Democracy Under AttackPosted: February 25, 2020
Following his Impeachment Trial, Mr. Donald J. Trump became predictably vengeful and embarked on a revenge tour. He is now systematically using the power of the presidency to invoke his personal wrath on anyone that did not faithfully and fully support him — personally — rather than doing their duty and supporting their oath to the Constitution. The purge will only end when the Trump regime is fully stocked with Trump loyalists, regardless of their ability to handle the job, personal background, or knowledge of anything related to the job. For the most part, expect it to be the “B Team” — or maybe more like “F Troop.”
Mr. Trump is taking another page out of the Autocracy 101 text book. We should not be surprised.
Recently, I was referred to an article in the New York Review of Books by Masha Gessen. Titled Autocracy: Rules for Survival it provides six rules based on living much of her life in autocracies and becoming an expert on Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Ms. Gessen is much better at explaining herself than I could ever be — it is worth the time to read the original — and her November 2016 article is stunningly prescient in predicting Mr. Trump’s behavior in the years following his election.
In brief, these are the six rules.
- Believe the autocrat. They always tell you exactly what they are going to do. Mr. Trump exhibits this behavior. What some consider to be exaggeration, hyperbole or “Trump being Trump” is actually him telling you what he is going to do. Or at least what he wants to do if he can figure out a way to get away with it. I first observed this trait in Gulf War I where I was involved in a group tasked with the formulation of a policy and a strategy to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and to restore a semblance of order in the Gulf region. With study, it became obvious that he was telling the world exactly what he intended to do — or what he would try to do — but you had to peel away the bombastic language to fully understand what he was saying.
- Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. When things seem out of control, the smallest sense of normality tends to soothe people’s concerns. We all need reassurances. When things are at their worst, anything that makes it seem as if the situation is temporary and that it will all be okay in the end is a salve that may hide the wound rather than heal it. What is happening today in our country is not normal. No one-off State of the Union speech or any other glimmer of normal presidential behavior should mask the fact that 99% of the time our president is out of control.
- Institutions will not save you. American values are based on ideas like a free press, an independent judiciary, Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch and leaders within the government protecting the Constitution for all Americans. It takes about two seconds to recall that Mr. Trump fires anyone that stands up to him, constantly debases members of the media, attacks judges that do not do want he wants, and always succeeds in getting the formerly Republican members of Congress to acquiesce to his every whim. Mr. Trump and his regime took a steam roller to the established norms of government and continue to test the limits of the law in every corner of government. There are no longer any safety barriers keeping the regime within safe boundaries.
- Be outraged. While many of us may no longer be surprised by statements and actions from Mr. Trump, one needs to continue to be shocked. Do not normalize bad behavior especially when it threatens the fabric of our democracy. Be prepared for ridicule when continuing to call out such awful behavior while others continue with their mantra that it is just Trump being Trump. As he himself calls it when belittling those that critique him, be prepared for accusations of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Be prepared for unpleasant attacks from his most ardent supporters. Do not back off.
- Don’t make compromises. So many former Republicans, especially in the Senate, predicted that Mr. Trump as president would be the worst thing that ever happened to our country. After three years of his presidency they are now his most loyal and fervent supporters. Their support is not necessarily a re-evaluation of his competency or ability or vision, but rather it is a compromise of their own values in order to retain power. Mr. Trump is no different than the person they ardently decried during the campaign. Those around him have changed.
- Remember the future. Mr. Trump, his regime, and Trumpism cannot last forever. Look to reform our institutions in order to restore the foundations of our democracy. Put into law what we as a country previously took to be accepted norms of behavior that our leaders would honor. Work to project a new vision for our country that is inclusive and that addresses the problems that Mr. Trump was able to cynically manipulate for his own purposes. Stay in the game.
In the every day course of our own lives it is possible to lose sight of the big picture attack on our democracy. It’s hard. Frankly, it’s exhausting. It is easy to lose oneself in areas outside of politics because it is just so relentlessly Trump. Every gosh darn day there is some new Tweet or speech or rally that saps all of the energy from one’s soul when it is clear that he has no idea what he is talking about. Nearly 17,000 documented and provable lies during his presidency numbs the soul and becomes normalized.
And that is the plan.
Autocracy thrives on indifference or exhaustion or just turning it over to the regime and letting them take care of it all as long as my day-to-day life is not impacted. Mr. Trump and his regime are interested only in themselves and in the amassing of personal power. Period. Anything else is a sales pitch presented in the moment to get a cheer or to attack an opponent or to appear to care. Remember that fundamentally, they don’t care about you or me or the rule of law. Only themselves.
It is up to us as citizens to stay vigilant and to call out the fouls when we see them.