Mess Clinton or Abyss Trump?

The republic of the United States of America faces a very uncertain future, whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becomes president.

According to Trump if Clinton wins it will be more of the same, a virtual continuation of Barack Obama’s tenure. But he and some Republicans have also promised turmoil, to effectively make the country ungovernable.

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But what if Trump wins? He is promising to ‘drain the swamp’, but I don’t know if he has ever explained what that will mean. He can’t sack all of Washington.

But he could change things substantially, for better or worse. Washington could certainly do with major reform, but a lot is riding on the continuing functioning of the country (and to an extent the world).

Andrew Sullivan looks at America and the Abyss.

This is what we now know. Donald Trump is the first candidate for president who seems to have little understanding of or reverence for constitutional democracy and presents himself as a future strongman. This begins with his character — if that word could possibly be ascribed to his disturbed, unstable, and uncontrollable psyche. He has revealed himself incapable of treating other people as anything but instruments to his will. He seems to have no close friends, because he can tolerate no equals.

His relationship to men — from his school days to the primary campaign — is rooted entirely in dominance and mastery, through bullying, intimidation, and, if necessary, humiliation. His relationship to women is entirely a function of his relationship to men: Women are solely a means to demonstrate his superiority in the alpha-male struggle. Women are to be pursued, captured, used, assaulted, or merely displayed to other men as an indication of his superiority.

His response to any difficult relationship is to end it, usually by firing or humiliating or ruining someone. His core, motivating idea is the punishment or mockery of the weak and reverence for the strong. He cannot apologize or accept responsibility for failure. He has long treated the truth as entirely instrumental to his momentary personal interests. Setbacks of any kind can only be assuaged by vindictive, manic revenge.

Through the course of Trumps campaigns there have been signs of all of these things.

He has no concept of a non-zero-sum engagement, in which a deal can be beneficial for both sides. A win-win scenario is intolerable to him, because mastery of others is the only moment when he is psychically at peace. (This is one reason why he cannot understand the entire idea of free trade or, indeed, NATO, or the separation of powers.)

He has trashed free trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He has violated and eroded the core norms that make liberal democracy possible — because such norms were designed precisely to guard against the kind of tyrannical impulses and pathological narcissism he personifies.

He has bullied the Republican Party into backing him. A Trump presidency backed by Republican majorities in the Senate and in Congress are quite feasible outcomes of the election.

He sees the judicial system as entirely subordinate to his political and personal interests, and impugned a federal judge for his ethnicity. He has accused the Justice Department and FBI of a criminal conspiracy to protect Hillary Clinton. He has refused to accept in advance the results of any election in which he loses. He has openly argued for government persecution of newspapers that oppose him — pledging to open up antitrust prosecution against the Washington Post, for example.

He is the first candidate in American history to subject the press pool to mob hatred — “disgusting, disgusting people” — and anti-Semitic poison from his foulest supporters. He is the first candidate in American history to pledge to imprison his election opponent if he wins power. He has mused about using nuclear weapons in regional wars. He has celebrated police powers that openly deploy racial profiling.

And those he has promised a right wing revolution to don’t care, as long as  they win at any cost.

The Establishments of both right and left have had many opportunities to stop him and have failed by spectacular displays of cowardice, narrow self-interest, and bewilderment. The right has been spectacularly craven. Trump has no loyalty to the party apparatus that has elevated him to a possible victory next Tuesday — declaring war on the Speaker of the House, attacking the RNC whenever it fails to toady to him, denigrating every single rival Republican candidate, even treating his own vice-presidential nominee as someone he can openly and contemptuously contradict with impunity. And yet that party, like the conservative parties in Weimar Germany, has never seen fit to anathematize him, only seeking to exploit his followers in the vain and foolish delusion that they can control him in the future in ways they have not been able to in the past.

I don’t think that the United States will become like Weimar Germany. Trump has been able to use legitimate (ish) democratic means to nearly make it to the top.

There is one marked difference – Weimar Germany didn’t have the destructive power of the nuclear weapons that Trump has suggested he could use.

The Republican media complex have enabled and promoted his lies and conspiracy theories and, above all, his hysteria. From the poisonous propaganda of most of Fox News to the internet madness of the alt-right, they have all made a fortune this past decade by describing the world as a hellhole of chaos and disorder and crime for which the only possible solution is a third-world strongman.

And they are close to succeeding (aided by the Democrats’ choice of Clinton as their alternative).

For their part, the feckless Democrats decided to nominate one of the most mediocre, compromised, and Establishment figures one can imagine in a deeply restless moment of anxiety and discontent. They knew full well that Hillary Clinton is incapable of inspiring, of providing reassurance, or of persuading anyone who isn’t already in her corner, and that her self-regard and privilege and money-grubbing have led her into the petty scandals that have been exploited by the tyrant’s massive lies.

They have gifted the Trump revolution a real chance.

The Republicans have thereby become a force bent less on governing than on destroying the very institutions that make democracy and the rule of law possible. They have not been conservative in any sane meaning of that term for many, many years. They are nihilist revolutionaries of the far right in search of a galvanizing revolutionary leader. And they have now found their man.

And their man found them.

Some — including many who will be voting for Trump — will argue that even if the unstable, sleepless, vindictive tyrant wins on Tuesday, he will be restrained by the system when he seizes power. Let’s game this out for a moment. Over the last year, which forces in the GOP have been able to stand up to him?

Even his closest aides have been unable to get him to concentrate before a debate. He set up a policy advisory apparatus and then completely ignored it until it was disbanded. His foreign-policy advisers can scarcely be found. He says he knows more than any general, any diplomat, and anyone with actual experience in government.

He has declared his chief adviser to be himself.

And some of his advice, especially on foreign issues, has been scary for the world.

More to the point, if Trump wins, he will almost certainly bring with him the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. A President Clinton will be checked and balanced. A President Trump will be pushing through wide-open doors.

Who can temper or stop him then?

A Speaker who reveals the slightest inclination to resist him will be swiftly dispatched — or subjected to a very credible threat of being primaried. If the military top brass resist his belief in unpredictable or unethical or unlawful warfare, they will surely be fired.

As for the administration of justice, he has openly declared his intent to use the power of the government to put his political opponent in jail.

As for a free society, he has threatened to do what he can to put his media opponents into receivership.

A bit less than a majority of Americans are encouraging him, and may give him unprecedented power.

A Hollywood movie of this scenario would have been a comedy, but this could easily turn into a tragedy.

What is so striking is that this requires no interpretation, no reading of the tea leaves. Trump has told Americans all of this — again and again — in plain English. His own temperamental instability has been displayed daily and in gory detail.

His bond with his supporters is absolute, total, and personal. It was months ago that he boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still be with him. And he was right. This is not a mark of a democratic leader; it is a mark of an authoritarian cult.

A cult with a growing fan base.

It is also, critically, a function of his platform. Fascism has never been on the ballot in America before. No candidate this close to power has signaled more clearly than Trump that he is a white-nationalist candidate determined to fight back against the browning of America.

The world has major concerns.

The fire he has lit will not be easily doused. If his policies lead to an economic downswing, he will find others to blame and conspiracies to flush out. If there is Republican resistance to his pledges to roll back free trade, he will call on his base to pressure the leadership to surrender.

And if one of his first moves is to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, we will be hurtling rather quickly to a military confrontation, as Iran rushes to build a nuke before Trump can launch military attacks to thwart them. That rush to war would empower him still further.

He has talked about using US firepower – including the nuclear button.

Yes, he is an incompetent, a dilettante, a man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Many of his moves will probably lead to a nose-dive in support. But Trump cannot admit error and will need to deny it or scapegoat others or divert public attention.

Will those who have enable Trump be able to admit error? Will they want to do anything about rectifying the errors? Will they be able to do anything about it?

There will be an Islamist terror attack of some kind — and possibly a wave of such attacks in response to his very election. Trump will exploit it with the subtlety of a Giuliani and the brutality of a Putin.

McCarthyism would seem tame in comparison.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we live in a republic, if we can keep it. And yet, more than two centuries later, we are openly contemplating throwing it up in the air and seeing where it might land.

The US republic has already been thrashed and trashed and is falling to pieces. The landing may be all over the place.

The US is in a mess and could vote for more of the same – Mess Clinton – or go for the Abyss Trump option.

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