by Ben Cohen
When Donald Trump said that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s move to repeal the country’s term limits law last month was “great” and that “maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day,” you should believe him. And you should also be very, very worried.
“He’s now president for life,” Trump guests at a party fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend. “President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”
Trump may have been half joking, but anyone who has followed his political trajectory and time in office knows full well that he most likely meant it. Trump has shown such little regard for the office he holds that he isn’t willing to defend it from foreign attack, fires people investigating him, isn’t ever willing to tell the truth, isn’t willing to (or can’t) staff his administration properly, and treats the Oval Office as a rubber stamp for his family’s shady business deals. Add to this already toxic behavior a penchant for big military parades, a love of strongmen dictators around the world, and a fascistic political message built on hatred of “other”, you have the perfect recipe for a hostile takeover of democracy.
Trump supporters have worked hard to create the impression that this is just liberal hysteria, but anyone with even the vaguest understanding of history has seen this horrible story play out over and over again. Here was Andrew Sullivan’s chilling recounting of Plato’s timeless warning about the end of democracy and the rise of the brutish populist:
He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.
The description of Plato’s prototypical dictator is surreally similar to Trump and should have served as a warning for any supposedly civilized society. But large swathes of America is not civilized — a fact many people do not want to come to terms with. Much of white America is deeply racist and deeply ignorant, as poll after poll has shown definitively. They have been fed a steady diet of fear and racism by right wing talk radio and Fox News, and their political views are so far to the right that they would be considered insane in most other developed countries.
Millions of Americans believed President Obama was a Muslim who was not born in this country. Millions believed there was a legitimate comparison between a racist buffoon with a track record of corporate theft and sexual assault with a highly competent public servant with a stellar record in government. Millions of Americans think building a wall to keep Mexican rapists out is good policy and acceptable politics. While they are human beings who deserve sympathy and understanding, they do not represent the best of our society, and they have plunged this country deep into the abyss with no thought as to how we might excavate our way out. These are the people that would not notice and likely would not care if Trump declared himself president for life. They would see him as a savior to America — a strong leader who would bring the country back from the fictional brink Trump declared it to be at. Democracies die when people fall asleep at the wheel, and when people aren’t even aware they are driving, they can implode even faster.
So here we are, one year into a presidency so insane, so dysfunctional, and so embarrassing that one fears the country will never, ever recover. Trump’s relentless assault on the public’s senses is having its desired effect — to desensitize you to what is happening, to make you question reality, question truth, and question your own mental sanity. When you are no longer sure about what is real and what is not, most people give up. It is too difficult to keep tabs on all the lies, and that is when Trump wins.
We know that Trump is doing nothing about Russia’s plan to meddle in the US midterms this year. Their interference benefits him, and the more chaos Vladimir Putin sows, the harder it is for Americans to understand what really is at stake. If the Republicans can maintain their grip on power — still a distinct possibility — Trump knows he has carte blanche to do whatever he wants. Trump could quite easily win again in 2020 if the Democrats do not find a plausible candidate and the Russians decide to assist him (again). Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the GOP have done nothing to keep Trump in check, and there is little to indicate they would stop him seeking a third term, and a fourth, and a fifth. If you think things are bad now, imagine what the country will look like in 2020 with Trump still in charge, still tweeting and still laying waste to everything around him. This is not a fictional future — it is a real one and anyone who thinks otherwise is as deluded as the president is.
Unfortunately, there are no sexy solutions to this horrendous problem. There is only hard work, organization, and hope. Hard work means combatting Trump and his administration’s continues lies and blocking him at every step with whatever means available. Organization means getting out the vote and rallying to get rid of every complicit Republican in office. Hope means believing that it doesn’t have to be this way, that America is better than this and will live to see a brighter day. Because the alternative is simply too awful to contemplate.