So many of us have said for so long that Trump is authoritarian. Some of us even said Fascist, though that definition is up for debate and if it means anything, shouldn’t be merely a synonym of authoritarian.
Nonetheless, our warnings fell on 62,984,825 deaf ears. It seems that a heck of a lot of people thought that Trump might be hostile to some persons’ rights, but not their own rights.
Frankly it reminds me quite a bit of how in the anti-domestic/sexual violence community we’ve been saying for years that if someone can’t show respect to an intimate partner, that bodes ill for that person’s propensity to violence more generally. Since heterosexual relationships are most common, this has often taken the form of warning that men who abuse women need to be taken more seriously as threats to their communities. In a world where most lawmakers are men, men who didn’t fear they might end up in an abusive relationship with a man, the glowing-scarlet flag of intimate partner violence has been treated as little import. We’ve slowly changed perceptions so that at least the actual violence to the intimate partner is treated, legally, as violence against others might be. In other words, violence against women isn’t treated as a warning sign of future dangerousness to a community, but is more frequently than it once was taken as an actual violation of the laws against assaults and/or batteries.
Trump is a classic case of under appreciating both authoritarianism and intimate-partner violence against women. We all know the stories of Trump assaulting women and invading women’s (and girls’) privacy, as well as how he bragged about it (and getting away with it) on tape. But people, including millions of women, took this as aggression against some certain women and girls in particular, but not a general threat to them of their communities. They simply didn’t think through that if Trump thinks this is okay, he’ll be more likely to sign legislation that makes his own bad acts more normal, less punishable, and therefore potentially more common. They also didn’t think through the fact that if he’s willing to commit violence against someone, there’s no particular wall stopping him from committing it against someone else if he has the means and the motive. So they went ahead and gave him the biggest means to commit violence that has ever existed on planet earth – the US military – trusting that he would simply never have the motive to use it in a way that they disliked.
We know that. We’ve written about that. And that was stupid of a great many people. I’m not even addressing the pro-Clinton case. One could vote against Trump by voting for someone other than Clinton, or one could skip voting on the presidential election entirely. Saying no to trump doesn’t have to mean saying yes to any one particular alternative, so whatever anyone thought of Clinton or Stein or anyone else is irrelevant. Settled case, right? Nothing new to see here, right?
Except that now we have the analogous case with respect to authoritarianism. Yesterday Trump said during a public event discussing gun control and the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School shootings that law enforcement should have taken away the guns of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz whether or not they had any legal justification for doing so:
They should have taken them away anyway, whether they had the right or not.
When Trump threatened to take away rights like the right to abortion, when he openly campaigned that the press should lose rights and that individual expression should lose the right to partial protection against slander lawsuits that it currently enjoys, when he advocated trashing the right of citizens to serve in the military on an equal basis with respect to gender, the authoritarians on the right backed him not because they believe in sabotaging rights, but because they believe in sabotaging people and thought that even though Trump was a man who clearly believed in attacking democracy and constitutional freedoms, he would only ever target someone else. The damage would be entirely borne by someone else, and thus almost 63 million voters decided they were safe enough.
You are never safe from authoritarianism. If someone openly advocates trashing one person’s rights, they’ll openly advocate trashing your rights as well.
The terrible part is that the right wing won’t learn any long-term lesson from this. The NRA will be furious with Trump over this, but I don’t expect them to be less inclined to vote for authoritarians generally.
The only good thing is that nakedly attacking the due process rights of gun owners will rapidly erode the support that is currently protecting Trump from serious political consequences (including possibly impeachment) that will diminish (or even eliminate) his power to cause harm.
I’m not relieved in any way by that, and whether or not the authoritarians in government who have supported him are able to own up to their mistake and reverse course is likelier now, but far, far from certain.
I look forward to the NRA’s call to impeach a president that so nakedly attacks the idea that rights of the people must be respected, but I don’t exactly expect it tomorrow.
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