… I’m afraid … that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.
~ Sen. Huey Long
Sargent was musing about the fact that:
After the FBI cleared Hillary Clinton once again late yesterday, Donald Trump did not permit this inconvenient new set of facts to knock him off stride. Instead, he effortlessly converted it into more evidence for the argument he’s made all along—the system and the election are both rigged, and any Clinton victory in this election will by extension be illegitimate …
In so doing, Trump laid bare the core of his whole argument for the presidency. But … Trump’s own argument, objectively described, constitutes the strongest possible argument against electing him.
The first is a hyper-exaggerated narrative of national decay and decline — skyrocketing crime, rotting inner cities, decaying factories, a festering terror threat from within, a border that is being breached by dark hordes of invaders. The second is the notion that our elites are both fecklessly responsible for that perilous state of national decline and too corrupted to fix it — they’ve rigged the system against you, undermining American sovereignty to enrich themselves, while allowing American identity to be degraded by immigrants who are at best parasitic and at worst a lethal threat.
Note that Trump is not simply saying that elites and other subgroups are ripping you off, he’s saying that democratic institutions are so corrupt they can’t do anything about this. Sargent captures these radical ideas in the diagram below: Some of the undeniably authoritarian elements of this worldview are as follows:
* Trump’s narrative of national decline is rank propaganda.Trump’s regular claims about skyrocketing crime and soaring murder rates are distortions and lies. His relentless claim that the border is being overrun is a Big Lie, too—immigration rates have leveled off and experts have said the border is being managed.
… He is both selling an agenda that is pure fraudulence and exploiting legit grievances with xenophobia, nativism, and white nationalism, all of which rest upon a narrative of national decline that is a fever dream of invention. Which leads to the fact that…
* Trump has repeatedly and explicitly said that if he is elected, he will have no choice but to resort to measures well outside our political norms and democratic processes. The vow of mass deportations promises unthinkably cruel disruptions … He’s banned media organizations from his rallies, egged on supporters against reporters just doing their jobs, and promised to somehow open up libel law to restrict criticism. His proposed ban on Muslims would impose a religious test for entry. He’s flirted with closing mosques and a Muslim registry …
* Trump’s narrative charges that elites are complicit in enabling outgroups to fleece you and weaken our American (and white) identity. Trump says the media is covering up the truth about the thousands of American Muslims who celebrated 9/11. That our elections officials are allowing rampant voter fraud in “certain areas”… And that our political leaders are letting in illegal immigrants so they too can nefariously influence the election’s outcome, a story that the media is also suppressing …
* All roads lead to “I alone can fix it.” That was probably Trump’s single most telling declaration of the campaign. But it must be understood in the broader context of Trump’s ongoing claims that our democratic institutions are so corrupted and corroded that they are no longer capable of solving our problems.
The “I alone can fix it” rhetoric means that: 1) if he is elected he will use non-constitutional measures to “fix things;” and 2) if he is not elected, it shows the system can’t fix things. Consider how he said the FBI was corrupt for not indicting Clinton, then when the FBI appeared to be changing its mind Trump said the FBI was trying to save us. And when they cleared her again he said they were corrupt. Then when, just days before the election, Comey suggested there may indeed be some malfeasance, he again applauded their efforts. In short, “He is claiming that our institutions cannot legitimately clear his political opponent of criminality.”
All of this is plainly designed to badly undermine faith in our institutions … Trump has explicitly said that he may not accept the outcome if he loses … But if he does win, he has already made his intention—to conduct his presidency in full accordance with his contempt for those institutions—absolutely clear. Maybe Trump is just putting on a big show. But why should we not entertain the possibility that he might mean what he says?