This Will Not End Well

It is going to get worse, no matter who wins the 2018 midterm elections. Because so many districts are egregiously gerrymandered, Republicans may retain control of Congress, despite President Donald Trump’s historically low approval ratings and the party’s inability to govern effectively. If Republican dominance continues, expect more corruption and the same Trumpian assaults on constitutional norms and science, as well as a continued drift toward autocracy. If Democrats win control — especially of the House — expect a spate of investigations into the administration’s malfeasance and impeachment proceedings against the president.

Do not misunderstand me: I fervently hope the predicted Democratic wave materializes, and I believe Trump is unworthy of the nation’s highest office and his authoritarian impulses must be checked. But, I fear the results of Democratic investigations — as well as, I might add, the current special counsel’s probe into possible collusion by the Trump campaign into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. I fear multiple investigations will reveal all the tawdry behavior that has occurred, and that one-third of the American population — more or less, Trump’s base — will not accept those conclusions.

President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech

While Trump’s behavior as president arguably is worse than President Richard Nixon’s, a comparison of the two is instructive. Nixon had been discredited thoroughly by the time he resigned the presidency in August 1974. Two years of Watergate investigations had revealed the depths of Nixon’s attempts to corrupt democratic politics and his administration’s obstruction of justice. The House Judiciary Committee adopted three articles of impeachment, and Nixon released the Watergate tapes on July 30, 1974, after a Supreme Court ruling. A few days later, several Republican congressional notables convinced the president he had no support in the Senate, so Nixon fell on his sword, not graciously perhaps, but he did leave office, sparing the nation an actual House impeachment vote and a Senate trial. Moreover, the erosion of Nixon’s support among the public meant most Americans accepted the outcome. 

Would Trump leave quietly? Would his base accept the conclusions of the special counsel’s investigation and the results of congressional probes? The answers to both questions, sadly, is almost certainly, no.

Remember, candidate Trump declared in January 2016, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Trump may often be wrong, but he has a huckster’s feel for the prejudices of his supporters, and he knows they will stand with him to the bitter end. Trump’s base proved impervious to the revelations in the Access Hollywood tape, and his supporters do not seem to be fazed by his administration’s corruption nor by any of his shocking behavior. What could possibly be revealed in the future that would cause Trump’s core supporters to bolt?

Immune to fact and reality, Trump’s supporters are reminiscent of true believers, those who accept the dictates of a leader or movement unquestionably. Many are prone to believe in conspiracy theories. Many, no doubt, followed Trump down the rabbit hole of doubting President Barack Obama’s citizenship. Many accept, unconditionally, the Stephen Bannon theory of a “deep state” embedded in the recesses of government which determines policy regardless of who is elected to lead. These are people who will not be convinced easily of the truth.

Nikolai Bukharin

I am reminded in some respects of Old Bolsheviks who confessed to the most absurd imaginary crimes during the Soviet show trials of the late 1930s. Nikolai Bukharin, a Bolshevik and author of many tracts on Marxist theory, denied specific accusations against him, but declared at his trial, “I plead guilty to being one of the outstanding leaders of this ‘Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites.’ Consequently, I plead guilty to what directly follows from this, the sum total of crimes committed by this counter-revolutionary organization, irrespective of whether or not I knew of, whether or not I took direct part in, any particular act.” Many of the Old Bolsheviks went to their deaths singing the praises of Communism and Comrade Stalin. 

Trump’s depredations continue, and his supporters still profess blind loyalty. Similarly, his enablers among Republicans — the vast majority of party leaders — are silent in the face of Trump’s attacks on American government and values. The president makes war on the Justice Department and the FBI, both of which are led by Republicans he appointed, and it does not cost him support. He accuses his political opponents of treason — a capital crime — reminding thinking people of the actions of totalitarian leaders. He asks the American military to stage a Soviet-style parade to showcase American might. 

Scariest of all remains the question of how Trump would respond if impeached and convicted. As a candidate in August 2016, Trump suggested that if a President Hillary Clinton “gets to pick judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” There may be a high correlation between Trump voters and gun owners. Might they heed a call to arms from a disgraced President Trump, who they believe was wronged by his political enemies?

Regardless of who wins the 2018 elections, this will not end well.

Posted February 9, 2018

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