The 2018 U.S. midterm elections mark a critical point in the era of President Donald Trump, as the potential Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives has unleashed a torrent of white supremacist vitriol in the run-up to November 6. In the past week alone, a militant Trump supporter was accused of mailing three pipe bombs to CNN and 12 bombs to people Trump frequently criticizes; two African-Americans were murdered by a white supremacist outside Louisville, Kentucky; and 11 Jewish worshipers were massacred in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a white supremacist who railed on social media against Jews who help refugees. Both the gunman and Trump have called immigrants “invaders.” Meanwhile, Trump has sharply escalated his attacks on immigrants, threatening to send as many as 15,000 U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and to rewrite the Constitution to revoke birthright citizenship. We speak with investigative journalist Allan Nairn, who says that fascism is on the rise in the U.S. Nairn has been a fierce longtime critic of the Democratic Party and its support for war and neoliberal policies, but he is calling for the public to mobilize to elect Democrats in the midterm elections.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The 2018 U.S. midterm elections mark a critical point in the era of President Donald Trump. The potential Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives has unleashed a torrent of white supremacist vitriol that is without precedent in recent years. In the past week alone, a militant Trump supporter was accused of mailing three pipe bombs to CNN and 12 bombs to people Trump frequently criticizes, including the Obamas and the Clintons; two African Americans were murdered by a white supremacist outside Louisville, Kentucky, after he unsuccessfully tried to enter a predominantly African-American church; and 11 Jewish worshipers were massacred in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a white supremacist who railed on social media against Jews who help refugees, or “invaders,” as he and Trump call them.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as President Trump has sharply escalated his attacks on immigrants. So far this week, Trump has threatened to send as many as 15,000 U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and to rewrite the Constitution to revoke birthright citizenship. He and the right-wing media are also continuing to fixate on a caravan of Central American migrants that’s more than a thousand miles from the U.S. border. On Wednesday, Trump posted an explicitly racist ad on his Twitter feed suggesting Democrats are letting immigrant murderers into the country.
And Trump also has escalated his attacks on the media, despite the recent Saudi murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Turkish Embassy—in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and the recent bombs sent to CNN.
To talk about what’s at stake on Tuesday, we’re joined by longtime investigative journalist Allan Nairn. For decades, he has covered U.S. foreign policy across the globe, including in Indonesia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, past winner of the George Polk Award.
Allan Nairn, welcome back to Democracy Now!
ALLAN NAIRN: Thanks. Good to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the state of affairs in this country right now.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, this midterm election, this is it. The U.S. is facing incipient domestic fascism. The rightist revolution that Trump dragged to power has a chance to consolidate itself. The way to stop it is to vote the Democrats into control of at least one, and preferably both, houses of Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting you say that, because you’ve been a fierce critic of Democrats.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. I mean, for years, I’ve been documenting how many of the senior Democrats are complicit in war crimes, how they belong in prison. But we are now in an emergency situation in which there is a huge, fundamental difference between the Democrats and the Republicans at this moment. The Republicans would abolish democracy. They’re looking—because that’s the only way they can perpetuate their power. They have a minority of the votes. They have to rig the system so they can stay in power, as their minority of votes diminishes over time. The Democrats, their interest is in maintaining, even expanding, democracy, because that will help bring them to power. In addition, Trump personally—
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about voter suppression there—
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and expanding the vote.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, all sorts of things—voter suppression, gerrymandering—the tactics that the Republican rightist revolution is using to maintain its hold in power, even though they can’t win a straight-up vote.
Secondly, there is the element that Trump personally has brought to power. When he dragged the Koch brothers and the Paul Ryans and the American oligarchs to power, he did it with a two-pronged platform. One was punching the elites in the nose, as the banker Jamie Dimon put it. The other was racism. Without the element of punching the elites in the nose, the Republicans could never have won the election. Romney tried running on the elitist platform of giving tax breaks to the rich, getting rid of Social Security, Medicare. He lost. They can’t win with that. But Trump presented himself as someone who, A, will support social justice and who, B, had the capacity to unleash the beast within white America.
And so he dragged the American rich into power. They came with a preprogrammed plan to make an even more massive shift of government resources and taxpayers’ money to the richest people in the country. You know, there are just three individuals now whose wealth is equal to that of the bottom 50 percent of the American population. I mean, it’s already insane, but the Republican core value is to make it worse. And, secondly, he did it by unleashing these fascistic forces in the American population, in the American grassroots.
And there are many good Democratic candidates in this election, people who, in one way or another, will represent a breakthrough for social justice, who all have essentially pledged to support Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, Medicaid, when the Republicans would abolish it. But also, many of these, or a substantial number of these, Democrats are arguably war criminals—not as big as the war criminals on the Republican side, but still war criminals. And they belong in prison.
But we are facing such a crisis in this country at this moment that you have to use your head. You have to be tactical. You have to, at this moment, vote in the warmongers who will preserve democracy to block the warmongers who would abolish it—and then, the day after the election, go back to the deeper work of creating real, better, more constructive political alternatives and also helping the base of the Democratic Party take back the party from the consultants, from the rich donors. But that’s for the day after the election is completed, and maybe the runoffs in Georgia and Mississippi, if they happen, after those are completed. Right now, the task is to stop the incipient fascism that Trump and the rightist revolution represents. And you can’t really say that you were working toward an anti-fascist goal if you’re not mobilizing for the Democrats right now. That’s the urgent reality that we’re living.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, you have even suggested, Allan, that depending on how things go next week in the midterms, that there could be a far more progressive left government in power in just a few years in the U.S. Could you explain why you think that is?
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. I think it—well, it’s because of the collapse of the American middle class. It was the collapse of that American middle class, heavily linked to neoliberal policies, that made Sanders and Trump the two most dynamic candidates in the 2016 election. They were the only two that recognized the reality, that the American middle class, the prosperous working class, had been gutted. Everyone else—Clinton, all the other Republican candidates—were talking fantasy, trying to believe that this hadn’t happened. So, those two emerged very strongly.
Now, their solutions were opposite. Sanders was talking about constructive solutions. Trump was posing as an enemy of the elites when he wasn’t. He was actually the embodiment of the worst, the most criminal aspects of the American oligarchs. And he was simultaneously saying, “We’ll help solve this with racism.”
Now, though, in this campaign, there’s an interesting change in the Trump-Republican strategy. They’ve dropped the punch-the-elites-in-the-nose part, and they’re running on the straight-up racism, the anti-immigrant hysteria. There’s really nothing else there.
It’s important to note that the immigration issue itself is phony. It’s a complete fake. If you’re actually looking at facts, there is no immigration issue. I cite as my source on this Sean Hannity. After Romney was defeated by Obama in the 2012 election, Hannity immediately went on his radio show saying he had re-evaluated his position on immigration.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Sean Hannity of Fox.
ALLAN NAIRN: This is Sean Hannity of Fox. He said he, Sean Hannity, now favored a path to citizenship, which is what the progressive immigration activists had been pushing. He said, “We’ve got to drop the immigration issue.” I mean, basically—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: How long ago was this?
ALLAN NAIRN: This was right after Obama defeated Romney in the 2012 election, because his diagnosis was—Hannity’s was, that, A, the immigration problem is not a national security threat to the United States. If Sean Hannity really believed the U.S. would be overrun by Mexican and Central American migrants, he would not be saying drop the issue, have a path to citizenship. He obviously believed it was a loser to the Republicans—for the Republicans. This was the same time that the Republicans, some of the Republicans, issued what was called their autopsy report, where they said, “We have to drop this anti-immigrant stuff. We have to move closer to the Latino population, if we want to have any chance of gaining a majority of the votes at some time in the future.”
But Trump came in and proved Hannity and the autopsy report to be incorrect. Trump had a deeper understanding of the American population, the American white population, and the resonance of racism and nativism in this country. Trump said, “No, screw that. We’re going to go straight-out attack against nonwhites, against Muslims, against Mexicans,” etc., etc. His party had already recognized that the whole thing was fake, but Trump saw something true about the way that there are elements within people, the worst, most vile, most bestial elements—they exist in every person. I mean, every major religion has noticed and talked endlessly about this fact since the beginning of human civilization. Everybody has bad, has evil within them. And Trump has a profound understanding of how to draw it out, how to mobilize it, how to weaponize it and how to use it for political purposes. And that is now a core element of the rightist revolution that has taken power in this country and that threatens to evolve from just an incipient fascism into a new unique American fascism.
And by the way, just on a mechanical level, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I mean, if the Republicans win this time, if they maintain control of both houses of Congress, and especially—and also if they maintain many of the major governorships that are up across the country, which will enable them to further rig House districts and do further, even more radical voter suppression, things will get much, much worse. Trump’s ability to incite, at the grassroots level, racist violence will go from just a few isolated incidents, which is what we have now, into the possibility of actual organized forces, paramilitaries. And up 'til now, the Supreme Court has been, in an ambiguous way, something of a check, because of the ambiguous position of Kennedy. Kennedy is gone now. He's replaced by Kavanaugh, who is part of the group of rightist Republicans on the court who are radical right and Bolshevik in their discipline. Anything that the Republican revolution wants to do, this Supreme Court will rubber-stamp it. And that’s new. That’s new as of just X number of weeks ago. So, we haven’t seen anything compared to what’s coming if the Republicans are able to win these elections.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Trump succeeded in doing something quite unbelievable. Last week in the middle of the night—I think it was one of his 3 a.m. tweets—he said, “Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this”—he put it in quote—’Bomb’ stuff.” This was in the midst of the letter bombs being sent—
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to the Obamas, to the Clintons, to George Soros, to Maxine Waters. It read like a Trump hit list. Again, Trump said, “now this 'Bomb' stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows–news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!” He understood he could not bring up the caravan in the midst of this letter bomb attack.
ALLAN NAIRN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But then you had the killing of the African Americans in Kentucky. You had the worst anti-Semitic attack on U.S. soil in history, 11 Jews killed last Saturday. And President Trump then throws out everything he can—”I’m sending 15,000 troops to the border”—to get the terrorists outside coming in, right? He is going to overturn the Constitution with an executive order, with birthright citizenship. This question of the enemies outside—and he’s succeeding, because there’s so much outrageous that he has put forward—in taking away this extreme threat here at home.
ALLAN NAIRN: Right. Well, you know, Trump is a sharp guy. He’s an ignoramus and a fool, but he’s also a sharp guy. You know, the human mind is very complex. And that’s one reason why he’s so dangerous. He was essentially planning the American equivalent of a series of Nuremberg rallies to close out the campaign. And the Pittsburgh massacre, the Louisville massacre—although Pittsburgh got much more attention—the pipe bombs threw him off stride. If these atrocities had happened outside of election season, far from an election, it actually would have been a plus for the Trump forces and the rightist revolution, because these are the kinds of acts that traditionally give energy to fascistic movements. They serve as movement building. They push the envelope. They create conditions of fear and chaos that increase the demand for the strong leader. But in this case, it was an inconvenience, and it really annoyed Trump. In fact, he even was forced by public opinion and his aides to issue a statement where—I’m going to look for the exact quote that Trump gave. He said, “Acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.” That was Trump after the pipe bombs.
Well, as any honest officer at the Pentagon will tell you, acts or threats of political violence are the core of the American-led world system. Anybody who knows politics knows that. And one of the things that Trump has done is he is starting to increase the role that those kinds of acts or threats of political violence play, and potentially play, in American domestic politics. I mean, we have a long history of domestic political violence, of course, against Native Americans, against African-American slaves, against the labor movement, etc., etc., and continuing today on an ad hoc basis, encouraged by the Trump-like forces, in the case of shootings of police officers and Border Patrol of unarmed civilians, especially African Americans and, on the border, occasional killings of immigrants. There was a young woman from Guatemala, from Quetzaltenango, who was shot in the head by the Border Patrol near Laredo, Texas, this past spring.
And by the way, the logical culmination of Trump’s current immigration push, as you noted earlier, which includes the idea of presidential fiat to amend the Constitution—which, by the way, could be accepted by the Kavanaugh court. It could not have been previously. But now that’s on the table. And if they accept that, that opens the door to a president knocking out any other part of the Constitution he doesn’t like. But the logical conclusion of this push is setting up Israeli-type snipers, like the Israelis have along the Gaza border, where they pick off civilians, even pick off people who are wearing press vests, pick off medical personnel, pick off unarmed people who are just standing there protesting. If you look at Fox News and their demand, their pressure, for actually opening fire on the border, that’s the logical next step, if the Republicans win. If the Democrats are able to get at least one house, that will be some significant constraint on Trump’s freedom of action.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Interesting, in President Trump’s series of eight states, 11 rallies, before the midterms, he’s been told not to come to Arizona or Nevada to help the Republican candidates. They are deeply concerned about what his message will mean, that it could sink them. Allan Nairn, award-winning investigative journalist. We’ll be back with him in 30 seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: “Symbol” by Adrianne Lenker, here on Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. We talked about these horrible attacks on U.S. soil and President Trump continuing to attack the media, even as three letter bombs went to CNN, but also there is the attack by a close U.S. ally, deeply close, particularly to President Trump and his senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Saudi Arabia—the Saudi murder of the Saudi journalist, The Washington Post columnist Khashoggi. Every day now, we’re getting out new information. Today, apparently, the Turkish authorities say they may have liquefied his body or turned it to ashes with acid, after he was, they said, strangled right after he walked into the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. Your thoughts, Allan?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, as a result of the public outrage at the torture and murder of Khashoggi, the U.S. is looking for ways to signal a pullback on its support for the Saudi regime, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And just the other day, Pompeo came out and called for a ceasefire in Yemen. Now, in and of itself, that call is, in theory, a good thing, but just in September Pompeo certified to Congress, to prevent the freezing of a small amount of the arms that the U.S. was providing to attack the Yemeni civilian population—he certified that adequate steps were being taken by the Saudis and by the U.S. to protect civilians. This as they were bombing school buses, bombing funerals, bombing wedding parties, and doing it with U.S. refueling help, U.S. planes and U.S. munitions provided by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and others. So, Khashoggi certified, just weeks ago, that this was—I’m sorry, Pompeo certified that this was OK. And it’s—we’ll see what happens.
Right now, as he says this, Saudi forces are massing outside of Yemen’s main port—some there fear for another attack on the city—to try to cut off and starve the place. This as they have brought millions to the brink of famine and have already killed, by the best recent estimates, perhaps 50,000, perhaps 60,000 or 70,000 Yemenis, and created one of the most serious outbreaks of cholera in recent world history. And this is all directly chargeable against the U.S.
There’s some talk about cutting off U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Well, that’s not a matter of policy. That’s a criminal matter. These U.S. arms sales and this U.S. refueling and training for Saudi Arabia is a war crime, because the U.S. is facilitating attacks on civilian targets in Yemen. George Bush Jr. put it very well. He said, “If you arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist.” I agree with Bush Jr. And in this case, the U.S. government is a terrorist. That’s the way we should look at the Saudi arms sales.
In terms of the murder of Khashoggi itself, the thing that strikes me about it most is that the main reason this exploded into an issue was because there’s a tape, apparently. There’s a tape of the death room, the final seconds of the victim’s life. And there are so many people around the world who have been imagining what happened in that death room, when their own loved one was tortured to death by any one of three dozen U.S. client states over the years. I personally have wondered about two such death rooms, one in Guatemala, where a friend of mine—story was she had her hands cut off—another in Indonesia, where Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, my friend, had his face sliced off by the authorities who had kidnapped him. And when we found him, his hands were bound behind his back. Imagine if there were tapes of all of those events and they were on TV every day and we were all forced to watch them. This policy wouldn’t last a year. We’ve got to stop it.
But if you want that kind of change, if you want change on something that profound, you’ve got to stop the dismantling of what democracy we have in this country. You’ve got to stop the rise of incipient fascism. And to do that tactically, you’ve got to go out and mobilize for the Democrats.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’ll continue this conversation and post it online under web-exes at democracynow.org.
I’ll be speaking tonight at the Murmrr Theatre in Brooklyn with Ilana Glazer of Broad City.