2007 - 2020

Notes on the Crisis: Continuity Trump

CxQzQcaXAAAw9YK.jpg-largeThe crisis here, the discontinuity, is the collapse of the Republican Party.

American social attitudes haven’t changed that much, Hillary won the popular vote handsomely, Trump did slightly worse than Mitt Romney. The great racial-right-disinhibiting brought a small quantity of non-voters back to the table – but its main importance is that it did nothing to discourage the Republican’s traditional, older, richer, whiter core vote. The Trump presidency is a continuity presidency – and a catastrophe.

The superficial comparison is the Trump family Vs the Clintons and the Bushes. The deep continuity is the Aliyev family of Azerbaijan, the Karimov family of Uzbekistan.

Ivanka Trump co-ordinated the online marketing of her products with the primary election. Trump’s first post-election TV interview saw him surrounded by his family, by his sons Uday and Qusay. Leyla, sorry Ivanka used that opportunity to punt her jewellery. Trump has refused and will continue to refuse to release his tax returns. The Trumps want to become, in the fullness of time, the richest family in America – and are now in a position to do that.

The point is not that Trump is an old-time fascist – he manifestly isn’t – there is not going to be a one party state. This about a managed democracy – and it is not a radically new development.

The key to a managed democracy is that there is more than one party, but unfortunately (or indeed fortunately, depending on where you stand), only one of them wins. The old collapsed Republican Party took a long hard look at the election of Obama and came to the conclusion that there weren’t enough white people to win – they could either reach out to other voting groups – Hispanics in particular – or suppress the Democratic vote.

The US constitution is not the sinless exemplar of democracy it is often made out to be. There is no right to vote – only a series of restrictions on how your vote can be taken away: on the grounds of race, sex, age or non-payment of tax. These are broadly interpreted and backed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Swathes of the country were put under judicial supervision by that Act. Any changes to voting arrangements had to be pre-approved by the courts; constitutional oversight by court case being an otherwise slow, if not glacial process. The desegregation of education was sparked by Brown Vs The Board Of Education in 1954 but schools were still being desegregated into the 1970s. The Brown ruling was based on the XIIIth amendment, itself dating from 1865.

Counties could fall from the supervision list by the simple means of getting their voter registration and turnouts up, and not putting forward proposals that were to be rejected by the courts.

The fact that 50 years later everywhere hadn’t dropped out of supervision is telling.

It is in the context of an Obama Presidency that the Supreme Court decided this supervision was discriminatory in a post-racial society and it gutted the VRA – leading to a wave of racial voter suppression in the most racially divided election in living memory. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Now that Trump has appointed an opponent of civil rights as Attorney General the support of the Government for them must be considered lost.

The Republicans have been fighting a generation-long war against the Roosevelt Supreme Court of the 1930s. Their fatal blind spot might well turn out to be believing that the temporary irruption of Trump is a price worth paying for an 30 year Supreme Court. The Trumps intend to enrich themselves in ways that preclude them leaving power – 20/20 hindsight will be the realisation there will be no free 2020 election to rescue them.

For manipulating the administration of elections is not the only way to rig the votes. States are at liberty to impose loss of civil rights provided it is done in a non-discriminatory fashion – primarily on people convicted of felonies.

The US, with its 2.2m prisoners and 4.75m parolees, has long established mechanisms, a veritable conveyor belt, for taking people off the street, into prison, and off the voters role. Everybody has always politely known, and always politely ignored, that Reagan and his successors turned the US into a prison state, a racial prison state. The ‘making’ of felons was a constitutionally acceptable way of keeping African Americans off the voters roll. Many non-black opponents of Trump will find out the hard way how this works in the years to come.

Selective application of the existing conveyor belt, using the existing rotten public defender system and the existing coercive plea-bargaining can and will be trivially used to gut opposition political organisations.

The existing rules of criminal forfeiture in the war on drugs offers great scope for coercion. The police can seize property if they believe it is used in, or derived from, drug dealing. The property, houses, cars, cash, is then ‘tried’ and subject to confiscation.

Cases have been attested of under a dollar in change and a personal jewellery being what can only be described as ‘shaken down’ after street searches. The cost of recovery, hiring a lawyer, proving you own something, is punitive. Confiscation offers an existing mechanism for state intimidation.

A ‘random’ street search and shakedown, the casual threat of a house search where ‘drugs might be found’ and the opportunity for endless escalation are a potent mechanism for chilling political organisations, activists and journalists.

It is hard to explain how weird the American political system is, both to Americans and non-Americans alike. Managed democracies require the state bring the opposition under partial control, and political parties in the US are already in part nationalised. The primaries, which in the UK would be selections, are run by the states. Parties do not run their own membership systems for the most part, instead electors register with the state as a ‘supporter’ of a particular party. Who can be a candidate for selection and who can vote for them are managed by the state – largely benignly at the moment, but, but, but.

The American right, in part, is famous for its believe that evolution is wrong and humans co-existed with dinosaurs – prepare to be amazed as the famous Rino’s (Republican in name only) evolve into Dino’s.

Elected representatives oversee the entire electoral process, from drawing electoral boundaries to the conduct of elections. (This is somewhat of a simplification, the details vary from state to state.) The Republicans established a strategic plan at the election of Obama – as they have captured states they have redistricted and voter-supressed the Democrats. Democrat voters are piled up in a small number seats whereas Republican are majorities smeared over a large number. On some estimates the Democrats would need an average 10% lead in the vote to recapture state legislatures that have been ‘fixed’.

The counting and reporting process is opaque and unsupervised and in extremis results can just ‘be called’.

All the mechanisms to ensure the ‘right party wins’ are already in place.

The 1930’s Governor of Georgia Eugene Talmagde famously said that a way to legally disenfranchise African Americans had to be found because the illegal ones were destroying white democracy.

The old weakness of classical democracy was always that it had an in-crowd and an out-crowd. The Athenian citizens versus the enslaved helots. American democracy long worked this way, with an honourable, law abiding, democratic white citizenship sitting beside lynching and coercion and an African American population ‘outside the protection of the law’.

This split state of affairs could not survive the Second War, and it is a consequence of that war that such split states, whether Apartheid South Africa, or the Israeli incorporation of Palestine, evoke such moral horror. They insistently demand to be recognised by us as like us – and we reject that comparison as defiling.

In the old split democracies it was possible to have the rule of law (with the good economic consequences that flow: contracts kept, open economies) alongside tyranny of the minority – indeed this seems to be Peter Thiel’s view of Apartheid South Africa – Israel manages it still, just.

This stability has not been possible the last 40 years, and will not be again. It is not a mistake that the nostalgic attempt to reboot the Great White American Franchise has collapsed into the hands of a kleptocrat and the rule of law with it.

It is no longer possible for the racial majority to believe that a racial democracy is just and honest. The emergence of abortion as a key narrative is sign of that. Prior to the 1980s American evangelicals supported abortion. But new times required new moral hierarchies and so it came to pass: “I may be racist, but you are a baby killer”.

The return of White Democracy has the mark of Cain – the whites know it is not the natural order as their parents believed. This crack in ‘justice’ is the crack though which the thieves will creep, are creeping.

How long will it be before the beneficiaries of Peter Thiel’s commercial wisdom become aware, are quietly made aware, that it would be ‘commercially prudent’ to let a Trump family associate ‘invest’ at an ‘appropriate’ price.

Trump is not going to establish a Stasi. Arun Kundnani points out in The Muslims Are Coming!  that there was one Stasi operative for 166 people and when you threw in informants it was in 66. That would be an establishment of 2.1m in the US.

The current US internal security team (plus informants) is a paltry 25,000. A tiny number, but 1 for every 94 American Muslims. The NSA already has sweeping powers of surveillance. But job creation is job creation. Health coverage, good pension rights, indoor working with no heavy lifting: what’s not to like?

The slide to authoritarianism is a well studied thing – and it begins with a crisis, a great crisis. With the US the script writes itself.

A policeman in Alabama/Illinois/Nebraska shoots and kills an African American man/woman/child who turns out to be unarmed/unarmed/unarmed. There are #blacklivesmatter demonstrations with #all/blue/whitelivesmatter counter demonstrations. Some disinhibited local police forces unleash violence/more-violence/more-and-finaly-lethal-violence.

Lo, the crisis unfolds.

Given that the US police shoot dead 20 people a week, and there is plenty disinhibition in the US already, this crisis need not even wait for the inauguration.

The next step after the crisis is emergency powers – and it is clear what form those demands will take. It is a truism that the US government is grid-locked with the Republican’s using the filibuster in the Senate – and it will be on the filibuster that the demands will be focussed. The GOP controls the House and has a majority in the Senate.

If the elected GOP members defend the rights of the minority in the Senate then the Republic is saved – but I fear is has long since fallen.

On crossing the Rubicon Caeser said “Alea jacta est” – the dice have been cast. But we have seen so many Rubicons, so many dice, these last few years, so many in the primaries alone, that tomorrow is just another day, losing at craps in a tawdry Trump casino.

Some Dems will talk, are talking already of ‘work with’ and ‘unity’. Some Dems, enough, will gut the Senate for the unity of the grave.
You will seek in vain amongst your congressmen and senators for your Optimates – the best of men. Where is the Cato to spill his guts for the Republic? amongst the fellows of the Cato Institute? Brutes aplenty but no Brutus.

And on the other side of emergency powers?

For most people, the US will be the same, at first. The sun will rise, Fall in New England will be glorious. Guys out hunting, and girls doing likewise, honking at the honey in front of you with light coloured eyes, sitting with your friends, cause y’all reminisce about the days growing up, and the first person you kiss.

Trump is nothing if not a man who didn’t see an as-yet unbuilt edifice with his name on it that he didn’t like, and who is always willing to have someone else to pay for it.

Peronist-Keynsianism and tax cuts are sure fire recipes for rising prosperity and the feel-good economy, for a while at least. After all Dick Cheney called it back in the day: “deficits don’t matter!”

These long-wished-for good times will need to be defended from the sore losers, and the #blacklivesmatter rioters.

The 2nd Amendment will continue to be the ‘bastion’ of American Freedom – and everyone will be encouraged to defend that freedom with guns – another continuity with Saddam Hussein who had a militia law that mandated all households to own and maintain an automatic weapon at their own cost.

The most laughable fantasy about the American constitution will remain the belief that fat dads in camo can and will stand for freedom against a militarised police force instead of standing as auxiliaries to it – Holywood being, as always, a poor guide to war and man-killing.

The Trumps are not interested in looting the little company you work for, and there are not enough of them anyway. It will be time before the mini-Trumps are emboldened to come for you and yours, Mr and Mrs Niemöller.

Trump will continue to be President, and Trump will be the name on the ticket in 2020 – on the ticket twice.

* * *

Follow @gordonguthrie on Twitter (http://twitter.com/gordonguthrie) – you can buy his book Winning The Second Independence Referendum: A Manifesto For Scotland In The European Union After Brexit

Comments (21)

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  1. Mach1 says:

    Worrying complacency here. Trump is continuity only in the sense of continuity IRA. He is the distillation of resentments and poses real threat to democracy itself.
    Speaking to pro-lifers in the UK it is gut-wrenching to hear how many would not have voted for Trump and would have shunned Clinton. By playing to this militant Christian constituency Trump neutralised conservative Democrats in the US. This may explain his victories in many previously Democrat held states. This tactic, of cobbling together rightist grudges into a mission statement also gave us the appalling hypocrisy of Ruth Davidson and the repulsive anti-immigration mania of Nigel Farage. Expect these issues to fester as Trump pursues a radical economic liberalism that has nothing to do with the Keynsian vision of social justice to which all progressive movements remain loyal.
    Trump must be opposed. More importantly, the arguments on civil and reproductive rights must be won if this descent into fascism is to be prevented.

    1. Gordon Guthrie says:

      In the article I say that Trump is leading the US into an authoritarian managed-state and describe it as a catastrophe. I find it hard to see how you can describe that as ‘complacent’?

  2. Crubag says:

    “Hillary won the popular vote handsomely”

    By 1.25%…? That’s smaller than the majority that took the UK out of the EU.

    1. Jo says:

      @ Crubag

      Cheers. I thought I had missed something when I checked the share of the vote they both got.

  3. Richard MacKinnon says:

    This article is gobbledegook to me. Spelling, syntax, phrasing, sentences do not scan. I get unnerved when I read writing like this. My first reaction was, I must be stupid, I don’t understand the ideas and thoughts of Gordon Guthrie in the written word. Then I got to the sentence “The key to a managed democracy is that there is more than one party, but unfortunately (or indeed fortunately, depending on where you stand), only one of them wins.” and I realised its not me after all, its the author. He’s talking shite. What a relief.

  4. florian albert says:

    Gordon Guthrie plainly regards the USA as rotten to the core. This is the view of a small minority.
    In the Guardian today, Richard C Longworth gives an alternative explanation for Trump’s victory.
    He writes that in the traditionally industrial Midwest, voters who voted for Obama previously, supported Trump this time. They did so because Trump listened to them and because he opposed the NAFTA Agreement.
    Here we have working class voters rejecting the free trade dogma at the heart of neo-liberalism. The left, in Scotland, the rest of the UK and in the USA, is too blinkered to notice what is happening.

    1. Gordon Guthrie says:

      I don’t regard the US as rotten to the core at all, but I do regard the Republican Party as both rotten and now collapsed – I think a lot of the best of the US is about to be extinguished by Trump.

      1. florian albert says:

        The ‘rotten and now collapsed’ Republican Party controls the Senate (51 seats against the Democrats’ 46). It controls the House of Representatives (240 against 194). It has 31 State Governors; Democrats 18.
        The party in danger is the Democrats. It is in danger for the same reason as Labour in England. It gave up protecting the working class in favour of a corrupt marriage of convenience with finance capitalism and because it embraced identity politics which excludes a huge part of the working class. Lastly, it gave up thinking. It concluded that demography and being on the ‘right side of History’ would guarantee it victory.

        1. Gordon Guthrie says:

          My argument is that the ‘old’ republican party has been hollowed out an captured by a Trump led insurgency to which it has surrendered. The remnants of that party – who believed in the Republic – have collapsed in the face of a would-be autocrat.

      2. James Sinclair says:

        The Clintons are corrupt and should be serving long prison sentences. When money talks democracy is dead. Trump is no exception.

  5. Jo says:

    “It is hard to explain how weird the American political system is….”

    Presumably you wouldn’t be saying this had HIllary won, Gordon?

    I’m still alarmed by the histrionics playing out in both the MSM and on the web following Trump’s win. We really need to accept the outcome and get on with it.

    And incidentally, last week, here in the UK, something became law which was huge for us all yet the media were so busy still weeping about the US election that it all passed without a whimper. The Guardian termed it “extreme surveillance” and we will all now be subject to it. (That said, the Guardian is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the US result. It’s columnists are still expressing their rage on a daily basis nearly two weeks later. It is denying us the right to comment on many of those Opinion articles and erasing those posts it doesn’t like on the articles they do allow comments on.)

    Reading the various takes on the US result it seems to me many people want to see it as an uprising by whites against everyone else. I don’t see it that way. Many who normally vote Democrat did not vote for Hillary. I think Hillary was the problem for many and I think that’s why Trump won.

    You speak of the Trump family riches, Gordon. What about the Clinton family riches?

    1. Gordon Guthrie says:

      I wrote about the weirdness of the American primary system well over a year before Trump put himself forward, so no my comments on it are just not anti-Trump

      https://medium.com/@gordonguthrie/notes-on-primaries-84db058c3614#.ybsnmi2za

  6. Alan says:

    I see my earlier comment as well as the comments of at least one other poster about the author referring to Mitt Romney as “Mick Romney” has been deleted. It was an early indication of the quality of the writing that followed.

    For the editor: A personal observation: there is some good material on Bella but the dross to quality ratio seems to have increased significantly in recent months. You might want to figure out if other readers have a similar perception and fix the issue if they do.

    1. Hi Alan, yes we made a stupid typo and you spotted it, and cleverly pointed it out. We fixed it and now you want your clever comment left in? Okay, that’s great.

      As for our ‘dross’ I can do a survey if you’d like – which recent articles do you hate the most?

      1. Alan says:

        I normally overlook stupid typos but in this case it seemed indicative of the quality of the article as a whole. I might have expressed my general comment more delicately and apologise if it caused offence. I would like Bella to succeed. In the past I’ve donated on the strength of the writing. I just don’t think I could justify doing so in the future based on the general quality of recent output.

        1. It just seems odd to focus on a typo rather than the substantive issues of the piece. What issues / problems are you addressing?

          1. Alan says:

            The piece is a stream of disjointed thoughts, assertions and opinions. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

          2. Alan says:

            The notion of managed democracy is thrown out by the author but never elaborated or properly explained. If he had just focused on Sheldon Wolin’s argument and how the recent election relates to it, that might have made for an interesting piece.

  7. w.b.robertson says:

    “the rotten and now collapsed Republican Party” (according to the writer) won the White House…so presumably this must provide fresh hope to the UK`s Labour Party!

  8. Mach1 says:

    There is an argument for the articles submitted to be more rigorously edited, but does that not defeat the purpose of the forum?
    As for descriptions of the piece as a dog’s breakfast. That is unfair. The argument was clear and well-informed. But a call to arms it was not.

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