As we are all repeatedly told, the loss of even one American life as a result of an attack that can be blamed on ‘terrorists’ (i.e., Muslims) that entered the US somehow or an undocumented immigrant is an awful tragedy, unlike the losses of hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of worthless foreigners at the hands of the US military. Of course, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans due to gun violence and lack of adequate health care and social services are considered acts of god that we can do nothing about.
Peter Maass writes that all it will take is one such act for all the xenophobes to demand that civil liberties be curtailed and that constitutional protections be thrown out in order to ‘keep America safe’ because,
The Trump administration has already begun laying the groundwork for extreme initiatives if — or more likely when — a terror attack occurs on U.S. soil and is tied to ISIS, al Qaeda or another Muslim group, according to civil liberties lawyers and activists. Under the guise of protecting national security, a blitz of presidential actions could target not just immigrants and Muslims but other minority groups as well as the media and the judiciary. These initiatives will be “more dire and much more severe” than Trump’s first executive order in late January against the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, according to Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The unique dynamic is that the White House has made clear its wish to impose an array of extreme and unconstitutional policies that are nearly impossible to carry out in ordinary times.
And don’t expect the Democrats to fight back either. We saw how after 9/11, the neoconservatives exploited that tragedy to start their perpetual wars against Iraq and the other countries in the region and almost all Democrats and many liberals caved, cowed by the threat of being labeled traitors. Recall that people like supposed liberal Andrew Sullivan disgracefully called those who opposed George W. Bush’s war on terror anti-American ‘fifth columnists’, though now people like Bill Maher give him a platform to try and restore his liberal credentials. You can bet those people will cave again.
Maass says that governments routinely exploit tragedies to advance other agendas and that Trump has already targeted his main stumbling block the judiciary (which played an ignominious role in the Bush-Obama wars on terror) and how federal judges respond to Trump’s actions is going to be key.
Among the alterations in American politics since Trump’s inauguration, this may be the most frightening one: a terror attack on U.S. soil will be used by the White House as an excuse for implementing an extra-legal agenda that could only be pushed through in a time of crisis. What the courts will not allow today, what protesters will hit the streets to defend tomorrow, what even the pliant Congress would have a hard time backing — the White House is almost certainly counting on all of this changing in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack.
It has happened overseas, too. Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in Russia was accelerated by a series of mysterious bombings against apartment buildings across the country, and the bombings were so essential to consolidating Putin’s rule that he was suspected of organizing them.
The writer Mark Danner noted in a recent essay that the controversy over the first executive order may have served “the desire of the president and his advisers to stage a fight with a major institutional force not yet recumbent before him: the judiciary.” As Danner went on to explain, “the president’s assertion of his ‘unreviewable’ powers in the face of ‘so-called’ judges was not just absurd or ignorant but a bit of bait, establishing the basis for blaming the judiciary for any terrorist attack that was to come. On this he tweeted indefatigably and repeatedly.”
The groups who oppose the exploitation of tragedies need to lay the groundwork now to counter-attack. This is why mass demonstrations against Trump’s actions are important. They help to give some support for judges to do the right thing.