After the election we’ve learned a lot of things. Most of them have only served to illustrate why we, as a country, are probably done as a functional democracy. Any one of them might be enough on their own, but taken together, the odds of an American resurgence looks to be almost nil.
- We’re a post-fact society
Trump voters generally believe whatever they are told by their leader. For example:
- 40% of Trump voters believe that Donald Trump won the popular vote.
- 60% of Trump voters believe that millions voted illegally for Clinton.
- 73% of Trump voters believe that George Soros paid Trump protesters.
- 29% of Trump voters believe California vote should not be included in the popular vote.
The misinformation doesn’t even have to be plausible for Trump supporters, and Republican voters, to believe it. A rumor spread on pro-Trump sites that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child sex-slavery ring out of a DC-area pizza shop resulted in one Trump loyalist showing up with an assault rifle and shooting up the place. This mindset leads to poor decision making (e.g. voting for a completely unqualified person to be President), and further abuses by a government they just voted into office. For instance, when the government tells them that a particular class of people is plotting against America, and needs to be “taken care of,” this is likely to have the full throated support of the base no matter how ridiculous the claim is.
- The Overton Window is wide open
The Overton Window is the range of political discussion that is considered culturally acceptable. In the weeks after the election, Trump surrogates on cable news have questioned whether Jews are people, and defended the internment of Japanese Americans because it provides a legal basis for legally targeting Muslims in the United States. After the election, pro-Trump graffiti attacking Muslims, gays, blacks, Jews, and Latinos has sprung up everywhere, and his supporters feel confident in openly espousing these views.
Holding such views, or espousing them, no longer seems to be a bar to public office.
- Votes don’t matter: we are living in near permanent mono-party rule
Republicans, and conservatives, control all three branches of the Federal government. They control 33 out of 50 governor’s seats, and 67 out of 98 state legislative bodies. Gerrymandering and voter suppression ensures that they can’t lose these: it would take a margin of 7-8 points in the popular vote for Democrats to re-take the house. This is why in most recent elections House Democrats have won more votes than Republicans, but have 40-50 less votes on the House floor.
The party in power gets to set the rules for elections. The highest court that decides whether these legal tools for mono-party rule are constitutional is controlled by this same party. For example, in North Carolina, the system is rigged by having Republicans control election boards in even (election) years, and Democrats controlling the boards in years with no major elections. It is hard to envision a scenario in the next two decades in which Democrats become a viable party again.
- The controlling party no longer cares how it retains power, or how it looks
For the past year, there has been growing evidence that Russia was hacking the US election, and actively working to get Trump elected. Trump, in turn, has been promising a series of pro-Russian policies. Even his apparent pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has deep financial and personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a secret CIA document leaked to the Washington Post this week, the agency concluded that “Russia intervened in the 2016 election specifically to help Donald Trump win the presidency.”
Similarly, the North Carolina legislature has stripped the Governor’s office of as many powers as possible after Republican Pat McCrory lost a close election to Roy Cooper. This reduces the office to a largely ceremonial role given the Republican supermajority in the house and senate due to gerrymandering.
This should be terrifying enough on its own, but there’s more. The part that says US democracy is dead is that Republican leadership in the House and Senate knew this and simply does not care, because their guy won. All of the noise for an investigation is coming from Democrats, and Republicans have blocked all attempts at an investigation to date. Republicans would rather hand the fate of our country over to someone being manipulated by a hostile foreign power than have a Democrat as President.
In short, staying in power is all that matters, the fate (and legitimacy of the Republic) be damned.
- Trump’s cabinet wants to effectively eliminate federal control of anything and everything
Trump’s secretary of labor opposes the minimum wage and worker protections. His nominee for HUD has questioned the need for the safety-net social programs run by HUD. His secretary of education wants to tear down public schools in favor of religious based and for-profit charter schools. His secretary of Health and Human Services wants to dismantle the agency’s signature program. His head of EPA opposes enforcement of environmental laws and is a climate change denier. His most-likely pick for the head of the FDA believes that the FDA should get out of the drug testing business, and let the people taking the drugs assume all the risk. His nominee for the secretary of the interior wants to sell off almost all federal land.
In short, the goal of this cabinet is to eliminate the core functions of the federal government, and create a dystopia that Ayn Rand would truly be proud of, where corporations rule and it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves.
Ask Somalia how that worked out.
- The Trump administration is making lists within the federal government, and appears to be preparing for a purge
This past week, the incoming administration sent out a questionnaire to employees at the Department of Energy that looks like a naked attempt to identify people within the DOE who support climate-change theory. It is believed by many within the Department of Energy that anyone who supports climate change will be sidelined, blackballed, or purged. A similar questionnaire was sent out to State Department employees, looking to identify people who had worked on women’s issues. This questionnaire was sent out at almost exactly the same time the Family Research Council, which has three senior members on Trump’s transition team, demanded that, “these liberal policies will be reversed and the ‘activists’ within the State Department promoting them will be ferreted out and will be replaced by conservatives who will ensure the State Department focuses on true international human rights like religious liberty…”
Using ideological purity tests to purge government agencies has been compared to McCarthy-era witch hunts for communists, but even worse. However, I disagree. Unlike communists, people who believe in climate change are the norm, not the exception within the department. This would more closely resemble Stalin’s purge of top military brass, where he “sent away” 154 out of 186 division commanders.
- Scapegoating minorities is happening openly
This is related to opening the Overton Window, but it is worth noting who has been targeted with the opening of that window. Muslims, undocumented Latinos, and transgender people are the three groups of people who expect to be targeted first with laws and policies at both the state and federal level as a result of this cultural targeting. However, other groups of people are being targeted by Trump supporters in a coordinated way.
141,000 people signed a WhiteHouse.gov petition to declare Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization, and therefore enemies of the state. Gamergate was in fact the proof of concept for crowd sourcing harassment and intimidation of blacks, Jews, feminists, and transgender people online.
- The free press is almost dead, and the Trump administration is working to finish it off
Trump’s campaign actively encouraged his supporters to never believe credible media sources, and to actively hate reporters with reputable organizations like the Washington Post and CNN. He cut off access to his campaign to anyone who gave him unfavorable press, and even threatened to sue the New York Times. Instead, he offered it out to sites like Breitbart and InfoWars, which supported him unconditionally while putting out information that was either misleading, or completely false.
The Trump Administration appears to be no different than the Trump campaign. He has created his own TV network, which will be at White House press briefings. Expect them to get called on a lot while lobbing softball, pre-screened questions.
In short, between Trump’s attacks on the credibility of the media, his bullying to ensure only positive coverage, and his fake news agencies, even if the media was putting out correct information, people aren’t going to believe it anyway. (flag burning/free expression)
We now have a government in place that we cannot vote out of office. We can’t fix fact that the voting system is rigged for the party in power. The government in power is beyond caring about truth, nor does it need to: the people keeping them in power will believe whatever they are told to believe, no matter how ridiculous. In fact, keeping their voters separated from reality is in their best interests. Remaining in power is an end unto itself: the means always justify it.
The spectrum of ideas and “facts” the administration can push is almost completely unconstrained: they’re perfectly comfortable proposing internment of classes of American citizens. The incoming administration appears to be making lists of federal employees who fail ideological purity tests, while Trump’s supporters are calling for political opposition to be either jailed (Clinton), or declared terrorists and enemies of the state.
This is why I can say with some confidence that the possibility that this Administration drops any pretense of being anything other than authoritarian is a non-trivial one. They could use “national security” as a pretext in friendly courts to target almost anyone, or any group of people opposed to him. His supporters, and much of the American public, could be convinced of both the rightness and necessity of whatever the administration does. The amount of opposition would be negligible. Between the Republican-packed courts, the single-party government, a credulous populace, and an impotent media, there isn’t a one of them that can make a credible case that they would serve as an effective last line of defense against the long-term goals of the Trump administration or the conservative movement that supports him.
Originally published at