In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has an excellent piece pointing out the true threats to U.S. democracy, which transcend partisan concerns. As patriotic Americans, can we recognize these threats, separately from policy outcomes we like or dislike? What bright-line events would be difficult to remedy by sitting passively until the next election?
He advises that policy concerns are simply normal politics:
Many programs and policies with which progressive-minded people passionately disagree will be put forward over the next few years. However much or strongly one opposes them, they are, like it or not, the actual agreed-on platform of a dominant national party….One may oppose these things—and one should, passionately and permanently—but they are in no sense illegitimate….They are also reversible by the same laws and rules and norms and judicial and, perhaps most of all, electoral processes that created them. If we want gun control, we need to get more people caring about it and more people in more places voting for it; we cannot complain because people who don’t want gun control don’t give it to us.
But, he continues, threats to American institutions are more serious.
Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.
These possibilities are reminiscent of my previous note, What Actions Are Shared To All Fascist Movements? I’ve been wondering what would be likely, bright-line indicators that institutions are collapsing. The depredations will be hard to keep up with, but it might be good to have a checklist before the inauguration.
- Taking sides with a foreign power against domestic opposition (this already happened, but is worth a re-mention).
- Detention of journalists.
- Loss of press access to the White House.
- Made-up charges against those who disagree with the government.
- Use of governmental power to target individual citizens for retribution.
- Use of a terrorist incident or an international incident to take away civil liberties.
- Persecution of an ethnic or religious minority, either by the Administration or its supporters.
- Defying the orders of courts, including the Supreme Court.
Some are listed by Gopnik. Can you think of more?
Of course, it is certainly possible that very few of these events will come to pass. That would be by far the best outcome. After all, Trump is a historically unpopular President-elect – the least popular in the history of modern polling.
However, it seems wise now to lay out a worst-case scenario, and be ready for it. As Gopnik says, it is time for the political left and right to make common cause:
So we need to stiffen our spines and broaden our embrace, grasp tightly but reach out far. The conservatives who see Trump for what he is and are shocked by it—and there are many, though not as many as there should be—should be welcomed….The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.”
The right sidebar contains useful links that may help you in this regard.