People hurry to work. Shoppers stroll down the street, looking in store windows for the latest fashion. Cars and buses jostle for position. Teachers teach, judges rule, businesses operate. It’s a day like any other.
Am I describing a normal day in Chicago, or Kansas City, or Louisville? Just another day in the U.S.?
No. This description is of Moscow. Or Beijing. Or Ankara, Turkey.
There are no brownshirts. There is no Gestapo. This is not Nazi Germany of the ’30s and ’40s. On the surface, life seems normal.
But when you look closer, you see clearly that you are no longer in a real democracy. Despite the thriving capitalistic system, these are authoritarian states – modern-day autocracies.
And the United States is on the verge of joining them.
We’ve known for a long time that Donald Trump is a liar. We’ve known he is a grifter. We’ve known he is illogical, impulsive, uneducated, arrogant, thin-skinned, unethical, and immoral. We know these things.
But an autocrat? Donald Trump, the buffoon, becoming Donald Trump, the dictator?
Here is why you are wrong to laugh, and why our nation is in a very dangerous place.
For decades, the Trump family has scoffed at the rule of law. They have flouted it, ignored it, fought it. They have only followed the rule of law when forced to … or when it helped them win.
If Trump were still just a sleazy businessman, we could point out the sleaze, and hope that the local officials would eventually take care of him and his associates.
But now, he is President. And he has taken actions, and talked about other actions, that move us closer and closer to losing our democracy, to losing the rule of law, and becoming a Trump family property where only the Trumps win.
In the past month, a number of developments have increased the threat level to our democracy.
- Trump has fired numerous Cabinet-level appointees, or they have resigned, and replaced them with “acting” appointees. Why is this a danger? Because none of the so-called “acting” appointees have to go through Senate confirmation. Instead, they serve at the pleasure of the president. They keep their job as long as they keep him happy.
- He has surrounded himself with lackeys whose only job qualification is their loyalty to Trump. For most of them, the goal is to grift all they can, as long as they can. For some (notably Stephen Miller), it is to use Trump’s inability to focus and his irrational approach to governing to further their own agenda.
- He brought in Bill Barr as attorney general, who is well-known as a Republican fixer. Barr’s modus operandi is to stonewall and stall until the crisis is past, all while acting calm and doing all he can to placate. Barr’s only job is to protect Trump.
- He has used Barr to set the public narrative on the work of Mueller, and to redact the more damaging parts of Mueller’s work.
- He purged the Department of Homeland Security because they weren’t “tough enough,” and intends to find persons to implement even more draconian policies, including separating ALL children from their parents at the border, even those with clear cases for asylum.
- He told border patrol workers that if they disobeyed the law in order to turn away more immigrants, he would pardon them.
- He has told the IRS to refuse to turn over his tax returns, even though the law is clear that the head of the Ways and Means committee has every right to those returns.
- And he and his supporters have begun talking about prosecuting his “enemies,” including persons involved in the investigations.
We are now at a crisis point. It is imperative that the Trump consolidation of power be stopped … but how?
The first test will be the subpoenas. If Congress issues subpoenas, and the Trump administration refuses to obey them, then what? The courts have been packed by McConnell with Federalist judges appointed by Trump. Do we have any assurance that the courts will uphold the law? And do we have any assurance that Trump and his administration will obey the courts?
The next step would be impeachment and removal from office. But we already know that the Republicans in Congress have lost whatever self-respect they once had. They are completely the party of Trump. They will do nothing to stop him, even if it destroys our democracy.
And for those chanting “2020, 2020” — do you have faith that we will have free and fair elections? And if Trump loses, what then? Remember Michael Cohen’s statement in testimony: “I am afraid that if Trump loses in 2020, he will not go peacefully.”
We may be close to a time when none of our institutions—Congress, the courts, even elections—can stop Trump. What then?
These next weeks and months will be critical. We will either save our democracy, and stop the Trump cabal power grab … or we will start becoming another Turkey, or China, or Russia.
This is not going to be a sudden shift, an overnight autocracy. Instead, it will happen slowly, as one by one our institutions give way. At some point, everyone will know that Trump gets what Trump wants.
Am I being alarmist? Perhaps. It’s possible that Congress will decide to impeach, and maybe even convict. It’s possible that the courts, especially the Supreme Court, will choose the rule of law and our democracy over the crime family running our country.
But it’s also possible that we will slide into an American form of autocracy, where elections still happen but are often rigged, where trials are still held but friends of Trump win, where contracts are awarded to associates of Jared and Ivanka no matter the grift, and where anyone who speaks out or organizes or runs against a Trump candidate suddenly has a problem with the IRS, or is exposed by a doctored tape, or suddenly decides to “spend more time with their family” after a late-night anonymous phone call.
And if we do, we will look back on this moment in time, and wonder why no one saw it coming, or did anything to stop it.
And then, most of us will do like citizens in those other countries: put our heads down, go to work and come home, and try not to offend anyone in power.
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