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a dangerous and slippery slope

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of a brilliant article in the New York Times written by Andrew Sullivan which illustrates the inherent difficulties in impeaching a president particularly in this dysfunctional and deeply politically segregated epoch in which America finds itself on a slippery slope. While Trump may a corrupt imbecile guilty of crimes which Robert Mueller can prove, it is not the primary element on which one can rest the ending of a presidency...

"Yet even if that evidence were incontrovertible (and that could still emerge in Mueller’s investigation), impeachment remains a political decision. Which means that unless we experience some kind of unprecedented sea change in the pathological tribalism that now defines our politics, impeachment is a dead letter. What makes Trump immune is that he is not a president within the context of a healthy republican government. He is a cult leader of a movement that has taken over a political party — and he specifically campaigned on a platform of one-man rule. This fact permeates “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America,” a collection of essays by a number of writers that has been edited by Sunstein, which concludes, if you read between the lines, that “it” already has.

No, Trump is not about to initiate a coup, or suspend elections or become a dictator. The more likely model for American authoritarianism is that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or the Fidesz party in Hungary. The dismemberment of a public discourse centered on objective truth is a key first step, fomented by unceasing dissemination of outright lies from the very top, metabolized by tribal social media, ever more extreme talk radio and what is essentially a state propaganda channel, Fox News. The neutering of the courts is the second step — and Trump is well on his way to (constitutionally) establishing a federal judiciary whose most important feature will be reliable assent to executive power. Congress itself has far less approval than Trump; its inability to do anything but further bankrupt the country, enrich the oligarchy and sabotage many Americans’ health care leaves an aching void filled by … a president who repeatedly insists that “I am the only one who matters.”

I don’t think Trump has a conscious intent to vandalize liberal democracy — he doesn’t even understand what it is. Rather, his twisted, compulsive insecurity requires him to use his office to attack, delegitimize and weaken every democratic institution that may occasionally operate outside his own delusional narcissism. He cannot help this. His tweets are a function of spasms, not plots. But the wreckage after only one year is extraordinary. The F.B.I. is now widely discredited; the C.I.A. is held in contempt; judges, according to the president, are driven by prejudice and partisanship (when they disagree with him); the media produce fake news; Congress is useless (including both Republicans and Democrats); alliances are essentially rip-offs; the State Department — along with the whole idea of a neutral Civil Service — is unnecessary. And the possibility of reasoned deliberation at the heart of democratic life has been obliterated by the white-hot racial and cultural hatreds that Trump was able to exploit to get elected and that he constantly fuels.

The Democrats find themselves in opposition a little like Marco Rubio in the primaries. Take the high road and you are irrelevant; take the low road and you cannot compete with the biggest bully and liar on the block. The result is that an unimpeachable president is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one"


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Comments

  1. The good news is that an increasing number of Republicans are becoming aware that their situation is untenable: as it is they are likely to lose not only their own elective offices but also the majorities that they hold in the House, Senate, and even in state governments. Thus if they refuse to impeach they will be writing their own demise and will flock to the exits like rats jumping off a sinking ship.

    Indeed DT has and is causing a lot of harm that will haunt us for generations (such as in the Supreme Court). But maybe we needed him to shake us out of complacency. I’ve long worried about a book titled “The Rise and Fall of the American Empire.” It may yet be written many years later.

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    Replies
    1. “The good news is that an increasing number of Republicans are becoming aware that their situation is untenable: as it is they are likely to lose not only their own elective offices but also the majorities that they hold in the House, Senate, and even in state governments. ”

      Not really. The ones who recognize this are retiring from their seats for now, in order to take cushy jobs in the right wing private center. Some of them (e.g. Flake) are already laying the groundwork for their own comebacks, and even future presidential runs.

      The Democrats are poised to take back the House of Representatives, but that’s it. (And they have a talent for losing when they’re poised to win.) They will likely not take back the Senate, so, even if Trump is impeached, he will not be convicted of anything. In fact, if the Democratic House does indict, the culture war will be on in full, and the Senate’s refusal to impeach will be touted as a major victory for him. Trump’s approval among Republicans is above 80%.

      Something people do not like to face is that this REALLY COULD BE THE END. Of America as a democratic republic. I’m all for optimism, but the only right Americans really care about is the right to remain ignorant. As long as they can keep believing they’re “Number 1,” they’ll be cultically servile to whoever keeps telling them that. The vast, vast, vast majority of Americans do not know the first thing about civics or the Constitution, and they don’t care.

      At this point, of Trump tweets something about how he is the rightful Emperor of America, he will have 30% of the country ready to support him - with violence if need be - and conservative media would weigh whether it could get away with supporting the idea on the airwaves.

      If violence does break out in his country, the wrong people are already armed, while good people have unilaterally disarmed. The military is filled with white supremacists and Christian Theocrats, as are local police forces. Things could go SO wrong SO easily.

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  2. “I don’t think Trump has a conscious intent to vandalize liberal democracy ”

    But he is very useful to those forces that do. And make no mistake, they have been working for decades to kill the republic. In the name of the republic. And they have a lot of support among the populace.

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  3. Things look very bleak right now and with the present system of oligarchy, the internet echo chamber and a distracted and uninformed populace you have the perfect recipe for despotism. This man is so astronomically stupid and still gets away with scandal after scandal with no end in sight. This presidency will clearly be a turning point for repair or for outright dismantling.

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  4. I am afraid that I am increasingly sharing Caryn's more bleak prognosis unless something is done to wake people up.

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