With Jeff Sessions well on his way to be being confirmed as Attorney General in all likelihood, it's time to think a little bit about the surveillance state.
I have to cop to the fact that this is not my area of expertise. I have to admit I've sort of tuned out the issue of the surveillance state over the years. My feeling is: well, governments always spy on their citizens. Always have, always will. Technological advances and overt legislation such as the Patriot Act can make this problem worse, but never does the game itself change. We're not living in North Korea, but on the other hand, if some government spook wants a given individual to disappear, the odds are good it can make that individual disappear.
Part of the reason why I've tuned surveillance state issued out is because the surveillance state is just so overwhelming. It can be hard to digest.
And now it's in the hands of a man who appears to bear numerous similarities to Richard Nixon. They both stay up very late at night watching Patton. They keep mental lists of enemies. They both made their appeals over the heads of the media elites, to the "silent majority" of the country (not so silent these days!).
We all know how Dick Nixon turned out, and as such, we're all right to be a little concerned. We've yet to see if the Trump era will really be a full-blown turn to fascism as many are predicting. I think that's a stretch. But I think a thematic repeat of the Nixon years is not a stretch. Consider some of the things the Trump has already said (emphases added mine):
In one campaign speech, Trump said of the ability to hack his political enemies, “I wish I had that power. Man, that would be power.” He has also expressed support for the NSA’s collection of telephone metadata, which is now outlawed. “As far as I’m concerned, that would be fine,” Trump said in a December 2015 radio interview. “When you have the world looking at us and would like to destroy us as quickly as possible, I err on the side of security.” His recent picks for attorney general (Jeff Sessions) and head of the CIA (Mike Pompeo) agree. “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database,” Pompeo wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January 2016. “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
Trump has presented distressing views on spying that would target specific communities and individuals. “I want surveillance of certain mosques,” he told a rally in November 2015. He has called the Black Lives Matter movement a “threat” that, “[a]t a minimum, we’re going to have to be watching.” Also troubling are the repercussions that Trump’s opponents might face. Infamously, Trump said on Fox and Friends in 2013 that Snowden is “a terrible traitor” and, “You know, spies in the old days used to be executed.” Trump’s CIA pick favors exactly that course of action. “I think the proper outcome would be that [Snowden] would be given a death sentence,” Pompeo said on C-SPAN last February.
Boy. It's one thing to want surveillance of radicalized Muslims; there are plenty of those that actually exist. It's another thing to call Black Lives Matter a "threat". A threat? People who march are a threat? Who speak up are a threat? Maybe you don't like what they say, maybe you feel they shouldn't be marching, but a threat? On par with Islamic terrorism? That seems a bit unhinged. This sort of judgment has echoes of the very bad old days and it's a bad sign.
We know Donald Trump has many enemies - will they be getting surveilled? Or, will this vindictive talk all turn out to be a lot of hot air, with surveillance continuing along a "default" path?
We'll find out!