06 February 2018

This is how democracy dies ... as serious as a heart attack

Trump rather casually referred to Democrats who "refused" to give him a standing ovation at the SOTU as having committed "treason." This is not only incredibly ignorant, disgusting, and not funny, it's the very stuff of the collapse of a democracy. It has happened many times in the world before now, including, regionally and only partially, in our own country (especially in the South, post-reconstruction). And if we believe that democracy cannot die in our country, we are deluding ourselves. The ground around the dam is eroding away before our eyes. Everyone, soon, will have to choose sides. And I don't mean Republican or Democrat, because some Republicans will choose to join with the side which is their namesake, the side that seeks to PRESERVE the republic against the onslaught of DICTATORSHIP.

If you think this is wild-eyed exaggeration, seek out and read some of the things that were said after the initial failed coup in the 1990s by Hugo Chavez, or before Erdogan seized power. Or, Hitler analogies verboten or not, what German Center Rightists said in their right-wing media between 1929 and 1933 about how they would be able to "control" the Nazis. Mmm-hmmm. Right. I'm not saying Trump is a Nazi. But I am saying he and those who ally themselves with him have no real interest in or respect for the rule of law or democratic institutions, and will gladly adopt dictatorial powers if they come to think they can get away with it. Do you doubt it?

Here's a scenario that looks scarily likely to happen. Trump has been actively seeking to suppress the criminal investigation into him and his campaign for conspiracy to violate election laws by dealing with Russians seeking to aid his election. (No, it's not "opposition research." It's illegal to take aid from a foreign national in an election campaign)... and for obstruction of justice. Already it is apparent that there is substantial evidence against various members of his campaign including himself in both these areas, not to mention that the course of the investigation appears to have turned up substantial evidence that the Trump organization, and Trump himself, have violated various laws relating to international money laundering. So, Mueller is seeking to voluntarily interview Trump. Naturally. Yesterday, the NYT reported that Trump's lawyers plan to refuse this request. Mueller will almost certainly then, in due course, seek a grand jury subpena. Ask yourself this. What if Trump refuses? Maybe he appeals, but the Supreme Court will all but certainly place the courts' institutional perquisites above loyalty to Trump, and order him to comply. Then what if he doesn't comply? At that point, who will make him? And can you honestly say you don't think this might happen, and soon? If it does, I would argue, at that moment, our Constitution will have failed. Full stop. Our republic will have ceased to be an effective sovereign government. Nothing, other than the possibility that the Republicans in Congress will finally grow a spine and impeach this menace, will stand between where we will be an full-on dictatorship, because the rule of law will have utterly failed. We rely on the good faith compliance of the president with his oath of office, and this outright liar and crook cannot be trusted to do that. Perhaps you feel confident in this perfectly plausible scenario the Republicans in Congress will in fact impeach. OK, but I do not share that confidence. Not at all. 

Couldn't happen? Don't kid yourself. Trump has his own little Pravda in the form of FoxNews to keep his base in line, which will give him an excuse and create the threat of civil unrest that will scare a lot of people into remaining silent. And take no solace in the thought that Trump has a support of only a minority. That has rarely, if ever, stopped authoritarian dictators from coming to power. In fact, in my view, the thing most likely to save us is the very fact that Trump and his cronies are more like mafia crooks than political ideologues, and they're pretty stupid, in addition to that. If Trump were smarter, and cared more about a policy agenda, he might well have done this already. And his defiance of the norms and institutions of our government has already demonstrated for anyone with eyes to see that we lack the necessary protections to ensure that dictatorship cannot easily come about in our country. 

Trump has, indeed, shown us just how easily the complete defiance of the rule of law and institution of dictatorship could be done. And if we do manage to escape that fate with him, we will be damn fools if we don't seize the opportunity to make reforms to make sure the next one isn't smarter and more able to do it than he is. Even something as simple as the ability of the Congress, on simple majority, to vote no confidence and force a new presidential election, would probably go a long way to accomplishing the necessary check. Maybe after Trump we will somehow be able to overcome the logjam that prevents any Constitutional amendment at present.  There can be no doubt any longer that it can be done here. If it doesn't happen while Trump is in office, we will have dodged the closest bullet in our history, and we'd better learn from our experience if we don't want the next time to be far worse. 




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