Notes on the Crisis: Continuity Trump
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.
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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