Is This Goodbye to the American Republic?

You don’t have to be a leftist or a liberal to worry that the demented fascist oligarch Donald Trump might try to negate the United States republic’s electoral process and term limits. Consider the following statement from the distinguished conservative scholar and American Enterprise Institute fellow Norm Ornstein last week:

It seems clear that [Attorney General William Barr] will do or enable anything to keep Trump in office. And Trump will do anything to stay there. Suspension of the election, negation of the results, declaration of martial law are not simply fanciful, alarmist or crazy things to throw out there or to contemplate. Members of Congress, governors and state legislators, leaders in civil society, lawyers, law enforcement figures and the military need to be thinking now about how they might respond (emphasis added).

Ornstein wrote this on the same day that Trump told another of his many permanent neofascistic campaign rallies that he might remain in office for as long as another 29 years. The previous Sunday, Trump had jested about staying in the White House beyond the end of his term, calling it “not a bad idea.” It’s been a recurrent Trump “joke” across his presidency, with many previous iterations.

Another longtime Republican who has taken the so-called joke seriously is Trump’s former personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen. In testimony before Congress last February, Cohen likened his former boss to Hitler and suggested Trump may not leave office peacefully. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump,” Cohen told the House Oversight and Reform Committee, “I fear that, if he loses the election in 2020, there will not be a peaceful transition of power.”

It’s not much of a leap to worry that Trump could view an election result that does not go his way as a reason to try to light up his heavily armed right-wing followers and enlist soldiers and police on the side of a coup—or that he might move to suspend the election in advance if the polling numbers look too favorable for his opponent. The second option would find support from a good-sized chunk of the American citizenry. In the summer of 2018, a poll conducted by political scientists Ariel Malka and Yphtach Lelkes found that 56% of Republicans support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump and congressional Republicans back this move to “make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”

From the beginning of his presidency, Trump has been setting the nation up to buy the ridiculous notion that an election he lost would be marred by massive voter fraud on the part of “illegal aliens.” It started with his early and absurd claim to have been denied a victory in the popular vote over Hillary Clinton due to counterfeit immigrant votes.

As president, Trump has openly flirted with calling for extra-legal political violence by “bikers,” soldiers, cops and other “tough guys” among his backers if Democrats should try to remove him from office. He has even suggested that impeachment (likely to take place later in the very day on which I am writing this commentary) could spark “Civil War.”

Trump has absurdly claimed that Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution means that he is granted “the power to do whatever I want as president.”

He fills his cabinet with groveling yes-men and yes-women, tolerating no criticism or pushback in his administration.

He has decimated the nation’s professional diplomatic corps, which he sees as a barrier to his deal-making genius on the global stage.

Trump calls the media, with the exception of de facto Trump television (Fox News) and certain other right-wing outlets, “the enemy of the people.” He demonizes and falsely conflates liberals and leftists.

He questions the patriotism of those who disagree with him, identifying criticism of him with anti-Americanism.

He uses his Twitter account to shame and spark mass hatred against a seemingly endless parade of enemies.

Telling his supporters not to pay attention to what they see and hear beyond what he tells them, Trump has bombarded the world with more than 15,000 false and misleading statements since he entered the White House.

He recently called Republicans who may oppose him “human scum”—echoing the vile and genocidal language of Adolf Hitler and Jair Bolsonaro—and in June 2018 he described F.B.I. officials who had investigated him as the “scum on top” of the agency.

Believing himself “the world’s greatest person,” President Trump has promoted an absurd cult of personality. He has regularly praised dictators and despots while showing disdain for more democratically elected leaders the world over.

In the fall of 2018, Trump provided cover for the brutal and absolutist Saudi Arabian regime’s murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Absurdly defying the judgement of his own government’s intelligence agencies, Trump declared that he believed the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s declaration of innocence in Khashoggi’s savage torture and homicide.

Amidst the furor over the slaughter of Khashoggi, Trump lauded a Republican congressman for body-slamming a reporter the previous year, saying the assault may have helped the congressman get elected. At a campaign rally in Missoula, Mont., Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for an attack on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. “Any guy that can do a body slam—he’s my kind of guy,” Trump said to cheers and laughter from the crowd.

Earlier in the day, before impeachment, Trump released a rambling, rage-filled six-page letter loaded with absurd and unproven charges, accusing House Democrats of “subverting democracy” by launching a “partisan coup.” The fascistic letter absurdly portrayed Trump as the victim of a “socialist” plot. It ignored the mountains of evidence accumulated by the House Judiciary Committee showing that Trump tried to bribe Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into digging up dirt on a U.S. presidential rival by withholding military assistance from Ukraine.

On the day before his impeachment, Trump said that House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff deserved harsh, Central American-style punishment for paraphrasing Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president during a hearing. “In Guatemala,” Trump intoned, “they handle things much tougher than that.” It was a not-so-veiled call for Schiff’s execution.

That is all symptomatic of precisely the kind of vicious and authoritarian head of state who could be expected to suspend an election or defy one that doesn’t go his way.

Trump is not being impeached for his biggest neo- and eco-fascistic crimes (his detention camps and his open escalation of global warming top a long list). Rather, the transgression for which he will soon wear the black mark of impeachment (the third of the nation’s 45 presidents to do so) is no small matter for the fate of the republic.

Trump’s attempt to extort assistance from Ukraine in his political campaign against his Democratic Party presidential rival Joe Biden is straight out of the U.S. Constitutional Convention’s case for including the impeachment clause. Why not rely on the quadrennial elections alone to remove a terrible president, the U.S. founders asked? Because, the framers answered, a U.S. president might one day use his office to connive with foreign leaders to corruptly perpetuate his position as leader of the republic.

Trumpeachment will not lead to removal. There’s no chance of actual defenestration, which would require a two-thirds vote in the majority-Republican U.S. Senate, where the archaic 18th-century Constitution’s assignment of two senators to each U.S. state regardless of (steep) differences in state population grossly exaggerates the voice of the nation’s whitest, most reactionary, Republican, gun-addicted, racist and proto-fascistic regions. (Republican Wyoming, home to 573,720 Americans, holds U.S. Senatorial parity with Democratic California, where more than 39 million Americans reside. That’s one U.S. Senator for every 19.5 million Californians versus one U.S. Senator for every 287,000 Wyoming residents.)

If Trump plays his cards right, he can survive impeachment and the 2020 elections without having to suspend the exercise or dispute the tally. Impeachment is already rallying his Amerikaner base and filling his campaign finance coffers. If early polling data is any indication, it may well help him in the small number of battleground states that matter in the Electoral College’s final presidential tally. The Republican- and White House-rigged Senate’s “exoneration” trial could well prove to be an electoral asset for him next year. And the dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats seem hell-bent on running yet another depressing capital-captive, neoliberal, Citigroup-Council-on-Foreign-Relations centrist who can be counted on offering the usual “inauthentic opposition” (the late Sheldon Wolin’s useful term for the Democratic Party) to the ever more chillingly authoritarian and neofascistic direction of the nation under nominal Republican rule.

Any doubts as to the cringingly compliant nature of most Congressional Democrats’ opposition to such a neofascistic White House should have ended on Dec. 17, two days before the impeachment vote. That’s when the majority of House Democrats voted for a “national security” measure, thus granting Trump $1.4 billon to build his nativist southern border wall and setting no limits on his ability to transfer money from the military budget to construct his vicious barrier. Democrats also dropped a bill that would have outlawed “surprise” medical bills (the often exorbitant charges patients face when they go to hospitals that accept their insurance but are treated by doctors who do not) and signed off on a $738 billion Pentagon funding bill. “One of the most expensive military measures in the nation’s history,” as The New York Times put it, this “defense” (empire) funding bill granted Trump his dream of a Space Force as a new, sixth branch of the U.S. military.

One week before last Wednesday’s impeachment vote, Nancy Pelosi’s House voted by a huge bipartisan margin, 377–48, to approve the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In what the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) rightly calls an “extraordinary juxtaposition of impeachment and political collaboration,” the latest NDAA “removes most provisions to which the White House objected, including barring U.S. military assistance to the Saudi war in Yemen and the deployment of a submarine-launched medium-range missile that would violate the INF treaty. “It strips out,” the WSWS reports, “a requirement for Trump to get congressional approval for military strikes on Iran.”

So what if these votes defy majority progressive public opinion? Notice that I wrote “fate of the republic” and not “fate of our democracy” above. American democracy, in a sequence of events that realized the U.S. founders’ ultimate nightmare, was trumped by capitalism—and indeed by the Constitution itself—long, long ago.

As the Trump impeachment drama peaks and then fizzles, and the nation descends into the horror of its next grim presidential election, likely pitting two right-leaning white male septuagenarians (Joe Biden and Donald Trump) against each other, I am reminded of a brilliant reflection on how fascism can rise to power from the great Dutch astronomer and council communist Anton Pannekoek. “Parliaments evermore serve to mask, by a flood of oratory,” Pannekoek wrote in Nazi-occupied Holland, “the rule of big capital behind the semblance of the self-determination of people. So the cant of the politicians, the lack of inspiring principles, the petty bargaining behind the scenes, intensifies the conviction in critical observers not acquainted with the deeper causes that parliamentarianism is a pool of corruption and democracy a chimera—and … that the strong personality must prevail, as independent ruler of the state.”

“The fascist in the White House,” the WSWS reported, “constitutes an immense danger to democratic rights and must be forced from power. But this urgent and historic task cannot be left in the hands of the Democrats. It can be achieved only through an independent mobilization of the working class in intractable opposition to all factions of the American financial oligarchy.”

There’s no electoral and constitutional Santa Claus coming to bend the arc of American history away from a descent into fascism and toward democracy and decency. Only a mass movement of, by, and for the people beneath and beyond the election cycle and stale aristo-republican constitutionalism has any chance of doing that.

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