How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.

Trump was an election surprise. Expect more.

The Trump election likely signals a new era of extreme voter discontent and improbable national election results. Why? Because the so-called American Dream — that each generation would live better than its predecessor — has ended for most of our citizens. Half of the young adults in this country will earn less over their lifetimes than their parents did. Indeed, the whole idea of rising living standards, which defined this country for so long, is a thing of the past for most Americans. More and more voters realize this and are angry about it.

.. Are wages rising? Looking back over the past 40 years, the answer is no.

According to the Hamilton Project, overall U.S. wages, adjusted for inflation, are essentially flat over this period — registering about 0.2 percent growth. Which means that purchasing power, a good proxy for living standards, is flat, too.

 .. The 2016 Federal Reserve Board survey of household well-being found that 46 percent of U.S. adults could not meet a $400 emergency expense without borrowing or selling something they owned.
And a stunning one quarter of adults cannot pay their monthly bills in full.
.. A series of powerful, entrenched factors have brought the American Dream to an end. Economists generally cite
  • globalization,
  • accelerating technology,
  • increased income inequality and
  • the decline of unions.
What’s noteworthy is that these are long-term pressures that show no signs of abating.
.. there continues to be a debate among political scientists and sociologists as to whether these income pressures or cultural factors such as a rebellion against the establishment contributed more to the Trump upset. But, in reality, the two factors are interrelated. Household financial troubles increase cultural resentment and the sense that there are two Americas. Especially with the share of national income going to the lower 80 percent of earners at a 100-year low.

What’s the Matter With Republicans?

Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” In answering his title’s question, Frank argued that hardworking heartland Americans were being duped by a Republican Party that whipped up culture-war frenzy to disguise its plutocratic aims.

.. Middle-class and working-class Republican voters, he insisted, were voting against their own economic self-interest and getting worse than nothing in return.

.. You don’t have to be a dupe to be a “values voter”

.. believe that some moral questions are more important than where to set the top tax rate.

.. embracing theories about how the working class was actually undertaxed, rallying around tax plans that seemed to threaten middle-class tax increases and promoting an Ayn Randian vision in which heroic entrepreneurs were the only economic actor worth defending.

.. Trump has essentially become the Frankian caricature in full

.. a mistake for liberals to suggest that Trump is just returning to the Bush playbook

.. conservatism doesn’t have to be a mix of Randianism and racial resentment

..  a depressing percentage of American conservatives seem perfectly happy with the bargain that Frank claimed defined their party, with a president who ignores their economic interests and public policy more generally and offers instead the perpetual distraction of Twitter feuds and pseudo-patriotic grandstanding.

.. a segment of religious conservatives, like those gathered at last week’s Values Voters Summit, who cheered rapturously for an empty, strutting nationalism and a president who makes a mockery of the remoralized culture that they claim to seek.

.. Far better to have a president who really sticks it to those overpaid babies in the N.F.L. and makes the liberals howl with outrage — that’s what a real and fighting conservatism should be all about!

.. they’ve decided to become part of the caricature themselves, become exactly what their enemies and critics said they were, become a movement of plutocrats and grievance-mongers with an ever-weaker understanding of the common good.

Comments:

they claim patriotism as their own, try to spiritualize secular laws, and demonize immigrants.

Maybe Trump can supporters can live well on spite, resentment, and the veneer of religion (“Merry Christmas!), but I can’t.

.. Jesse The Conservative

The biggest fear of Democrats, is that Conservative Republicans will gain the upper hand–and actually enact some of their ideas–lower taxes, less regulation, free market health care, school choice, tightened welfare guidelines, and control of our borders and enforcement of immigration laws.

Democrats are scared to death that American will become accustomed to lower taxes, more disposable income, a smaller, less intrusive government, a vibrant economy, better schools, better health care, and the enforcement of the rule of law. Liberals know full well, that as soon as Americans return to their free-market, capitalist roots, Conservative messaging will be powerful and direct. Americans will have no problem understanding where their newly-found prosperity comes from.

.. I’m a Republican. I don’t like big government. I am against almost everything they do in DC night and day, aka, The Swamp. I vote on moral issues first and all the rest second. AND, I want the government to do something to return moral values to the center of American life.

.. DougTerry.us

What’s wrong with this picture? I don’t like government and I want government to do something about it!

.. Does anyone remember that Obama was staging war games in Texas a couple of years ago as part of a master plan to take over the country and stay in office? Never mind.

  • The old south still hates “the north” from the Civil War.
  • The far west hates Washington because it owns and controls so much public land.
  • The Republicans generally hate federal taxes because of the vast power amassed by Washington to tax for the common good. They aren’t really interested in that all that much. They want to whack away at “common” and shift to “good for me”, which is, after all, a basic human instinct.

.. Nothing is going to satisfy the dissatisfied 1/4 to 1/3. NOTHING. They are wedded to their grievances.

.. Victor James

.. So forget Reagan and think Brownback, the Kansas version of Trump who led that state into financial ruin. Brownback only denied financial reality, but Trump has that beat by a mile.

.. Francis W

.. The most depressing thing about the rise of Trump is that a sizable percentage of the population really wants a bullying, inexperienced narcissist to be president and and another substantial percentage didn’t see it as a major problem when they cast their vote last fall.

.. WallyWorld

.. There has been one balanced, pragmatic, Republican President since Dwight Eisenhower, and that’s George H.W. Bush, and the party cast him out for trying to be responsible about the budget deficit. Trump did not create the current Republican party, he merely fully unmasked it. The Republican party of today is full of a lot of very dark and dangerous thinking, governing out of animus and resentment, all from a base of ignorance. It’s bad out there.