Sunday, June 7, 2020


By Lily Hikam*)

Governments will use whatever technology is available to combat their primary enemy, their own populations.” - Noam Chomsky

I would like to posit a slight modification of Chomsky’s quote: “Governments will use whatever 'means' necessary to combat their primary enemy, their own populations.” If you think that this statement in any way, shape or form is hyperbolic, then you haven’t been paying attention to what has been going on some countries in the world, even in the so-called advanced, industrialized ones. Wholesale mass surveillance, the gutting of welfare and social safety net, increased police militarization, censorship. All are designed to keep the population on its knees, to subdue and subjugate them to the wills and machinations of the ruling elite. The ultimate goal is quite obvious: to maintain economic power and social control.

In the US, for instance, the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic hardship it brought, combined with the gruesome lynching of one George Floyd, were the fuels necessary to ignite the roiling discontent among the population who have for far too long suffered under the austerity and injustice imposed by the ruling elites. As we have seen for the last week protests have sprung up nationwide. As of the writing of this piece, there have been protests reported in all fifty states in the Union. The majority of the protests were peaceful protests, demanding meaningful and lasting changes to the way policing has been conducted in the United States, and an overhaul in the criminal justice system that have for far too long disproportionately victimized minority communities in the United States.

Yet, it is also a fact that there are some instances of rioting and fights that broke out during the protests. Some would argue that most of these fights were incited by the police. There are too many videos online showing peaceful protestors and journalists tear gassed by the police or being shot at. And this is where the irony sets in. These nationwide protests are aimed against police brutality, and what does the police and local government do to handle it? By doing more police brutality to quell the unrest. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop here.

Facing pressure from all sides, and quite possibly in fear for his life, President Donald Trump has called for the use of military forces to quell those protests. Put in other words: the President of the United States just threatened to use military force on citizens exercising their First Amendment right. The POTUS (President of the United States), in true fashion of an authoritarian, exposed himself as being anti-free speech to the extent of willingly using the military to crush dissent. To add to this egregious act, he cited the Insurrection Act of 1807 to justify his threats, an act that was previously used by former presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy to enforce court-ordered desegregation during the early years of the Civil Rights era. You certainly know the difference.

Pushback immediately came from all sides of the aisle. Even people in his administration, most notably Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, have said that in no uncertain terms that the military would be deployed in the streets of American cities to quell the protests. Esper’s predecessor, James Mattis, has also spoken up against the deployment of troops. Predictably, Democrats are equally horrified by this show of rank authoritarianism and rightly so. Most interesting was the pushback Mr. Trump received from Pat Robertson, a noted Evangelical pastor and one of his prominent supporters. To me, this one is by far the most significant pushback he could receive as Pat Robertson represents the POTUS most ardent and fervent base!.

The Evangelical Christians love and support Mr. Trump’s presidency enthusiastically to say the least. He has time and time again pandered to this base, most notably by picking Mike Pence as his running mate to clinch the support of the right-wing Christian conservatives, establishing a US Embassy in Jerusalem, and most recently by holding that bizarre photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church after his security personnel previously gassing protesters to ensure they were out of his way as he walked from the White House to the church. If even one of his most ardent supporters from his most faithful (pun intended) base spoke out against him, what does this mean about Mr. Trump’s political legitimacy as the leader of the country?

Hypothetically speaking, Mr. Trump would probably lose a good percentage of his supporters, those Trump supporters who understood that his authoritarian move is a threat, not just to the protestors, but also everyone else in the country as it sets a dangerous precedent. These people probably don’t agree with the protestors or what they’re out there advocating, but they understood that Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly is as American as Apple Pie. But the President will also arguably retain some of his supporters who have been fully propagandized by years of Fox News viewing and believe that Trump was just restoring “law and order” as he often mentioned.

But one thing is for certain in my view: Mr. Trump was not handling this crisis well to say the least. Instead of showing compassion or trying to show that he understood the pain and grief that were on display for the last week on the streets of America, he acted like a bully in the playground ridiculing his victims for daring to fight back. I thought, as a politician and a reality TV star, he would have realized the power of Optics. Compare what Mr. Trump did with what Pelosi and Schumer did. The two Democratic Party leaders went outside and protested with the people. Though it was largely a symbolic and empty gesture, at least Pelosi and Schumer managed to generate some positive press.

And the most striking criticism came from some of the prominent military figures, like former SecDef Gen. James Mattis, former White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly, and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. Historically, the American military has always been under the purview of its citizenry and the principle of civilian supremacy. That is, they bow to the command of the United States citizens. This explains why the highest-ranking officer in the US Military, the Commander in Chief, the President, is a civilian. Similarly, the Secretary of the Army, of the Navy and of the Air Force are all civilian institutions. They cannot go to war unless authorized by Congress, a body made up of lawmakers representing the American people. Hence, the US Military has always been, historically, to use Gen Mattis’ words “to support and defend the Constitution” and the citizens of the United States. They exist to defend the people, not to attack its people. Thus it is no wonder that various high profile members of the military like him pushed back against Mr. Trump’s threats to turn the military or militarizing the cops against American people.

How's all of this going to play for or against his chances in the 2020 election? That’s still up for grabs. Americans still have five more months before the Presidential election. Arguably, what Mr. Trump did has rattled many people, including those so-called #NeverBiden Democratic voters, who are now rethinking on whether they should now vote for Biden, just to ensure Trump’s particular brand of erratic behaviors doesn’t last for another 4 years. Now that Joe Biden has finally secured the Democratic Party nomination, the race has just started. Whether or not Trump and the Republicans could hold on to his power still remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, however, that Trump’s latest actions are not what a country that’s grieving and hurting needed. IMHO

*) PhD candidate
Department of Biological Chemistry
School of Medicine, the University of California, Irvine, CA,


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