Debaser

The debasement of the Republican Party at the feet of Donald Trump’s attempts to establish a dictatorship in America– a new, unique idea of governing that seeks to mirror the unaccountable mechanics of Trump’s operation of his own private business– has, surprisingly, been met with effective resistance by some conservatives outside of the government itself. This uncomfortable truth is best reflected in the results of the 2020 Presidential election, which saw a record number of voters turn out to repudiate Trumpism, many of them Republicans crossing party lines to vote against Trump while voting down ballot for Republicans who, one can assume they believed, in many cases represented more traditional “conservative” values without the unpalatable aspects of Trumpism itself. But post-election analysis is always risky; cynics can find a mandate in a one vote victory. What is unexpected is the ability of Republicans to warp the national conversation to find a mandate in a 7,000,000 vote loss.

Confronting a political party that features hundreds of elected officials that refuse to honor the will of people, one that sees governance by the Democratic Party as de facto illegitimate, we have arrived at a moment that forces us to ask hard questions about the nature of our elections, representation, and the structure of our government itself. While collective fealty to the “founding” structures of the Constitution have shielded unjust, unaccountable laws over the centuries (slavery, the disenfranchisement of women and people of color, etc), change has always been a part of our relationship to governance; our society has evolved over time to right historic wrongs, often far too late, often inadequately. Now, as our system of elections continues to produce minority rule, the emboldened minority that has been highly effective in bending the shape of the government in its own image is no longer satisfied; it is remaking itself in order to legitimize the manufactured delusion that Trump won the election.

This is the double threat we face as a country now; not only are Republicans emboldened by our system’s asymmetrical allocation of power to their minority to take more and more of it for themselves (and to delegitimize the right of Democrats to govern), they are effective in convincing the nation that this is how it should be. And no one will stop them. The party has convinced itself of the truth of this reality, and so they work harder to make it reality. They face no repercussions; the polite mandates of the press and the national conversation maintain their platform, their propaganda networks repeat their lies with tremendous discipline, and Democrats respond by cleaving to antiquated norms and the idea of actual governance, neither of which suffice as a challenge in this unprecedented moment.

Trumpism has taken this situation and, seeing no value in governance, no effective resistance, no structural constraints, no disciplined counter narrative, no systemic barriers, no consequences, has done what every dictatorship has sought to do once unfettered; it has created a separate universe of truth that is bent exclusively to the will and needs of its leader. Republicanism, which sees only itself as legitimate, is the perfect vehicle for Trumpism, which has now embedded itself within the party like a brain-eating parasite, taking control of its host and turning it into a zombie that serves only the needs of the leader. And now that the leader seeks to recreate reality itself, huge swaths of the party simply fall in line, including dozens of elected officials who would rather appease the fictions of their leader (fictions created by the devastation of narcissistic injury) than confront their own complicity in continuing to debase the system from which, against all reason, somehow, they continue to benefit. And of course, it just wouldn’t be Trumpist Republicanism without a healthy dose of doublespeak hypocrisy where, on the one hand, the Electoral College results should be thrown out because they have been “corrupted” by overwhelming urban and suburban majorities, but also, the Electoral College itself must be maintained to continue to facilitate minority rule.

There has been some confusion about Trump’s admiration for totalitarian leaders abroad, but it has always been crystal clear how much he envies them. In thinking about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, I am always chastened by Hannah Arendt’s enduring ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM, which properly frames the differences between a dictatorship (which, I would argue, is Trump’s ideal framework) and totalitarianism, which Arendt defines as relying on comprehensive state terror against its own populations to maintain control (see Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, North Korea, Belarus, etc.) For all of his bluster and his singularly pathetic gesture of turning Federal forces against peaceful protesters so that he could hold a Bible*, Trump has not effectively unleashed state violence against his political opponents or the masses. This is one constraint on his power that has somehow held despite his calls for the arrest of opposition leaders, and while the white nationalist militias and conspiracy-minded activists have been emboldened by Trump’s overt support (and have unconscionably been accommodated in the public sphere despite their escalating levels of violence), they have not been granted impunity by the state to wreak terror on our society. Instead, they have enacted criminal terror as “lone wolves” separated from the violent pack (see Charlottesville, Portland, Wisconsin, and likely, Nashville). Similarly, because of the localization of police forces in America, radically conservative police unions have been somewhat constrained by local control which, given the overwhelming militarization of the police and the aggressive tactics they have used, is a systemic constraint that has held.

Despite all of the verbal posturing, Trumpism has failed to construct a systemic apparatus to govern the nation through terror and organized state violence. Instead, it has sought to realign the nation and its governance as a form of dictatorship that reflects Trump’s business experience, relying on personal loyalty, non-disclosure agreements, unilateral financial and managerial control, lying, criminality, secrecy, and the tacky, gold-plated façade of an exclusive brand that only serves those who buy into the con. Still, the totalitarian idea is there, floated every now and then, hovering just beyond the reach of those who would gladly deploy it to maintain their control. Republican politicians understand Trumpism as the vehicle for that control, and they are right; it is a great mobilizing machine filled with true believers who will not only adopt the Trumpist line of thinking, but will become radicalized to act in its service.

You cannot put these impulses back in the box through a moderate agenda of legislation that makes modest, incremental change in the lives of everyday people. It is past time for the system, which remains under grave threat, to be utilized in the service of its own preservation. That can only happen through a dedication to accountability and structural change that realigns the national interest with the collective interests of its citizens, not a single political party intent on maintaining its own power by making common cause with a would-be tyrant.



*Gassing and beating protesters to hold a Bible for the media is a gesture that, like dry humping the American flag with a shit eating grin on your face, can only be truthfully seen as ironic, but as patriotism and religion cannot accommodate irony, these pathetic, inauthentic attempts at aping the tropes of “belief” by a narcissist incapable of belief were somehow not derided by the faithful.

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