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Imre Vogelezang
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Let's call this what it is: the necessary display of terror to show that the autocrat is serious.

We must recognize that the arbitrariness, the capriciousness, and the cruelty of this immigration executive order were not due to Trump's business interests or oil companies' interests or realpolitik pragmatism. They were not due to a convenient piggybacking on a prior law that happened to mention these seven countries and not others because that makes it somehow more legal (this somehow giving it greater legality may feel "truthy", but it's not true).

It was not due to incompetence, even though some reports of the chaos and lack of normal vetting procedure have framed it that way.

Its signing on International Holocaust Remembrance Day was not accidental. Nor was the presidential statement on the observance failing to mention Jews as victims of the Holocaust an embarrassing gaffe.

The visible effects of the new policy's implementation—let's not mince words here, its victims — coming nearly simultaneously with the news that the administration has demoted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence from the National Security Council and promoted chief strategist Steve Bannon was not coincidental.

Trump saying this evening that implementation of the policy was going "nicely...if you look at the airports" was not alternate-reality Trump or oblivious Trump; he knew what was happening, he saw live TV from the airports, he was speaking the truth as he believes it—in his mind, it was going wonderfully, perhaps but for those damned protesters that at some point will be taken care of (and not because he thinks George Soros will eventually run out of money to pay them).

No, let's call this for what it is: a warning shot. Its cruelty, its maliciousness, its inhumanity, its punishment of the innocent, its needless capriciousness when a simple statement that it would not take effect for some period or that it did not apply to those already in transit or to those returning with green cards or with dual citizenship would have been easy and lessened its cruelest impacts dramatically—these weren't bugs, they were features. They were the point.

Trump is putting us all on notice. He will act in irrationally, needlessly, pointlessly, even self-defeatingly cruel ways. He doesn't care. So you'd best think twice before crossing him.

A shocking display of terror against innocent members of a group the ruler has dehumanized is one of the necessary first steps of autocratic rule, along with denying reality, making personal connections to the ruler more important than merit, attacking principled opposition as the enemy, purging senior members of the civil service, questioning the validity of the voting process, and delegitimizing the press.

The only surprise here is in the horrific pace of these telltale signs' emergence. Many of us predicted these things; I just don't know that any of us thought these would all happen in the first week of this presidency.

The display of terror against the populace: mission accomplished. As far as I know, overt censorship, executive capture of the judiciary, declaration of martial law or state of emergency for political reasons, and interference in future elections are the only boxes on the card left to punch.

This is very, very bad. It seems almost funny how it felt like going out on a limb just a few weeks ago to warn against "normalization". Anyone who still claims this is normal is in thrall to the leader, or literally frightened out of their wits.

Two Saturdays, two eruptions of autocracy. Tomorrow begins the regime's workweek of patting things down, claiming with a straight face that we're "over-dramatizing", making some abrupt turnarounds of policies that the gullible will take as victories, but that are simply unstated reminders that they concede nothing, they still have the power to take it back.

The chaos was planned. The cruelty was planned. The terror was planned. And, despite the court rulings, the plan succeeded.

The nationwide protests, with no notice, were the only part that was unplanned. I hope with every fiber of my being that they continue and they eventually start to chip away at the people who have come under the leader's spell, or those who have told themselves they are trying to make the best of a bad situation, or who see his thrall as something they can piggyback on to get the policies they've wanted to pass for so long.

By the way: on Fox News tonight, nothing was happening. And CNN ran a retrospective on the 80's.

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