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Adam Hochschild, The Crushing of American Socialism

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Adam Hochschild has long specialized in excavating ignored moments in history and considering their relevance for today. His classic King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa — about the conquest and exploitation of the Congo by that Belgian ruler — appeared just as that country was beginning a decades-long civil war sparked not by a European monarch, but by multinational corporations and local warlords backed by neighboring countries.

In his newest book, American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis (which, like so many of his works, I can proudly say I edited), he again tackles a historical subject with an eerie echo in the present moment. The years 1917 to 1921 were the Trumpiest period in American history before The Donald arrived on the scene. They were filled with red-baiting as well as rage against immigrants and refugees, not to speak of so many other things that Trump would have liked to do, including censoring the critical media and throwing hundreds of people in prison solely for things they wrote or said.

I can’t recommend the book to you more highly! I consider it a must-read. Should you want a signed, personalized copy, all you have to do is donate at least $100 (at least $125 if you live outside the U.S.) to TomDispatch. And believe me, TD definitely needs your help to keep on keeping on in this ever-stranger world of ours. So, if you feel the urge, do visit our donation page and lend a hand!

And one small p.s.: TomDispatch will take the Columbus Day weekend off.  We’ll be back Tuesday.  Tom]

Consider it an irony first class. In 2017, Reality Winner, a former Air Force enlistee who had been working for a national security contractor at Fort Gordon, Georgia, would be prosecuted by the Trump Justice Department and sentenced to more than five years in prison for leaking one secret government document to The Intercept.  Its subject?  Under the circumstances, maybe you won’t be shocked to learn that it was about possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Winner was prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, which had in previous years been used against leakers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.  And let me just repeat that she was sent to prison for more than five years (and served more than four of them) for leaking a single secret document about the 2016 election.

As TomDispatch regular Adam Hochschild, author of the just-published American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis, points out, FBI agents used a warrant under that same Espionage Act to enter Donald Trump’s Florida estate where they found more than 300 classified government documents (and 48 folders that once contained such documents but were now empty).  Put in the context of Winner, you would have to assume that our former president will now be a genuine loser, right?  I mean, if one document gets you five years in prison, how many do hundreds get you?  The answer, if you ask Reality Winner, now free and recently interviewed by NBC News, is perhaps none.  Not surprisingly, she finds any comparison between herself and the former president “incredibly ironic.” Nonetheless, in her deep humanity, she is not urging that he be locked up like her.

In his piece today, Hochschild returns to that devastating 1917 act, passed in the midst of World War I, and to the crushing of the Socialist Party in America in that same era. He wonders in a telling fashion: How might the United States be different today if, a century ago, the leadership of this country had not acted both so ruthlessly and in such an eerily Trumpian way? Tom

What You Don’t Have and Why

The Never-Ending Impact of a Forgotten Blitzkrieg Against the American Left

Donald Trump has had the urge to crush many things, including the last election. So I must admit I found it eerily amusing that, when the FBI entered his estate at Mar-a-Lago recently, they did so under a warrant authorized by the Espionage Act of 1917. History certainly has a strange way of returning in our world and also of crushing alternatives. Whatever Trump did, that act has a sorry track record in both its own time and ours when it has been used, including by his administration, to silence the leakers of government information. And because my latest book, American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and America's Forgotten Crisis, is about the crushing of alternatives a century ago in this country, in the midst of all this, I couldn't help thinking about a part of our history that The Donald would undoubtedly have been the first to crush, if he had the chance.  

But let me start with a personal event closer to the present. While visiting Denmark recently, I developed an infection in my hand and wanted to see a doctor. The hotel in the provincial city where I was staying directed me to a local hospital. I was quickly shown into a consulting room, where a nurse questioned me and told me to wait. Only a few minutes passed before a physician entered the room, examined me, and said in excellent English, yes, indeed, I did need an antibiotic. He promptly swiveled in his chair, opened a cabinet behind him, took out a bottle of pills, handed it to me, and told me to take two a day for 10 days. When I thanked him and asked where I should go to pay for the consultation and the medicine, he responded simply, “We have no facilities for that.”

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Chomsky and Barsamian, What Hope Is There?

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As I was reading today’s interview between David Barsamian of Alternative Radio and the remarkable Noam Chomsky, now 93 years old and still so much in and of our world, I had a “memory” flash of sorts. I wondered what, in his twenties, Tom Engelhardt would have thought of this ever more extreme planet if, as in one of the sci-fi novels he then read so avidly, he had been transported more than half a century into the future to this very America. And you know exactly the country I mean.

Admittedly, that Tom didn’t consider 1960s America — above all, his country’s horrific war in Vietnam — anything to brag about. Still, how would he feel to find himself in a land where most of the members of one major party believe, based on nothing, that the last presidential election was quite literally “stolen”; a country increasingly filled with extremist militias; one that spent four years with a mad and maddening president with, it seems, every intention of facing off one more time against Joe Biden who, in 2024, will be 82 years old. We’re talking about a candidate who, were he to win — or even somehow claim a lost election as his — could turn the U.S. into a proto-fascist state? (Honestly, speaking of the past, why didn’t all those Big Macs and Wendy’s Burgers take him down?)

And that, of course, would just be an introduction to a planet on which — forget the war still going on in Ukraine amid increasing fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin might consider using nuclear weapons for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were taken out in 1945 — week by week, month by month, the news only gets worse. It matters little whether you’re speaking about record droughts, fires, floods, storms, melting ice, rising sea levels, you name it, since these days it seems as if no horror we might dream up couldn’t become reality.

In such a context, let me introduce the young Tom Engelhardt to the four horsemen of the apocalypse of the twenty-first century and leave it to Noam Chomsky, interviewed by the superb David Barsamian for their new book, Notes on Resistance, to tell us where, in such a world, hope might still lie. Tom

Optimism of the Will

And the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

[The following is excerpted in shortened form from Chapter 9 of Notes on Resistance by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, published by Haymarket Books.]

David Barsamian: What we are facing is often described as unprecedented -- a pandemic, climate catastrophe and, always lurking off center stage, nuclear annihilation. Three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

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Andrea Mazzarino, Why Dobbs Is a Recipe for Disaster in the Military

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The other day, a judge lifted a nearly 50-year-old injunction against a 150-year-old Arizona anti-abortion law. It allows that procedure only if a woman’s life is in jeopardy. A doctor who ignores it could face two to five years in jail. And so it goes (and goes and goes) in a country that’s still, in part at least, extremely Trumpian and a Supreme Court that could hardly be more so.

Strange, isn’t it, that the president who went out of his way to put three anti-abortion judges on the Supreme Court claimed in 1999, when he was still a real-estate magnate in New York City, that “I’m very pro-choice”? When running for president as a Republican, he would, of course, emphatically claim that “I am pro-life” (though the only accurate thing he could have said would have been “I am pro-Trump”).

When he began changing his stated beliefs to fit the new Donald Trump he was promoting as a possible president, he had this exchange:

“’I know you’re opposed to abortion,’ CNN’s Jake Tapper said to him in a June 2015 interview.

‘Right,’ Trump replied. ‘I’m pro-choice.’

Mr. Tapper furrowed a brow. ‘You’re pro-choice or pro-life?’

‘I’m pro-life,’ Mr. Trump quickly corrected himself. ‘I’m sorry.’”

A little more than a year after that, when asked about his thoughts on overturning Roe v. Wade, he assured his interviewer, Chris Wallace of Fox News, that it “will happen, automatically in my opinion,” because he was sure he would have the chance to nominate several justices to the Supreme Court. How sadly right he proved to be.

The three justices he did nominate (two put in place after Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell aborted history to do so) would be crucial to the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that would make Roe a matter of history. After news of that decision came out, the former president would insist that “the biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation, along with other decisions that have been announced recently, were only made possible because I delivered everything as promised, including nominating and getting three highly respected and strong Constitutionalists confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.” It mattered not at all that, in a CNN poll, 66% of Americans stood against the overturning of Roe (or that Republicans may pay for that decision in the November midterm elections).

Meanwhile, TomDispatch regular and co-founder of the Costs of War Project Andrea Mazzarino gives us a feeling for just what a disaster the Dobbs decision is likely to be for one community of Americans of which she’s a part: military spouses. And while you’re at it, prepare yourself. Given the Supreme Court Donald Trump willed us, there’s so much more to come. Tom

Choosing Life in a Pro-Violence Society

Post-Dobbs Abortion Access for Military Dependents Is in Question

In significant parts of this country, the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade returned Americans to a half-century-old situation in which hundreds of thousands of women, faced with unwanted pregnancies, were once forced to resort to costly, potentially deadly underground abortions. My spouse’s employer, the Pentagon, recently announced that its own abortion policy, which allows military insurance to cover the procedure when a pregnancy results from rape or incest, or poses a threat to the mother’s life, still holds.

Sadly enough, this seems an all-too-hollow reassurance, given the reality that pregnant women in the military are, in many places, likely to face an uphill battle finding providers trained and -- here's the key, of course -- willing to perform the procedure. The Supreme Court abortion ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health leaves it up to the states to determine whether to allow abortions. In doing so, it ensures that the access of military populations to that procedure will be so much more complicated, especially for spouses who need to seek off-base care, including ones like me who have chosen the military insurance option TRICARE Select that allows us to access almost exclusively civilian providers. America’s 2.6 million military dependents now live in a country where an ever-changing patchwork of state laws can make seeking an abortion costly, risky, and stressful in the extreme.

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