Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Channeling Juan Peron, What Could Befall America

Former US Army commander turned historian, Andrew Bacevich, has been a welcome source of profound insight into how his country, its institutions and especially its military have changed in the post-9/11 world. You don't need to be an historian to know those changes have been highly problematic. That, however, may pale to insignificance if Americans put Donald Trump or a Trump clone in the White House.

Should Trump or a Trump mini-me ultimately succeed in capturing the presidency, a possibility that can no longer be dismissed out of hand, the effects will be even more profound. In all but name, the United States will cease to be a constitutional republic. Once President Trump inevitably declares that he alone expresses the popular will, Americans will find that they have traded the rule of law for a version of caudillismo. Trump’s Washington could come to resemble Buenos Aires in the days of Juan PerĂ³n, with Melania a suitably glamorous stand-in for Evita, and plebiscites suitably glamorous stand-ins for elections.

That a considerable number of Americans appear to welcome this prospect may seem inexplicable. Yet reason enough exists for their disenchantment. American democracy has been decaying for decades. The people know that they are no longer truly sovereign. They know that the apparatus of power, both public and private, does not promote the common good, itself a concept that has become obsolete. They have had their fill of irresponsibility, lack of accountability, incompetence, and the bad times that increasingly seem to go with them.

So in disturbingly large numbers they have turned to Trump to strip bare the body politic, willing to take a chance that he will come up with something that, if not better, will at least be more entertaining. As Argentines and others who have trusted their fate to demagogues have discovered, such expectations are doomed to disappointment.

Could America succumb to charismatic authoritarianism in place of constitutional rule of law? That seems almost impossible to imagine but history shows that these seismic transformations usually are until they occur. Violence often ensues as populations become fragmented and existing power structures are displaced by new institutions and authorities.

Hold onto your hat. 

No comments: