This screed is a response to a friend’s Facebook post. He linked to the article The Republic Conquered: On America Entering the Post-Democratic Era, with a warning to conservatives to set down their coffee while reading it “unless you enjoy irrigating your sinuses,” and a friend of his replied, “OMG, more proof that liberalism is a mental disorder.”
But there is more to this than liberalism vs. conservatism. Indeed Trump, a populist bridge between liberal and conservative concerns, is the perfect avatar of the real problem, which is the people, as embodied in the president, against the constitutional order. And so, my response.
[The post-democratic era] probably won’t happen, but Trump is more likely than any president we’ve ever had to make it happen, because nothing matters more to him than satisfying his ego. The man is a slave to himself on a level we have not seen since Nixon, and Nixon had the counterbalancing quality of understanding world affairs better than most and a drive to reduce the threat of nuclear annihilation. Trump knows less of foreign affairs than any post-WWII candidate (and given we’ve elected several governors to the job, that’s saying a lot), and is more interested in dominance than peace.
If Nixon made a dramatic (albeit, ironically, unnecessary) attempt to subvert democracy, we can hardly expect Trump to be much better.
And the stage has been set by previous presidents for efforts to rule unilaterally, without consent or reference to Congress. Whoever among all the candidates became our next president was going to have those tools at their disposal, but Trump more than the others expects to get his way — it’s part of his extreme narcissism. All presidents see themselves as the embodiment of the will of the people , and who dares stand against the will of the sovereign people? That’s enough to go to any person’s head, so how must it affect the extreme narcissist?
And the political climate is right for such an effort, a climate of which you and Bob are both part. “Liberalism is a mental disorder,” is a perfect example of how both sides demonize each other. It’s on par with claims that all conservatives are racists, or bitter people clinging to guns and religion, or deplorable.
When politics is beyond mere disagreement, at the point where disagreers are seen as mentally deranged, barely more than animals, we begin to gravitate toward populist candidates. Not just Trump, but Sanders as well on the other side. And populists don’t believe in constitutional constraints; they believe only in the will of the people, embodied, of course, in themselves. And no political niceties can get in the way. Think of Huey Long, in Louisiana.
What most people are missing is that this is not about liberal vs. conservative. Both sides are following this pat. Trump is indeed the ideal embodiment of this tendency, because he’s neither liberal nor conservative. He has been both a Republican and Democrat, as well as an independent. This is about the populist fantasy of a political savior, a man into whom we pour all our political hopes and dreams, creating expectations that could only begin to be met through the smashing of all checks and balances.
I have been warning for years now that the presidency has set us on a path toward tyranny, raking steps forward toward that end with each succeeding presidency, as each one’s innovation in power becomes normalized by their successors. Eight years ago I warned liberals that Obama would disappoint them in their hopes of rolling back the power gains of the Bush presidency. Their only comfort to themselves has been “Bush did it first.” Likewise, conservatives who have complained about Obama’s unilateral governance will comfort themselves in the Trump administrator by saying, “Obama did it first.”
If not Trump, some future president will kill off American democracy, doing so as the Tribune of the People themselves. And while I would wager against that happening in the Trump administration, because our other institutions are not quite yet dead, the one who does will almost certainly be a man similar to Trump in his degree of narcissism, his need to get his own way, and his desire to not just win but to humiliate his enemies.