Ready on Day One

Ryan Cooper of The Week offers a clarifying and frightening look at the surveillance and assassination operation that Barack Obama is about to bequeath to Donald Trump:

Let’s review what has been built over the last years and decades.

There is the dragnet surveillance program at the NSA, built by Bush and expanded by Obama, which might be used to monitor political dissidents and blackmail them with personal indiscretions. (It has been restrained, but not by much.)

There is Obama’s drone assassination program, in which the president personally condemns people, including a U.S. citizen, to death without trial. It could be used domestically to pick off those who won’t submit to other pressure.

There is the gigantic U.S. prison system. As of 2014, some 6,851,000 people were under criminal supervision (either in prison, jail, or on probation) in the United States. That’s over 2 percent of the entire population. In many places, the criminal justice system is used as an all-purpose warehouse for any sort of social dysfunction, or simply as a way to fund the local government. Some rural locations have a supervision rate of about 10 percent. Even 2 percent is likely more than enough capacity than would be necessary to utterly crush any organized political movement — the Soviet gulags took up roughly 1-2 percent of the Soviet population at their height.

Finally, there was Bush’s CIA torture program, which could be used to intimidate political dissidents or their families. While it has been halted, and Trump has apparently been talked out of torture for the moment, his stated positions shift with every passing second.

Obama didn’t create the torture program, obviously, and in fact put it on ice. But his decision not to prosecute the people who did create it, and then implemented it, is not only morally indefensible but means that the next president can now simply reinstate it with impunity, under the Obama precedent that the United States does not prosecute torturers. Cooper suggests that Trump could turn this apparatus–in particular the surveillance state–against his political enemies, a la authoritarians in Russia, Hungary, Egypt, etc. And that prospect is pretty frightening. But even if he doesn’t do that, it’s still scary to imagine that capability in Trump’s hands.

I can write the first comment on this post, which will be “HEY I GUESS YOU LEFTIES SHOULD’VE VOTED FOR CLINTON, HUH.” Because in spite of the evidence pointing to a clear working class shift to Trump and the paltry number of voters who opted for the further left candidate, Stein, over Clinton (more voters in key states opted to leave the presidential line blank, and the real winner of the election, as usual, was “I didn’t vote”), the principle of ABPL (Always Be Punching Left) will forever apply. So, hey, go nuts.

But on these issues in particular, the fact that Trump is about to take over only adds to the problem–these policies never should have been set in place to begin with, under any president. That they’re now going to be overseen by Trump only enhances that point; America is always only one election away from voting in somebody you wouldn’t trust with your car, let alone your country, so why would we risk giving that person so much unfettered power over our lives and our privacy? We shouldn’t have trusted Obama with this kind of power either, and he wasn’t emotionally unhinged. The bigger issue, though, is that dragnet surveillance, drone assassination, the prison industrial complex, and torture are just terrible policies, period. They destroy lives, wreck communities, impoverish our society while enriching plutocrats, and violate our deepest national principles. Maybe some liberals who decided to stop paying attention because Team D held the White House will start paying attention again now that Republicans control all three branches of the federal government.

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2 thoughts on “Ready on Day One



    How terrified people are of Trump right now just highlights the fact that we’ve given the Executive Branch waaaaaay too much power. Bush and Obama threw it into overdrive, but it had been happening gradually for decades.

    I’m usually a wet blanket when it comes to Founding Fathers canonization…but I will say that they intended the Legislative Branch to be the most powerful by far and someone like Trump is exactly the reason why.

    1. It’s been happening for decades and to be honest I blame Congress more than the presidents we’ve had over that time. As Congress shirks its responsibilities, the executive will expand to fill in the gaps. Any administration would.

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