I was awash in hope for the great American experiment. It is a wonderful notion, this idea that a wildly diverse collection of humans would gather to commit themselves to a creed, a collection of ideas. Through the flaws at its founding, the mechanism to correct those flaws and grow to the higher goods has served us well. But now we have learned there is a greater chink in the armor of our constitution. What was unwritten is as important as what is in the founding documents. The entire experiment always depended on the fealty of our leaders to the same understanding and desired outcomes. Tradition and the good intentions of people are the glue that held us together. That glue is gone. The unleashed passions and obedience to faction that the founders feared to their core now run wild. It pains me to write this, but I now believe the clock is ticking louder to the day which we will move from a representative democracy to an authoritarian rule minority. Here is the evidence that weighs heavily on my heart.
In my academic world, I have now spent decades trying to understand political polarization. I remained steadfast in my belief that the system, the people in it, would prevent a tipping of the scale. What I could not account for was the internet. Americans are now hermetically sealed into opposing narratives. Worse, as we have learned recently, the financial model of social media companies is to drive clicks by sustaining anger. They have studied our brains and know how to keep us apart for profit.
The other factor I could not imagine is the dissolution of one of our political parties. Republicans started their dance with the devil after the signing of the great society civil rights laws of the 60s. The polar flip of the south from Democrat to Republican was a racial response that has through line to today. I recommend: Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury by Evan Osnos. His analysis lives in a wonderfully nuanced story telling about 3 cities where he lived and revisited after living abroad for a decade. Core to the telling is how Karl Rove designed the Bush campaign’s takeover of solid Democratic West Virginia by exploiting race, class, religion, and culture. It’s a playbook the Republicans have repeated with brilliant success. What they hadn’t considered was that after inflaming the beast, it would turn on them with the appearance of a demagogue. Now, to maintain and accumulate power, they must hang onto the tail of the monster with all their might. And so, every traditional restraint has been abandoned. They now stand ready to fill out the power roles of an impending autocracy.
However, the Republicans have a willing partner in the dissolution of our liberal democracy, the Democratic party. The newly empowered progressive wing has no love for the American experiment. In fact, they are an engine for faction and division. Identity politics based on race and intellectual class are now their watchword. At the precise moment when we desperately need a doubling down on the constitutional creed, it is faction they seek, first within their party then as a utopian vision of how to reshape the core American beliefs. History tells us that all utopian communities fail. From the Shakers to Communism, utopias become dystopias, leaving the true believers shattered and angry. Witness the current argument over hard and social infrastructure. It is internecine warfare which Republicans watch with glee.
Let’s be clear, the election of Biden was not a mandate for a complete restructuring of the social safety net. This was not an FDR in the Great Depression moment where he swept into office with huge Democratic majorities in Congress. No, this was a rejection of Donald Trump. It was a plea to stop the daily insanity. Americans are, mostly, not programmatic voters. They vote for moods and individuals. Biden was a psychological salve. Progressive hubris is limitless. Democrats got killed in state and local elections in 2020. They barely hung onto the House. The wildcard of Trump gave them a 50-50 Senate by the slimmest of margins. To take the election results in 2020 as a mandate for a great social policy awakening is insanity. Biden is living an FDR fantasy, caught in the moment, and too weak to resist the hubris. Today, what Biden needs most in the world, a political necessity and wedge against impending autocracy is a big win. That win sits in the hands of progressives. The $1.2T infrastructure bill is a done deal. It would provide limitless political ammunition against Republicans now and in the midterms. Yet, there it sits, held hostage to Progressive hubris and utopian visions. Would more social programs be helpful? Yes. Did Americans vote for such programs? No. Especially in the suburbs and among independent voters? No.
What of Biden? He is the solace against the insanity of Trump. But he was always a transitional president. He said it himself. But we all see it. He is two steps slower now and fading fast. A powerful president would not dodge every opportunity to engage the media and make his case. He can’t do it. Every time he makes a teleprompter statement, then turns from the shouted questions; his weakness is on display. Republicans taste the blood in the water and are ruthless. Biden isn’t up for the fight. And in 2024? There is still no Democratic presidential candidate bench. Kamala Harris will never be President of the United States. She is weak tea with no innate political skills. Her public performances are even more cringeworthy than Biden’s. Reports are that her staff is a mess. She has hired new messaging gurus, a sure sign of the disarray. And here’s the truth that no one wants to hear. America might elect a woman president (too many women won’t vote or a woman) but, I’m sorry, America will not elect a woman of color. Obama taught us that the electorate is not post racial. In fact, his election super-charged the racial core of the current Republican party. In this pronouncement, I am not stating what is in my heart; I am being my best, most calculating, political hack. So, a thought experiment, who else do the Democrats have to take on Trump? Yea, I can’t think of anyone either.
Yes, Trump is running on 2024. It will happen like this. The Democrats cannot overcome their internal battles to defend the House in the midterms. The Republicans will pick up 1 or 2 seats in the Senate. Controlling Congress, Republicans will stop the 1/6 commission and unleash a blizzard of conspiracy theory-based investigations. Have you forgotten how Republican investigations work? My best guess is that, purely out of revenge, the House will vote impeach Biden. They will dominate the media landscape. False narratives will supplant truth, already in short supply and at the core of those narratives will be the reincarnation of Trump. He will ride the wave to announce his campaign. Democrats, in disarray, with no clear leadership and a still slipping Biden will be political roadkill. The state elections apparatus in every Republican state is now, or soon will be, designed to invalidate Democratic electors. They are busy rigging the game now. Close states Biden won will fall to vote suppression and tricks. Trump is the next president.
Once in power, the Trumpists will correct every mistake they made in his first term. There will be no guard rails, no protectors of the constitution. If there are riots and marches, he will invoke the Insurrection Act. (The Woodward/Costa book says we are very close in 2020.) Troops will deployed as the generals who saved us last time will be purged. Only loyalists will be in any position of power. The Republican congress will act in concert with the Trump administration, gleefully removing the filibuster to pass legislation at will. We have seen this show in Europe and Asia. Under the cover of “democratic” elections, America will be an autocracy. Three years left. Tick tock.
The only thing that will prevent Trump’s return is him dying or ending up in jail. Even then there are a willing crew of authoritarian Trumpists waiting in the wings. They may be more dangerous, as they are smarter and uniquely focused. The path is now open. The only question is who will set forth on the journey.
The only way to prevent this is for the Democrats, in the next 18 months, to be as relentless as the Republicans. Democrats don’t like hardball politics. Get over it. They will have put aside utopian dreams and realize than in the dystopian future, none of what they think possible will even be considered. Yea, what a bummer, but this is not a time for inter-party policy fights. The threat is upon us. Democrats need to align with every anti-Trumpist Republican they can in the battle. The enemy of my enemy…. This is now a game for cold-eyed political killers. The Democrats need their own Mitch McConnell. Only a beast can face down a beast. And yes, Democrats will need to suck it up and become unabashed patriots.
Thomas Paine said it long ago.
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
And, in our day’s vernacular, I offer this clip from a guy who was right about Trump from the beginning.