As we discussed in our previous piece, the authoritarian revolution of the US right that has generated so much tumult in various state capitols over the last two months is more than a struggle over economic spoils. Money is at stake, to be sure, in the form of tax policies, pay packages for public sector workers, andproposed cuts to public services. But the key catalysts for mass street demonstrations and the wider mobilization of progressive sentiment in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and elsewhere have been the attempts to strip collective bargaining rights from unions representing public-sector employees. Clearly, the right has in mind to skew the balance of power in society even further towards capital. As we explained, the intended neutering of public-sector unions will hamstring Democratic party mobilizations and fund-raising for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, it will muzzle some of civil society's most important defenders against large corporations' influence over government. In short, once public-sector unions are demoralized, the Republican party will be free to shape the framework of economic relations even more decisively in favor of their large corporate donors.
Although mass media coverage of the authoritarian revolution has not emphasized the above-mentioned dimensions of the struggle, it has at least deigned to acknowledge them. A broadening portion of the adult population, perhaps even a majority, has by now been exposed to the interpretation of the Republican party as brazenly doing the bidding of the extremely wealthy to strip as much power as possible from the working and middle-classes of the country. Other important dimensions of the authoritarian revolution are going almost undiscussed, however. Here we have in mind assaults on women's reproductive rights, on voting rights, on civil rights, and on the integrity of the judiciary itself. Understanding these features of the current right wing aggression will give us a clearer idea of where the US might be headed in the near future.
Restriction of women's right to abortions is a long-standing element in the US conservative platform, and the Republicans have charged forward on the issue on the heels of their gains in the November 2010 midterm elections. The newly emplaced Republican majority in Michigan, for example, has introduced 11 “Right to Life” (anti-abortion) bills in their first two months in office. One would compel women to arrange a separate (and currently non-existing) form of medical insurance if they wished to have their insurer cover the costs of an abortion, while another would require women seeking an abortion to view a maximum resolution ultrasound image of the fetus. No fewer than 24 states have seen similar slates of bills in the last 12 months, and many have already passed. Conservative pressure on abortion rights has certainly borne fruit. The number of abortions has halved in Michigan over the last 30 years, and 86 percent of the counties in the state have no hospital that performs them. The future for abortion access looks darker still. A Nebraska legislator introduced a bill to classify the killing of any doctor known to perform abortions as “justified homicide”!
Just Say No to Electoral Remedies
In the spirit of stymieing any potential popular backlash in future elections, the right has introduced a wave of lawsuits designed to suppress voter turnout and overturn regulations still in place to restrict the role of corporate money in elections. The Supreme Court's momentous Citizens United vs. FEC decision in January 2010 freed corporations to fund political advertisements not explicitly supporting a specific politician. Predictably, an explosion of attack ads followed, and estimates for the amount of money to be spent contesting the 2012 presidential election have ballooned to $2 billion, nearly double the cost of the 2008 campaign. Right-wing organizations such as the Center for Competitive Politics are now in courts in numerous states to remove restrictions on direct donations from corporations to political candidates, and to allow such donations to be made in secret. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could undermine state-level systems that provide varying degrees of public financing for electoral candidates who are grossly outspent by corporate-supported candidates. Should the Justices of the Court rule as they did in Citizens United, corporate-supported candidates could be the only candidates left.
While corporations will be controlling the air waves and obstructing honest inquiry on candidates, voters will be facing more obstructions in attempting to exercise their right to vote. Fully 22 states have passed or are now considering measures to raise requirements for voters to demonstrate their identity and residence—and even supplemental proof of citizenship--before being allowed to vote. The stated justification is to prevent voter fraud, but this is a smokescreen. A five-year effort during the Bush years unearthed only 86 cases of voter fraud out of 196 million votes investigated nationwide. The underlying motivation is to keep likely Democrat voters from voting, and the new rules will do just that. For example, newly passed voter ID requirements in Ohio stand to exclude almost 900,000 lower-income people from voting.
And the President Piles on Too
The number of instances in which Obama has violently breached his own alleged principles when it comes to the War on Terror and the rule of law are too numerous to chronicle in one place.
-- Glenn Greenwald
In contrast to the encroachments on women's and voters' rights, suspensions and reversals of other civil rights are coming not from the Republican party but from an unexpected source—the White House itself. As a candidate for the presidency, then-Senator Obama emphatically proclaimed the sanctity of civil rights, first and foremost in the context of the Bush administration's legal transgressions in their “Global War on Terror” and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He certainly changed his tune after assuming office, studiously avoiding anything that could lead to prosecutions of top Bush administration officials or federal agencies acting under Bush's instructions. The administration has proceeded to mirror the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy, by reflexively invoking unexplained “national security concerns” whenever it feels challenged. And the retreat from civil liberties has not slowed. To take one example, just last week the Department of Justice issued revisions to the rules governing the handling of domestic-terror suspects, including a partial suspension of the so-called Miranda rights, which require law enforcement to inform suspects of their constitutional rights before interrogating them.
The fact that the White House proclaimed its categorical adherence to Miranda rights as recently as 14 months ago makes last week's revisions all the more worrisome. Concerned about the 2012 presidential election, the Obama administration is prioritizing its courtship of right-leaning voters over responsible stewardship of the state. It is willing to sell out the national legacy of civil rights to court these voters, and is taking left-leaning voters for granted. And with the White House setting this sort of tone, religious and ethnic intolerance is speedily raising its head at the highest levels (witness the hearings on radicalization and the Muslim religion Republican Congressman Peter King recently orchestrated, plus myriad calls to obviate “political correctness” in favor of more aggressive police and espionage tactics).
As deeply troubling as the rapid advance of authoritarianism on so many fronts may be, the American system does contain a corrective: the judicial branch. On paper, the courts certainly do retain the power to challenge and reverse legislative and executive overreach at many points. The state of the US judiciary, however, does not inspire confidence in this respect. The Supreme Court is now nearly shorn of liberal voices—hence decisions like Citizens United v. FEC—and politicization has deeply infected lower levels. Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush each swamped lower level federal courts with hundreds of emphatically conservative judges—in Bush's case emphatically authoritarian conservatives. For the most part, therefore, the right can pursue its agenda without much interference from the judicial branch of government. Outrageous steps like a proposal in Missouri to void standing prohibitions on child labor would be very unlikely to survive challenges in federal courts. But US society cannot count on the judicial branch for much help. The authoritarian revolution will be fought out in elections and legislatures.
Ever bolder right-wing reforms are clearly taking shape, including of course the dilution of social security and medicare. Thus, we cannot even take for granted the survival of public education for another generation, at least not in recognizable form, for Democrats are joining hands with Republicans to unleash the privatization and commercialization of schools. Looming on the horizon is a society which will not only forswear social mobility, but in which one's rights will issue from one's money, not one's humanity. Gazing farther into the future, it is not fanciful to foresee the end of economic class-based society in the US. Consider, for example, the import of so-called “dynasty trusts”, a newly permitted estate-planning instrument that allows the super-rich to bequeath their wealth to their heirs from generation to generation, in perpetuity, almost entirely beyond the reach of taxation. The legalization of these instruments more or less cements a plutocratic caste. Might the authoritarian revolution be the dawn of a caste society?