It’s Already Happened Here

Quoting Adam Serwer in The Atlantic:

The process by which a democracy becomes an authoritarian regime is what social scientists call [“authoritarian-ization”]. The process does not need to be sudden and dramatic. Often, democratic mechanisms are eroded over a period of months or years, slowly degrading the ability of the public to choose its leaders or hold them to account.

Legislators in functioning democracies need not agree on substantive policy matters…, but no matter the party or ideology they support, they must hold the right of the people to choose their own leaders sacred. The entire Senate Republican Conference retains only one legislator willing to act on that principle….

Modern authoritarian institutions diligently seek to preserve the appearance of democratic accountability. Perhaps for this reason, [Attorney General] Barr has insisted publicly that he is protecting the independence of the Justice Department. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” he told reporters last week…. This is a lawyerly dodge masquerading as bluster—Barr does not need to be bullied into shielding T—- and his friends or pursuing his enemies. Indeed, Barr’s task is to do so while maintaining a veneer of legitimacy over the process, which is impossible to do when T—- makes such demands publicly….

Although in nearly every other context, Barr has been an advocate for the harshest possible punishments, [but] members of the ruling clique are entitled to criticize law enforcement without sanction, and entitled to leniency when they commit crimes on the boss’s behalf. Everyone else is entitled to kneel….

With the exception of [Senator Romney], who voted against acquittal on the first of the two charges, the [Republican Party] now makes no distinction between fealty to T—- and loyalty to the country. The Founders devised the impeachment clause as a remedy for a chief executive who abuses his power to stay in office. But as there were no parties at the time of the founding, they did not foresee that such a chief executive would be shielded by toadies who envision their civic obligations as beginning and ending with devotion to the leader.

Much has been made of T—-’s unfitness for office. But if T—- were the only one who were unfit, his authoritarian impulses would have been easier to contain. Instead, the Republican Party is slowly transforming into a regime party, one whose primary duty is to maintain its control of the government at all costs. The benefits here are mutual: By keeping T—- in power, the party retains power. Individuals who want to rise in the Republican Party and its associated organizations today must be unwavering in their devotion to the leader—that is the only way to have a career in the [party], let alone reap the associated political and financial benefits…

But keeping T—- in office is not the ultimate goal, despite party members’ obsequious public performances….. Rather, the purpose is to preserve the authoritarian structure T—- and Barr are building, so that it can be inherited by the next Republican president. To be more specific, the T—- administration is not fighting a “deep state”; it is seeking to build one that will outlast him….

Let us pause for a moment to take stock of this vision of government. It is a state in which the legislature can neither oversee the executive branch nor pass laws that constrain it. A state in which legal requests for government records on those associated with the political opposition are satisfied immediately, and such requests related to the sitting executive are denied wholesale. It is a system in which the executive can be neither investigated for criminal activity nor removed by the legislature for breaking the law. It is a government in which only the regime party may make enforceable demands, and where the opposition party may compete in elections, but only against the efforts of federal law enforcement to marginalize them for their opposition to the president. It is a vision of government in which members of the civil service may break the law on the leader’s behalf, but commit an unforgivable crime should they reveal such malfeasance to the public.

Were it in any other nation, how would you describe a government that functions this way?

… People may think of authoritarian nations in Cold War terms, as states with bombastic leaders who grant themselves extravagant titles and weigh their chests down with meaningless medals. These are nations without legislatures, without courts, with populations cowed by armies of secret police.

This is not how many authoritarian nations work today. Most have elections, legislatures, courts; they possess all the trappings of democracy. In fact, most deny they are authoritarian at all. “Few contemporary dictatorships admit that they are just that,” writes the scholar Milan Svolik in The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. “If we were to trust dictators’ declarations about their regimes, most of them would be democracies.”

But the democratic institutions that authoritarian nations retain are largely vestigial or have little power to check the executive, either because they are under regime control, or because they are cowed or co-opted into submission.

Similarly, the typical image of an authoritarian nation involves violently suppressing dissent and assassinating or imprisoning political opponents and journalists. But violent suppression has tremendous risks and costs, and so authoritarians have developed more subtle methods of repression.

“Rather than using brute force to maintain control, today’s authoritarian regimes use strategies that are subtler and more ambiguous in nature to silence, deter, and demobilize opponents,” the scholar Erica Frantz writes. “Doing so serves a number of purposes. It attracts less attention, enables them to plausibly deny a role in what occurred, makes it difficult for opponents to launch a decisive response, and helps the regime feign compliance with democratic norms of behavior”…

The frequent worries that it can happen here are arrogant in one respect: It already has happened here. American democracy has always been most vulnerable to an ideology that reserves democratic rights to one specific demographic group, raising that faction as the only one that possesses a fundamentally heritable claim to self-government. Those who are not members of this faction are rendered, by definition, an existential threat.

In the aftermath of the Compromise of 1877, the Republican Party abandoned black voters in the South to authoritarian rule for nearly a century. But the Southern Democrats who destroyed the Reconstruction governments and imposed one-party despotism imagined themselves to be not effacing democracy, but rescuing it from the tyranny of the unworthy and ignorant. “Genuine democracy,” declared the terrorist turned South Carolina governor and senator Ben Tillman, was “the rule of the people—of all the white people, rich and poor alike.”

Similarly, many members of the Republican elite have transitioned seamlessly from attempting to restrain Trump’s authoritarian impulses to enabling them, all the while telling themselves they are acting in the best interests of democracy. This delusion is necessary, a version of the apocalyptic fantasy that conservative pundits have fed their audiences. In this self-justifying myth, only T—- stands between conservative Americans and a left-wing armageddon in which effete white liberals and the black and brown masses they control shut the right out of power forever….

To save “democracy” then, they must, at any cost, preserve a system in which only those who are worthy—that is, those who vote Republican—may select leaders and make policy. If that means disenfranchising nonwhite voters, so be it. If it means imposing a nationwide racial gerrymander to enhance the power of white voters at the expense of everyone else, then that is what must be done. And if it means allowing the president to use his authority to prevent the opposition from competing in free and fair elections, then that is but a small price to pay….

The insistence [by T—- defenders] that “the Democrats have never accepted that Donald Trump won the 2016 election, and they will never forgive him, either” has it exactly backwards. Democrats impeached T—- to preserve a democratic system in which they have a chance of winning, in which the president cannot blithely frame his rivals for invented crimes. Republicans acquitted him because they fear that a system not rigged in their favor is one in which they will never win again.

On Thursday, February 6, millions of Americans went about their lives as they would have any other day….Yet the nation they live in may have been fundamentally changed the day before.

Democratic backsliding can be arrested. But that is an arduous task, and a T—- defeat in November is a necessary but not sufficient step. Many Americans have doubtless failed to recognize what has occurred, or how quickly the nation is hurtling toward a state of unfreedom that may prove impossible to reverse. How long the T—- administration lasts should be up to the American people to decide. But this president would never risk allowing them to freely make such a choice. The Republican Party has shown that nothing would cause it to restrain the president, and so he has no reason to restrain himself.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the American imagination of catastrophe has been limited to sudden, shocking events, the kind that shatter a sunny day in a storm of blood. That has left Americans unprepared for a different kind of catastrophe, the kind that spreads slowly and does not abruptly announce itself. For that reason, for most Americans, that Thursday morning felt like any other. But it was not—the Senate acquittal marked the beginning of a fundamental transition of the United States from a democracy, however flawed, toward [authoritarianism]. It was, in short, the end of the T—- administration, and the first day of the would-be T—- Regime.

Unquote.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats have decided to shut up about T—-‘s abuses and talk about healthcare and jobs. It’s an excellent time to contact Speaker Nancy Pelosi and your congressional representative to remind them there is a more urgent issue to deal with.

Colbert on Taking One’s Oath Seriously

Stephen Colbert is America’s most thoughtful supplier of late-night comedy. Last night, he gave a heartfelt thank you to Sen. Mitt Romney for voting to remove the “monstrous child in the White House”; excoriated Romney’s Republican colleagues for ignoring their solemn oaths to do “impartial justice”; and said some funny stuff too.

Note: The Romney family once took a trip with their dog in a crate on the roof of their car. More famously, Mr. Romney was defeated in the 2012 presidential election by Barack Obama, who Mr. Colbert definitely voted for.

Going All In

Tom Sullivan of Hullabaloo shares a theory:

Not even overwhelming public outcry is likely to move Senate Republicans to waver in support of their Leader, nor from helping cover up his crimes. Last night in a Facebook post, historian Rick Perlstein … offered a theory for why:

Germans who left behind evidence during World War II that they knew … committing war crimes was wrong … were more likely to … commit war crimes. This was because (1) they had passed a point of no return, and (2) the motivation became even more frenzied devotion to “winning” as the state defined it, because they realized that if Germany lost, they would be punished–because, again, they knew they were breaking the law.

…. now that all these Republican “moderates” are on the record advancing what Jerold Nadler correctly call a coverup with their votes again evidence and witnesses, it becomes all the more important for T—-ism to prevail so they never have to face the music for their sins–and they may work with ever greater frenzy to make sure T—-ism never loses. To liberals who think to themselves, “The House managers’ presentation is so airtight and inarguable, surely one of these Republicans will break”: well, the very air-tightness might have the opposite effect. They may commit themselves ever more strongly to the ratchet toward dictatorship. Because if T—- loses, they can now imagine themselves in the figurative dock.

A key difference between Perlstein’s example and ours is Germans had seen punishment after World War I, that is, in recent collective memory. They had reason to fear accountability as a real prospect. Republicans over the last half century, on the other hand, saw Gerald Ford pardon Nixon, Reagan dodge impeachment, and George H.W. Bush pardon six of Reagan’s Iran-Contra co-conspirators.

They saw the administration of George W. Bush lie the country into war and commit war crimes with impunity courtesy, in part, of Barack Obama’s wanting to “look forward,” not back. They witnessed the financial industry bring the world economy to its knees and go unchastened, only to get richer and more powerful courtesy, again, of Barack Obama’s wanting to “look forward,” not back.

Yet, even if they fear no punishment, Republicans may have reached their own “point of no return.”

Meanwhile, … the rich just get richer, nonwhite people get more numerous, and T—-’s base gets more anxious [that] its accustomed social and political dominance will be lost to the multicultural ….

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has pledged if elected to “investigate corruption during the T—- administration and to hold government officials accountable for illegal activity.” That ought to have at least sent shivers up some spines. Because Warren appears to mean it. First she has to get to the White House.

In justifying his Iran-Contra pardons, Bush argued that the prosecutions amounted to “the criminalization of policy differences.” Expect to hear that phrase again soon. William Barr sits atop Trump’s Department of Justice just as he did under Bush 41. As things sit now, Republicans and the donor class have little reason to fear punishment.

The rest of us had best get busy giving them reason to.

Unquote.

Impeachment Clarified

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, a conservative who hasn’t joined the cult, wrote a column called “The Party Of Lying Liars” (which sounds a lot like Al Franken’s 1996 book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right). Some thoughts from Ms. Rubin:

When listening to [our president] and fellow Republicans throw around accusations against Democrats and the media or advance defenses for [his] impeachable conduct, there is a better than even chance they are misleading, if not downright lying [I’d say the chances are closer to 95%]….

On procedure, they’ve lied about the depositions (routinely used in investigations), claiming they violate “due process” or amount to a “Soviet-style” star chamber. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) lied in claiming she was prevented from asking questions. [According to the rules, it wasn’t her turn yet.] … Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) falsely claimed not producing the whistleblower violates [the president’s] Sixth Amendment rights [the 6th amendment only applies to criminal defendants, and the president isn’t one of those (yet)]….

At times, Republicans deliberately ignore evidence in front of their eyes. They seem to have settled on the theory that Trump never communicated to [Ukraine president] Zelensky that aid was tied to investigations of Biden, Burisma and [the] crackpot theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election, a theory first suggested by ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin himself]. Trump, however, raised these items in the phone call (“I would like you to do us a favor though”), as we know from the rough transcription [which he bizarrely claims exonerates him]….

Republicans’ lies are so numerous and obvious that one requires only a minimal amount of fact-checking to see that they lie because they have no truthful factual defenses nor valid constitutional argument. The facts are the facts: Trump conditioned aid to an ally in a war for its sovereignty on production of dirt to smear a political rival. He has refused to allow key witnesses to produce documents or to testify, thereby obstructing Congress. He has sought to intimidate and threaten witnesses including the whistleblower and [Ambassador] Marie Yovanovitch, sending out the message you will be targeted and smeared if you provide evidence against him.

As for the Constitution, we know that “bribery,” enumerated as one of the grounds for impeachment in the parlance of the Framers, includes asking for … personal favors in exchange for political acts [whether or not the favor is granted]. That is precisely what occurred here. Obstruction and witness intimidation are obviously “high crimes.”

House Republicans have become so invested in crackpot theories, bogus procedural complaints and constitutional illiteracy that they will never recognize the president’s wrongdoing. They are as incapable of upholding their oath, which requires impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors or bribery…. Both [the president] and his House enablers are unfit to serve, since personal and political considerations obliterate their ability to detect the truth and thereby to uphold their public obligations. It would be refreshing if House Republicans simply admitted [the Toddler] violated his oath but they are unwilling to abide by theirs and remove him. The candor would be preferable to the non-stop lying.

It remains an open question as to whether Senate Republicans are willing to ignore and distort reality so as to avoid voting to convict a president of their own party. Unfortunately, we find it highly unlikely that more than a few (if that many) would concede that [the president] and the right-wing echo chamber that protects him have been spinning a web of lies for nearly three years.

Unquote.

Yes, it’s unlikely that enough Senate Republicans will agree to remove him from office –unless they make it a secret ballot. That would give the cowards enough cover to dump him. But it still makes perfect sense to publicize more of the president’s offenses. 

It would also make perfect sense for the House Judiciary committee to write separate articles of impeachment based on the findings of the Mueller investigation and subsequent disclosures. Mueller invited Congress to impeach the president. No president should ever get away with what this one did to obstruct an investigation. But Mueller wasn’t a great witness. If he had delivered his congressional testimony more clearly and more forcefully, the president probably would have been impeached already. There is still time to remind the voters that the Ukraine scandal isn’t the only reason he get rid of him (and allow him to become a criminal defendant).

Who We’re Up Against

The [Toddler] Make America Great Again Committee (“TMAGAC”) is a joint fundraising committee composed of Donald J. [Toddler] for President, Inc. (“DJTP”) and the Republican National Committee (“RNC”). I don’t recommend visiting their site.

Last week, a journalist shared one of the committee’s Facebook advertisements. The text reads:

The far left knows that they have NO CHANCE of defeating President [Toddler] in 2020, so they’ve resorted to violence to try to silence the MILLIONS of American Patriots who voted for him.

We need to show radical left that they will NEVER be able to silence us with their violence and their hatred.

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I suppose by “far left” and “radical left” they mean the Democratic Party, not the Communist Party USA or the Socialists Workers. Hatred? You bet. Some hatred is deserved. Violence? Not at all.

This advertisement was paid for by our president’s campaign committee and one of our two major political parties. Facebook let them run it. These are the kind of people we’re up against.

Destroyed By Madness?

Tom Sullivan of the Hullabaloo blog summarizes. Quote:

… The trend lines were there — from the Birchers and Goldwater to Nixon and the Southern Strategy, from the parallel rise of the Christian right and movement conservatism, to Reagan, to “Rush Rooms” and the Gingrich revolution, and from birtherism to climate denialism to Trumpish authoritarianism.

It is quaint to think George W. Bush’s tax cuts, malapropisms, and war cabinet once seemed the apotheosis of the conservative project. The momentum of that project would carry the right’s explosive-laden artillery shell beyond its intended liberal targets. Plutocrats would get their tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks, but at risk of bringing the shining city on the hill’s walls down around them and us…

The movement conservative leaders thought they had built upon a philosophy of lower taxes and small government was simply a facade. Their own internal polling told them their voters had no interest in it. The culture wars the party fueled as a useful tool in advancing their donors’ objectives was their base voters’ true philosophy:

This would seem to confirm the conclusions that liberals have long harbored. The Republican Party’s political elite is obsessed with cutting taxes for the wealthy, but it recognizes the lack of popular support for its objectives and is forced to divert attention away from its main agenda by emphasizing cultural-war themes. The disconnect between the Republican Party’s plutocratic agenda and the desires of the electorate is a tension it has never been able to resolve, and as it has moved steadily rightward, it has been evolving into an authoritarian party.

The party’s embrace of Trump is a natural, if not inevitable, step in this evolution. This is why the conservatives who presented Trump as an enemy of conservative-movement ideals have so badly misdiagnosed the party’s response to Trump. The most fervently ideological conservatives in the party have also been the most sycophantic: Ryan, Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Mick Mulvaney, the entire House Freedom Caucus. They embraced Trump because Trumpism is their avenue to carry out their unpopular agenda.

… As dead as irony is in the Age of Trump, the irony remaining is how a movement in reaction to the social transformations of the 1960s now mirrors, and in many ways exceeds, the worst excesses of which it accused civil rights “communists” and long-haired hippies with their drugs and godless “moral relativism.”

Now it is the Republican base addicted to drugs, looking for an angry fix, and making obeisance to a false prophet as the party’s elite grovel for a seat at his right hand. What conservatives need now is not pundits or preachers, but poets.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness …”

End quote. 

Or psychiatrists. Anyway, he’s being poetic. He knows they weren’t the best minds to begin with.