Let us try to imagine Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.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.
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.
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:
Spotted: pic.twitter.com/T1QWiQCK1F— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) July 27, 2016
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.