On the one hand, it's straight out of Dictatorship 101: choose a minority who are already distrusted by some of the populace, and systematically "other" them. Pick up the pitchforks and start leading the mob against them. It whips up patriotic fervor, and distracts people from the way that you're stripping them of their freedoms.
That said, this *particular* variation is starting to have a specifically familiar theme. I've mainly been thinking about how Trump has been taking his style from Putin's Russia (in particular, the high-handed abuse of the press), but this one is reminding me of another successful neo-dictatorship: Turkey.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's dictator (yes, he's elected, but by this point I consider that a detail -- so are many dictators), spent several years building up a gigantic boogeyman in the form of the Gulenists, an Islamist movement founded by Fethullah Gulen, a cleric currently living in the US. Gulen was originally an ally of Erdogan, but after they parted ways a few years ago, Erdogan began to blame the Gulenists for everything wrong with Turkey, making them out to be a terrifying conspiracy out to destroy the country.
Of course, last year there *was* a coup attempt, and Erdogan wasted no time blaming the Gulenists for the whole thing, possibly far moreso than was warranted. He has spent the time since then purging all areas of the state of all Gulenists *and* anybody else who disagrees with him, on the grounds that there is a massive conspiracy that he must root out. And having survived the coup, he's doing this with considerable popular support. Frankly, it's a masterclass in not wasting a good crisis.
The talking heads today are mostly focused on how idiotic the travel ban is -- that it's just going to convince much of the Muslim world that the US really *is* against them, that we *do* want to go to war on them, and that IS is the only group that is going to defend them. All of which is true, and the obvious (and possibly correct) response is that Trump is simply a moron.
But consider: what if that's the whole point? The travel ban is likely to cause more terrorist attacks on the US, with a causation that is obvious if you *think* about it, but indirect enough that Trump can claim it isn't his fault. And when there *are* attacks, Trump has the excuse he's looking for to clamp down on civil liberties and attack his foes in the public sphere as being "weak on security".
Mind, I don't think Trump is anywhere near Machiavellian enough (or at least, disciplined enough) for a scheme like this. But as far as I can tell, Bannon totally is -- and Bannon's just been placed on the National Security Council, replacing the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. (Yes, really -- this happened yesterday.) Bannon is, quite literally, calling the shots on national security, and this feels like exactly the sort of thing he'd do to interpret "national security" as being his own personal, lifelong job security.
Many of us spent eight years saying that the *main* problem wasn't George W Bush, it was Dick Cheney. It's looking to me like that is true in *spades* of Steve Bannon. I increasingly suspect that Trump is mostly a clumsy and bullying loudmouth on his own, but Bannon is malign and smart enough to be even more dangerous. I dearly hope folks are digging deep for dirt on him -- he needs to become a major embarrassment to Trump, soon, before he has a chance to entirely unwind the United States...
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