. Since World War II the US has killed more than 20 million people in 37 countries. Since the Iraq War, US intelligence has warned that military attacks are creating terrorists faster than the US can capture or kill them, intelligence that Bush-era officials refused to accept. President Obama’s legacy of bombing, including dropping 26,000 bombs in his final year and more bombs than Bush, often resulted in killing civilians rather than fighters. Reportedly as much as 90% of those killed were innocents. All of this creates anger at the United States and could lead to blow back against the US.
Even President Trump hinted at the mass murder by US presidents when he was criticized for saying positive things about President Putin. Trump’s response: “We’ve Got A Lot Of Killers – You Think Our Country’s So Innocent?”
If there is a terrorist attack, the movement must be clear and loud — pointing out the cause is US foreign policy and demanding a change in policy that is not based on war and militarism.
It is difficult to criticize a commander-in-chief in the midst of leading a major war. The largest potential war is with Russia. Such a conflict is something President Trump has sought to avoid. There is very little Trump has been consistent on but working with Russia and de-escalation of tensions has been the one issue where he has been consistent.
Democrats, in particular, have been spreading propaganda to demonize Russia in order to undermine Trump’s efforts at détente. They have accused Trump of inappropriate ties to Russia during his campaign, exposed potential Russian blackmail of Trump and blamed Russia for impacting the outcome of the election. Senator Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee is the lead sponsor of a bill to prevent Trump from ending sanctions on Russia. This would greatly limit his ability to negotiate détente with Putin. Cardin is being joined by bi-partisan war hawks on this bill.
The national intelligence complex sees conflict with Russia as essential to ensuring US domination. As Mike Whitney points out, the resignation of National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, was required by the security state because he supported peace with Russia.
Another area of concern for increased US militarism is Iran. Trump’s former NSC adviser threatened Iran when he said the US was putting Iran “on notice” and that the US would “not rule out a military attack.” Flynn was not the only Iran hawk, so is Secretary of Defense Mattis. Bi-partisan hawks have pushed for war with Iran for a long time.
During confirmation hearings, Rex Tillerson, threatened actions that could lead to military conflict with China. China has had mixed reactions, sometimes accusing Tillerson of being naïve and threatening war and other times taking an approach of working together for peace. The US has long been positioning itself to maintain global hegemony by controlling Asia with Obama’s Asian Pivot as one example. The recent missile test by North Korea has also led to threats. In fact, the US has been the aggressor in North Korea and that country warned us to stop US threats of nuclear war before testing a missile.
On all of these potential conflicts, the movement must be on the side of peace and demilitarization. If a conflict occurs, the peace movement should grow in opposition to it. And, if Trump pushes forward on détente with Russia, the movement should support demilitarization. If there is war it will be part of a continuous pattern of war by the United States since 9/11. War should lead to escalation of protest.
On all of these issues the movement is positioned to turn a crisis to our advantage. Rather than reacting with fear and unquestioning patriotism, we can show that the events are the result of failed systems such as corruption, the capitalist economy and US imperialism. Rather than allowing more harmful policies to be rushed through Congress or by Executive Order, we can be vigilant and oppose those. We must also be organized and ready to promote positive alternatives that are supported by majorities of people.
Most people in the United States are opposed to war and want the US to scale back its global presence and be a cooperative member of a multi-polar world. Most people, especially youth in the US, recognize that capitalism is a root cause of wealth inequality and destruction of the planet. Support for a new economic system is growing.
If a crisis occurs, we need to use it, not to unify behind the President, but to rapidly explain how the crisis is part of the failed government policies of both parties, that it is a systemic problem of which Trump is a symptom and that the crisis means the movement must expand.
One challenge for the movement, and it is a significant challenge, is that currently a large portion of the protests are merely anti-Trump and fail not recognize that both parties are complicit. The movement must be willing to point fingers at the Democratic Party and its leaders as key players in creating the crisis. If we do this, then the system-wide transformation the country seeks can be aided by a crisis.
The movement must use its social and independent media to get our message out because the corporate media and both parties will be calling for unity in crisis. The judo of taking their narrative and flipping it to the truth of long-term systemic problems created by two parties that represent Wall Street and war will be our immediate and major task. If we succeed we will advance our cause even in a crisis whether it is self-created, provoked or blow back. We will not only blunt the potential of a Reichstag moment but turn it to our advantage to serve transformation of the nation. If we are to succeed, we must start preparing now. Those who are prepared for crisis, do best when it occurs.