Trump’s power is shakier than American democracy

“As soon as Trump became a serious contender for the presidency, journalists and historians began analogizing him to Hitler. Even the formulator of Godwin’s Law, which was meant to put a check on the reductio ad Hitlerumsaid: ‘Go ahead and refer to Hitler when you talk about Trump.’ After Trump’s election, the comparisons mounted, for understandable reasons.


  1. sam brunswick January 13, 2018 at 9:21 am | #

    rein in rather than reign in, eh?

    • Corey Robin January 13, 2018 at 10:41 am | #

      Fixed, thanks.

  2. Chris Morlock January 13, 2018 at 10:47 am | #

    Even the un-freedom caucus voted against the surveillance bill.

    My problem with Trump hate:

    1) It purveys the myth that racism was the cause of his ascendancy, not economics
    2) It purveys the myth that Russia was the cause of his ascendancy, not economics
    3) It purveys the myth that the corporate Democrats are the good guys

    • Bill Michtom January 13, 2018 at 1:08 pm | #

      I strongly disagree that economics was the reason for Trump’s win. Economic difficulties were used as a tool for focusing existing racism, as it has been forever, but the huge rise in white supremacist terror, and the expanded freedom racists feel to express themselves under the Trump/GOP regime shows that, as before, racism is an existential threat to the country, not a myth.

      • David Colledge January 13, 2018 at 2:01 pm | #

        Perhaps. But there is no doubt in my (British living in South America the past 30 years) mind that the main motor of Trump’s support is resentment felt by the producers for the privileges of the consumer class. But see Sorel «Reflections sur la Violence».

      • Chris Morlock January 16, 2018 at 5:18 am | #

        That’s the most pernicious lie possible, and shows a new kind of racism brewing on the Left and confirms my worst fears that the working class is being splintered across racial lines from forces on the Left.

        The idea that a life long union voter in Wisconsin who had voted Dem all their lives suddenly became a white supremacist (or was influenced by Russians) is the the most absurd and insulting dribble. “Listen, Liberal.”

        • sam brunswick January 16, 2018 at 12:05 pm | #


        • troy grant January 16, 2018 at 5:56 pm | #

          The Trump win was mostly due to the antics of the DNC and Hillary bots and their sabotage of Bernie’s campaign. It was a rebuff of DNC Democrats, though it seems they didn’t get the message.

  3. JonJ January 13, 2018 at 12:00 pm | #

    Exactly what I’ve been thinking and saying about the “Trump-Hitler” connection for some time. A lot of people are assuming that Trump and/or some of the people around him are deliberately imitating the H-man, Mussolini, etc., and I have always strongly doubted that.

    For one thing, none of them seem to know or care anything about history. But mainly, Trump’s behavior can be fully accounted for, in my opinion, by the fact that he is just carrying over his decades of domination of his private companies in the assumption that being the U.S. president is no different from his position as head of those companies. He has never understood how the office of president works in the context of the Federal government, and has never cared to learn anything about this subject.

    And also, it reflects the fact that, from his childhood under the tutelage of his dad, he has learned that asserting his will as a bully and fighting everyone who gets in his way like a three-year-old is the way to behave. It didn’t bring him to ruin in business (although it often came close to that), so why shouldn’t it work now? He’ll probably find out why sooner or later, hopefully sooner.

    • Glenn January 13, 2018 at 1:43 pm | #

      [Trump] “has never understood how the office of president works in the context of the Federal government, and has never cared to learn anything about this subject.”

      And no one in any official capacity has been so impolite as to publicly inform him of the limits of his power.

      The Congress has long ago abandoned its responsibility to do so.

  4. troy grant January 13, 2018 at 4:06 pm | #

    How will Democrats win elections when the economy is supposedly booming under Trump?

    • Jim January 16, 2018 at 8:35 pm | #

      Wall Street is clearly overheated and the inflated expectations about the Trump Cut, Cut, Cut Bill may end up deflating the economy right during the summer – the worst possible time for the GOP facing mid-terms. t may not happen but it is a distinct possibility now.

  5. Lichanos January 14, 2018 at 7:00 pm | #

    “…That the discourse of democratic decline is so focused on impropriety and norms that it has completely lost sight of the classic forms of repressive state power and abuse…”

    Maybe a connection with the same malaise that makes some go gaga over the notion of Oprah as a candidate? It’s all about The Spectacle? ??

  6. Deadl E. Cheese January 14, 2018 at 10:55 pm | #

    Fascism is literally the easiest ideology in the world to invent. Easier than conservatism, than liberalism, than monarchism, than socialism, or even religious fundamentalism which at least needs a superstructure of doctrine and mythology to make work.

    If I traveled through time and asked a recently minted Cuban plantation owner, a Prussian aristocrat seething with sublimated envy at Bonapartism, a 1910s magnate recently kicked out of the Zaibatsu, and a modern neonazi to independently design their ideal society and then compared notes I’d get something very similar.

    That Trump is acting in a manner consistent with fascism (though more Singapore-flavored than Third Reich-flavored) shouldn’t be intellectually interesting at all. Fascism is an ideology designed by simpletons for use by simpletons.

  7. Roquentin January 15, 2018 at 11:09 am | #

    There’s a psychology blog, every entry of which I eagerly gobble up, Hotel Concierge (after The Last Psychologist got doxxed and quit posting, this guy tried to pick up the torch.). He wrote several entries which were great about the 2016 election, but “Hillary Clinton: Alt-Right Leader” probably tops that list. It closes with this:

    I think I once wrote the sentence, “This is how the system preserves the status quo.” Sounds like some badass fringe-blogger shit, you gotta admit. But then you wonder, so what’s the system? It’s not capitalism. It’s not bureaucracy. It’s not cis-white-hetero-patriarchal supremacy. These all may be features of the system, or at least our system, but pick the hunter-gatherer tribe of your choice and they will still have a system, mess with the totem and you get tabooed. So if you follow the curve to its asymptote, the system is the status quo. It resists change not as a monolith but because each part of it refuses to die, as with any being of conflicting motives, which is why psychology scales from individual to population. A sick economy inflates its currency. A sick institution lowers barriers to membership. And a sick individual replaces concrete achievements with their abstract representations. The goal of the system is to keep the conversation about symbols, that way anyone can play and everyone will.

    But enough. The take home point is that the public is obsessed with the alt-right not because the alt-right is important, but because it makes the public feel important.

    And perversely—this makes the alt-right important.

    Actually, the short version is that mainstream Democrats and most liberals don’t want to change the system at all, they just wish they were in charge of it. It really is that simple, that’s why all this talk of the erosion of democracy evaporates into thin air the minute a Dem gets elected. I had a conversation with my sister, and we were both reliable Democratic voters, who can’t stomach the news or punditry anymore. And that’s when it hit me. The two of us should be a slam dunk for the Democrats. If we find them loathesome, imagine what it looks like to someone who is lukewarm on them, let alone hostile. Donald Trump makes a little more sense every day, at least to me. To everyone but the party faithful, all this hysteria just looks like “WE DIDN’T GET OUR WAY! WE ARE SO SUPERIOR. WE SHOULD BE IN CHARGE.”

    No wonder people can’t stand them. Sometimes I actually think liberals want Trump to get re-elected, because they get off on that smug sense of superiority so much.

    • DAVID COLLEDGE January 15, 2018 at 5:54 pm | #

      I am afraid I must agree with you. I am finding that amongst the people I know and talk to here and in Europe that the left-liberals breed rent seekers more efficiently than the conservatives of my acquaintance. I go back once more to Sorel and also to the great Scot-Australian philosopher, John Anderson, who was no slouch when it came to being agin the government.

    • Dean C. Rowan January 15, 2018 at 7:23 pm | #

      Mostly in agreement, and wholeheartedly, but this one stumbles: “The goal of the system is to keep the conversation about symbols, that way anyone can play and everyone will.”

      References to “the system” are themselves symbolic, and therefore…you get the picture. They, too, make us feel important. It’s an abstraction, like, say, “government.” The problem is that we need to make the government operate, not so much the system.

    • Roquentin January 16, 2018 at 1:32 pm | #

      I agree that comments about “the system” are usually too vague to be of any use, but there is a bit of context. Alone aka The Last Psychiatrist used similar language. He typically used it to speak of individual psychology scaled to the level of the masses/society. His writings on narcissism and how it related to politics, media, and culture were extensive. In that context “the system” is typical whatever social psychological mechanisms a said group or society can be said to be operating on. Or something like that.

      Sorel got a lot of things right. Reflections on Violence is well worth a read, even if he was a crank at times. His critique of parliamentary systems of government is something anyone who take political theory seriously should probably try to grapple with at some point, even if you flatly disagree.

      The sad part is, in a sense we need the Dems. We need the liberals, but they’re so oblivious. I’m such a harsh critique, because the left needs to get its shit together. You have to give people a reason to support you. Scolding them for being backwards and terrible people sure as hell won’t do it. This should be simple common sense.

      • troy grant January 16, 2018 at 4:26 pm | #

        “The sad part is, in a sense we need the Dems. We need the liberals, but they’re so oblivious. I’m such a harsh critique, because the left needs to get its shit together.”

        Libs can’t outspend big cons on a continuous basis. If money is what it takes to get shit together, that paradigm needs to be changed to something like direct democracy, no career politicians and money out of politics.

        • Jim January 16, 2018 at 8:46 pm | #

          Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the Democrats have had to clean up the GOP’s “deficits don’t matter”, tax cuts for the rich and runaway war spending for 25 years. But somehow, it’s always the Democrats fault. The GOP loves people like you.

          • Dean January 17, 2018 at 12:08 am | #

            Assignment of blame is almost entirely retrospective. When we’re confronted with a problem, one of our easiest moves is to attribute fault, because it appears as if we’re analyzing our circumstances, when all we’re doing is pointlessly shifting the burden of crafting a solution to a problem that occurred in the past. As if those we blame will accept the challenge!

            Anyway, who cares what the GOP “loves”? And the Democrats are all we got, eh? That’s it? That’s the compromise we accept? Follow these cynical bastards because they’ll do stuff that irritates those other cynical bastards?

          • sam brunswick January 17, 2018 at 11:07 am | #

            Deficits may or may not matter depending on the amount of slack resources in the American economy. So as a general rule in neoliberal austerity economics, deficits do not matter.

  8. louisproyect January 15, 2018 at 1:02 pm | #
  9. Carl Weetabix January 17, 2018 at 5:08 pm | #

    My concern is less with Trump than the aftermath of Trump. Yes, you describe positive movements, like the judgement on gerrymandering, but my suspicion is anyone who isn’t Trump and has the least bit of eloquence will look good, even if they are further from Bernie Sanders than Clinton was.

    Over the last year plus, I have seen so much hippie punching, with neo-McCarthyite overtones, that I see little reason to expect much progress. We still seem endlessly mired in discussion of identity politics, but continuing to ignore the economic and income inequality issues that drove people to see Trump as a reasonable solution.

    It’s pretty clear as it stands that the replacement for Trump will be at best a status quo neo-liberal, and more likely a continued example of a slow march to the right. That the monied win no matter who wins seems if anything even more likely than it was before Trump.

    • Chris Morlock January 20, 2018 at 3:29 am | #

      Very well stated Carl. Trump is a result of the total corruption of the corporate dems, and the embrace of neo-liberalism. I thoped this would lead to a purge of the dems and a 180 from the last 50 years of neo-liberal policy (which is basically another pseudonym for Reganism) but the exact opposite happened. The left entrenched itself as a corporate entity, purged themselves of any progressive voices, and lost their minds with absurd McCaryite propaganda and embraced the ostracizing of white working people as “white supremacists”.

      The McResistance formed to stimy Trump at every pass (except when it comes to anything corporate or the surveillance state) and the endless bitching and whining about nothing has led me to believe nothing will change. All they need to do is claim that they are not Trump and pedal Russia and Racism and we will get another silly corporate dem that will continue to the same thing every president since Reagan has done: dismantle the social state in favor of private corporate ownership.

      I wish Corey would write about this rather than seemingly adopting the prose of the McResistance. Hating on Trump is a complete dead end- the answers are all internal to the Left. The Reactionary mind had nothing to do with Trumps rise- it was all staring at us in the mirror.

  10. Barbara January 22, 2018 at 5:53 pm | #
    • Barbara January 22, 2018 at 5:59 pm | #

      It might not be just like Hitler, but it may be authoritarianism of a slightly different kind.

  11. Billikin February 5, 2018 at 7:26 am | #

    Trump is authoritarian, and his base is authoritarian. Trump’s weakness does not negate his authoritarianism. Trump is far less interested in governing than in receiving adulation and flattery. He blusters, but he relies so much on approval that he is incapable of making a principled stand. Fox and Friends gives him a window into hew he is doing with his intended audience. Congressional Republicans are willing to butter him up. Trump is not so much like Mussolini (as I once thought) as an African dictator, as Trevor Noah pointed out on The Daily Show in 2016.

    Trump’s characterological weaknesses make him dangerous. The power of his office is in unreliable, impulsiwe, and vindictive hands, and the Republican Congress has shown little or no willingness to cross him. Trump is thin skinned, and reflexively lashes out against his perceived critics and enemies. Trump has done damage to the international relations of the US, to what extent is yet unclear. Trump is showing signs of learning how to wield the power of the presidency. Things can get worse.

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