Monday, May 01, 2017

A Nightmare Almost Too Horrible to Imagine

Could Donald Trump stage a constitutional coup and derail what remains of America's democracy?

That's an idea that's been floated from time to time by many in informal discussions - an idea, just a random thought, a remote possibility, but still...

That discussion has moved up a notch with Yale historian, Timothy Snyder, claiming that "It's pretty much inevitable" that Trump will try to stage such a coup to overthrow democracy.

Our story about how nothing could never go wrong was a story about how human nature is the free market and the free market brings democracy, so everything is hunky-dory — and of course every part of that story is nonsense. The Greeks understood that democracy is likely to produce oligarchy, because if you don’t have some mechanism to get inequality under control then people with the most money will likely take full control.

With Trump one sees the new variant of this where a candidate can run by saying, “Look, we all know — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — that this isn’t really a democracy anymore.” He doesn’t use the words but basically says, “We all know this is really an oligarchy, so let me be your oligarch.” Although it’s nonsense, and of course he’s a con man and will betray everyone, it makes sense only in this climate of inequality.


One of the problems with American discourse is that we just assume everybody is a friendly democratic parliamentarian pluralist until proven otherwise. ...Americans do not want to think that there is an alternative to what we have. Therefore, as soon as you say “fascism” or whatever it might be, then the American response is to say “no,” because we lack the categories that allow us to think outside of the box that we are no longer in.

As I see it, there are certainly elements of [Trump's] approach which are fascistic. The straight-on confrontation with the truth is at the center of the fascist worldview. The attempt to undo the Enlightenment as a way to undo institutions, that is fascism. Whether he realizes it or not is a different question, but that’s what fascists did. They said, “Don’t worry about the facts, don’t worry about logic, think instead in terms of mystical unities and direct connections between the mystical leader and the people.” That’s fascism. Whether we see it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we forget, that is fascism.

Another thing that’s clearly fascist about Trump were the rallies. The way that he used the language, the blunt repetitions, the naming of the enemies, the physical removal of opponents from rallies, that was really, without exaggeration, just like the 1920s and the 1930s.

On the prospects of an engineered "state of emergency" and suspension of democratic restraints.

Let me make just two points. The first is that I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them. The conventional way to be popular or to be legitimate in this country is to have some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections. I don’t think 2018 is looking very good for the Republicans along those conventional lines. Not just because the president is historically unpopular. It’s also because neither the White House nor Congress have any policies which the majority of the public like.

This means they could be seduced by the notion of getting into a new rhythm of politics, one that does not depend upon popular policies and electoral cycles.

Whether it works or not depends upon whether when something terrible happens to this country, we are aware that the main significance of it is whether or not we are going to be more or less free citizens in the future.

My gut feeling is that Trump and his administration will try and that it won’t work. Not so much because we are so great but because we have a little bit of time to prepare. I also think that there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who have also thought about this, and would not necessarily go along.

The path of resistance.

The thing that matters the most is to realize that in moments like this your actions really do matter. It is ironic but in an authoritarian regime-change situation, the individual matters more than a democracy. In an authoritarian regime change, at the beginning, the individual has a special kind of power because the authoritarian regime depends on a certain kind of consent. Which means that if you are conscious of the moment that you are in, you can find the ways not to express your consent and you can also find the little ways to be a barrier. If enough people do that it really can make a difference, but again only at the beginning.

If Trump was going to strike, when?

You have to accept there is a time frame. Nobody can be sure how long this particular regime change with Trump will take, but there is a clock, and the clock really is ticking. It’s three years on the outside, but in more likelihood something like a year. In January 2018 we will probably have a pretty good idea which way this thing is going. It’s going to depend more on us than on them in the meantime. Once you get past a certain threshold it starts to depend more on them than on us, and then things are much, much worse. It makes me sad to think how Americans would behave at that point.


Toby said...

All my life I have heard people say, "It can't happen here." It often is in reference to the Fascist/Nazi movements but any and all tyrannies apply. History shows that it can happen here. All societies are fragile; all at risk. At the present time all societies are showing signs of underlying stresses. Neo-liberal faith in the Market has failed. The world population has tripled in my lifetime. Global warming is going to change just about everything. In the meantime, Nero plays golf.

After the American coup we can be expect Justin Trudeau to congratulate Trump.

The Mound of Sound said...

As a teen, Toby, I was fascinated by the Nazis and how the German people came to support them. That led to the question of were the Germans really that different from us? Might we, in the right conditions, succumb to a similar authoritarian? I couldn't imagine why not.

Kirby Evans said...

If we assume that such an effort is to be undertaken by Trump and his supporters, the next question that arises is what form would such an effort take? Does it require some terrible (911-like) event as a smokescreen? It doesn't seem as though they could achieve their goal the way Erdogan has, through a voluntary acceptance of fascism. Any effort at a coup seems that it would require some form of extreme crisis, otherwise it seems that too few in the military and "intelligence" community would support them.

The Mound of Sound said...

I think Snyder imagines something similar to a Reichstag Fire, Kirby. As I wrote some time ago I doubt Trump would have the military onside in the event of a constitutional coup. Military personnel have sworn to defend the US Constitution with their lives against all foes, domestic and foreign.

Owen Gray said...

The seeds of it are there. I understand Trump branded the filabuster as "archaic." Apparently, the Republican Party agrees.

Deacon Jester said...

As much as I admire the Washington Post's new motto I also have to confess to worrying about it's naiveté.

Democracy has been dying in the blinding glare of the noonday sun for decades now. Its last rasping gasps will take place and be witnessed by a television audience numbering in the millions. Many of whom will be cheering and slapping one another on the back.

Perhaps because it will also be New Years Eve,

The Mound of Sound said...

I think the seeds have sprouted, Owen.

The Mound of Sound said...

Deacon, you might like to check out the Gilens and Page study on American democracy published by Princeton in 2014.

the salamander said...

.. I think we owe the Donald a vote of gratitude.. As a hysterical 'leader' he has brought dirtbags, rascists, creeps, slimedogs and the GOP opportunists together in one roiling swamp, where the entire world can see them clearly. Yes, its a murky fishbowl.. but at least the entire world can see just how ignorant many many Americans really are. There's no real political sleight of hand.. aside from Ivanka, Bannon, Miller, Kelly Anne et al.. its just dirtbags uber alles.

Stephen Harper and his private cabin boy Ray Novak wanted to leave Canada unrecognizable.. petro superpower, secretive government, obstruction, election fraud, phony prorogues.. you name it.. and barely made a dent after essentially 10 years of unfettered 'power' and control. Now Canadians get to watch the Trumpish wonderwhirl of nepotism, cretinism, corruption & comedic ignorance truly unleashed.. ie what Stephen Harper & his ludicrous minions tried to accomplish in Canada eh

Anyone with a shred of common sense can see what Trump will do to the environment.. on behalf of Big Money & Big Energy.. Harper got close, Trudeau and Christy Clark can close the deal.. while most of stare at the buffoonery happening in America.. We're all lucky the Ivanka and her hubby Kushner will manage mankind.. seeing as the Donald is either preaching to the rabid base, golfing.. or launching Tomahawk missiles during dessert ..

Northern PoV said...

Why would you worry about a coup when impeachment is just around the corner?

Northern PoV said...

From the Guardian comes a realistic assessment of the tRump spectacle so far.... (hint - it sure doesn't look like a coup is on the agenda when he doesn't bother working with the power he already has)

"But with the exception of immigration, most of these aims are longstanding Republican goals. They reflect no peculiar authoritarianism on Trump’s part; they’re just the revanchist stock-in-trade of the American right, which any Republican president would pursue.

When it comes to advancing the singular potency of the presidency – whether that means controlling public opinion, consolidating the power of the executive branch, or dominating Congress – Trump has been an abject failure. Whatever fantasies he (or the media or his critics) may have about the presidency abound, the last 100 days have shown that Trump has no realistic agenda for, or steady interest in, consolidating power.

“Strong leader” is a slogan for Trump, a rhetoric, a performance, but that’s about it. Trump has always thought his words were more real than reality. He’s always believed his own bullshit. It’s time his liberal critics stopped believing it too."

Just another Republican presidency JARP.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hey, Sal. He does beg the question of whether Trump has surrounded himself with "like-minded" aides or, more likely, whether they're actually their president's mental surrogates, his intellectual stand-ins. Straight out of the gate Trump began autographing executive orders written by Bannon. He routinely seems to adopt the views of whomever he last spoke with. His 180s are astonishing. "Jyna" was a currency manipulator and master thief of American jobs - until he met Xi, a glaring example.

The Mound of Sound said...

NPoV, this is Snyder's theory, not mine. Before Trump's inauguration I did a spec piece about certain of his policies that were plainly unconstitutional and that, to implement them, Trump would have to go extra-constitutional which is at the heart of Snyder's analysis.

To dismiss Trump as just another Republican president is facile. He's anything but. And to suggest he's no more authoritarian than his predecessors is sophistry. You can see that much in the characters he praises.