Trump Inherits the Surveillance State
Resisting the damage of the Trump Administration will be made very difficult.
Among the many terrible things that will ensue under the capricious whims of President-elect Donald Trump, there is one that should be particularly chilling, in that it could prevent effective opposition to his administration’s awful policies.
Consider that Donald Trump would not merely have the nuclear codes — which he probably wouldn’t use — but also the keys to the mass surveillance apparatus and special federal counterterrorism legal systems that we constructed in our post-9/11 national panic and strengthened ever since.
It is widely known that these tools have been used to monitor, break up and crush protests over the past decade and a half — on issues from racial justice and police reform to economic inequality and environmental activism.
Now he arrives in power, which brings access to the FBI’s protest organizer surveillance records, with the support of the nation’s police unions who have shown themselves only too happy to break out the pepper spray, batons, attack dogs, smoke grenades and armored vehicles at the first sign of constitutionally protected peaceful assembly.
No outsiders, no insiders
There won’t be any mass marches on Washington under that system if it is controlled by President-elect Trump. He has demonstrated repeatedly that he is nothing if not a rapid-response master, even to the smallest of slights and most token of opposition.
There also won’t be mass resistance by the military or the CIA, either, if he gives deeply disturbing orders.
For one, it is seriously naive to think there is not a pretty large contingent inside both organizations that agrees with Trump sincerely. This is not a baseless slam against either organization, but an acknowledgment that they — at minimum — represent a broad cross-section of the same population (particularly on the conservative side) that elected Trump.
The track record on preventing abuses in the field — while never particularly great in the grand arc of U.S. history — has been especially problematic during the Global War on Terror.
“Just following orders,” the mantra of Vietnam-era atrocities, is certainly not less likely to make a comeback under a Trump commander-in-chief.
The Department of Homeland Security is also highly unlikely to oppose Donald Trump’s deportation agenda. His deportation and border walls platform was enthusiastically supported by the unions representing border guards and immigration agents.
There is no accelerationism effect
Some have — before the election at least — floated the bizarre notion that a Trump presidency will wake up the country and compel it at long last to get its act together to stop the extreme strains he represents. Some had even suggested voting for him as a means of taking the country over the cliff into mandatory self-reflection.
Perhaps there was some small window between the Cold War and the rise of internet-enabled mass telecommunication surveillance when someone like Trump – perhaps a Pat Buchanan-type – could have won the presidency and not wreaked irreparable havoc, but rather “inoculated” the country against repeating the error. (I doubt it, but perhaps.)
Under a Trump presidency in 2017 and beyond, however, there is not going to be a mass awakening — because he will be able to disrupt it very easily with the tools our country has foolishly given the current and previous presidents.
A lot of people will suffer badly even if he holds office for only four years.
And of course it is not clear that it will be only four years. Remember the hubris of American liberals who, when faced with the shocking defeat in 2000, concluded it would be a cakewalk to make George W. Bush a one-term president?