He’s golfing again this weekend in Bedminster. Will he do more pseudo-pressers and populate the “press corps” with “reporters’ from Epoch Times, Gateway Pundit, and OAN. “The president is back at his New Jersey golf resort, bringing his taxpayer-paid golf tab to $142 million.”
Stephen Walt did predict our present situation in 2016. Trump’s pathology was fairly obvious even then.
To make matters worse, plenty of people in Trump’s camp appear to believe America is now under siege from a coalition of liberal elites, people of color, immigrants of all sorts, and shadowy foreign influences. They also understand demography is not on their side: The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections (Bush in 2004 was the exception), and the percentage of older white Americans that forms the GOP base will continue to decline. This situation will tempt some of them to use any and all means to hang on to power, justified by their (mistaken) belief that the country must be “saved” from all these alleged enemies.
Add to this mix Trump’s expressed admiration for “strong” leaders like Vladimir Putin, along with the penumbra of extremist advisors he has surrounded himself with, most notably white nationalist Steve Bannon, and you have a recipe for undermining democracy over time. Trump’s personal obsession with “winning” and his deep fear of humiliation make me wonder how he will react when his approval ratings sink, the bond market rebels, or when he isn’t able to deliver on his promises. Every president has faced sharp swings in popularity — this was true of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, both Bushes, Barack Obama, and even Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Trump will be no exception. But when his approval ratings tank and even a Republican-controlled Congress refuses to give him everything he wants, will he trim the sails and adjust — as normal presidents do — or will he double down, lash out, and look for ways to insulate himself?
Public accountability is inherent to America’s constitutional system, but that doesn’t mean Trump won’t try to escape it. It’s not as if he doesn’t have role models for this sort of operation. In Russia, Putin has won a series of elections and retains high approval ratings, largely because he has eliminated, intimidated, or marginalized anyone who might challenge his control while feeding the Russian people a steady diet of pro-Kremlin propaganda. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done the same thing in Turkey, in part by exploiting rural conservatism but also by strangling the press and seizing every opportunity to arrest, threaten, coerce, or eliminate opponents and critics. You can see similar formulas at work in Hungary and in Poland, albeit to a lesser extent, and in the recently ended reign of Italian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, who kept getting elected in Italy despite an abysmal record as prime minister and his own checkered history as a sexual predator.
These fears may strike many of you as alarmist, and it’s entirely possible that Trump will uphold his oath to defend the Constitution and stay within legal lines. But given his past conduct, expressed attitudes, and bomb-throwing advisors, I think there are valid reasons to think the constitutional order that has prevailed in the United States for more than two centuries could be in jeopardy. And that should worry all Americans. The constitutional reality never lived up to the Founding Fathers’ hopes and ideals, of course, but the system has had a self-correcting quality that has served the nation well. Equally important, the Constitution has helped the United States avoid the self-destructive excesses and extreme injustices that are common in authoritarian countries.
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