“When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.” Winston Churchill
The alternative universe that America has become continues to chip away at both decency and sanity as the Trump locomotive to hell steams merry along toward parts unknown. Some weeks are simply bizarre in their oddity. Others, like this one, crosses over to bat shit crazy and picks up speed. The convening of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is partially to blame. Crazy is as crazy does when that band of lunatics come together to eat their young and idolize the more base attributes of what it means to be an American. From Michelle Malkin making fun of John McCain’s ghost to wild man Sebastian Gorka’s take down of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal, the crowd loved every minute of it and showed just how far afield the Republicans have wandered. Gorka, conversely, tiptoed very closely to waxing poetic when he stated,
“You know what the biggest threat to America is? Not socialism in Moscow, socialism here in America,” Gorka said, encouraging attendees to “boo” and “hiss” at the idea. “It’s a watermelon,” he added. “Green on the outside, deep, deep red communist on the inside. They want to take your pick-up truck, they want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.” The Daily Beast
I know. Breath-taking in its simplicity and utter stupidity but not without a hint of humor; something I am not sure Gorka intended.
Of course, not to be outdone, Donald made his appearance on the CPAC stage by (as Stephen Colbert noted) dry humping the American flag. Colbert also quipped that it was the first time an American flag volunteered to be burned. Fun times, no? More on Trump and his two-hour rambling speech where he pulled out every meme from the past two years along with his tired outlandish statements on crowd size to his adoration of, well, Donald Trump.
What fascinates me about the CPAC debacle is the rabid nature of the crowd that attends this abortion of right thinking; Malkin’s McCain comment got a standing ovation from some of the delegates present. These are not the basest of the base who attend Trump’s rallies. Certainly, there is probably a contingent of those people present, but this group represent the cream of the Republican Party. They are the money givers. They come to see the Republican elite speak about issues like guns, abortion, the Green New Deal, and to bash the Democrat Party. This year’s theme, as so eloquently stated by Gorka, is the socialization of the Democrats. It isn’t true, but just like their exalted Orange Leader, truth has little merit or credibility when it comes to degrading more than half of the American public.
A case in point was Michael Cohen’s public testimony last week. As has been noted by numerous pundits, the Republicans were more intent on destroying Cohen’s credibility than exploring the substance of his testimony, which was more than a little damning of the president. Yet, led by the popping jay, Benghazi nutcase, Jim Jordan, ranking minority member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the Republicans put on a third grade snit fit over the fact that Cohen couldn’t be trusted because he had already lied to the committee (if you haven’t seen SNL’s cold opening last week, click here). The concept of someone “seeing the light” and turning over a new leaf was beyond their small minds. The party line was attack, attack, attack the messenger and leave the rot smoldering at the top of the party alone.
Like many Americans, I haven’t been able to understand the Republicans’, and especially the basest of Trump’s base, outright vitriol and out-of control-anger at the rest of the country. Again, like many Americans, I thought once Trump had won the presidency that he would tone down the rhetoric and seek a middle ground that recognized all Americans’ shared values. We were all in for a surprise. Rather than ratchet down the ill-humor, he took his vile angry message from 10 to 15 as Matt Damon so accurately spoofed Brett Kavanaugh last year. For all intents and purposes, he has never left the campaign trail, holding one large meeting after another parroting the same message over and over again: CNN Bad, Fake News, Democrats want to turn America into a socialist country, the press is the enemy of the people and on and on.
One theory of Trump’s madness and cockeyed world view was explored by Mehdi Hasan in the NewStatesmanAmerica in an article titled Could Donald Trump refuse to leave office when his presidency is up? Hasan posits that Trump’s fascination with authoritarian dictators may be an underlying secret desire to mold himself into one of the same as time goes by. He points out that in the past that Trump often opined or joked about radical thugs who have come president for life or have shown strong armed tactics to keep the people of their countries in check. He has said these things with a smile on his face to possibly soften the impact of his words. Yet, Hasan wonders,
So it was all tongue-in-cheek, right? Right?
Perhaps not. “Authoritarians and aspiring authoritarians often ‘joke’ about power grabs or autocratic behaviour as a ‘trial balloon’ to gauge public reaction,” says Brian Klaas, an American political scientist who specialises in authoritarianism and political violence, and is author of the recent book, The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy. Klaas has a point: Trump’s fellow populist, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, “joked” about assassinating reporters when he came to office in 2016. Today, the Philippines ranks as one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a journalist . . . .
Then there is Trump’s domestic record. Political scientists agree that authoritarian or illiberal rule is not only the result of military coups or tanks on the streets. Rather, the slow erosion of democratic norms can also open the door to creeping authoritarianism. Wittingly or unwittingly, Trump has borrowed from the playbook of every successful autocrat of the modern era. NewStatesmanAmerica
Hasan and Klaas’ theory explains Trump’s erratic behavior at the CPAC meeting earlier this week. Hasan goes on to illuminate the steps a textbook authoritarian follows to take over a government and set himself up as the autocratic ruler of the country. He writes,
Undermine the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary? Check. Trump has attacked “so-called” judges who have ruled against him while tweeting that a New York terror suspect “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY”.
Politicise law enforcement and the security services? Check. Trump fired FBI chief James Comey, tried to sack special counsel Robert Mueller and now wants to remove his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
Demonise the free press? Check. Trump has repeatedly lambasted his critics in the media as “fake news”, “scum” and “losers”. He has dubbed leading news organisations such as CNN and the New York Times as “the enemy of the American people”.
Fetishise the military? Check. Trump has surrounded himself with unelected former generals – his chief of staff and his defence secretary, among them – and even demanded a military parade be held in Washington, DC.
Delegitimise the electoral process? Check. Trump has claimed that “millions of people… voted illegally” for his opponent and has spread false claims about “serious voter fraud” in the United States.
Criminalise the opposition? Trump has pressured the justice department to investigate his 2016 opponent, “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, and called for the jailing of her former aide Huma Abedin. NewStatesmanAmerica
Trump’s unhinged two hour long speech at CPAC plays into Hasan’s theory a bit too nicely for comfort. I would not encourage anyone to sit down and listen to the speech in its entirety, but Chris Cillizza in his column The Point lists 67 of Trump’s most outlandish statements, which are chilling in their scope and down right crazy off the wall Trumpisms.
Hasan wrote his article a year ago, and arguably, things have only gotten worse. This week he published a corollary of sorts in the exceptional publication The Intercept titled Yes, Let’s Defeat or Impeach Donald Trump. But What If He Refuses to Leave the White House? If The Intercept article is anything, it is scary frightening. He begins with this little scenario,
Trump has been laying the groundwork for 2020. Think about it: Why would a president who has violated a number of U.S. laws, traditions, and norms — from obstructing justice, to defying the emoluments clause, to threatening the free press, to inciting violence — show any deference to Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution?
Consider this scenario: On the morning of November 3, 2020, it becomes clear that Trump has lost both the electoral college and the popular vote to the Democratic candidate, whoever they may be. The president, however, rather than calling his Democratic opponent to concede, holds a rally with his supporters at which he declares himself the winner, tells the crowd “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” slams the “fake news” media, and claims “millions and millions” of people voted illegally for the Democrats. He denounces a “deep state” coup and warns of “violence.”
Do you really think this isn’t possible? That this potential scenario shouldn’t make us all very afraid? The Intercept
Hasan goes on to cite Trump’s narcissistic personality that leads him to believe he can do no wrong and knows more about everything than you or me. One could almost get the impression that Trump thinks he is ordained by god to lead this country. I write almost because I don’t think Trump has in his small personality or brain a scintilla of godliness or understanding of anything divine.
What Hasan’s articles does for me is answer that haunting question of why is Trump’s base, and for all practical purposes the Republican Party, so angry and pissed off? It seems obvious that Trump is grooming them in case he needs their support should the American people come to their senses and kick him out of office in 2020. If that happens, the ensuing days after November 2 will be crucial to whether or not our democracy can survive the Trump presidency. I would like to reply in the affirmative, but then there again, I never thought he would be president in the first place.