How the November 8th Election Became an American Referendum on Right-Wing Revolution
The referendum on left revolution was held, and did surprisingly well, but the system stopped Sanders.
Now it's a question of whether Trump can be stopped.
It's a complex moment, full of paradox.
The US/world system is criminal. It kills civilians, most overseas, directly with bombs, drones and bullets, and indirectly —but still more lethally — by withholding available wealth, food, resources.
That system deserves to be dismantled. But Trump and co. will make it far worse. He and his teams represent revolution. But it's revolution in the wrong direction.
Some compare him to Mussolini, even Hitler. One of his principal teams is indeed the modern neofascists (the alt right).
In lieu of going back in epochs to observe and compare him to dead tyrants, one can instead travel overseas, to the US/world system outposts, where repressive violence — along with much production and pollution — has been largely outsourced.
On the one hand, systematic comparison to Trump is near-impossible giving differing contexts. For decades, stateside Americans have largely lived in a bubble regarding political violence. Labor and other forms of violent repression are still involved in creating US wealth and production but most of the violence no longer occurs in US south and midwest factories. It happens in distant countries, and most Americans neither hear nor suspect. It helps give rise to foreign political systems that are more hands-on and dangerous than our own and on occasion (with US help) gives rise to leaders who kill often, directly.
In a sense it is perversely unfair (to them) to compare these blood-soaked men to the pipsqueak Trump, but I have to say that when I think of them, and then see Trump, I feel a certain subjective resonance.
Had Trump been born in Guatemala, the rich-kid rite of passage there involved, in the '80s, going out and killing any troublesome workers from daddy’s plantations and factories. There was also the droit de seigneur, peasant/worker women — and dissidents —were theirs for the taking.
Their partner, Colonel Chupina, the police chief, cruised the city in a van, snatching Guatemalan “10s” for rape and burial, and, he hoped, oblivion. Across the border in El Salvador there was a catchy tune that rich boys sang that (with one edit; delete “communists,” insert “immigrants”) could have been played in the background when Donald Trump came down the escalator.
"Tremble, tremble," the hymn began. It was a warning to adversaries, people who were, the lyrics went, "criminals, with the souls of animals."
"They have killed. They have raped," it continued. You heard it all the time on the radio.
"They have ruined our fatherland," but the country would become a "tomb" for them, "saving in this way America [the continents], our immortal America."
That was the song of Roberto D'Aubuison's civilian death squad party, ARENA. They were the ones who killed Archbishop Romero. They featured telegenic, crazed oligarchs. With CIA data, they broadcast death lists. But in the death squad system, they were secondary. The bulk of the assassinations were done by the state, with secret army/police death squads run by bureaucrats. Their founder was an army general, Jose Alberto "Chele" Medrano, Washington's principal asset in El Salvador.
In comparison to D'Aubuisson, who in person, vibrated with a sick charisma, Medrano was matter-of-fact, a technocrat, a death technician. But as I sat with him for hours I realized he was also a lunatic, a crackpot consumed by conspiracy theories and by his own and Washington's propaganda. When not telling tales of his work with the Green Berets or his private visit to the Oval Office he would draw elaborate diagrams that purported to explain to me how most every last nun and campesino was controlled from Moscow by the KGB.
Years later, in a Jakarta office tower, General Prabowo, "the Americans' fair-haired-boy," by his own description, spent hours ranting to me about the proper way to do a massacre, musing on whether he "ha[d] the guts" to seize power and "be called a fascist dictator," and insulting Indonesia's then-president, the popularly beloved Muslim cleric Gus Dur because he was civilian, legally blind and not as "young [and] handsome" as W. Bush, Blair, or Putin: "The military even obeys a blind president!," the general said, "Look at him! He's embarrassing!"
The whole thing was surprising. We were meeting in private, as adversaries. I had long publicly called for his arrest -- and that of his US sponsors -- for war crimes (he was the country's most notorious killer, famous for torturing and executing abductees personally), and had helped to start a grassroots lobby that had contributed to his (and his father-in-law Suharto's) downfall. Yet here he was venting at length about the other generals who years ago had mocked him (he said they called him "The American") and expressing his palpable hurt about being dumped by Washington as soon as he lost power.
In 2014, having never seized power, Prabowo declared as a candidate for president. He launched his campaign in a stadium, on horseback, dressed up like Mussolini. One of his backers, a bad-boy rich-kid rock star, did an endorsement music video in Nazi SS garb.
Prabowo had told me he had "15 servants" and had kept "slaves" in occupied East Timor. He was a rich man with a billionaire brother, so he decided to run as a man of the mass. He said that only he could uplift Indonesia. He said his opponent, a not-rich civilian, was weak.
And he positioned himself against the foreigners. (In 1998, while still a powerful general, as the country rose in rebellion against the regime, Prabowo had been accused of organizing riots, mass rapes and arson against Jakarta's ethnic Chinese.) Without mentioning his US "fair-haired boy" past, he said only he would stand up to the Americans.
He had his opponents labeled ”foreign stooges."
At first, few took Prabowo seriously. But as he rose precipitously in the polls, I decided to publish our old off-the-record discussions. A campaign-long confrontation ensued. He demanded that the army capture me, and said he would have me charged for speech crimes (including “inciting hatred against the army”) but when I said yes, please arrest me, I look forward to facing you in court, he backed down and was ridiculed. On the last campaign day he filed the charges.
At one point in our running televised battle, an agitated Prabowo gave a speech in which he assailed the rakyat (the masses) for listening to me instead of him. "What's with you? One foreigner speaks and you get all worked up? One white-skinned guy and we have to get agitated? We are 240 million people. Just stay calm. Ask the rakyat, don't ask foreigners."
I responded by saying that if he loved the rakyat, why did he kill so many of them, and if the issue was foreigners why had he worked for decades for US intelligence?
Prabowo's Gus Dur insult made waves among the poor, especially religious Muslims. In East and West Java street banners went up quoting what Prabowo had told me, and were quickly torn down by plainclothes teams from the Kopassus special forces, the kidnap/murder-specialist US-trained red berets that Prabowo had once commanded.
With days do go before the election, I met with the Gus Dur family and they issued a statement calling on Prabowo to explain himself. The family had made a point of staying neutral in the election. Their statement was surprisingly forceful. But as the hours ticked by without a Prabowo response, I became increasingly nervous, fearing I might have inadvertently handed him a breakthrough opportunity.
If Prabowo had gone to Gus Dur’s widow, prostrated himself and begged forgiveness, it could have electrified the electorate. It would have been a TV sensation. But as it turned out, those fears were groundless. Apology was apparently not an option. Even with state power on the line, the general wasn't admitting error.
Prabowo sent out a spokesman who told the cameras that the Gus Dur family wouldn't be getting an apology and that Prabowo didn't owe any explanation to anyone. Soon after, Prabowo lost the election. Behind the scenes, he put out coup feelers, but failed. It took weeks, but Prabowo eventually conceded that he had lost.
Last September, after his “Mexican rapists” launch, with his campaign in a bit of trouble, Trump arranged a press conference at Trump Towers. His staff had found him some foreigners. Standing behind Trump as he spoke was Prabowo’s right-hand man Fadli Zon. Prabowo and Fadli Zon were forever denouncing opponents for not being true Muslims. Some of their campaign rallies had featured army/police-backed thugs waving ISIS flags.
After the Trump Tower press conference Fadli Zon posted a series of grinning Trump selfies, and brought forth real fury from Indonesians at home and abroad. The Grand Imam of the Indonesian mosque in New York City issued a statement pointing out that Trump was famous in US politics primarily for being a racist, and that his particular targets included immigrants and the Muslim faith.
After Trump proclaimed the Muslim ban, Gen Prabowo’s man spoke out. The press headline read: “Fadli Zon is sure that a US president Trump will not be anti Muslim.”
Although this vote is a referendum on right revolution, many don't see it that way. Some vote for him for jobs, to fight corruption, to stay out of stupid wars, and this scam becomes easy for him because his opponent, Clinton, is a corporate Democrat. Trump could not have gotten away with this nonsense if his opponent were Bernie Sanders, because Sanders could outflank him on all of these issues and offer constructive solutions.
The debate on money in politics is perhaps the most painful to watch. Both Sanders and Trump, alone among the candidates, say the system is rotten. But Clinton, as she feels she must, denies that money influences her, and by way of defense, says Obama takes more Wall Street money than she does.
Trump's reply is devastating. It's one reason he often beats her in polls on "honesty." He says, Hey I'm a crook! I've been buying politicians all my life! But now I'll be a crook for you, the American people. Screw this system!
On trade deals he crushes her even though his solutions make no sense and she must squirm to defend a pillar of her and her husband's life's work.
A close reading of Trump, and those around him strongly suggests that should he win, he'll end up in roughly the same spot on TPP as Clinton.
Unlike Sanders, Trump doesn't attack the trade deal corporate tribunals that allow the rich to go around the world repealing national laws and regulations that cramp their style. He instead accepts the corporate frame that views trade deal clashes as nation v. nation, as opposed to the fact that they're mainly big transnational firms v. most everyone else.
With the help of Paul Ryan and the Chamber of Commerce, Trump's and Clinton's real stances will converge: face-saving minor modifications that he (or she) can tout as basic change. On the issues in which Trump seems left of Clinton, on close examination it's illusion and mist. The factors that make him radical are all radicalism of the right.
When one votes for US president one is voting not just for a person but for teams. Evan McMullin, the ex-congressional staffer, points out that when Trump sat down with Paul Ryan, he pledged to follow the program and cut Social Security. Clinton, nonetheless, was compelled by Sanders' forces to make a clear statement in debate that she will not cut Medicare or Social Security.
Trump's 28-point policy plan, which had Newt Gingrich in ecstasy, puts the oil companies in charge of the environment and promises to slash safety/labor/health regulation more precipitously than positions that Ryan and the Kochs have tacitly accepted in legislation.
The presidential election of any Republican now would be a quasi revolution because the party has become so radical as the servant of the thug fringe of the rich. But Trump adds in additional teams, like the open racists and trigger-happy police that his own unique persona bids to drag across the political finish line.
But Trump is more than a vehicle for the vilest elements of the right. He has his own unique capacity to unleash the beast on countless fronts. On killing policy, it's the murder adventurers like Cheney, Rusmfeld, Boykin and Flynn who support him, as opposed to the murder bureaucrats, who line up firmly for Clinton. Trump talks about nuclear weapons like a modern Gen. Curtis LeMay. (It's forgotten that Trump once-amateur studied nukes, and while still a playboy, gave interviews on nuke policy.)
And perhaps more ominous is this man's singular drive and capacity to unleash the beast in white America. It's one of the elements that resonates most when I think of Trump alongside the killers I've known. Recent Trump-like movements around the world have a certain variety in their targets (in the Philippines and Europe they claim to be for working people; in Egypt and Thailand they despise the masses). What they have in common includes a middle-class base, led by sometimes-fringe rich elites, and a feeling -- a semi or not-semi violent atmosphere of rage and hate that transcends continents.
In Thailand, the royalist elite helped the army topple two elected presidents with relentless mass middle-class sit-ins that paralyzed airports, downtown streets, state offices. At one point they rode under the banner of the People's Alliance for Democracy, and their main demand was oppsition to democratic elections on the grounds that poor farmers were too corrupt and stupid to be trusted with the vote.
Now and then, when working on their second elected president, Yingluck Shinawatra, upper-crust figures would mount the rally stages and demand that Mrs. Yingluck be impeached, arrested, jailed, and then, for good measure, gang raped.
When the Phlilppine Donald Trump (as he's known, though he doesn't like Trump because Trump called the Phillippines "terrorist") Rodrigo Duterte was elected president on an open death squad platform, he immediately loosed cops and vigilantes and they murdered 3,000 "drug dealers," at least two of them mayors; one of whom was executed in his prison cell.
When Senator Lila de Lima herocially stood up and exposed Duterte in death squad hearings, he got her fired from her Senate chairmanship, threatened with death by smearing her as a drug dealer, had her home address and phone number published, and was subjected to open taunts from Duterte officials about a purported "sex tape."
It could have been ripped from the headlines of the Trump campaign, except that under current Phillipine conditions, the brave senator's life is clearly in danger.
That's a difference, at least for now.