Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December 20, 2016--Trumpian Times

With exactly one month to go before Donald Trump is inaugurated, there is already evidence that "the system" is working." As it has during our entire history.

Yes, I know, but keep reading.

This may not please born-in-America radicals who, right or left, want to see the system overthrown and replaced by their own version of libertarian or authoritarian utopias. But we have weathered various forms of dangerous times and one way or the other came out the other side. Changed, but fundamentally intact.

The latest concerns about the strength of the system involves worry that with Trump as president democracy is threatened. In Sunday's New York Times Review section, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote--
Donald Trump's election raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: is our democracy in danger? With the possible exception of the Civil War, American democracy has never collapsed. . . . Yet past stability is no guarantee to democracy's future survival.
They calm down a bit and then conclude--
American democracy is not in imminent danger of collapse. If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will most likely prevail, our institutions will most likely muddle through a Trump presidency.
This leaves the implication that though collapse is not, in their word, "imminent," if there is a crisis of 9/11 proportions, they wonder out loud what a president "with authoritarian tendencies" will do.

This concern/fear conforms to what I continue to hear from progressive friends.

For example I was stopped at the elevator the other day by a neighbor who we know to be totally rational and unflappable. A very successful  commodities trader. He leaned uncharacteristically close so as not to be overheard--though there was no one in sight--and in whispers shared his dystopian vision of what an unfettered Donald Trump will bring down upon us. It didn't take him very long to evoke reminders of strongmen such as Mussolini and Hitler.

I must admit, I tuned him out not wanting to have my day spoiled or my opinion about his rationality impeached.

And then when I returned from doing a raft of chores there were three emails from friends equally agitated. One concluded with fear about what that "psycho facist" is planning for America.

I tapped out a few things in response but had no illusion that there was anything I could say that would help him get through this. Except, I suppose, agree, though I suspect not even that would help.

Another friend just today wrote about her fear that the promiscuous Republican Congress will "roll over" for whatever Trump wants to do, including ending Social Security and Medicare, both of which she and her husband depend upon. "If the Electoral College or federal courts don't stop him--and I mean soon-it will be the end of the system and we will begin to look like Syria."

Since she is an American history buff, here's a portion of what I wrote back to her--
You know even more than I that the so-called "system" was designed by our Founders to include all sorts of checks and balances to assure that the United States would never be headed by a monarch, dictator, or tyrant. Having lived under that sort of rule, they made sure that the Constitution limited the power of the presidency by assigning most authority to Congress and the states. 
Though since the mid 20th century more power than ever has accrued to the president, Congress, with the assistance of the increasingly powerful federal courts, still can undo anything they deem to be overreaching or unconstitutional. 
Franklin Roosevelt discovered this when Congress refused to go along with his plan to "pack" the Supreme Court. He didn't like their decisions to curtail some of his favorite New Deal programs. FDR was very popular but Congress ultimately limited his authority. 
When in the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy was amassing power due to his unfettered pursuit of alleged Communist infiltration of the federal government, just when it looked as if he might win the Republican nomination for president and even the election, the press and a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress stepped in to censure him and in that way pushed back successfully to thwart his demagogic appeal. 
And of course there was Richard Nixon who turned the federal government into a criminal enterprise. Eventually he was impeached and forced to resign the presidency.  
I could go on but want at the end to mention evidence that Congress, under the control of Republicans, even before Trump is sworn in, is moving to investigate the Russian hacking of the recent election. Something Trump does not want Congress to do. Ignoring him, they are making plans to proceed. Among other things, it's also a muscle-flexing signal to him not to take them for granted.
So, my friend, try to keep one eye on history and the other on Trump because he may need to be resisted when he moves beyond talk and Cabinet nominations and begins to actually do things. Until proven otherwise, I'm betting on the "system" to prevail.

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