Monday, May 16, 2016

Ripe for tyranny: Is Trump the harbinger of the 7th extinction?

Michael Winship at reviews an essay by Andrew Sullivan: Author and blogger Andrew Sullivan fears the Republican candidate's rise is "an extinction-level event" for democracy. You can read all of Winship's review here and the entire Sullivan essay here.

In several earlier posts, Scriber argued that the real story behind Trump's ascendancy is not Trump the candidate but the Trumpist voters. Sullivan concurs. Here are snippets from Winship's review.

A provocative, lengthy essay about Donald Trump in New York magazine by writer, former New Republic editor and blogger Andrew Sullivan has sparked discussion and debate around the country.

His treatise, the cover story of New York’s May 2 issue, is headlined “America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny,” and in it he launches from a discussion of Plato’s Republic and the pros and cons of what Sullivan calls “late-stage democracy” into how the groundwork for the Trump phenomenon has been laid by the government and mainstream media’s failure to recognize and address the growing rage of Americans out of jobs, opportunities and hope:

After the suffering of recession or unemployment, and despite hard work with stagnant or dwindling pay, the future stretches ahead with relief just out of reach. When those who helped create the last recession face no consequences but renewed fabulous wealth, the anger reaches a crescendo.

The deeper, long-term reasons for today’s rage are not hard to find, although many of us elites have shamefully found ourselves able to ignore them. The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet. No one asked them in the 1990s if this was the future they wanted. And the impact has been more brutal than many economists predicted. No wonder suicide and mortality rates among the white working poor are spiking dramatically.

Enter Donald Trump and his strong-man philosophy: “To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism,” Sullivan writes.

Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. But his movement is clearly fascistic in its demonization of foreigners, its hyping of a threat by a domestic minority (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews), its focus on a single supreme leader of what can only be called a cult, and its deep belief in violence and coercion in a democracy that has heretofore relied on debate and persuasion…

… [W]hat’s notable about Trump’s supporters is precisely what one would expect from members of a mass movement: their intense loyalty. Trump is their man, however inarticulate they are when explaining why. He’s tough, he’s real, and they’ve got his back, especially when he is attacked by all the people they have come to despise: liberal Democrats and traditional Republicans. At rallies, whenever a protester is hauled out, you can almost sense the rising rage of the collective identity venting itself against a lone dissenter and finding a catharsis of sorts in the brute force a mob can inflict on an individual. Trump tells the crowd he’d like to punch a protester in the face or have him carried out on a stretcher. No modern politician who has come this close to the presidency has championed violence in this way. It would be disqualifying if our hyperdemocracy hadn’t already abolished disqualifications.

Sullivan warns, “…those Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency and understand that the Trump question really isn’t a cause for partisan Schadenfreude anymore. It’s much more dangerous than that….

For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.

If we do not, be ready for the pitchforks. A correlate, at least, and maybe a cause, of the unrest described above is the unending diversion of wealth to the already wealthy and the loss of the American dream for America's workers. As I opined in an earlier post:

... Given the track record on income inequality over the past 40 years of both Republican and Democratic administrations, it is hard to imagine an incremental solution to economic inequality.

To put it another way, if candidates do not take on the issue of economic inequality, the pitchforks will come. My fear is that the pitchforks will be assault weapons and their wielders, led by some demagogue, will be wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, carrying their bibles, and chanting Liberte' and Christianite'.

If Trump takes the presidency, the pitchforks are here. And our democracy will lie extinguished on the trash heap of history.

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