This is What Autocracy Looks Like


We are watching the disintegration of a nation – the United States. Trump started his campaign rooted in racism and xenophobia, and has hammered that them repeatedly throughout his tenure thus far. He has operated from the politics of division with fear and hate powered by non-stop lies and distortions. His theme is clear to his most ardent supporters. “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) is truly “Make America White Again. ” His attacks on “illegal” immigrants, is actually aimed at restricting (if not eliminating) legal immigration (from non-white) nations.

Trump rally, white identity politics, racsism

Trump rally and white identity politics. Credit: Job Sanger.

Trump also ran on “deconstructing the administrative state’ (ala Steve Banner). In Trump world that means “Fuck the rules, I will be King.”  This is exactly the strategy he has been enacting. All across the government, in every branch and department, destruction reigns. Understaffing is huge for two reasons. First, Trump neither knows or cares what “the government” does, and doesn’t believe it should exist at all. Second, HE is the only government we need. He believes that he can negotiate (and tear up) all treaties and agreements, there is no need for a state department, the job of the Department of Justice is to enforce his reign and protect him from others, most of the rest of the government are just nuisances.

Shutting down the government means nothing to him, and he cares not what the consequences are to either the people impacted (and that extends far beyond the 800,000 government workers), or to the nation. The longer this stretches on, the more deeply the failures will be felt. One thing that is likely to be permanently crippling is that the government may lose valuable and specialized skill employees and that those positions may remain unfilled because people can make more in the private sector. This is true of virtually all technical jobs. People who work in government jobs over more competitive private sector positions generally do so because the mission is important to them. However, if this type of insecurity and pain is associated with government service, then fewer people will want to pay that price. Many of the positions emptied may take years to fill; undermining the projects and services they were fulfilling.

All of this “destruction” combines with Trump sending out the word that he wants to cut the “disparate impacts” regulations across the government, and specifically at HUD. The disparate impacts regulations are based upon data that demonstrates that unequal treatment (or outcomes) are occurring. They are used to look at specific areas – like housing, employment, or health inequalities – and at the impacts (or potential impacts) of policies or regulations. In other words, it is the primary way of demonstrating discrimination and discriminatory practices. For Trump, eliminating disparate impact is a twofer, it is a major step towards reinstitutionalizing discrimination (not like it had been eliminated, but at least we had the tools to both prove what is happening and addressing it) which “puts non-whites in their place”, and it is another strike against FACTS. Facts and truth are Trump’s biggest enemies as he crafts both to his benefit on a moment by moment basis. Of course it also dismantles structure, and moves towards a laissez-faire environment for corporations and the economic elite. Perhaps a better analogy would be the wild west of enterprise.

NPR aired an exceptional segment of Here & Now on January 10, 2019 that is well worth the 10 minutes of your time.

As we helplessly watch the total destruction of government, let’s circle back around to the shut down. This is a situation that gets more frightening with every day that passes, but it is even more frightening because it signals that Mitch McConnell (specifically) and the Republicans (generally) will not take any action to check Trump no matter what he does. It is being roundly noised about that the Republicans think that the only way out of this self-inflicted disaster is for Trump to declare a national emergency and draw funds out of the Pentagon budget for his wall – never mind that those funds are needed to address military personnel safety needs. McConnell has made clear that he will not bring ANY legislation to the floor of the Senate that doesn’t fund the “wall”. Therefore, this closure is as much Mitch McConnell’s as it is Donald Trump’s because McConnell is blocking any move towards resolution or reopening the government.

However, resolution via declaring a national emergency is deeply troublesome. This is not simply because there is not an emergency, and that the situation is purely political and purely personal to Donald Trump. It is because this is the most autocrat exercise of power that Trump could take. It is his way to slip the bounds of the Congressional power of the purse strings – one of the biggest checks on executive power that the legislative branch has. It not only allows Trump to act on his whim, it treats that as the most desirable option for Trump to take. Further, by refusing to pass through legislation to reopen the government, he is also refusing to override a certain veto by Trump. Lastly, McConnell (and the Republicans) are signaling that they will take no action to either check Trump OR protect the Constitution and the people of the United States that they have sworn an oath to do.

The Republicans have willingly participated in destroying the United States to advance their corporate and personal interests, by allowing the President of the United States to effectively become a Dictator running an autocracy, rather than protecting the presidency as an elected representative of a democratic republic operating under a Constitution and law. Because the Republicans have made clear that there is NO issue or action that would prompt then to check the actions of Donald Trump, they have transformed the country into an autocracy under the rule of a dictator. They have willingly and completely decided to facilitate the destruction of the government and the rule of law. Trump does not need to declare a national emergency as the final act of destruction, it would just be the cherry on the cake. Even if the Democrats decide to fund the wall to get the government reopened, it simply capitulates to a fait accompli.


[Featured Graphic Credit: Trump and the GOP, Patrick Chappatte, The New York Times, 10/28/2018]

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