“Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
Elijah Cummings 1951-2019
“I, in my great and unmatched wisdom. ..”
“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.”
– President Donald Trump tweets
“[U]nprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”
– George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
“[I]f Trump were cannier and more self-controlled, the march to autocracy might well be unstoppable.”
– Paul Krugman, The New York Times, October 11, 2019
Here’s Trump’s march, as Krugman offers it: “He has the backing of a party whose elected representatives have shown no sign of democratic scruples. He has de facto state media in the form of Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch empire. He has already managed to corrupt key government agencies, including the Justice Department.”
Those unscrupulous elected representatives in the Senate won’t come to the verdict that the House’s Articles of Impeachment establish President Trump guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” They may in fact bring those Articles up in the Senate then immediately vote to dismiss.
If we think of the media most broadly as channels of representation, what we have are the Trump supporting Fox empire, the legacy press, including NPR and PBS, the swarm of pro and anti-Trump cyberspace sites, the Twitterati, Facebook posts and all social media, the army of corporate sponsored “Influencers” on podcasts, Trump bund rallies, smash mouth radio, reporters and investigative journalist filling the role of absent public intellectuals, and school curricula that exclude civics, economic and political theory, comparative government and methodologies of truth determination.
What we have, in short, regarding the representation of what is going on, is overload and confusion. We have fighters going to their corners on every issue, going to the “information” sites that confirm their immoveable opinions.
We are without any external reference authority or, on a much small scale, any commonly accepted way of knowing, by which we could distinguish truth from falsehood. We left all this a long time ago, replacing it with the determinations and priorities of market rule. Marketing 101 taught that audiences are reached through passions not cerebration, and that passions need stimulation, excitement, enjoyment, pleasure. Anger, fear and loathing are more magnetic than painstaking critical examination.
Such strategies were easily exported to politics. The “Disaffected” are an army to be aroused and mobilized, and because it is a notable part of the American mass psyche to personalize rather than abstract, response is a person who arouses and mobilizes.
The rise of executive power over time—Nixon declared such infallibility – arrives at the present point where President Trump can draw the powers of oversight of the executive into himself as executive. What thought he offers or doesn’t offer doesn’t matter. Autocratic allure replaces meaning. Anything can be done by this person without meaning, morality or consequence considered.
The Congress has too many faces to coalesce around one face, although the media, in market response, distills the many faces into just a few. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is AOC the way Shawn Carter is Jay-Z. Right now, the Democratic Party is looking for a celebrity level candidate to run against Trump, brand being more important than plans.
Think of Elizabeth Warren’s plans, cogent as they may be, for problems, real as they are, as nevertheless foreign and hostile to what market rule has already done in its commodification and co-opting of the means of representation in a democratic society. She and every candidate challenging Trump must be in their own person, their own offered image to the public, the platform, the plan, the ideas. The powerful Signifier needs to signify nothing, or mere impulse, comical madness instilling chaos.
No body of thought reviewed as intelligent is now required. Only the assertion that one is a genius, that everything done is perfect, that one’s wisdom is unmatched.
This is Mad Hatter but it’s where we are at.
We are as liable to conclude that any interference with the 2016 election began with the U.S. intelligent agencies working for the Democratic Party than with the Russians.
Or that it’s not President Trump and family who from day one have been exploiting political office for gain but Joe and Hunter Biden.
Or that Rudolph Giuliana and associates were working on behalf of President Trump to root out the Biden family’s corruptive influence in the Ukraine and not what we read as a clear mafia offer made in a phone conversation between Trump and Zelensky.
Information wants to be free in cyberspace and we all represent our impulses freely. The fly in the ointment, however, is that we can no longer connect words to any meaning that we can substantiate beyond asserting our right to our own opinion. An ancient state of affairs, but now we feel free to package our facts into our opinions, bringing before others evidence that they cannot question without fear of violent repercussions.
The meta-rational dimension of religious faith has in the past brought on violent wars. Our irrationality now is different, rising from our dismissal of long established methods of explanation and interpretation, a dismissal of the methods of science itself.
Perhaps this is because we are flooded with so much idiocy, or because we have devolved language into demotic usage and cavemen like pictorials, or because we have given up trying to find a coherent, grammatical sentence in the President of the United States’ tweets.
The collapse into nonsense is not the President’s alone. It has spread throughout the culture; unapproachable divisiveness its child.
Because our constitutional democracy is itself not the external universal and absolute rule of judgment but is itself subject to our representations of it, representations subject to the politics of time and place, the collapse of our ways of knowing and transmitting that knowing is a grave existential tragedy. And danger.
We are witnessing that destruction now as our conduits of representation, greatly harmed with the advent of the alternate reality platform of cyberspace, dissolve and devolve into a mosh pit in which even words that clearly evidence crime can be claimed to be “perfect,” and that absurdity polls evenly.
Regarding the President’s corruption of the government itself, we need to hold his corruption of every agency involved with global warming as the evilest.
There is nothing second to this because this evil preempts our own survival on this planet. Nevertheless, the President’s takeover of the Department of Justice means that the Attorney General will not enforce or comply with any orders issued by the House of Representatives. He stands alongside President Trump who will not comply with any attempt to investigate his presidency. The House can make its case in the courts, and in time the Supreme Court may make its 5 to 4 decision.
The House can also wait for the 2020 election to see whether Trump will go or stay. That, however, would be a defeat for the power of the Congress to restrain the march of an autocrat to total rule. And that precedent, alongside the House’s failure to make the Mueller report amount to a clear charge of obstruction of justice or collusion to corrupt the 2016 election, would certainly encourage Trump to challenge a possible loss in the 2020 election.
President Trump is clearly, step by step, on a march toward turning that election into a shamble if he loses.
That election, then, will never come to any closure short of a declaration of national emergency and attendant martial law, more likely to be instituted by Trump rather than a government he has already co-opted. We cannot expect that the solid base of some 40% of Americans, more energized to defend Trump as president than those energized to defend Biden as president, will mourn the collapse of Congressional, coastal and Deep State power.
Too many are totally unaware that no issue fixated upon at the family table means anything compared with a loss of our system of checks and balance, with the defeat of the Congress by an autocrat on the march, with this one man attack on this Constitutional democracy.
Mayor Pete has asked us to image the day after Trump is gone. The country will still have all the problems causing its extreme divisiveness. But that day after Trump is gone may come not after the first or second term of his presidency is over but some time in the future when his autocratic rule is over, Trump having established himself in a presidency for life. And what follows such autocratic rule? What to return to?
A second term for Donald J. Trump would be his first official term as executive without oversight by any co-equal branch. In short, the first term of the U.S.’s first autocrat in the White House would find him surrounded by groveling toadies and supported by a base that believe his tenure in office is civil disobedience, a destruction and mockery of a government that they hate and mock for the heroic purpose of making America great again.
You can expect that anyone who made the charge against him in the House’s impeachment inquiry or in the Mueller investigation would be prepared to run. They can find Trump’s pejorative transcriptions of their names in his tweets.
Trump has exposed the weaknesses of a Constitutional democracy shaped at the very start to defend itself against a monarchy far from its shores. The weaknesses were always there.
Our balance of powers and our three co-equal branches of government would now be more firmly established to stop the march of an autocrat holding the office of the presidency if Hitler’s march to power had been the threat to fortify the government against, to, in short, establish a stronger and clearer defense against the kind of autocratic march we now see Donald J. Trump making.
We have that lesson to be learned before us now; the Founding Fathers didn’t.
We have done nothing to stop a rising autocrat from destroying the credibility of the Fourth Estate to such a degree that there is no need to form a Propaganda Ministry. The People either propagandize themselves or enter a befuddled state in which the autocrat seems more active in defending democracy than the Congress.
There is very little chance that social media, and Twitter most especially, will winnow out the noise from the sense, that the young nerdish cybertech heroes of TedTalks will be our saving Legislators. There is very little chance that the legacy press, forever tainted as antiquated print platform, will draw readers away from splash, spin and spectacle. Nor can we expect our educational system, presently occupied by a Trump enforcer, to rise to a level of critical review sufficient to distinguish fact from smoke, lies and bullshit from scientific evidence.
The dismal failure of American education to fashion a “We the People” that can clearly discern that words the President calls “perfect” are transparently the words The Godfather would use in his “making you an offer you can’t refuse” phone calls.
What the Congress needs is a means to enforce its subpoenas, charges, oversight results that is not tied to the Department of Justice and the office of Attorney General. We are now seeing how easily President Trump has occupied this department and this office. We have a Vichy rule at the top of our justice system right now and it’s stonewalling the actions of the House.
We also witness how the Republican Party has been occupied by Trump, a party that sees Trump’s advocacy of the wealthy as more appealing than the progressive wing of the Democratic Party’s redistribution ideas. Profit not people formerly, but now it’s autocrat and not Constitutional democracy.
Can Republicans live comfortably under the autocratic rule of Trump in a second term, perhaps a life long tenure of the presidency? I believe that is like asking wealthy Chinese and Russians whether their capitalist ventures live quite comfortably under Xi Jinping and Putin, respectively. Some 20% of the population at the top income level won’t be hurt by a lifelong Trump presidency. He’ll only hurt, as does Putin and Kim Jong-un, those who challenge his authority.
Paul Krugman writes that Trump’s character flaws, his immaturity and incompetence, give us a fighting chance to stop his march to total autocratic rule. I don’t think Trump will assume some equivalent title of “Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor” but a victory for him in 2020 would be a Huge boost to his ego, which is already at solipsist levels.
Living under a second Trump term as president would be a brand-new experience for Everyday Americans, maybe for the gentrifying class, whose wealth, after all, won’t be a rich man’s target. And, sadly, Trump or not Trump won’t matter probably for those already down so long and so low nothing looks up to them. But it would be an experience we can be sure that Trump will occupy without fear of any restraints, especially those launched by a defeated Congress, a mocked and disparaged Fourth Estate, or by the mindless “discourse” of the Twitterati.