Trump Gave Himself the Birthday Present of a Genuinely Fascist America

Call it the 'Guantánamo-fication' of the United States. We crossed a red line this week.

Jacob Soboroff/Twitter

Today is President Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday. To celebrate, he ushered the United States into a phase of its development where it took on a disturbing number of characteristics of a fascist post-democracy.

Although it would be jaw-dropping news under any other leader, I’m not talking about jilting Canada in favor of North Korea. We’ve long known Trump admires strongmen and desperately courts their adoration and respect. (Much of his hatred for Barack Obama stems from his inability to recognize that the presidency is not a four-year dictatorship. He thought Obama was a wiener of a dictator, and blames him rather than Vladimir Putin for “losing” Crimea.)

No. In key areas, the U.S. and its leader have veered so far from our previously agreed-upon principles of governance that the only acceptable response is nausea. In tech-speak, you might say America is at an inflection point in its pivot to open fascism. Exhibit A in our transformation is ICE, which is building a tent city for 5,000 children that have been forcibly stripped from their parents. The ACLU called that what it is: internment, like what thousands of Japanese-Americans endured in the 1940s. 

I must confess my guilt on this one: There have been times when I was grimly pleased that Jeff Sessions stuck around as 
attorney general in spite of his boss’ obvious contempt for him. If Sessions quit, I thought, his replacement might shut down the Mueller investigation, advise Trump to pardon himself, and send the country into a true constitutional crisis. Now look where we are. 

Sessions — like Sarah Huckabee Sanders — has the audacity to cite Scripture as a justification for destroying lives. They’ve dispensed with the “render unto Caesar this which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s” nonsense, which comes perilously close to the separation of church and state and they never really believed in yesterday. Oh, no. Now, they’re trotting out Romans 13 1:7, which says, in part, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Again, this is supposedly a Biblical command to throw children into indefinite detention. Just imagine a Democrat citing that verse to entreat people to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

It’s straight out of Gilead. And just look at ICE’s pro-Trump iconography. MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff toured a former Wal-Mart in the border city of Brownsville, Texas, that’s been repurposed as a “shelter” for 1,500 boys, five migrants to a room. It’s so overcrowded that Texas had to issue a zoning variance, because it was originally supposed to handle 1,000 boys, four to a room — and these boys only get two hours of outdoor time per day. Soboroff found a “mural” of Trump’s face superimposed over an American flag flying over the White House, with the words “Sometimes by losing a battle you have to find a new way to win the war.” 

Excuse me? Did ICE staffers just Google around for a profound-sounding quotation from the Glorious Leader? Because I don’t quite understand what that’s supposed to say. Is it … gloating? Is Trump really saying to a thousand children something like, “Mexico was sending so many people that we had to resort to this in order to achieve victory, so ha-ha”?

Keep in mind that undocumented entry into the United States is a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, the president tweeted that pretrial jail time was too harsh(!) for his crony Paul Manafort — who, if convicted of the multiple felonies for which he stands accused, might very well spend the rest of his life in prison. (Incredibly, the judge in the case has reason to suspect Manafort committed additional crimes, chiefly witness tampering, after he’d been released on bail.)

Mercy for the powerful and vengeance for the weak is a hallmark of fascism. And all this comes on top of a considerable expansion of the carceral state. Jurisdictions nationwide are re-thinking the impulse to lock up as many people as possible, but the federal government still wants to do just that. As The Intercept wrote in May, “Up to 40,000 men, women, and children are held in immigration detention every day. ICE estimates the number of detained will jump to a daily average of more than 50,000 this year — and has asked Congress to boost its budget accordingly.”

Call it the Guantámo-fication of the American justice system. Far from being contained to a colonialist penal colony we stole a hundred years ago to house “the worst of the worst” — a self-serving dodge to describe detainees, in 2002 as now — it’s jumped to the mainland. Conservatives howl and howl and howl about “due process” when it comes to abusive men’s careers ending because of #MeToo, and here we have a case not of zealous social opprobrium but the total absence of due process in the actual legal system, and they are cheerleading it.

To put these atrocities in greater context, the president is now openly envying Kim Jong-Un for the way North Koreans bow and scrape before their autocrat.

North Korea holds 120,000 political prisoners and it’s endured several famines under its one-party regime. Everything there that isn’t mandatory is explicitly forbidden, and people live in terror. Donald Trump wants his subjects — “my people” — to be more like that, and he’s getting his wish. That today is both Trump’s 72nd birthday and Flag Day could not be more miserably perfect. The fusion of Trumpism — blustering, incoherent, and always more vicious today than yesterday — with official American policy is accelerating. We are destroying ourselves. It’s his gift to himself. And does the GOP, that party of personal liberty and small government and regime change for authoritarians, have any desire to act as a check on this grotesque irresponsibility? Not really. Just ask the chairwoman.

It’s too much to handle, although elite discourse has its own method of processing moral horror: scrambling to unearth an equivalent offense on the other side of the political spectrum. The fundamental principle of Both Sides Do It must be preserved. Therefore, we’ve been treated to the fake controversy of an actor’s intemperate language. In saying, “Fuck Trump” at the Tonys, Robert De Niro supposedly cemented Trump in the Oval Office for the next six-and-a-half years and blew the Democrats’ chances of winning Pennsylvania or Wisconsin ever again. (GQ exposed the rot inherent in this mentality in a must-read essay.) In the performative anguish over whether or not elite national political correspondents and commentators may call the president a liar or a Nazi when he behaves like one, we can glimpse our own end. No one will ever dare hold Trump to account. Concentration camps are a way-station on the road to butchery — and if it comes to that, we can expect more of the same.

View Comments