Skip to main content

Because Things Just Aren’t Scary Enough

There’s been considerable buzz in the last week around an op-ed column in the Washington Post that purports to scare the shit out of you, but is a must-read nonetheless.

It was written by Robert Kagan, an establishment policy expert, long associated with Republican administrations. Now divorced from the GOP, he has become an outspoken never-Trumper.

The piece is both a dead-on analysis of our current moment in history and a dire warning for the very near future. While I don’t subscribe to all its assumptions, I find its basic premise disturbingly plausible, maybe even likely.

The essay envisions a dystopian nightmare enveloping the 2024 presidential election, the culmination of a constitutional crisis that is clearly already in motion. As things stand now, Kagan says, the groundwork is almost in place for Trump to steal that election.

Kagan insists that Trump will indeed be the candidate, that he will challenge the results if they don’t fall his way, and that this time he has enough clout in key state legislatures to make it stick.

This raises a set of circumstances never envisioned by the Framers, Kagan says, with both parties claiming victory, with each side accusing the other of constitutional fraud, and with a compromised judiciary twisted in knots sorting it all out. Tempers flare all over the country, violence erupts in any number of state capitals, and Joe Biden has to decide whether and how to restore order. Not a pretty picture.

The constitution offers no guidance for such a situation. Its checks and balances can neither check nor balance the machinations of a rogue political party in thrall to a would-be despot.

It’s hard to argue with Kagan’s reasoning, especially now, with the nation’s electoral process under open assault by a Republican party that doesn’t seem to understand the fire it’s playing with.

But as he describes the various forces at work to bring about this ugly scenario, some skepticism finds its way in.

Consider his assumptions about violence from the people who make up Trump’s base, starting with this factoid about the Jan 6 insurrection:

Although private militia groups and white supremacists played a part in the attack, 90 percent of those arrested or charged had no ties to such groups. The majority were middle-class and middle-aged; 40 percent were business owners or white-collar workers. They came mostly from purple, not red, counties.

He seems to take from this that under the right circumstances — which Trump will happily provide — even such ordinary folk can be driven to violence.

And maybe they can, but I don’t see it. I think Kagan overestimates both the ability and the will of such folk to take up arms. It’s not an easy thing to say yes to, and while some in that Jan 6 crowd were no doubt inclined to violence, most were not.

Nor do I buy that those 400-or-so arrestees are a representative sample of citizens available for armed insurrection. I’m guessing most of them didn’t know what they were getting into that day — and would rather not get into it again. Their cause, which is only vaguely defined, is based less on any perceived grievance and more on mindless fealty to a con man. This is not the stuff of revolutions.

As for the militia groups, I’ve said before that they are not ready for prime time. They may aspire to terrorism, but they’re too soft. Their tradecraft is sloppy, their thinking is muddled, and they’re riddled with informants and undercover cops. Terrorism traditionally thrives on deprivation, impoverishment, and an attitude of nothing to lose. That’s not these guys. Ruthless dedication isn’t in their skill set. They’re happy to shoot assault rifles and blow things up, but not if it means missing dinner.

So I think the violence thing is overrated. Less so is Kagan’s take on the Republican party and the threat it poses:

From the uneasy and sometimes contentious partnership during Trump’s four years in office, the party’s main if not sole purpose today is as the willing enabler of Trump’s efforts to game the electoral system to ensure his return to power.

While this is indeed true, the situation is, I think, more fluid than he credits, and could change, even drastically, over the next year. Because as little as I trust any Republican in public office, I do trust them all to pursue their own selfish interests in selfish ways. And in that sense, Trump is still a loose cannon that —surely they must realize — could blow up in their faces any minute.

They’re not thinking it through. Revolutions rarely turn out well, and they tend to eat their own. Once the constitution is effectively negated and replaced by Trump, nobody is safe. Not senators, not congressmen, not Democrats, Republicans, or Supreme Court justices. Loyalty to Trump will be everything, and even that will guarantee nothing.

So I think the willingness of those more “traditional” Republicans to go down that road is tepid at best. Even as they’re sucked deeper and deeper into the muck of seditious conduct, I still don’t sense that they’re ready to jettison the whole system. Which doesn’t excuse the cowardice and overt cynicism of their behavior:

The party gave birth to and nurtured this movement; it bears full responsibility for establishing the conditions in which Trump could capture the loyalty of 90 percent of Republican voters …Yet Trump’s triumph also had elements of a hostile takeover. The movement’s passion was for Trump, not the party. 

And it’s that passion for Trump that is, I think, the weakest part of Kagan’s scenario. Not that I doubt the passion is real, just that it’s focused on a guy who will never measure up to the pedestal his followers put him on. As the animating force for the downfall of democracy, Trump has never been convincing.

His followers may never notice how he’s fleecing them with his “fund-raising” grifts, or how he’s selling them a fantasy — that any month now he’ll be gloriously reinstated as their fuhrer, but only if they keep donating. Still, you have to wonder when even the most gullible of these suckers will start asking what they’re getting for their money.

And Trump needs that money badly. Over the next year, the myriad indictments, lawsuits, and sordid revelations focused on him will emerge from various grand juries and take over his life. While this may not diminish his standing among his followers, his efforts to stay out of prison will take up most of his energy and huge amounts of his money.

More than that, I suspect his health problems are more serious than we’ve been led to believe. Trump will be 79 in 2024. His cognitive abilities have been suspect for some time. The treatments he is known to have received for Covid were heavy artillery, administered only to people in severe respiratory distress. At Trump’s age, experiences like that tend to have long-term consequences.

None of which comes as much comfort. While Kagan’s hypotheses may not prove out, that doesn’t diminish their salience. A lifelong Republican, he has seen — and no doubt participated in — the long descent of his party into the toxic lunacy we see today. He is well positioned to understand the forces at work.

So while I’m not sure the picture is quite as dire as the one he’s painting, I am absolutely sure his alarmism is warranted.

 

Comments

  1. Maybe if the Republicans come to their senses, they will field a strong enough candidate to beat Trump in the primaries. Maybe, that would be a bad thing. It has been said that if someone had assassinated Hitler, Himeler was next in line and potentially competent enough to have won the war for Germany.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tom, that is why I will work even harder to make sure Ron DeathSantis doesn't move up the food chain here in Florida.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Elise Stefanik Wants to be Your President

It isn’t often that The New York Times and The Washington Post do lengthy features on the same politician in the same week. So when Elise Stefanik was given several thousand words in two major papers, my curiosity was duly piqued. The two pieces ( here and here ) are similar profiles of Stefanik, age 38, and her remarkable transformation from Harvard-educated “moderate” Republican, to ultra-MAGA ideologue. The subhead of the Times article states the theme of both: To rise through the Trump-era G.O.P., a young congresswoman gave up her friends, her mentors and her ideals. So how does a double feature like this happen, especially when there’s no immediate news driving it? Stefanik was not in the spotlight, though it was clear she would soon be taking a leading role in the new GOP House majority. So it could just be the coincidence of two reporters intuitively seizing on the same story. It happens. But it could also be that Stefanik herself, working with a clever publicist, set o

The Trump-Putin Bromance is Getting Another Look

The arrest last week of Charles McGonigal, former head of counterintelligence for the FBI, may or may not prove to be a watershed moment in our understanding of the Trump-Putin conspiracy. It’s still early, and the depths of the story have yet to be plumbed. So I’m not going to weigh in on that (you can read about it here ), except to note that people who’ve been watching the Trump-Russia show for over a decade are now going back to their notes and timelines, looking at old events in light of new information. And the more we all look, the more the miasma of Russian subterfuge stinks up every narrative. If a murderous oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, could actually recruit the FBI agent who’d investigated him — which the McGonigal affair will apparently show — who knows what else was going on? There is, I think, the need for some sort of “unified field theory” of the Trump-Putin relationship. There is much that we’re missing on at least three separate tracks of that bizarre bromance: Tru

Another Rousing Comeback for Antisemitism

I was in my late twenties in the late seventies, a single man sitting in a piano bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and I was in friendly conversation with an older Irish couple, there to celebrate their history. He wore a green tie, she a green blouse. Alcohol was involved. The conversation was free flowing, as random encounters with amiable strangers can be. When the talk turned to history, which can happen on St. Patrick’s Day, I put forth the notion — stolen, I think, from a Leon Uris novel I’d recently read — that the Irish and the Jews had much in common, that their shared history of oppression bonded them, that their experience of suffering and privation was deeply imbued in both their cultures. Not an especially profound insight, but the husband — to the surprise not just of me, but of his wife as well — was having none of it. In his sloshed but strident state, he insisted that the suffering of Jews couldn’t possibly be compared to what the I