Conservative commentator on WAPO: Robert Kagan 09/23/2021

“Our Constitutional Crises is Already Here”

An opinion piece in the Washington Post – by Robert Kagan – Sep 23rd 2021


“The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the civil war, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.

The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. but about these things, there should be no doubt: Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president and the hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest, and at this moment the democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

The amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office.

Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. as of this spring, republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature.

An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed technical infractions, including obstructing the view of poll watchers

We are looking at a possible fascist takeover because Donald Trump is the kind of charismatic authoritarian that gets put into office in a fascist coup.

He has been consistently underestimated and he is also consistently under polled. There is great power in what he has to bring to politics, which is that he is the grievance candidate, much as Hitler was. Nobody loves him for his great ideas or incredible competence. they love him because he hates the same people they do. Trump knows how to tap into the wells of fear and rage in this country. That’s his “gift.” and it was enough to put him in the white house once and it may be enough to help him, along with a crippled and absentee GOP, to destroy democracy outright.

I don’t think that’s a hyperbolic claim. I think it’s a distinct possibility. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the republican party, and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. as it was, trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year.

All that prevented it was a handful of State officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the framers had in mind when they designed the constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. Tthe founders did not foresee the trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. they anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality.

They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the framers put in place, therefore, depended on the separation of the three branches of government, each of which, they believed, would zealously guard its own power and prerogatives. the framers did not establish safeguards against the possibility that national-party solidarity would transcend state boundaries because they did not imagine such a thing was possible.

Nor did they foresee that members of Congress, and perhaps members of the judicial branch, too, would refuse to check the power of a president from their own party.

Trump can possibly topple the government. He won’t do it alone. He will do it with a GOP that is either as actively anti-democratic and power-mad as he is, or merely complicit: the Nuremberg defense type of people, “just following orders.”

We know Susan Collins will be ‘very concerned’, but whether she will do anything to stop a takeover of the government is debatable. The same can be said of Mitch McConnell and the rest of them.

Also, supporters have consistently failed to recognize what a unique figure trump is in American history. Because his followers share fundamentally conservative views, many see Trump as merely the continuation, and perhaps the logical culmination, of the Reagan revolution. This is a mistake: although most trump supporters are or have become republicans, they hold a set of beliefs that were not necessarily shared by all republicans.

Some trump supporters are former democrats and independents. In fact, the passions that animate the trump movement are as old as the republic and have found a home in both parties at one time or another.  Trump is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of trump supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life.

But their bond with trump has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the u.s. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the republican party establishment as corrupt and weak — “losers,” to use trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, democrats, rinos, liberal media, antifa, the squad, big tech and the “Mitch McConnell republicans.” His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity.

While Trump’s critics see him as too narcissistic to be any kind of leader, his supporters admire his unapologetic, militant selfishness. unlike establishment Republicans, trump speaks without embarrassment on behalf of an aggrieved segment of Americans, not exclusively white, who feel they have been taking it on the chin for too long.

And that is all he needs to do.

There was a time when political analysts wondered what would happen when trump failed to “deliver” for his constituents. but the most important thing trump delivers is himself.

His egomania is part of his appeal. In his professed victimization by the media and the “elites,” his followers see their own victimization. That is why attacks on trump by the elites only strengthen his bond with his followers. That is why millions of trump supporters have even been willing to risk death as part of their show of solidarity: when trump’s enemies cited his mishandling of the pandemic to discredit him, their answer was to reject the pandemic. One trump supporter didn’t go to the hospital after developing covid-19 symptoms because he didn’t want to contribute to the liberal case against trump. “i’m not going to add to the numbers”,he reported.

The trump movement is less about policies than about trump himself, it has undermined the normal role of American political parties, which is to absorb new political and ideological movements into the mainstream.

William Jennings] Bryan never became president, but some of his populist policies were adopted by both political parties. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s supporters might not have wanted Biden for president, but having lost the nomination battle they could work on getting Biden to pursue their agenda.

Liberal democracy requires acceptance of adverse electoral results, a willingness to countenance the temporary rule of those with whom we disagree. as historian Richard Hofstadter observed, it requires that people “endure error in the interest of social peace.” Part of that willingness stems from the belief that the democratic system makes it possible to work, even in opposition, to correct the ruling party’s errors and overreach.

Movements based on ideas and policies can also quickly shift their allegiances. Today, the progressives’ flag-bearer might be Sanders, but tomorrow it could be Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or someone else.

For a movement built around a cult of personality, these adjustments are not possible. For trump supporters, the “error” is that trump was cheated out of reelection by what he has told them is an oppressive, communist, democrat regime. While the defeat of a sitting president normally leads to a struggle to claim the party’s mantle, so far no Republican has been able to challenge trump’s grip on Republican voters: not Sen. Josh Hawley, not Sen. Tom Cotton, not Tucker Carlson, not Gov. Ron Desantis. it is still all about Trump.

The fact that he is not in office means that the United States is “a territory controlled by enemy tribes, according to one conservative intellectual. The government, as one trump supporter put it, “is monopolized by a regime that believes [trump voters] are beneath representation, and will observe no limits to keep them [from] getting it.”

If so, the intellectual posits, what choice do they have but to view the government as the enemy and to become united and armed to take care of themselves as they think best

Remember the woman from Michigan, on January 6, who said — without a trace of irony — “we weren’t there to steal things or to break things, we were just there to overthrow the government.

That’s how trump’s supporters see it, “l’etat c’est trump.” He’s not a part of the regular government. he can’t do enough to tear down Mitch Mcconnell and go after his “enemies,” the “rinos” defined as people who voted to impeach or convict him, and get even with them.

That’s the problem here and that’s why we’re in the trouble we’re in. We’re not looking at a normal change in the pendulum, as the power naturally shifts from one party to the next and the institution of government, of democracy, is larger than both parties, let alone any individual candidate. No. We’re not playing that game. Trump has decided to flip the board over and set fire to the table. He’s playing his own game. And the GOP is now at a place in its history where it is so collapsed and so without any moral fiber and substance that it’s not standing up for democracy either.

It’s going along with trump’s efforts to elect secretaries of state who are “concerned” about election integrity, translating as they’ll be happy to help him overturn the next one.

It would be foolish to imagine that the violence of Jan. 6 was an aberration that will not be repeated. Because trump supporters see those events as a patriotic defense of the nation, There is every reason to expect more such episodes. Trump has returned to the explosive rhetoric of that day, insisting that he won in a “landslide,” that the “radical left democrat communist party” stole the presidency in the “most corrupt, dishonest, and unfair election in the history of our country” and that they have to give it back.

He has targeted for defeat those republicans who voted for his impeachment — or criticized him for his role in the riot. already, there have been threats to bomb polling sites, kidnap officials and attack state capitols. “You and your family will be killed very slowly,” the wife of Georgia’s top election official was texted earlier this year. Nor can one assume that the three per-centers and oath keepers would again play a subordinate role when the next riot unfolds.

Veterans who assaulted the capitol police officers said that they had fought for their country before and were fighting for it again. Looking ahead to 2022 and 2024, Trump“ there is no way they win elections without cheating. there’s no way.”

So, if the results come in showing another democratic victory, trump’s supporters will know what to do. just as “generations of patriots” gave “their sweat, their blood and even their very lives” to build America trump tells them, so today “we have no choice. we have to fight” to restore “our American birthright.”

This is a lengthy piece and i encourage you to read it in its entirety. We cannot be blindsided by what’s going on around. Yes, it is comical that Trump’s grifting cronies are out there doing sham audits, but make no mistake, that process undermines democracy.

Just as a persistent drip of water can eventually erode a rock, the persistent tap tap tap of “stolen election” has had its corrosive effect and will continue to do so.

In the era of trump we have lost faith in things that we never even used to think about much. Other candidates, when they lost an election, went on to congratulate the victor and prepare for the next go round when their party would be back in power. Not Trump. He’s not a part of the system, he wants to break the system. And he’s got plenty of people who are going along with him.

Maybe the democratic experiment is at an end. maybe we’re not mature enough for democracy. Maybe the worst angels of our nature will prevail. All that can be said at this point is to keep both your eyes open and let’s hope that the sane people outnumber the crazies.

Trump is as dangerous as he ever was and barring some issue of health and/or some complications legally from New York, he will be back and the 2024 election will be stone cold crazy.

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