The Executive Branch current morphing of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security into what some other countries call their Interior Ministry has been, in a way, a no-brainer. Of the 80-odd federal law enforcement agencies in the United States, Customs and Border Protection Agents may be the most ‘physical’ with apprehended suspects as they conduct operations along a largely deserted southern border without the prying eyes of the greater public. They routinely hold people who they suspect are entering the country illegally without offering up specific charges. (Separate and incarcerate children apart from their parents? OK, no problem! They have also arrested U.S. citizens who leave gallon jugs of water in the desert for immigrants because such actions are seen as aiding those attempting to enter the U.S. without papers.)
In many countries Interior Ministries are anything but people-friendly: these departments are not populated by employees guiding their populace on ranger-led interpretive nature hikes through spectacular natural scenery. They are heads-of-state directed agencies who operate as a secret police, whose employees are feared by their own people and rightly so. The tactics employed by such ministries include warrantless search and seizures, arrests without stated cause, indeterminate detention, torture and other popular acts of authoritarian governments. They are internal police forces answering to the whims of the supreme leader, not the directives of local officials. Portland was simply a warm-up exercise incorporating agents from Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Chicago is slated to be next as what we in the past called Gestapo Tactics is rolled out across the country’s big cities using whatever federal manpower is available. The Trump administration has learned another valuable lesson from Russia’s playbook by customizing its own anonymous armed officers, our version of the “Little Green Men” who invaded and occupied eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century. Tim Duggan Books; 2017) spoke with Michelle Goldberg for her New York Times July 21st column, “This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire. The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.” “
Typical of right-winger’s flip-flops, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was rabid in 1995 with a flip warning of the seizure of American’s guns under Congress’s ‘Assault Weapons Ban’: “In Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” Now, however, the NRA endorses Trump for a second term (July 16 announcement) and, with a thudding flop, lauds his actions in Portland for “stand[ing] tall for the constitutional freedoms in which our members believe.” Where o’ where are my conservative friends who used to uphold the rights of individuals at all costs against Big Government? Perhaps they are all busy praising the powers of plutocracy and the all-controlling Spy State: all citizens are equal but some are more equal than others.
In an article in today’s The Atlantic magazine David A. Graham writes, “Chad Wolf, the [acting head of] DHS amid the crackdown, is also accountable only to the president: Trump, who loves circumventing the Constitution’s requirement of Senate confirmation for some positions, has often chosen to leave acting heads in charge of agencies so that they are more pliable and dependent on him.”
As if anonymous federal police throwing people into unmarked rental cars is not enough, Trump has bought in John Yoo, seeking advice from the lawyer who wrote Bush 43’s 2002 legal justification for Guantanamo ‘enhanced interrogations’, the so-called ‘torture memos’. Yoo has publicly confirmed he’s helping the Trump administration find ways to skirt Congress and impose his (Trump’s) own policies without congressional approval, even if such policies violate laws – that is, the democratic principles of citizen protection upon which this country was founded.
Yoo’s thinking on this was detailed in an article in the magazine National Review (June 22) arguing the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provides a back door to implement policies by the Chief Executive without regard to legality: the ruling “makes it easy for presidents to violate the law, but reversing such violations difficult — especially for their successors.” In Yoo’s recent interview with the British newspaper The Guardian he says, “And why can’t the Trump administration do something similar with immigration – create its own … program, but it could do it in areas beyond that, like healthcare, tax policy, criminal justice, inner city policy. I talked to them a fair amount about cities, because of the disorder.” And with regard to Portland’s unidentified, masked agents: “It has to be really reasonably related to protecting federal buildings … If it’s just graffiti, that’s not enough. It really depends on what the facts are.”
But… facts, of course, never get in the way of life in Trump-ville.
I am again and again struck by our country’s Founders who were so often uncannily prescient in setting up roadblocks for undesirable outcomes and on-ramps for desirable ones. They could not possibly plan for every exigency but certainly covered a lot of ground in their attempt. For all its social faults the Age of Enlightenment bred people – men and women – of brilliance and forethought to whom expertise, science and knowledge were things of beauty to combat ignorance, popular befuddlement and the rule of the rabble.
I end here with a small quote from the transcript of the James Madison Debates of the Constitutional Convention, delivered by the man himself, on Friday, June 29, 1787. As was usual, the written record contains abbreviations commonly used in such recorded work in the 18th century (the italics are mine).
“In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of war, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people. It is perhaps questionable, whether the best concerted system of absolute power in Europe cd. maintain itself, in a situation, where no alarms of external danger cd. tame the people to the domestic yoke.” Further, “He [Madison] entreated the gentlemen representing the small States to renounce a principle [the rank of the States as political societies, for example] wch. was confessedly unjust, which cd. never be admitted, & if admitted must infuse mortality into a Constitution which we wished to last forever.”