Masha Gessen, in her article, “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” argues that the biggest sign of slipping into an autocratic regime is the ‘normalization’ that happens around the autocratic leader. More and more explaining away of actions, not from supporters, but from detractors, as not ‘really that bad’.
It’s a form of denial. And it brings on an insidious complacency. Let me put it to you this way – before the war turned against them, do you think normal German citizens believed they lived in an autocracy? Of course, they didn’t. Hitler was still ‘normal’. It was only through the lens of history (and of the allies victory) that it was clear they were all under his spell.
On the Diane Rehm show today (which to be honest, I try to avoid because it always sets me on these rants) she had a few guests explaining how Trump has under-estimated the power of Congress, the Bureaucracy, and the Supreme Court. But they were all naive, Chamberlain-splaining away why Hitler will happily stop with Poland and Trump will somehow be stopped by checks and balances that so far have failed.
##Checks and Balances Won’t Save You
90% of our government’s so-called checks and balances are simply traditions and precedents. The only official ones are in the constitution. Trump has trampled all over traditions and precedents. He has no value for them. He won’t respect them any further than he needs to solidify his power base more. Then he’ll drop them.
Civility during a campaign? Tradition and precedent. The peaceful transition of power, which he threatened during debates? Tradition and precedent. The “don’t lock up your political rivals”? Tradition and precedent. And he’s shown he has little interest in maintaining (or not) these precedents if they don’t get him anything.
The Supreme Court Won’t Save You
This one was hilarious. The commentators all agreed that Trump has a somewhat large inheritance in terms of Supreme Court nominations, but still somehow thought “even a very conservative court will be willing to block him.” Let’s assume even if he gets a loyalist approved, that loyalist will block him on some constitutional issue.
So. Fucking. What?
Do you think Trump gives a shit what the Supreme Court thinks? Do they have a police force? Do they have an army? No? Okay, well then that’s great that they have their opinions, but he has the whole matter of “making Ameria Great Again” to attend to.
This isn’t even without precedent. Andrew Jackson, of “Trail of Tears” fame, said in response to a Supreme Court ruling he didn’t agree with, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”
The Supreme Court having the law of the land? Precedent. Tradition. Not something Trump is all that interested in maintaining.
The Congress Won’t Save You
Almost reaching the same hilarious levels given that it’s a spineless Republican congress we’re talking about, there was some speculation that somehow Congress would stand up to Trump.
These are the same people who weren’t even able to stand up to him during the primary nor election. But yes, I guess if we think wishfully enough these guys will suddenly grow some balls and obstruct Trump.
Let’s assume they do. What happens then? Does Trump just take it lying down? Does he ‘defer’ to the power of the Congress as tradition and precedent say he should?
Or does he threaten their seats or even their safety? Because that’s precisely what he did during the campaign. He ensured anyone up for election who wasn’t supporting him got the wrath of his gleeful, ignorant and heavily armed supporters. He went so far as to say that “Second Amendment People” could act to stop Hillary. You think he won’t do that again against his Republican rivals such as Lindsey Graham or John McCain?
Let’s say there’s an outcry. A bunch of congresspeople decide to impeach Trump. He’s tweeting shit like the above out all the time, bearing down on the leaders of this movement and ensuring the_donald subreddits and 4chan’s have all the underling’s names and addresses. Can you feasibly protect that many people from a mob? Does only one staffer have to have a brush with danger before the anti-Trump Republican coalition falls apart?
They’ll fall like cowering dominos.
The Bureaucracy Won’t Save You
There’s a tactic in industrial organizing called “Work To Rule“, and it’s one of the few ways the Bureaucracy of professional government we have in place has to keep the power of elected officials in check.
Basically, it’s dragging your feet on everything. Intentionally following every single regulation as strictly as possible to slow the whole effort down.
It will protect you. In the beginning.
But the Bureaucracy will be hollowed out. There’s already been political influence in the Department of Energy to look for people to hassle until they quit. Trump is appointing people who, for the most part, want to dismantle these departments. Work to Rule only works if the factory it’s being done in does something of value to Management. If management wants to shut down the fucking factory then working to rule doesn’t harm them at all. It even helps them.
The first wave of people leaving government will leave because they place is about to smell really, really bad. But waves after that will leave due to attrition of hostile working environments set up by a guy who’s intentionally looking to ‘drain the swamp’ of all the professionals left in government.
Many departments will shrink, but those that need to stay strong and loyal will be backfilled with loyalists. For instance, compare Trump’s appointment of Flynn to the DoD with Perry for the DoE. Flynn tweets fake news and isn’t willing to get bloody if he needs to. He’s a loyalist to Trump and genuinely believes in the strongman approach. As the DoD hollows out, Flynn will replace those folks with loyalists.
Perry, on the other hand, just wants to shut the DoE down. He’s going to whittle them away until they’re nothing. Perry doesn’t have to be an ultimate loyalist to Trump (which I don’t think he is). He just has to do his part to weaken the Bureaucracy until it’s done, and then he can go retire.
The Pathway to Autocracy
This is it, folks. The above is how it happens, and it’s just playing out the Trump game plan to its logical conclusion. It will have to happen over time – Congress hasn’t gotten scared yet, the Supreme Court’s emperor’s clothes haven’t been remarked on yet, and the Bureaucracy is still filled with patriotic Americans.
But Trump is aiming to weaken all of these folks. He has an army of (armed) deplorables on his side, and there’s literally nothing you can do to convince them they’re wrong. Truth was an early casualty in this fight. Furthermore, he has his own private security, his wealth, his business deals (which he has refused to give up), and the help of our largest foreign rival to all keep cash flowing to the right people who can be paid off, and pressure on those who can’t.
Trump is not normal. This is not normal. He will not abide by the rules we’ve set up. Or, at least, we should assume he won’t, because he hasn’t so far. We should not at all ever slip into a peaceful bath of complacency. Because him getting elected was not the worst thing he’s capable of doing. We have yet to see just how far he’s willing to go.