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Updates from the Road

Biden Removes Andrew Jackson Portrait, Churchill Bust, Military Flags In Oval Office Decor Shakeup

Biden Removes Andrew Jackson Portrait, Churchill Bust, Military Flags In Oval Office Decor Shakeup

As with past U.S. leaders, President Joe Biden’s new Oval Office decor hints at the landscape of attitudes that are likely to reflect the tone and priorities of his administration.

“It was important for President Biden to walk into an Oval that looked like America and started to show the landscape of who he is going to be as president,” Ashley Williams, the deputy director of Oval Office operations, told The Washington Post during an exclusive tour.

In a decor shakeup of the Oval Office, which is filled with portraits and busts of iconic leaders in American history, Biden has made a number of changes from when former President Donald Trump sat at the Resolute Desk, including replacing the portrait of Andrew Jackson, the 7th president and a populist with whom Trump often identified.

“He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart, and he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War,” Trump told the Washington Examiner in 2017, noting that many people said that, “my campaign and win was most like Andrew Jackson with his campaign.”

Epoch Times Photo
A portrait of America’s 7th president Andrew Jackson adorns the wall behind then President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, in Washington, on May 28, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

In place of Jackson’s portrait hangs one of Benjamin Franklin, a founding father who was also a leading writer, philosopher, and scientist. According to The Washington Post, Franklin’s portrait is meant to signal Biden’s interest in following science in his efforts to tackle the pandemic.

Also gone are the flags of the various branches of the military, whose restoration was one of Trump’s chief policy priorities. During his farewell address after departing the White House on Jan. 20, Trump said, “perhaps most importantly of all, with nearly $3 trillion, we fully rebuilt the American military—all made in the USA.”

Biden has chosen to replace the military flags with the American flag and another with a presidential seal.

Epoch Times Photo
President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office in Washington, on Jan. 20, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On the table behind the Resolute Desk now sits a bust of César Chávez, the Mexican-American labor leader, who fought for the rights of farm workers, photos show. The bust of Chávez sits alongside framed photos of Biden’s family.

According to the Washington Post, Biden has added several additional busts to the office, namely those of Robert F. Kennedy, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks, a key figure in the civil rights movement.

Biden has removed the bust of wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, which Trump notably reinstated when he became president after former President Barack Obama had it removed.

Britain’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, of the left-leaning Labor party, commented on the move in an interview published in British newspaper The Guardian on Jan. 20, calling Biden a “woke guy” whose victory is “a source of hope for a lot of progressive parties around the world.”

Epoch Times Photo
Former British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and then President Donald Trump meet beside a bust of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the Oval Office, in Washington, on Jan. 27, 2017. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The portrait of another former president Thomas Jefferson, has been paired with a man he often clashed with, his former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton as “hallmarks of how differences of opinion, expressed within the guardrails of the Republic, are essential to democracy,” Biden’s office said, according to The Post.

Directly across from the Resolute Desk sits a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt, the president who led the country through the Great Depression and World War Two, major crises that deeply shook America.

Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Halted After Biden Revokes Permit

Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Halted After Biden Revokes Permit

The long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline’s construction was halted Wednesday after President Joe Biden revoked the construction project’s permit.

Keystone XL President Richard Prior said over 1,000 jobs will be eliminated in the coming weeks.

“We will begin a safe and orderly shut-down of construction,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press.

According to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines’s CEO Andy Black, the move is tantamount to “killing 10,000 jobs and taking $2.2 billion in payroll out of workers’ pockets [and] is not what Americans need or want right now.”

The pipeline was first proposed in 2008 but reached a snag under the Obama administration. President Donald Trump revived the project and has been a strong proponent of the measure—with the support of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We are disappointed but acknowledge the president’s decision to fulfill his election campaign promise on Keystone XL,” Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. Trudeau said he spoke with Biden in November over the phone, saying the pipeline is a key priority meant to expand oil exports in Canada, which has the third-highest oil reserves in the world, to the United States.

“Despite President Biden’s decision on the project, we would like to welcome other executive orders made today, including the decisions to rejoin the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization,” Trudeau added, referring to several of Biden’s day one executive orders.

“Workers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and across Canada will always have our support. Canada is the single-largest supplier of energy to the United States, contributing to U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness, and supporting thousands of jobs on both sides of the border,” Trudeau said. He did not say whether the Canadian government will try to engage with the United States to restart construction of the project.

Epoch Times Photo
Pipes destined for the Keystone XL pipeline are stacked in Gascoyne, North Dakota, on April 22, 2015. (The Canadian Press/Alex Panetta)

Alberta, Canada, Premier Jason Kenney said the cancellation of Keystone XL’s construction isn’t “how you treat a friend [and] an ally.”

“It is an insult directed at the United States’ most important ally and trading partner on day one of a new administration,” Kenney said in a statement. “The leader of our closest ally retroactively vetoed approval for a pipeline that exists and which is co-owned by Canadian government, directly attacking by far the largest part of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship, which is our energy industry and exports.”

Biden’s move was praised by environmental groups.

“President Biden’s decision to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on his first day turns the page on a 12-year fight over the energy future of our country,” said Anthony Swift, director of NRDC’s Canada project, earlier this month. “It sets the stage for a more prosperous future powered by clean energy.”

Ideological Alignment Pushing America Toward Totalitarianism, Experts Warn

Ideological Alignment Pushing America Toward Totalitarianism, Experts Warn

News Analysis

The formation of a totalitarian state is just about complete in America as the most powerful public and private sector actors unify behind the idea that actions to stamp out dissent can be justified, according to several experts on modern totalitarian ideologies.

While many have warned about the rise of fascism or socialism in “the land of the free,” the ideas have largely been vague or fragmented, focusing on individual events or actors. Recent events, however, indicate that seemingly unconnected pieces of the oppression puzzle are fitting together to form a comprehensive system, according to Michael Rectenwald, a retired liberal arts professor at New York University.

But many Americans, it appears, have been caught off guard or aren’t even aware of the newly forming regime, as the idea of elected officials, government bureaucrats, large corporations, the establishment academia, think tanks and nonprofits, the legacy media, and even seemingly grassroot movements all working in concert toward some evil purpose seems preposterous. Is a large portion of the country in on a conspiracy?

The reality now emerges that no massive conspiracy was in fact needed—merely an ideological alignment and some informal coordination, Rectenwald argues.

Despite the lack of formal overarching organization, the American socialist regime is indeed totalitarian, as the root of its ideology requires politically motivated coercion, he told The Epoch Times. The power of the regime is not yet absolute but it’s becoming increasingly effective as it erodes the values, checks, and balances against tyranny established by traditional beliefs and enshrined in the American founding.

The effects can be seen throughout society. Americans, regardless of their income, demographics, or social stature are being fired from jobs, getting stripped of access to basic services such as banking and social media, or having their businesses crippled for voicing political opinions and belonging to a designated political underclass. Access to sources of information unsanctioned by the regime is becoming increasingly difficult. Some figures of power and influence are sketching the next step, labelling large segments of society as “extremists” and potential terrorists who need to be “deprogrammed.”

While the onset of the regime appears tied to events of recent years—the presidency of Donald Trump, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, the Capitol intrusion of Jan. 6—its roots go back decades.

Is It Really Totalitarian?

Totalitarian regimes are commonly understood as constituting a government headed by a dictator that regiments the economy, censors the media, and quells dissent by force. That is not the case in America but it’s also a misunderstanding of how such regimes function, literature on totalitarianism indicates.

To claim power, the regimes don’t initially need to control every aspect of society through government.

Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist Workers Party in Nazi Germany, used various means to control the economy, including gaining compliance of industry leaders voluntarily, through intimidation, or through replacing the executives with party loyalists.

Similarly, the regime rearing its head in America relies on corporate executives to implement its agenda voluntarily but also through intimidation by online brigades of activists and journalists who take initiative to launch negative PR campaigns and boycotts to progress their preferred societal structure.

Also, Hitler initially didn’t control the spread of information via government censorship but rather through his brigades of street thugs, the “brown shirts,” who would intimidate and physically prevent his opponents from speaking publicly.

The tactic parallels the often successful efforts to “cancel” and “shut down” public speakers by activists and violent actors, such as Antifa.

Dissenting media in America haven’t been silenced by the government directly as of yet. But they are stymied in other ways.

In the digital age, media largely rely on reaching and growing their audience through social media and web search engines, which are dominated by Facebook and Google. Both companies have in place mechanisms to crack down on dissenting media.

Google gives preference in its search results to sources it deems “authoritative.” Search results indicate the company tends to consider media ideologically close to it to be more authoritative. Such media can then produce hit pieces on their competitors, giving Google justification to slash the “authoritativeness” of the dissenters.

Facebook employs third-party fact checkers who have the discretion to label content as “false” and thus reduce the audience on its platform. Virtually all the fact checkers focused on American content are ideologically aligned with Facebook.

Attempts to set up alternative social media have run into yet more fundamental obstacles, as demonstrated by Parler, whose mobile app was terminated by Google and Apple, while the company was kicked off Amazon’s servers.

To the degree that a totalitarian regime requires a police state, there’s no law in America targeting dissenters explicitly. But there are troubling signs of selective, politically motivated enforcement. Signs go back to the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups or the difference in treatment received by former Trump adviser Lt. Gen Michael Flynn and former FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe—both allegedly lying to investigators but only one getting prosecuted. The situation may get still worse as the restrictions tied to the CCP virus see broad swaths of ordinary human behavior being considered “illegal,” opening the door to nearly universal political targeting.

“I think the means by which a police state is being set up is the demonization of Trump supporters and the likely use of medical passports to institute the effective equivalent of social credit scores,” Rectenwald said.

While loyalty to the government and to a specific political party plays a major role, it’s the allegiance to the ideological root of totalitarianism that gives it its foot soldiers, literature on the subject indicates.

Totalitarian Ideology

The element “that holds totalitarianism together as a composite of intellectual elements” is the ambition of fundamentally reimagining society—“the intention to create a ‘New Man,’” explained author Richard Shorten in “Modernism and Totalitarianism: Rethinking the Intellectual Sources of Nazism and Stalinism, 1945 to the Present.”

Various ideologies have framed the ambition differently, based on what they posited as the key to the transformation.

Karl Marx, co-author of the Communist Manifesto, viewed the control of the economy as primary, describing socialism as “socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature,” in his Das Kapital.

Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist Workers Party in Nazi Germany, viewed race as primary. People would become “socialized”—that is transformed and perfected—by removing Jews and other supposedly “lesser” races from society, he claimed.

The most dominant among the current ideologies stem from the so-called “critical theories,” where the perfected society is defined by “equity,” meaning elimination of differences in outcomes for people in demographic categories deemed historically marginalized. The goal is to be achieved by eliminating the ever-present “white supremacy,” however the ideologues currently define it.

While such ideologies commonly prescribe collectivism, calling for national or even international unification behind their agenda, they are elitist and dictatorial in practice as they find mankind never “woke” enough to follow their agenda voluntarily.

In Marx’s prophecies, the revolution was supposed to occur spontaneously. Yet it never did, leading Vladimir Lenin, the first head of the Soviet Union, to conclude that the revolution will need leadership after all.

“The idea is that you have some enlightened party … who understand the problem of the proletariat better than the proletariat does and is going to shepherd them through the revolution that they need to have for the greater good,” explained James Lindsay, author of “Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody.”

Elements of this intellectual foundation can be found in ideologies of many current political forces, from neo-nazis and anarcho-communists, through to progressives and to some extent even neoliberals and neoconservatives, Lindsay acknowledged.

“This is why you see so many people today saying that the only possible answers are a full return to classical liberalism or a complete rejection of liberalism entirely as fatally disposed to create progressivism, neoliberalism, etc.,” he said.

That’s not to say these ideologies are openly advocating totalitarianism but rather that they inevitably lead to it.

The roadmap could be summarized as follows:

  1. There’s something fundamentally and intolerably wrong with current reality
  2. There’s a plan to fix it requiring a whole society buy-in
  3. People opposing the plan need to be educated about the plan so they accept it
  4. People who resist the persuasion need to be reeducated, even against their will
  5. People who won’t accept the plan no matter what need to be removed from society.

“I think that’s the general thrust,” Lindsay said. “We can make the world the way we want it to be if we all just get on the same page and same project. It’s a disaster, frankly.”

Points four and five now appear to be in progress.

Former Facebook executive Alex Stamos recently labeled the widespread questioning of the 2020 election results as “violent extremism,” which social media companies should eradicate the same way they countered online recruitment content from the ISIS terrorist group.

The “core issue,” he said, is that “we have given a lot of leeway, both in traditional media and on social media, to people to have a very broad range of political views” and this has led to the emergence of “more and more radical” alternative media like OAN and Newsmax.

Stamos then mused about how to reform Americans who’ve tuned in to the dissenters.

“How do you bring those people back into the mainstream of fact-based reporting and try to get us all back into the same consensus reality?” he asked in a CNN interview.

“And can you? Is that possible?” CNN host Brian Stelter added.

The logic goes as follows: Trump claimed the election was stolen through fraud and other illegalities. That has not been proven in court and is thus false. People who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and managed to break inside and disrupt the electoral vote counting did so because they believed the election was stolen. Therefore, anybody who questions the legitimacy of the election results is an extremist and potentially a terrorist.

With tens of thousands of troops assembled to guard the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) recently told CNN that all guard members who voted for Trump belong to a “suspect group” that “might want to do something,” alluding to past leaders of other countries who were “killed by their own people.”

Former FBI Director James Comey recently said the Republican party needs to be “burned down or changed.”

“They want a one party state,” commented conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza in a recent podcast. “That is not to say they don’t want an opposition. They want a token opposition. They want Republicans where they get to say what kind of Republican is ok.”

Just as Marx blamed the ills of the world on capitalists and Hitler on Jews, the current regime tends to blame various permutations of “white supremacy.”

“Expel the Republican members of Congress who incited the white supremacist attempted coup,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) in a recent tweet, garnering some 300,000 likes.

She was referring to the Republican lawmakers who raised objections on Jan. 6 to election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Their objections were voted down.

“Can U.S. Spy Agencies Stop White Terror?” Daily Beast’s Jeff Stein asked in a recent headline, concluding that a call for “secret police” to sniff out “extremist” Americans “may well get renewed attention.”

Under the regime, allegations of election fraud—de facto questioning the legitimacy of the leader—have become incitement of terrorism. YouTube (owned by Google), Facebook, and Twitter have either banned content that claims the election was rigged or are furnishing it with warning labels. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey was recently recorded as saying that banning the president’s account was just the beginning.

The approach closely mirrors that of the Chinese communist regime, which commonly targets dissidents for “subverting” the state or “spreading rumors.”

What’s the Alternative?

If calls for radically reorganizing the world are inherently totalitarian, how is the world to avoid them? The question appears to be its own answer. If totalitarianism inherently requires allegiance to its ideology, it can’t exist in a society with a lack of such allegiance.

The United States were founded on the idea that individual rights are God-given and unalienable. The idea, rooted in traditional beliefs that human morality is of divine origin, stands a bulwark against any attempt to assail people’s rights even for their own good.

“If you’re not a believer in actual God, you can posit a God’s ideal on the matter … We have to posit some arbiter who’s above and beyond our own prejudices and biases in order to ensure these kinds of rights. … Because otherwise you have this infinitely malleable situation in which people with power and coercive potential can eliminate and rationalize the elimination of rights willy-nilly,” Rectenwald said.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab

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