Friday, September 07, 2018

Danger of dictatorship?

I have been planning today's post for at least a week and will stick to the plan, but some comments on the notorious anonymous New York Times op-ed that appeared yesterday will not be out of order.  I definitely do not think, to begin with, that it was written by either of the administration's leading retired Generals, Chef of Staff John Kelly or Secretary of Defense James Mattis.   While it certainly isn't unheard of for senior military officers to speak out, they do so publicly, not covertly.  Nor do I think either of these men would have made the fulsome comments about Trump's domestic policies.  The leading candidates, in my opinion, are Dan Coats and Nikki Haley.  I will be amazed if the secret can be kept very long, and the firing of whoever it turns out to be will deepen the crisis for the White House.  That in turn will raise the issue I now turn to: the issue of what drastic steps the President might take to save himself and his rule.  President Trump is making more and more threats on social media, and I don't think we can rule out attempts to carry them out as he fights for his political life, and, possibly, his freedom.  There are three possible steps that particularly alarm me.

The first is one that I expect him to attempt after Judge Kavanagh has been confirmed--and perhaps even before the midterms.  That is the firing of Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, and their replacement by compliant stooges who will end Robert Mueller's investigation.  Trump, both the Times op-ed and Bob Woodward's new book make clear, lives in a fantasy world, and really believes that the Mueller investigation is a deep state conspiracy against him.  It threatens his presidency and his liberty.  Don McGahn, the White House counsel who protected Mueller, is leaving the White House.  I think Trump was persuaded not to try to fire Mueller earlier because McGahn was working so hard to secure the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy and his replacement by a second, crucial Supreme Court appointment.  That will be done soon, and Trump and his more hard line aides might conclude that firing Mueller before the midterms might help energize his base, who have heard how important it is to fire Mueller every night for at least a year on Fox News.

A second campaign that seems already to be beginning is a concerted attack on voting rights, disguised as an attack on immigrant voter fraud.  Yesterday it developed that the Justice Department has issued an extraordinary request for detailed voting records from the state of North Carolina, designed, it seems, to find evidence of large-scale voting by non-citizens.  There is no evidence that such large-scale fraud has taken place, but this Administration is fully capable to trying to manufacture some, just as they are trying to strip citizenship from Hispanic-American citizens delivered by midwives in territory near the Mexican border.  The one card that Republicans have not yet tried to play is one that I discussed here some years ago:  an attempt to restore property qualifications for voting.  There is no bar in our Constitution or laws against such qualifications, which states might impose as they did in the early decades of the Republic, and they would provide a way for red state Republicans to stave off the consequences of demographic change.

Lastly, the administration might take up the President's recent call for some kind of restrictions on social media designed to make sure that they give equal time to conservative outlets.  Again, there is no real data, it turns out, to support the claim that google disfavors conservative outlets in news searches--a claim that found its way from a right wing publicist to Fox News, and then directly to the Trump twitter feed.  Google favors the most popular sites, and mainstream media sites have a viewership that dwarfs Breitbart or even Fox.  Trump has however committed himself to the idea that the mainstream media are conspiring against him and would obviously feel that steps to make his view of reality more popular would be justified.

Having listed these possible steps, I still don't think that the second and third are likely to go very far.  They would be enormous undertakings requiring a cadre of dedicated apparatchiks to put into effect.   The only such cadre that Trump seems to have at his disposal is ICE, which as I have said before is zealously carrying oiut his policy of ethnic cleansing against immigrants.  In addition, we have seen no large-scale outbreak of violence on Trump's behalf, a major characteristic of the totalitarian movements of 80 years ago. I do not, however, expect Trump's presidency to go down without a fight, and I do think he has people around him who would favor measures like these.  And that is why I, unlike many of my Facebook friends, do not hold it against Gens. Kelly and Mattis for remaining at their posts to try to ensure a minimum of reasonable governance, and why I respect the attempt of the Times's mysterious op-ed writer to sound the alarm and restart some discussion inside the Administration of the application of the 25th Amendment--a discussion which, he says, has already taken place.  We will, I think, face some kind of serious constitutional crisis during the next two years.




3 comments:

Ed Boyle said...

For Trump personally it might be a good thing to leave the White House after one term as presidents elected in such times get killed or shot at or die in office(1860, 1880, 1900, 1940, 1960, 1980). Society is divided and Trump reflects that, does not originate it. The 60s separated us more clearly as new moral, political vistas were opened. Progress was always a phrase of the left regarding social change and of the right, economy, regarding technological change. Of course both feed on one another. Transgender is a matter of medical technology. Women's rights depend on household automation, supermarkets, non labor intensive job market(desk lobs, etc) and modern clothing, transport means making females flexible and safe from male attention, accostment. Technology has liberated us with information overload but created the monopolies of opinion, search, purchasing, all on the left wing side of politics.

There is no absolute right or wrong in societal form, mores so a continual struggle will take place. This struggle is coming to a sort of peak around the next election much as every 20 years. This will set the fundamental tone for the following 20, perhaps 80 years in terms of great crises.

The right and left wing extremes are undergoing a resurgence as consensus politics is recognized as being dominated by background plutocrats who set the tone. Trump and Obama had many Goldman Sachs alumni on staff for instance. Military spending rises from president to president. However the current tone is being set by the right. The left is in reactive mode, protecting already won territory. Identity politics has replaced social equality in terms of income. Posturing by billionaires, virtue signaling by press, hollywood, even the Pope does not change reality about exploitation of poor, women, children. Hypocrisy sells poorly to the poor. Blacks are even liking Trump's honesty somewhat more than Dems' hypocrisy. Being the underdog with a true grievance gives moral power regardless of party name or position. Maybe in 2020 a real left wing candidate will sweep to power and the press will have a new enemy. Then the blacks and poor whites will find out the real enemy of the people is the press and their billionaire paymasters.

The press lives for Trump bashing. This is reality TV where one invites crazies to a talk show format to duke it out. You talk of dictatorship. This just means taking power back from Pentagon, CIA, NSA, TBTF banks, big pharma. They write laws that control themselves, ie. regulatory capture. We have a dictatorship. A court jester who tells the truth landed by accident in the White House and the corrupt nobility has not yet poisoned him. The people's revolution is not blue against red but deep state and super rich against the people. Populism is a natural reaction of democracy in such times.

Unknown said...

Do you think that whatever unfolds, other than Trump's removal from office as the result of an election, that the actions resulting from the findings of the Special Counsel will rise to decision by the Supreme Court, and if so, what will be the effects on the rule of law in the US? There is sufficient evidence that if Mueller's report results in impeachable offenses, Congress, assuming the continuing Republican majority in the Senate, will fail to convict. Or, if it does convict the president, then an appeal can be made to the Supreme Court, now soon to be stacked with conservative (read that pro-Republican) majority members. There is certainly danger lurking in Trump's authoritarian, destabilizing actions regarding a free press, his attacks on the Justice Department and the courts, the authorization of jackboot activities by ICE, and his unbalanced view of foreign affairs, but it seems that the greatest danger to our democracy is lost confidence in the rule of law. It may be that the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of the laws which govern the lives of citizens, will be tested in this or some other way before this president leaves office. If its decisions fail the many in favor of the few, as seems possible, or if Republican establishment ignores their rulings, then the citizens will become the defacto arbiters of the law in a US in which chaos will ensue. All this appears to be possible given the declining public support for the Supreme Court because of its decisions of the recent past, such as Bush v. Gore, rulings on campaign finance, and others. This is just one example of several possible outcomes of the Trump administration leading to, as you have predicted, a Constitutional crisis.

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