When I blogged about Trump before the election, I thought he was unlikely to win, though a 1-in-6 chance still scared me. And, well, I’m scared now.
So, what new bad event has a 1-in-6 chance of happening now that we add in the fact that Trump is elected? Maybe I’ve been reading too much Sarah Kendzior, but I can’t convince myself that “the United States slides into fascism” isn’t the answer. I don’t think it’s going to happen (1/6 is less than 1/2!), and of course we don’t have any FiveThirtyEight or polling data to predict the likelihood, but if it were to happen, than the beginnings would look exactly like what we’ve seen over the last year.
Just to be clear: by “fascism” I don’t mean “policies that I disagree with”. I’m not talking about policy disagreements, even very serious ones: I’m not talking about repealing Obamacare or getting rid of Social Security or slashing taxes on the wealthy or pulling out of trade deals or melting the polar ice caps. I’m talking about replacing pluralist democracy with a nationalist one-party system built around a leadership cult, promoting violence, focusing on purity (racial purity in particular), suspending the rule of law while very much maintaining the rule of police.
The United States has significantly more practice with democracy than most countries. Our democracy was, of course, seriously flawed right from the beginning, and it’s had some pretty strong shocks over the years; the advantage that that gives us is that attacks to the system are how you develop antibodies.
Which, in turn, is part of what scares me so much about the present moment: so many of those antibodies are directly under attack. The Republican party has been actively painting their opponents as illegitimate ever since they impeached Clinton; for the last eight years, they’ve behaved as if compromise is impossible, treated the filibuster as a norm instead of an emergency exception, and left a seat open on the Supreme Court for most of a year instead of bringing Obama’s (centrist!) nominee to a vote. As to direct defenses of democracy, the Republican party (and their court picks) have gotten rid of a very important one of those antibodies, the Voting Rights Act. The Republican party wants one-party rule; and it claims that black votes don’t count as much as white votes.
That’s bad, but it’s still mostly carrying out those attacks within the system. Trump, however, is actively bypassing the system, including those portions of the Republican Party that get in his way. (We saw this in the Republican National Convention, which was largely populated with the dregs of the party; to their discredit, the rest of the party ultimately got in line behind Trump.) Along the way, he’s also discarding good government social norms: not releasing his taxes, repeatedly calling for his opponent to be jailed, mocking people from social groups other than white men, attacking the press corps and restricting their ability to cover him.
This hasn’t changed since the election. The press corps is still on the out and Trump is still attacking them publicly. Trump’s transition team looks even more like a personality cult, containing more Trump family members than party mainstays. As I write this, he’s just named Bannon as his Chief Strategist: the attacks on minorities and women will continue, white supremacy continues to be core to his strategy.
Trump can’t, of course, install fascism by fiat: there’s the legislature, the courts, the police. But none of this give me any confidence, either: the legislature is dominated by a Republican party that has already shown itself to be willing to fall in line with Trump and contemptuous of two-party democracy; the courts got rid of the Voting Rights Act and there’s another seat waiting for Trump to fill; the FBI actively attacked Clinton during the election and Bush and Obama have handed Trump a surveillance system.
I saw a tweet a couple of days with me that stuck with me: it predicted that Black Lives Matter is going to be named a terrorist organization soon. I wish I could say that I didn’t believe this, but it sounds disturbingly possible, and it points at exactly why we would expect the police to help with the descent into fascism instead of working against it. We live in a country where a cop can drive up and blow away a 12-year-old-kid, and not be in jail; we live in a country where the police have, over and over, shown that maintaining power over minorities is a priority over protecting those minorities. Sure, not all cops, in fact I’m sure a majority of cops are appalled by the police killings of black citizens; but those good cops haven’t managed to make that behavior beyond the pale, and I have no reason to believe they’ll stand up against a police state being actively pushed from the presidency. Of course, getting rid of Black Lives Matter would only be one step into fascism, there will need to be more after that if Trump wants to finish the job of installing one-party rule; but if that step succeeds, more will come.
What about the press? There are some press outlets that have done good work during the election: Farenthold’s work for the Post, in particular. But even the printed press as a whole has happy to treat Clinton’s e-mail mishandling as a more serious news story than all of Trump’s problems put together; and, as for TV, CNN has hired a former Trump staff member that has a non-disparagement agreement with Trump! And those are both old media, anyways: Facebook is chasing the holy grail of engagement, and the company seems more than happy to do that without regard for truth or support for democracy.
Then there’s the people. Clinton got more votes than Trump, and still more people didn’t vote for either of them; and I do not believe at all that most people who voted for Trump want fascism. I do believe that some do, though, and others can be convinced; if, for example, the NRA were about a principled support of blanket individual gun rights as a possible bulwark against state overreach, then they would be protesting police killings of black men/kids who are carrying (real or fake) guns, but they’ve picked the other side of that fight. So that’s a potential private armed organization in support of white supremacy; and we already have private militias on our southern border.
I still hope and think it likely that either Trump is less dedicated to fascism than it looks (after all, the right has been making similarly extreme claims about Obama and black helicopters!) or that one or multiple of the above groups will stop him. But it scares me a lot that none of those groups feels like a particularly solid firewall; in fact, looking at them individually, none of them looks like a firewall at all, they all seem likely to fold if attacked systematically.
Or at least none of them except for the American people: I still, ultimately, have faith in our desire for democracy. Here’s some advice from Turkey that sounds right to me; let’s follow it.
- November 13, 2016 @ 20:42:44 [Current Revision] by David Carlton
- November 13, 2016 @ 20:42:44 by David Carlton