What’s happening now is not just an opening salvo to prove to Trump’s base that he is keeping his campaign promises. This is indeed the early phase of a fundamental transformation of the USA.
Faster than one might expect, if it isn’t turned back, a totalitarian plutocracy is in the making. “Fortress Americana”, projecting violence and white nationalism at home and abroad, would still lay claim to a façade of “democracy”. It wouldn’t have to dissolve traditional political institutions such as Congress and the Courts, so long as its control over them is locked in. But make no mistake, it would strike down dissent and relentlessly persecute opposition.
The battle between democracy and dictatorship is upon us. No one can foresee the outcome or what the next few years will bring. Both sides can wield great power.
The strength of Trump and his alt-right strategists is not merely in the substantial support of the large voting minority that gave him the Electoral College victory. It is in the fact that the GOP and its corporate billionaire sponsors now have a stranglehold on every level of government – federal, state and judicial. The pre-election embarrassment among establishment republicans over Trump’s antics now gives way to their vision of a bonanza his election seems to offer: with Trump’s iron-fist and evermore outrageous voter restriction, they see the way clear to erasing social programs and sealing one party rule (demographics be damned!)
So you have, as David Brooks acknowledges, a Faustian bargain, in which Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell and most of their cohort sell their souls (if they have any) to Trump in return for dreams of a GOP dynasty.
What is the power of the democratic opposition? It has to have confidence that it is the majority, that it is resisting a coup against democracy. We do not know whether Trump recruited Steve Bannon as his strategist, or Bannon and the alt-right recruited Trump as their candidate. But Trump teamed with the extreme alt-right racists to pilot this coup. As demogogue-in-chief, he effectively exploited the discontent of millions and the vulnerabilities of Clinton and the Democrats. But he fell well short of a majority. He’s the first President with over 50% disapproval in his very first days in office.
Without underestimating Trump’s base — the many Americans with illusions in him as the “fixer” and the determined minority consciously out to remake America as a racist dictatorship — the opposition to Trumpism is huge, a clear and definite majority. That’s why the Women’s March, with supporting marches in so many cities and around the world, was so important. Of course it’s only the debut of the many-layered resistance. But what a beginning! It unhinged Trump, who blustered and tweeted for days because it overshadowed the Inauguration. In the tough times ahead, the opposition to Trumpism has to be confident in its strength and ability to represent a growing majority.
(At this point, I shut the computer down and went to bed, ‘to be continued’. Lo and behold, I woke up this morning to a rare bit of good news: a federal court judge blocked Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration order. Trump responded characteristically by attacking the judge and vowing to defy his ruling.)
There is some speculation that Trump’s presidency may self-destruct, that he will quit or be impeached before this term is over. That’s wishful thinking at this point. He and his cabinet of super wealthy capitalists and ex-generals will not go quietly into the political night. An impeachable opening may occur as it did for Nixon, but that depends on how the battle in the public arena goes. The more Trump relies on dictatorial methods to stifle dissent, the more people he fires for defying his rule, the more he strikes out against non-compliant journalists and political rivals, the more vulnerable his regime becomes. The most critical test, and most likely area of “overreach”, will come when the regime resorts to violence to counter rising protest. How far will Trump, Bannon and Sessions go when people rise up against a foul pipeline venture, or mass deportations that break up families, or police killings of more young people of color?
Resistance takes many forms. There is no way to guarantee agreement and coordination throughout. But most should agree that the “off year” elections of 2018 must not go the way of 2010 and 2014. About that, and examination of the factors that gave us President Trump, younger generations have more to contribute than mine. But we do have some relevant experiences to recall, among them the ignominious fate of Joe McCarthy and the impeachment of Nixon.
When democracy is in grave danger, the will of the people can be both powerful and wonderful.