The Coming Authoritarianism

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Well, by this time next week it will all be over.  The election that is.

Thank goodness.  Our fine candidates and former candidates have been openly running for 18 months and silently running since Obama’s re-election four years ago.  It is always a good time to run when the incumbent cannot run again.

America will be thankful to see the television ads disappear and the robo calls cease.  The rest of the planet will be grateful as well.  Next Tuesday we will all pay attention and then next morning go back to whatever it was we were doing.

This election reached a new low in decency and sleaze with two candidates nobody likes; it is ending on Anthony Weiner’s penis.

A Clinton victory will gives us at least four more years of the Clinton suffocation of the Democratic party.  Her reign of corporatism and war will continue as will paralysis at home.  Nothing which needs doing will get done as Republicans move increasingly to becoming the anti-democratic party of authoritarianism.

Unfortunately, a Trump victory will put the nation in the hands of a boy king; he will leave the Presidency to be run by his “top administrators” who will undoubtedly be crazy right wing fanatics and alt.republicans.  Not much of a choice.

. Trump is an extreme event, but Trumpism is no fluke.   Far from an organization that is “probably headed toward a civil war” — as the Washington Post recently put it, the Republican Party is instead more unified than one might imagine, as well as more dangerous. The accommodations its leaders have made to their erratic nominee underscore a capacity to go further and lower to maintain their grip on power than anybody understood.

The Republican party today is synonymous with the conservative “movement.”  It was not always so.  Like right-of-center parties in industrialized democracies across the world, the GOP throughout most of the 20th century understood there is a role for government in daily life. During the years immediately following World War II, the Republican Party, led by figures like Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, accepted the broad contours of the New Deal.

The conservative movement began in the 1950s as a revolt against party leaders, much like the Sanders movement in the Democratic party against Clintonism.

Conservatives, not yet in possession of much political power, rejected the expanded role of government in modern life on philosophical grounds. “Whether any government program “worked” in any practical sense was immaterial. For the federal government to intervene in the economy and social welfare was by its nature “violence to the Constitution.”

A young Ronald Reagan asked “Have we the courage and the will to face up to the immorality and discrimination of the progressive surtax, and demand a return to traditional proportionate taxation?” It is this moral opposition to government that set them apart from the pragmatic skeptics of bigger government who then controlled the Republican Party.

From the very beginning, however, the conservatives faced a predicament: Their belief that government is evil irrespective of whether its programs function as intended only had traction with a minority of voters. Americans may have opposed big government as an abstract notion, but they did not want to do away with their Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, ­minimum-wage laws, and progressive taxation. This misalignment between the conservative movement and the American people has, in fact, bred among conservatives a fundamental distrust of the American people.

And yet American democracy was where the conservatives lived, and so a movement built on distrust of the majority set out to find a constituency. It found one in the segment of the country where conservative anti-government theory had deep resonance: the white South.  Conservatives discovered they could attach their rhetoric to the appeal of white identity politics, as well as ally themselves with the religious right, which formed a powerful bulwark against all variety of social change.

Some mainline Republicans continued to exert themselves through the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush presidencies, all of which had a mix of movement conservatives and traditional Republicans in positions of advisory power.  Meanwhile, a thriving ecosystem of think tanks, media, magazines, talk radio, newspapers, and pressure groups arose — first to influence the party and ultimately to define its thinking completely.

There is no longer any such thing as a Republican who is not conservative.   The party bears no resemblance to the Republican party of my youth or even the party of the 1970s.

Still, as the conservative movement has completed its conquest of the Republican Party, it has never resolved the dilemma that haunted it from the beginning. Conservative opposition to policies like business regulation, social insurance, and progressive taxation has never taken hold among anything resembling a majority of the public. The party has grown increasingly reliant on white identity politics for votes.  Right wing populism hasn’t changed  – it still revolves around fear of the “other” and the veneration of law and order.

Today, authoritarian personalities identify overwhelmingly with the GOP. In its preference for simplicity over complexity, and its disdain for experts and facts, the party has steadily ratcheted down its standard of intellectually acceptable discourse: from a doddering Ronald Reagan to Dan Quayle to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin. From this standpoint, Trump was close to an inevitability.

“Why, exactly, is Ryan, as well as senators Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, enduring the reputational damage and personal humiliation of endorsing a presidential candidate who has publicly belittled and mocked them?

One reason is obvious: fear of the party’s voting base, which has fallen in line with its bullying presidential candidate and turned sharply against most Republican dissenters, who saw their approval ratings among their own base plummet. Another consideration, which has received far less media coverage, is something of the opposite of fear:  lust. Republicans have had good reason to believe that a Trump-led government would grant them a degree of control over American government unprecedented in this nation’s history.

Trump. with no experience in government and even less interest in its workings would rely on his appointees to run its day to day affairs and policies.  A Trump presidency would look very much like a Ted Cruz presidency – thus the Republican lust for power.  It is the tantalizing prospect of crippling the welfare state that has lured Republicans into endorsing a president who has threatened to jail his opponent, go after the business interests of news outlets critical of him, and praised dictators in North Korea, Russia, and China for crushing their opposition. They are willing to give Trump control of the military, the Department of Justice, and the domestic-security apparatus as long as Ryan controls the legislative agenda.

The likelihood that Hillary Clinton will win on November 8 reduces the possibility of total conservative control within the next four years. But Trump has revealed — and hastened — the Republican Party’s transformation.

The white identity politics, the party’s base of power for the last 40 years has become a demographic death trap.  Thus it is now or never for you see, “the system is rigged.”  Since Middle America is never again able to elect one of its own, “it was only natural and fair that “the ­populist-nationalist right is moving beyond the niceties of liberal democracy to save the America they love.”  Maine’s crazed Republican governor Paul LePage has brought this line of thinking to its logical conclusion. “Sometimes I wonder that our Constitution is not only broken,” he said, “but we need a Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power in our country and bring back the rule of law.”

Here is a sitting governor in the United States, not some post-Soviet apparatchik, actually calling for “authoritarian power.”  This is how a party consensus forms. The more strident wing openly endorses authoritarianism, and the “moderate” wing refrains from criticism tacitly agreeing that authoritarianism is still preferable to liberalism so long as the party remains in power.

Trump will probably lose. That loss will provide little more than a temporary reprieve. The Republican-controlled House will be as conservative as ever, perhaps even more so. All the nice-­sounding legislative programs Clinton offered up to soothe her restless base on the left will be dead on arrival, making Clinton appear ineffectual. Or worse than ineffectual: Republicans will crank up the investigative machinery and produce endless media coverage of ­scandals, real or trumped up.

And meanwhile, the version of the Republican party that survives the likely wreckage of November will be a rage machine no less angry or united than the one that sustained eight years of unrelenting opposition to Obama.

Trumpism is a logical development in a long historical  decline of a party that has come to see American democracy as “rigged”. And what one does to a rigged system is destroy it.

 

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About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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4 Responses to The Coming Authoritarianism

  1. beetleypete says:

    I have long been of the opinion that the ‘mainstream’ Republicans have been pleased to ‘unleash’ Trump, as a way of testing the water for the acceptance of policies on the extreme Right. He wasn’t expected to win though, just to be a sounding board, a guinea pig for the next try. They will be more surprised than most if he does win, and upsets their apple-cart.
    Given the information we get over here, it does seem increasingly unlikely that he can win, but his very presence should serve as a warning for the future.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jfwknifton says:

    Good luck! I’ve a feeling you’re going to need it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. greenpete58 says:

    This is one of the most clear-eyed and scholarly political essays I’ve read in a long time. Today’s Republican Party looks very little like the party my dad supported. The downward slope you drew from Eisenhower to Trump is right on. And Hillary, although the far lesser of two evils (the idea of a Trump presidency staggers the imagination), will continue the Clintonian Method of poll watching and appeasement of the base. George Carlin may have been right when he said we’re now circling the drain, and the circles are becoming smaller and faster. Well done, Frank.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. toritto says:

    Greenie – Many thanks for the kind words. Us old guys have lived through it all. I grew up under Ike. Regards from Florida.

    Like

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