Wednesday, July 27, 2016


In The New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen considers the possible consequences of a Trump victory:
Let us try to imagine Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

The day after the election, the stock market will crash. Then, there will be a lull. For one thing, Trump will not have taken office yet. But life will seem conspicuously unchanged. The stock market will recover some. On inauguration day, there will be large anti-Trump protests in some American cities. But in some others, including Washington, there will be large celebrations that will make your skin crawl. On the other hand, they will not be wearing black shirts, and that will make what has happened seem a little less real. In some cities, there will be clashes. The police will do their jobs, and this will be reassuring.
I agree that, in the event of a Trump victory, things wouldn't completely go to hell in a handbasket before the inaugural. The prediction of a stock market crash followed by a bounceback is plausible.

On the other hand, I don't think "large celebrations that will make your skin crawl" would be postponed until Inauguration Day. I think there'd be a lot of white male violence on Election Night. That would be followed by a noticeable uptick in hate crimes against blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims. In fact, the nastiness might start before Election Day -- the thugs would begin feeling thuggish as soon as opinion polls and media reports started to point definitively to a Trump victory.
After all, you will think, the American presidency is a strangely limited institution. It doesn’t give Trump that many ways to radically alter the everyday lives of Americans. But that is exactly the problem. President Trump will have to begin destroying the institutions of American democracy -- not because they get in the way of anything specific he wants to do, like build the wall (though he will probably have moved on to something else by that point), but because they are an obstacle to the way he wants to do them.
Let me interrupt here: Why do so many otherwise intelligent people think Trump is going to get bored with the idea of the wall? Apart from Trump's surname, the wall is now the single most important symbol of his brand. It's who he is now. It's what got him this far. If Trump becomes president, he's never going to abandon the idea of the wall -- he may not actually do the nuts-and-bolts work necessary to build it, but he'll never stop talking about it, and he'll never stop making grand gestures reaffirming his commitment to it. Soon after the inaugural, you'll see him in the Map Room poring over what we'll be told are wall blueprints. He'll prioritize wall funding. He'll do a photo op at the border in a suit and hard hat, breaking ground with a shovel, probably accompanied by the likes of Steve King, Jeff Sessions, Joe Arpaio, and Rudy Giuliani. And if it's never built, he'll never stop telling us that it will be built.

But Gessen is right about Trump's need "to begin destroying the institutions of American democracy." And she's right about this:
A fascist leader needs mobilization. The slow and deliberative passage of even the most heinous legislation is unlikely to supply that. Wars do, and there will be wars. These wars will occur both abroad and at home....
But I don't agree with this:
There is no way to tell who will be targeted by the wars at home. Muslims and immigrants are, of course, prime candidates, but any group of people will do -- including a group that is not currently constituted as a group. Notwithstanding the awkward outreach in Trump’s convention speech last week, my money is actually on the LGBT community because its acceptance is the most clear and drastic social change in America of the last decade, so an antigay campaign would capture the desire to return to a time in which Trump’s constituency felt comfortable. But there are also Jews, bicyclists, people who studied a foreign language in college -- the possibilities are limitless.
Trump is a New York libertine. Roy Cohn was one of his mentors. I don't believe he's sincerely homophobic. Also, gay people fight back. Trump as president would want to prey on the supine, the powerless, and those who are easy targets for ridicule.

Want a list of his likely targets? This is a good start:

He'd attack immigrants, obviously. He'd attack liberals and leftists who tried to protest what he's doing. He'd keep attacking mockable celebrities, because that's fun for his base of support. And he'd attack the media, which would try to appease him while doing an inadequate job of pointing out the awful nature of his presidency.

And when I say "attack," I don't mean just in words -- I mean in deeds that exceed what even the worst presidents of our lifetime have done.

Gessen seems to grasp this only partially. She writes:
Trump will pose an impossible dilemma for the institutions of democracy: because they are too slow and complicated for him, he will seek to bypass them. Still, there are many limits the American system imposes on executive power: Congress, regulatory agencies, the Supreme Court. And don’t forget the national news media.
Her imagination seems limited:
... imagine what will happen to it. First, Trump will ban The Washington Post from the White House pool. That will be ridiculous and even invigorating at first, but in a little while, once he has kicked out every media outlet that he perceives as critical, we will learn that there is no good way to cover a presidency that is a black box.
That's it? You think he'd limit himself to a few bans? I expect not only audits and spying and legal harassment but mysterious unsolved physical attacks on journalists. It won't be pretty.
Still, it is unlikely (or I simply cannot imagine) that Trump will do enough damage to democracy in the course of four years to secure a second term. After he is defeated, institutions will begin to recover.
Look, all of this assumes that Trump (a) wins and (b) doesn't up and quit during one of his attacks of adult ADHD. But if he does win, if he develops a taste for the job, and if he learns how state power can be abused to keep a leader in office -- I'm sure he has no idea of the specifics now -- then he's going to do iron-fisted things to remain in power that will make the Russian DNC hack seem laughably tame. You know how, every four years, paranoid opponents of the sitting president predict that he won't even allow an election to be held? With Trump, I don't think predicting that would be a sign of paranoia. As president, he'd probably cite some violence at home or abroad as a reason that elections simply can't happen.

Am I going overboard here? Sorry, but I don't put anything self-serving past this guy.


Victor said...

No, nothing is beyond him (it)!

He will become America's Putin.

I don't want to start to write a list of tRUMP's inevitable horrors. because it would be too long, and I wouldn't be able to sleep until he lost.
And if he won, maybe not ever...

The Dumbaya and Dick mis-administration, already probably cost me a decade off of my life!

I just can't deal with this countries stupidity, gullibility, ignorance, and bigotry anymore.

I'm going to start this week to get my passport in order, so if Hillary loses, I'll be ready to get the fuck out of this madhouse ASAP!!!

I have another year before I can withdraw from my tiny pension, without penalty.
That money will go a lot farther than it will here, if the tRUMP-SHITSORM HITS,

Feud Turgidson said...

Thanks to family roaming, I've got a raftful of foreign options, 1 unfortunately now busy also turning fascist and moreover Brexitting, another depressed but not fascist (yet), another where I'll have to learn a new language (Brain gym!), and the 3 most gleaming jewels of the late Brit Empire, one featuring sheep. At this point, actual sheep look good.

Never Ben Better said...

Hey, look on the bright side! Maybe he'll dismay the oligarchs so much they'll arrange for an "accident" and we'll wind up with President Pence.

...... Okay, so not much brighter, but maybe we don't lose elections.

Rand Careaga said...

I have chided you a bit in recent posts for hyperventilating, and I still feel a Trump victory highly unlikely, although I thought last spring that his nomination prospects were remote (and dismissed Reagan in 1980), so I make no claims for my crystal ball. That said, in the event that Trump prevails in November, I think that your predictions here will fall short of the mark. Trump with the GOP behind him is one thing; Trump with the Enabling Act behind him will be another, much more terrible force.

Jeff Ryan said...

I'm more sanguine. And when it comes to stark raving terror of the guy in the wee hours, I yield to no one.

But we actually have one advantage, and it's largely institutional. The vast majority of federal government workers (and there's a shitload of them) are bureaucrats, civil service hires. They endure irrespective of administration, and largely outside of it. The are not politically aligned with the administration. And they do their jobs. (If they don't it's not because they have a philosophic opposition to it - it's because they never do their job anyway and still get paid. Take it from someone who worked in state and county level government for years, with a mother who worked for the fed for decades.) And they have no problem saying, "No." Tell them to go build a wall, and most will say "No." They are immune from being punished, so they aren't scared. The president can't fire them, and they know it.

And at levels above that, remember that CIA Director Brennan wasted no time (less than 24 hours) to inform Trump that no, the CIA wouldn't obey any order to reinstate torture and, specifically, waterboarding. Other military chiefs had no hesitation refuting Trump's claims that the armed services would follow his orders no matter what by saying no, they wouldn't. These guys by and large don't like Trump, consider him not only an ass but a real menace, and they have much, much bigger balls than he does. Trump's a chickenhawk who's not only never fired a shot in anger, he's a bully. And these guys really don't like bullies.

He will try, and to some extent succeed, in screwing things up royally. But this isn't a government composed of lackeys, lickspittles and pusillanimous toadies. It doesn't have an authoritarian tradition. It has a command structure, but one that also provides that it is illegal to obey an illegal order, no matter who gives it.

Truman famously joked that Eisenhower was going to sit down in the Oval Office on his first day, and wonder where all the people are to do what he wants. Now think of Trump. No one's even going to tell him where the keys to the bathroom are, or who he calls for toilet paper. He's used to snapping his fingers and making threats to get his way in business. But government isn't business, and he'll have far less power over personnel and, even, policy.

So who's gonna make everyone snap to? Manafort? I guarantee you, there's a lot of people who would like to see him try.

sdhays said...

And with the Trump teams' recklessness and incompetence (at least), large successful attacks from ISIS become much more likely, creating the perfect pretext a final assault on American democratic institutions.

Tom239 said...

"Why do so many otherwise intelligent people think Trump is going to get bored with the idea of the wall?"

People say anything to get elected. In 1980 Reagan promised to balance the budget.

From Garry Kasparov's recent op-ed piece:
"Trump's imaginary border wall is the quintessence of strongman rhetoric. The enemy is clear, and the benefits are apparent, while its innumerable impracticalities and drawbacks are more complicated. For Trump, as with Putin, solutions are always clear and simple--when they are given at all. That they are also impossible, or that they go unfulfilled, is irrelevant, because by the time this becomes obvious the strongman already has the power he wanted."

Paul Coppock said...

Giuliani floated the cancel-the-election idea after 9/11. It seems possible.

Lawrence said...

It's a good time to revisit the new powers that were granted the President by the Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act, and in the 2012 NDAA.

Aunt Snow said...

So many Trump supporters see victory as an opportunity to harm, hurt, or assert their victory over people who they oppose, like that fellow with the T-shirt or any countless number of internet trolls who post remarks like "you'll be sorry" or "we're coming for you," or "you'll get yours."

Pretty much guarantees that some nasty things will happen, similar to the goons in the UK who yell at immigrants in public after the passage of Brexit.

John Taylor said...

Trump is notoriously thin-skinned and I would expect payback for the individuals that have insulted him. He's made thinly veiled threats to reporters especially.