Excerpted from Glenn Greenwald’s Substack:
The COVID-driven centralization of economic power and information control in the hands of a few corporate monopolies poses enduring threats to political freedom.
Asserting that Donald Trump is a fascist-like dictator threatening the previously sturdy foundations of U.S. democracy has been a virtual requirement over the last four years to obtain entrance to cable news Green Rooms, sinecures as mainstream newspaper columnists, and popularity in faculty lounges. Yet it has proven to be a preposterous farce.
In 2020 alone, Trump had two perfectly crafted opportunities to seize authoritarian power — a global health pandemic and sprawling protests and sustained riots throughout American cities — and yet did virtually nothing to exploit those opportunities. Actual would-be despots such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán quickly seized on the virus to declare martial law, while even prior U.S. presidents, to say nothing of foreign tyrants, have used the pretext of much less civil unrest than what we saw this summer to deploy the military in the streets to pacify their own citizenry.
But early in the pandemic, Trump was criticized, especially by Democrats, for failing to assert the draconian powers he had, such as commandeering the means of industrial production under the Defense Production Act of 1950, invoked by Truman to force industry to produce materials needed for the Korean War. In March, The Washington Post reported that “Governors, Democrats in Congress and some Senate Republicans have been urging Trump for at least a week to invoke the act, and his potential 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, came out in favor of it, too,” yet “Trump [gave] a variety of reasons for not doing so.” Rejecting demands to exploit a public health pandemic to assert extraordinary powers is not exactly what one expects from a striving dictator.
A similar dynamic prevailed during the sustained protests and riots that erupted after the killing of George Floyd. While conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), in his controversial New York Times op-ed, urged the mass deployment of the military to quell the protesters, and while Trump threatened to deploy them if governors failed to pacify the riots, Trump failed to order anything more than a few isolated, symbolic gestures such as having troops use tear gas to clear out protesters from Lafayette Park for his now-notorious walk to a church, provoking harsh criticism from the right, including Fox News, for failing to use more aggressive force to restore order.
Virtually every prediction expressed by those who pushed this doomsday narrative of Trump as a rising dictator — usually with great profit for themselves — never materialized. While Trump radically escalated bombing campaigns he inherited from Bush and Obama, he started no new wars. When his policies were declared by courts to be unconstitutional, he either revised them to comport with judicial requirements (as in the case of his “Muslim ban”) or withdrew them (as in the case of diverting Pentagon funds to build his wall). No journalists were jailed for criticizing or reporting negatively on Trump, let alone killed, as was endlessly predicted and sometimes even implied. Bashing Trump was far more likely to yield best-selling books, social media stardom and new contracts as cable news “analysts” than interment in gulags or state reprisals. There were no Proud Boy insurrections or right-wing militias waging civil war in U.S. cities. Boastful and bizarre tweets aside, Trump’s administration was far more a continuation of the U.S. political tradition than a radical departure from it.
The hysterical Trump-as-despot script was all melodrama, a ploy for profits and ratings, and, most of all, a potent instrument to distract from the neoliberal ideology that gave rise to Trump in the first place by causing so much wreckage. Positing Trump as a grand aberration from U.S. politics and as the prime author of America’s woes — rather than what he was: a perfectly predictable extension of U.S politics and a symptom of preexisting pathologies — enabled those who have so much blood and economic destruction on their hands not only to evade responsibility for what they did, but to rehabilitate themselves as the guardians of freedom and prosperity and, ultimately, catapult themselves back into power. As of January 20, that is exactly where they will reside.
The single most revealing episode exposing this narrative fraud was when journalists and political careerists, including former Obama aides, erupted in outrage on social media upon seeing a photo of immigrant children in cages at the border — only to discover that the photo was not from a Trump concentration camp but an Obama-era detention facility (they were unaccompanied children, not ones separated from their families, but “kids in cages” are “kids in cages” from a moral perspective). And tellingly, the single most actually authoritarian Trump-era event is one that has been largely ignored by the U.S. media: namely, the decision to prosecute Julian Assange under espionage laws (but that, too, is an extension of the unprecedented war on journalism unleashed by the Obama DOJ).