How to stop an autocracy
February 9, 2017 1:37 PM   Subscribe

The danger isn’t that Trump will build an autocracy. It’s that congressional Republicans will let him. "If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to compel Trump to release his tax returns, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to impeach Trump unless he agreed to turn his assets over to a blind trust, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to take Trump’s power to choose who can and cannot enter the country, they could." The problem is that the different branches of government, instead of balancing things out by being important checks on each other's power, have instead become simply different manifestations of one of two major parties. Our granfalloons are out of alignment.

Ezra Klein's piece in Vox is a response to David Frum's piece in The Atlantic called How Donald Trump Could Build An Autocracy in the U.S. (Frum is a former George W Bush speechwriter and now editor of The Atlantic. Interesting times.) Frum writes:
Mostly, however, modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist. All reporting serves an agenda. There is no truth, only competing attempts to grab power.
But what is there to do about Trump's ongoing power grab?
Get into the habit of telephoning your senators and House member at their local offices, especially if you live in a red state. Press your senators to ensure that prosecutors and judges are chosen for their independence—and that their independence is protected. Support laws to require the Treasury to release presidential tax returns if the president fails to do so voluntarily. Urge new laws to clarify that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president’s immediate family, and that it refers not merely to direct gifts from governments but to payments from government-affiliated enterprises as well. Demand an independent investigation by qualified professionals of the role of foreign intelligence services in the 2016 election—and the contacts, if any, between those services and American citizens. Express your support and sympathy for journalists attacked by social-media trolls, especially women in journalism, so often the preferred targets. Honor civil servants who are fired or forced to resign because they defied improper orders. Keep close watch for signs of the rise of a culture of official impunity, in which friends and supporters of power-holders are allowed to flout rules that bind everyone else.

Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.
Frum sums up that long article in less than three minutes here.
posted by Sleeper (64 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
This has been my worry since pretty early on; with the executive in hand and the legislative branch acting pretty compliant, all the Trumpists have to do is beat up the judicial branch and they will have control. The concept of "checks and balances" between all three branches really does seem to come down to custom and mutual respect to the idea that they each have authority with respect to each other; we're watching what happens when someone comes along and sneers at the concept. Some people are going to go along with it (and some of those will cheer it); others will fight it - but they will fight it using the old levers of power that used to matter, but maybe don't so much anymore.

I don't know, it's just this feeling that a lot of our understanding of how things are supposed to work was a paper shield; just ink on a page.
posted by nubs at 2:02 PM on February 9, 2017 [26 favorites]


The thing that scares me is: it takes an election to get rid of a standard terrible elected official... but a revolution to get rid of an autocrat.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:05 PM on February 9, 2017 [31 favorites]


Exactly, DirtyOldTown. I'm afraid of that, too. That's usually how it works, and arguing with it or blaming the political Left (in the original sense of that term as the popular opposition to the establishment powers) is really just a waste of time and energy.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:22 PM on February 9, 2017


So much of our shared existence depends on unspoken assumptions of basic sanity. Nice while it lasts.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:22 PM on February 9, 2017 [16 favorites]


That article was much more depressing than I think Ezra klein intended, because his hope-- that Congress will provide a check on the president-- simply won't happen, any more than it did when George W. Bush was president. Congressional Republicans don't see Trump as a threat to the constitutional order but rather as an opportunity to create the kind of constitutional order they envision: low taxes which distribute wealth up to the top, no safety net, etc. Trump's and his cabinet's profiteering is not considered a threat as much as both an acceptable cost and a future opportunity. (Once again, the seeds of this sort of thing were found in the Bush administration with Blackwater, Halliburton, etc)

As far as how Frum's description isn't "really" an autocracy as much as a "partyocracy," that is exactly what modern authoritarian states look like. Singapore has always had several political parties, but just one has been allowed to rule. Russia has multiple political parties, just with United Russia holding 75% of the seats.

For there to be serious congressional pushback against Trump, there would have to be a specific issue with which Trump's interests conflicted with Congressional interests. At the moment, that doesn't seem to be apparent. Trump is only a threat when they get in the way of or offend him personally, so their interest is always to stay on his good side in order to get their long-dreamed-off legislation passed. In exchange, they're willing to go along with the wall/Muslim ban/personal enrichment.
posted by deanc at 2:23 PM on February 9, 2017 [44 favorites]


Hmm, interesting. I confess I skimmed parts of this but I think I get the gist, and I still don't know how we will actually stop the autocracy/partyocracy.

This seems to point very clearly to the problem with a two party system. More than ever we need additional parties so that no one party can exert this much power and act as the enforcer of a madman in the presidency. If you had 3 or 4 strong parties they would have to coalesce on certain issues and diverge on others, and they wouldn't have enough bodies to overwhelm opposition.
posted by latkes at 2:25 PM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


Congressional Republicans don't see Trump as a threat to the constitutional order but rather as an opportunity to create the kind of constitutional order they envision:
Remember, the Constitution doesn't specify two parties, so one-party rule is TOTALLY Constitutional.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:29 PM on February 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


So much of our shared existence depends on unspoken assumptions of basic sanity. Nice while it lasts.

RIGHT? so many of the things that everyone was like "oh, trump will never actually DO that" were based on the fact that no sane politician would ever publicly behave like that, would ever tantrum their way into such an irrational decision, would ever accidentally threaten to invade another country because he likes to talk like how he thinks tough guys talk, etc etc etc, because it's fucking nuts to even contemplate. and yet here we are, in fucking crazytown.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:39 PM on February 9, 2017 [36 favorites]


This seems to point very clearly to the problem with a two party system. More than ever we need additional parties so that no one party can exert this much power and act as the enforcer of a madman in the presidency. If you had 3 or 4 strong parties they would have to coalesce on certain issues and diverge on others, and they wouldn't have enough bodies to overwhelm opposition.

Pretty much. From my reckoning there are two main problems with the US as a representative democracy.

The first is that representation has been diluted. It's hard to feel like you make a difference with an average of 800,000-something people per house district.

The second is that no opinion is heard from the loser because of FPTP voting.

If we just made every seat into 10-15 districts elected by IRV I can guarantee you Congress would look a lot different and saner. First of all you'd be back down to ~50,000 people per district. You can elect a pet representative with 7-10% of the vote to the house with those numbers. The second is that it would have the side effect of effectively ending gerrymandering which in itself causes Congress to become ridiculously distorted.

The Senate also needs to be 10 times larger than it is and needs to be elected via IRV. A ridiculous amount of power is vested in a senator and that needs to change.

The US will not change while there is an underrepresented populace and FPTP voting.
posted by Talez at 2:49 PM on February 9, 2017 [13 favorites]


If we just made every seat into 10-15 districts elected by IRV I can guarantee you Congress would look a lot different and saner.

And if I was a magic point, I could fly.

Don't waste energy daydreaming about an impossible better government. Look at and deal with the government we have now. Yes it looks hopeless, it probably is. Are probably lining at a one - party system for the rest of the century. But we need to look at the hand we have and deal with it, and not engage in fantasies.
posted by happyroach at 3:12 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


@nubs: "This has been my worry since pretty early on; with the executive in hand and the legislative branch acting pretty compliant, all the Trumpists have to do is beat up the judicial branch and they will have control."

There are 118 open federal judgeships (including one in the Supreme Court) thanks to Republican obstructionism. Trump already owns the federal judiciary, he just needs to cash in his chips.
posted by Skwirl at 3:15 PM on February 9, 2017 [16 favorites]


> If we just made every seat into 10-15 districts elected by IRV I can guarantee you Congress would look a lot different and saner.

Alternately we could establish democratically elected workers' councils. These councils could then expropriate productive property in the name of the workers, resulting in a system of dual power wherein both the workers' organizations and the institutions of bourgeois electoral "democracy" hold claims to legitimacy. Once dual power has been established, we can then proceed by whatever means to dismantle the bourgeois legislature, to transfer all power to the workers, and to thereby establish the workers' democracy as the sole legitimate government.

I can guarantee you that if we did that, the government would look a lot different, and saner.

Which is to say,
  1. if you're going to theorycraft about radical changes to the governing system of the United States, don't be halfassed about it.
  2. Don't assume that once you have a good solid scheme for genuinely democratic governance everyone will flock to it. Keep in mind that the ruling classes, now as always, despise democracy and will stop at nothing to suppress and/or subvert it.
  3. Realize that the problem isn't designing a good system; any fool can design a good system. The problem is mustering the organization and force required to supplant the current ruling classes.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:29 PM on February 9, 2017 [32 favorites]


The problem with revolutions is that you need to have a tame autocrat to install that will step down at the end of their term. Otherwise, you just end up with the next-most-powerful autocrat in charge, presiding over the ruins of your revolution.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:38 PM on February 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


The problem with revolutions is that if they threaten the rule of capital, capitalist forces will stop at nothing to suppress them — deploying covert action, economic embargoes, and naked military aggression to make a bloody example of any group that attempts to liberate itself into democracy.

Nevertheless, the point is that "solving" the problem of America's antidemocratic electoral democracy has absolutely nothing to do with finding some more democratic way of allocating representatives. We already know methods for democratic decisionmaking; the reason we're not using them isn't because we don't know them, it's because the extant antidemocratic decisionmaking methods are propped up by the raw power of oligarchs, oligarchs who have been throwing a massive decades-long reactionary tantrum that's now culminating in a transition to open fascism.

So if we're theorycrafting about how to fix America's autocratic government, the problem at hand isn't the math problem of drawing district lines and figuring out how many people should be represented by one representative. Instead, it's the much more difficult political problem of first delegitimating the extant government in the eyes of the public, and then of effectively agitating the public to take action against it.

This is likely impossible. If it is possible, it will take long decades. And meanwhile the temperatures and the seas will keep rising through it all.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:03 PM on February 9, 2017 [17 favorites]


Talez: The first is that representation has been diluted. It's hard to feel like you make a difference with an average of 800,000-something people per house district.

Yes. We've have 435 members of congress since the Apportionment Act of 1911, despite the big population increase since then (and the addition of a couple of states.) Each person's vote has gotten rather diluted.
posted by larrybob at 4:12 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


And something is wrong when Congress has an 11% approval rating but over 90% of them manage to get re-elected anyway. Or when they make a literal pledge to be obstructionist rather than representative of their constituents and yet nobody removes them from office.

Not to spoil it, but you do know what happens you depose the Crimson King and climb the Dark Tower, right?

[Okay, spoiler alert.]
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 4:45 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Why will no one even seriously consider getting parties out of the process completely, the way it worked at the start and was supposed to work? All parties do is accumulate money and loyalty that makes their members less free to act on their own personal conscience for the best interests of the nation. It also leads to people lazily thinking they "know" what a candidate really stands for and how they're likely to govern independent of any real information about the individual running for office. Other than being powerful today, how does the party system specifically work for our democracy? What problem does it solve other than the problem of politicians needing organizations that pool up campaign money for them and obscure their sources because we allow private money in the process instead of fully publicly funding all candidates.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:49 PM on February 9, 2017


Why will no one even seriously consider getting parties out of the process completely, the way it worked at the start and was supposed to work?

It's a futile thing though. Even if you take parties out of politics they will still have informal alliances and funding channels that resemble political parties in all but name.
posted by Talez at 4:59 PM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


How would you actually "get rid" of parties? You basically would have to alter the system in an even more radical way than the changes which have been mentioned so far, so that factional cooperation does not produce any competitive advantage in winning elections or achieving legislative or policy goals.
posted by XMLicious at 5:02 PM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


More than ever we need additional parties so that no one party can exert this much power and act as the enforcer of a madman in the presidency.

Unfortunately, what seems to be happening is that countries end up with a moderately hard left party and a moderately centrist left party that can't work well together so a minority right party can coast to victory.
posted by Candleman at 5:08 PM on February 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


How would you actually "get rid" of parties?

Same way we got them: nothing. They weren't there to start with and George Washington warned allowing them to form would eventually destroy the system of checks and balances. You judge if he was right.

Parties aren't legally sanctioned or constitutional. They formed over an early dispute, basically over how far to go with all the enlightenment universal equality stuff. They're just companies, basically, for pooling money.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:39 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Practical answer: full, equally publicly funded campaigns that don't allow a party affiliation for candidates who meet non partisan qualifying criteria. The only reason the parties exist as they do now is we require proving ability to raise campaign funds to qualify to run for office, which gives party affiliated candidates a huge leg up and effectively a monopoly for the party system.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:44 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


So, sorry, but just started this semester's section of a parties class and this week is basically "Parties: NOT THE DEVIL."

Why will no one even seriously consider getting parties out of the process completely, the way it worked at the start and was supposed to work?

Part 1 is that the way it worked at the start and the way it is intended to work and supposed to work was horrifying and awful. The way that it was supposed to work was that basically everyone who is black would be enslaved or exiled to Haiti or back to Africa. The way is was supposed to work was that women would be little more than property. The way it was supposed to work was basically Apartheid-era South Africa, except with nonrich whites being just another variety of colored.

Part 2 goes back a ways but mostly ties back to Schattschneider and Key. Schattschneider had a few money-quotes, but probably the biggest is (from memory so probably errors) "Political parties created democracy and democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties." And he's not wrong; the widespread extensions of the franchise in the early 19th century that brought the experiment of universal-white-manhood suffrage to the world were due in part to parties enfranchising their supporters.

We also know a fair bit about what de-jure and de-facto nonpartisanship looks like. Where Key comes in is from his old analysis of the one-party south, which (mostly) functioned as a nonpartisan government. If everyone is a Democrat and anyone can say they're a Democrat, it just stops meaning anything. Anyway, obviously most southern governments were a real fucking mess, full of corruption and cronyism and having a very hard time focusing on any kind of coherent policy. This is sort of a minimal criterion for government: it should give a shit about policy. But they mostly failed that basic criterion. And when they didn't fail, it was because they managed to have a period with a stable factional system for a while... which is to say that they had almost-parties.

The real core thing is that it seems to be the case, if you actually look at the world, that if you want government to care about policy, you absolutely have to have some kind of sustained opposition, someone who can point at the government and say "That's stupid horseshit. We'd do it differently. We'd..." You need parties.

We also know what nonpartisanship looked like in Nebraska until recently, and it was a shit-show too. The really horrifying part was that even if you knew all of the issue positions a NE legislator had taken, those issue positions did not predict *anything* about their voting patterns. That should terrify you -- the votes they cast were almost totally unconnected to any positions they took.

I could go on but this has already been a INSERT QUARTER FOR LECTURE so I will shut up. But nonpartisan government totally blows goats.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:04 PM on February 9, 2017 [46 favorites]


Unfortunately, what seems to be happening is that countries end up with a moderately hard left party and a moderately centrist left party that can't work well together so a minority right party can coast to victory.

That's an extremely flippant response since this only really happens when you split the vote (i.e. Canada) and not during coalition building.

In a lot of countries this isn't a problem because coalitions aren't so cut and dry. You may have something like Sweden where SAP are backed up by MP but then again you have peculiarities like Austria where the SPÖ (center-left) going into coalition with ÖVP (center-right). French leftists are in coalition right now with the entire left wing while Czech center-leftists are in power backed up by liberal centrists, and eurofederalist Christian Democrats skipping the worker's party.

There's no hard and fast rules about coalitions but one thing is for sure in a multi-party parliamentry democracy; The only way you get far-right government is if you vote for it (I'm looking at you, Switzerland).
posted by Talez at 6:05 PM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


The only reason the parties exist as they do now is we require proving ability to raise campaign funds to qualify to run for office, which gives party affiliated candidates a huge leg up and effectively a monopoly for the party system.

But even in governments where there aren't any elections, there are political factions. Just declaring that political parties officially don't exist seems like more of a fig leaf rather than actually getting rid of the underlying factions and agglomerations of power.

Changing campaign funding to make it more egalitarian would be a good thing, but funding is only one tactical advantage and there are many others: there would still be gerrymandering, it would simply benefit an unofficial affiliation of politicians rather than a political party.

The FPTP system delivers a massive strategic advantage to any kind of cooperative coordination among politicians which can consistently achieve loyalty among ~50% of the voters. If the tactical advantages like money or in-kind resources, gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc. are at all easier to achieve or more effective or greater in magnitude with greater cooperation, then having FPTP as the substrate of our political system is like the force of gravity—even if you blow the political establishment built on top of it to atoms, the political power in the resulting vacuum will rapidly begin clumping together again.
posted by XMLicious at 6:11 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the different branches of government, instead of balancing things out by being important checks on each other's power, have instead become simply different manifestations of one of two major parties.

My god! How could the founders have missed the possibility of such a development?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:01 PM on February 9, 2017


The problem is the same as is acknowledged with any formally organised entity: the parties themselves start to have an agenda. Namely, surviving and winning. That becomes the first priority.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:03 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


RIGHT? so many of the things that everyone was like "oh, trump will never actually DO that" were based on the fact that no sane politician would ever publicly behave like that, would ever tantrum their way into such an irrational decision, would ever accidentally threaten to invade another country because he likes to talk like how he thinks tough guys talk, etc etc etc, because it's fucking nuts to even contemplate. and yet here we are, in fucking crazytown.

Oddly, though, #45 is still within the boundaries of what the 44 before him have done. Nixon is the one most of us remember, but there have been far wackier cases than this in history.

Really, the whole "I can't believe he did..." thing was cathartic at first, but at this point it is terribly self-indulgent.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:08 PM on February 9, 2017


Fuck y'all. Abortion was hard enough already. There's no settling for and normalizing this with the usual defeatist BS. This is cover for slaughter around the world in the name of empire building and the exact same industry/wealth first mindset that's almost wiped out life on Earth a few times now. We must be the nation most stubbornly committed to never learning anything from the past in history.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:42 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Sorry for the derail and the failures of democracy are depressing but YCTaB is back!
posted by Jpfed at 7:47 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Why will no one even seriously consider getting parties out of the process completely, the way it worked at the start and was supposed to work?...

They weren't there to start with and George Washington warned allowing them to form would eventually destroy the system of checks and balances.

saulgoodman

Because this is a fantasy and completely incorrect: parties were there even before the start. The men at the Constitutional Convention came there already divided into general Federalist and Anti-Federalist camps, with Washington sympathetic to and supportive of (though officially non-aligned with) the former. From before Day 1 of the United States we had political factions.

It was a fantasy when Washington said it in 1796 and it's a fantasy today. In fact, many of the ills of today might have been avoided if the Founders hadn't held this fantasy and instead recognized the inevitable reality of parties and built in mechanisms to handle them. We (meaning Americans) tend to revere the Founders as infallible demigods, but they were just men and this was a major oversight on their part.

No one seriously considers "getting parties out of the process completely" because it's an unrealistic fantasy that never existed and can't exist.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:21 PM on February 9, 2017 [16 favorites]


To me, it's pretending that your election is just installing into power a Great Person, who might theoretically be a noble-souled selfless philosopher-king statesman like a figure out of a Classical quasi-historical fable about the founding of Athens or Rome or something, while ignoring the web of interests and political alliances attached to that person, which would be refusing to learn anything from the past.

Political combinations and coalitions are simply part of the enterprise of having a nation and a society, it's just that we need to be able to choose from among more than two viable ones.
posted by XMLicious at 8:34 PM on February 9, 2017


geographic segregation and gerrymandering is a big part of it in the House. if obama's and holder's redistricting nonprofit, the NDRC, succeeds, then more house members will have to worry about BOTH their right and left flanks, and be less beholden to a president of their own party.
posted by wibari at 10:29 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


The concept of "checks and balances" between all three branches really does seem to come down to custom and mutual respect to the idea that they each have authority with respect to each other

This is true right now, but it neither has to be that way forever, nor, I think, was it always the case. The US has gone through some incredibly divisive periods in its history, where there certainly was anything but a "collegiate" atmosphere in Washington, and the checks-and-balances arrangement was very real and had teeth. E.g.: in the original conception of the Executive branch, the President and Vice President would have been the winner and runner-up, not party-mates; impeaching the President would thus (likely) turn over the Executive to the other party, not to the JV Team Captain. This would have been a much more powerful threat, and thus a more powerful check on Executive power by the Legislature, than the current system provides (where the price of getting rid of Trump is Pence; an arguable trade at best). The change was made for ease of governance at the expense of power-balancing, and was certainly reasonable on its face, but we are now starting to see the end result of the sum of those sort of "reasonable" tradeoffs.

It's as though members of both parties just assumed that the worst possible scenario was that someone not dissimilar to their colleagues on the other side of the aisle would end up at the helm, but never considered that a true outsider -- not restrained by custom, decorum, mutual respect, or even basic politeness and decency -- would end up at the controls. This was, it is now very plain, an unsafe assumption.

Governmental power needs to be balanced between branches and made intentionally adversarial, on the assumption that the worst example of the human species could end up in any particular public-service role at any particular time. On balance, of course, we should and must assume that most people are at least reasonably responsible (or else the whole human experiment is doomed and we might as well just launch the nukes today), but this should only be assumed in aggregate and never in any particular case.

Assuming we survive, the existence of a Trump Administration might provide some useful arguments against the always-tempting expediencies of power centralization, for the next few generations.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:34 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


...They weren't there to start with and George Washington warned allowing them to form would eventually destroy the system of checks and balances...
posted by saulgoodman at 5:39 PM on February 9 [1 favorite +] [!]


I learned something new from the Vox piece:
In his farewell address, George Washington warned, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

But even there, the cracks in the system showed. Washington’s warning against the dangers of parties was, in truth, an argument for the supremacy of his chosen political party. Rather than the alternate domination of one faction over the other, he sought the sustained domination of his Federalist faction over all others. As historian Sean Wilentz has argued, it was a “highly partisan appeal delivered as an attack on partisanship and on the low demagogues who fomented it. Washington’s address never explicitly mentioned Jefferson or his supporters, but its unvarnished attack on organized political opposition was plainly directed against them.”
posted by Sleeper at 11:37 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


What needs to happen right now is for a group of Republicans in Congress to split away and start an Independent Republican Party. They can be as anti-abortion and pro-militaryt as they want, as long as they vote against Trump on key power grabs.

The bonus for them is that they would instantly hold the balance of power on Supreme Court nominations, and any close vote basically. Also, they would have insurance against getting primaried from the right. Given Trump's historically low approval ratings, it's not a risky move and is arguably safer than staying Republican.
posted by msalt at 12:13 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


What needs to happen right now is for a group of Republicans in Congress to split away and start an Independent Republican Party. They can be as anti-abortion and pro-militaryt as they want, as long as they vote against Trump on key power grabs.


NY has this thing called either the "The Independent Democratic Conference" or "Traitors" depending on to whom you are speaking, and yeah. They are the swing votes. And they do seem to be the 'safety valve' in a situation like this.

"Breakaway Republicans"... What's the lever? So far, nothing Accused Child Rapist and Serial Sexual Predator Donald J. Trump has had thrown at him that sticks?

And if that isn't enough to turn Chaffetz against him -- even with the SLC paper beating on him -- and apparently the town hall last night was a trainwreck -- what is?
posted by mikelieman at 12:22 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


Congressional Republicans will need to actually fear the majority of their constituents before they are motivated to hold Trump to account. Otherwise the first breakaways get to be the targets of Trump's legendary vindictiveness and imaginary facts.
posted by benzenedream at 1:20 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


that's self-admitted Serial Sexual Predator Donald J. Trump to you
posted by saturday_morning at 4:23 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


No parties means no political loyalty to a bloc. How could Washington have been arguing for his "party" when there wasn't one? It's not a touchy feely thing. A party is a business that raises money to sell politicians. What do we gain from them when we all admit the pastors limit the scope of what's politically possible and narrow the policy options on the table down to the most limited, simplified range of options that the party funders believe in?
posted by saulgoodman at 4:48 AM on February 10, 2017


No parties means no political loyalty to a bloc.

This is categorically incorrect.
posted by Talez at 4:58 AM on February 10, 2017 [10 favorites]


Parties are inevitable for exactly the reasons unions are. Maybe we'd benefit from some party busting.
posted by idiopath at 4:59 AM on February 10, 2017


This would have been a much more powerful threat, and thus a more powerful check on Executive power by the Legislature, than the current system provides

Given the current behavior of the Republican party, does anyone doubt that they would have impeached HRC (or any other Democratic president-- Sanders would have been gone) if it meant they could swap in their own president?

The problem is that we have a political party committed to destroying two party government. There is no easy fix for this -- any check the Democrats might use would be wielded by Republicans to shut down the system.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:20 AM on February 10, 2017 [5 favorites]


The first is that representation has been diluted. It's hard to feel like you make a difference with an average of 800,000-something people per house district.

Remember, this fact is determined not by the Constitution at all, but rather by a century-old law that caps the number of Representatives. There's no reason this law couldn't, and shouldn't, be changed, except that the Republicans' hold on power depends on their disporoprtional allocation of seats.
posted by Gelatin at 5:44 AM on February 10, 2017 [5 favorites]


(on lack of preview, what larrybob said.)
posted by Gelatin at 5:46 AM on February 10, 2017


While we're discussing the functionality of our two party system we are overlooking the fact that one person, one person, has the ability or "power" to bring this all to a halt.

And he won't do it out of party loyalty? Fear? Pure craven opportunity?

Sure he took a swing at Conway, and I suppose starting with the low hanging fruit is at least a start.
But he has no interest in bucking this golden opportunity to shove policies Americans don't want down our throats.

We are all missing the money quote from this article.

It’s worth noting that there are 24 districts held by Republicans that voted for Clinton. If Democrats won every one of those seats, they would take back control of the House.

Eyes on the prize ladies.
posted by Max Power at 6:51 AM on February 10, 2017 [8 favorites]


Adam H. Johnson in the Los Angeles Times: Stop comparing Trump to foreign leaders. He's a distinctly American phenomenon.
Again, while some comparisons can elucidate, the practice of analogizing Trump to foreign enemies has the effect of veiling Trump’s righting agenda. Pundits who engage in it seem more comfortable criticizing “authoritarianism,” a Davos-friendly catchall, than 21st century conservatism.

Often, they prioritize adherence to norms and governing style over ideological goals, precisely because this approach allows them to, at the same time, praise George W. Bush while treating Trump as beyond the pale, despite the fact that the two men share many of the same political objectives, including a bloated military, economic policies that favor Wall Street and the installation of anti-choice judges on the Supreme Court.

The instinct to constantly connect Trump with socialists like former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez reveals the intellectual poverty of this approach — we are told to focus on how they achieved power (style, charisma, railing against “elites”), not whom they serve with that power (the rich and the white versus the poor and the indigenous).
[...]
And yet, foreign leader analogies notwithstanding, Trump’s agenda is largely the same as the broader Republican Party; his rise, moreover, was the logical manifestation of the xenophobic, “insurgent” tea party movement — funded and supported not by foreign governments, but by entirely domestic billionaires.

There’s a reason why Republican senators from John McCain to Marco Rubio have voted to confirm Trump’s nominees: They basically agree with him. How strange, then, that we have zero hot takes drawing parallels between Trump and McCain or Trump and Rubio, and dozens of hot takes drawing parallels between Trump and Latin American leftists. The foreign leader comparison prioritizes style over policy, personality over material effect.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:11 AM on February 10, 2017 [14 favorites]


The foreign leader comparison prioritizes style over policy, personality over material effect.

I wouldn't agree. Sure, there are things about Trump that are distinctly American - but so are there things about Marine Le Pen that are distinctly French, things about Geert Wilders that are distinctly Dutch, things about Putin that are distinctly Russian. I can recognise a massive, massive amount of Nigel Farage's politics and his carefully cultivated public image that's oh-so-very English. And yet, Farage was out there palling it up with Trump right after the US elections, and mithering Theresa May to go out there as the US Ambassador because he was such good friends with Trump; Le Pen was visiting him in Trump Tower before the inauguration.

Their 'style' isn't superficial. It's a dangerous common ground of right-wing authoritarianism, something different from (albeit frequently including) a collection of more traditionally conservative tenets. It's where their policy comes from; it's who and what they are. They will never be identical, they will always morph and adapt to fit the environment they're in, but underneath they are fundamentally the same vampire getting resurrected over and over again. Don't focus on its clothes - focus on its teeth.

Umberto Eco's essay on Ur-Fascism puts it better:
abc bcd cde def

Suppose there is a series of political groups in which group one is characterized by the features abc, group two by the features bcd, and so on. Group two is similar to group one since they have two features in common; for the same reasons three is similar to two and four is similar to three. Notice that three is also similar to one (they have in common the feature c). The most curious case is presented by four, obviously similar to three and two, but with no feature in common with one. However, owing to the uninterrupted series of decreasing similarities between one and four, there remains, by a sort of illusory transitivity, a family resemblance between four and one.

Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. Take away imperialism from fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have the Balkan fascism of the Ustashes. Add to the Italian fascism a radical anti-capitalism (which never much fascinated Mussolini) and you have Ezra Pound. Add a cult of Celtic mythology and the Grail mysticism (completely alien to official fascism) and you have one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola.

But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
posted by Catseye at 8:08 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola.

More on Julius Evola and one Steve Bannon...

Taboo Italian Thinker Is Enigma to Many, but Not to Bannon... (today's) NYT.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:24 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't agree. Sure, there are things about Trump that are distinctly American - but so are there things about Marine Le Pen that are distinctly French, things about Geert Wilders that are distinctly Dutch, things about Putin that are distinctly Russian. I can recognise a massive, massive amount of Nigel Farage's politics and his carefully cultivated public image that's oh-so-very English. And yet, Farage was out there palling it up with Trump right after the US elections, and mithering Theresa May to go out there as the US Ambassador because he was such good friends with Trump; Le Pen was visiting him in Trump Tower before the inauguration.

I agree. The comparison to Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and so on is more useful, but by Johnson's tally, it isn't the comparison that the press publishes. As he writes in the two paragraphs before the excerpt above:
While many of these comparisons are harmless, and often useful, one iteration of this trend — comparing Trump to Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian leaders — often does double-duty as a way to bash countries hostile to U.S. interests. Not only that, it contributes to the whitewashing of Trump’s quintessentially American origins.

Over the past year and half, Trump has been compared by the media to Chinese leaders eight times, Iranian leaders nine times, and Venezuelan leaders 30 times. By contrast, Trump has only been compared to contemporary white, Western populists like Pat Buchanan and the United Kingdom’s Nigel Farage four and six times, respectively.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


The comparison to Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and so on is more useful, but by Johnson's tally, it isn't the comparison that the press publishes.

Ah, that's fair. I also don't have the knowledge of leftist South/Central American leaders to comment on how that particular comparison is working specifically, tbh - it might well be that the comparison being made is "this seems weird and foreign and like this thing we have been scared of in the past", rather than "holy fuck there is a terrifying global movement here and look where else it's popping up."

At the same time, Trump absolutely should be compared to foreign politicians, because holy fuck there's a terrifying global movement here and look where else it's popping up.
posted by Catseye at 8:37 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Breakaway Republicans"... What's the lever?

The lever is self-preservation. Trump is a train wreck, clearly, and if you're even slightly moderate as a Republican, you face your next election with strong threats from both your right -- supported by the president -- and your left, because a moderate or conservative Democrat gets daily gifts from Trump's irrationality.

If on the other hand you take the Joe Lieberman approach, you get all the advantages of incumbency, you'll get most of the Republican voters and a chunk of Independents and Democrats impressed by you flipping off Trump.

Now those right wing and left wing threats to your next election will fight each other, leaving you in the middle standing. (It's all possible some might do this out of integrity, courage or a desire to help the country, but there has been very little sign of any of this among congressional Republicans. "I'm not running for re-election" could be a substitute for it though.)
posted by msalt at 10:57 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't think the UK, Sweden, or any other parliamentary democracy would survive in a country with 310 million people and a $17 trillion GDP either. Part of the reason governing is so hard is because the stakes are so high, and the groups being governed are so entrenched and well-funded.
posted by miyabo at 2:08 PM on February 10, 2017




Today we learned that our nation is stronger than whatever hateful shit Steve Bannon pulls out of his ass
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:28 PM on February 10, 2017


January 27th: President Trump signs an executive order he claims is vital for national security.

January 30th: President Trump fires Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for declining to defend the executive order in court.

February 10th: President Trump declines to defend the executive order in court.

This is a sad and weak man who, in coming months, can surely be encouraged to resign in his own self-interest.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:47 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


February 10th: President Trump declines to defend the executive order in court.

This is a sad and weak man


I suspect it is far more likely that they've decided to draft a new EO that might sidestep the problems this one had.
posted by nubs at 2:50 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


Trump not planning to appeal travel ban ruling

He's not going to appeal it because he's having a new order written. It'll basically be the same as the old one but the weasel lawyers will actually do the drafting to make it harder to argue the administration are being a bunch of racist fucks. Then he'll unleash it on the world again, CBP will be a shitshow, and we'll repeat the process Donald can get the ban to stick.
posted by Talez at 2:54 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm sure he might sign all kinds of evil shit; the point is he promised to defend this order for the sake of national security, and he has backed down in a humiliating fashion.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:54 PM on February 10, 2017


I see your point, but I'm not sure the Trump is capable of such emotions.
posted by nubs at 3:08 PM on February 10, 2017


I think "humiliation" by definition requires that one acknowledge their own inadequacy, which does not seem to be a feature of the current Administration or of Trump as a person. So I think characterizing the failure to defend the existing EO that way is perhaps wishful thinking.

If anything, they may have learned to let actual lawyers do the drafting, rather than their speechwriter / "strategist" / henchman. That's not insignificant, since it might result in future EOs and other policies being less grossly illegal or unconstitutional on their face, but it's also pretty alarming that it wasn't obvious to them from the beginning.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:56 PM on February 13, 2017


I don't know what is worse:

Total incompetency and outright xenophobia tolerated and even celebrated by those in power at the top and vast swaths of the public or:
Lawyers drafting obfuscated but equally chilling policy that will be endorsed by the courts and enforced and accepted by the public under the guise of legitimacy.
posted by latkes at 8:00 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sam Kriss in Politico: Can the Left Win by Talking Like the Right?
There’s no better example of just how useless this type of thinking can be than another article in the Atlantic, in which the former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum offers his advice for the anti-Trump movement. Examining the speakers from the Women’s March on Washington, he asks: “What is Angela Davis doing there? Where are the military women, the women police officers, the officeholders? If Planned Parenthood is on the stage, pro-life women should stand there, too.” Davis has spent a lifetime fighting for and with the oppressed; Frum tried to bludgeon the public into supporting the war in Iraq. His advice is to build a political movement drained of all politics, that fights Trump for nebulous reasons while being indifferent to his ideological particulars, that damps down even basic left-wing demands like reproductive rights, while he encourages us to “open with the Pledge of Allegiance” and “call the cops.” He doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact that his is a recipe for a conservative movement, one that might get things done, but only if those things are conservative things. He encourages any resistance to Trump to stop talking about any issue if they would “still be upset about this if Marco Rubio were president now.” Rubio was an exemplar of the kind of measly, moribund, image-obsessed conservatism that Frum admires. So were most of the other Republican contenders; so was (if we’re honest) Hillary Clinton. They all lost. Pick up their torch and you’ll lose, too.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:11 AM on February 24, 2017




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