Donald Trump and the Republican Party
Donald Trump may not have expected to win the 2016 presidential election. Once he had won, however, he set about bending government institutions to his will and attacked the clandestine forces opposed to it. The main one was the “deep state” – generals, judges, FBI, the serious press and any civil servant who thought public duty beat loyalty to the president. He left many appointments vacant, sacked independent heads of department and appointed stooges in their stead. He ruled by Twitter and Fox News, expressing his feelings in a torrent of tweets. He implied that he would not leave office peacefully.
I am an amateur historian of Germany in the 1930s. The parallels with Hitler’s playbook were striking. Trump is of German descent, but he is not a great reader. He has long been of great interest to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). They did their best to get him elected and had many meetings with his staff. They certainly knew about Hitler’s playbook. Even so, with the Mueller Report, I doubt that Trump was their agent. His reliance on family, intemperate decisions and contempt for rules fit the “strong man” stereotype well enough.
Lincoln’s Republican Party freed the slaves and had the Black vote for a century until Richard Nixon devised a Southern strategy for Republicans in the 1960s. The Republican Party has come since to rely on white racism, the religious right, the gun lobby and above all big money – offering unlimited tax cuts, funding for wars and a Scrooge attitude to public spending. Their half share of the Senate is sustained by 30% of the popular vote and this is decreasing.
The Democrats under Clinton and Obama abandoned their traditional base for Wall Street. This opened up working class support for the Republicans in the “Rust Belt”, where neoliberal globalization had undermined industry. The European centre-left parties made the same error: the French Socialists in 2017 lost the presidency, 250 seats and 6 million votes. It is easy to suppose that Trump was just a White racist; but the US is a plutocracy and the relationship between the two is not straightforward.
The autocracy gambit
President Trump planned to instal an autocratic family dynasty, using the laws or undermining them with the help of the Republican Party. This process was already well under way in the Senate and states controlled by Republicans. It involved gerrymandering, stacking the judiciary with right-wing judges, discrimination against Blacks and poor people by changing election rules, encouraging police violence against Blacks, xenophobic attacks on Muslims, Mexicans and others while slavishly following the Israel Lobby and claiming that Obama was not really “American”.
In the constitutional convention of 1787, English beat German as the national language by one vote. The US constitution allows a lower house elected by the popular vote. Legislation is controlled by the Senate where every state, large or small, elects two members. Voting in presidential elections goes through an electoral college that often diverges from it. The president’s executive powers are extraordinary, if Congress is not amenable. Thomas Jefferson saw three main threats to democracy: the power of central government, organized religion and commercial monopolies whom he described as “monarchists” and “pseudo-aristocrats”. He won some constitutional protection against the first two, but not the third.
Donald Trump and his party stretched all the above beyond previous limits. As the 2020 presidential election approached, Trump and the Senate majority leader concentrated their efforts on subverting a Democrat win. This involved stuffing the Supreme Court with right-wingers; changing the electoral rules in states with Republican governors; hobbling the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation; making the Department of Homeland Security an annex of the White House; mobilising federal troop s to attack Black Lives Matter demonstrations; encouraging right-wing militias to “stand by”; targeting the Biden family; and stoking up external enemies like China and Iran.
The main weapon materialised closer to the election: Trump insisted that it would be stolen, especially through advanced and remote voting in Democratic constituencies. When Biden won by considerable margins in the popular vote and electoral college, Trump launched scores of legal challenges – all but one failed. The Supreme Court voted for orthodoxy when directedly involved. The president harangued Republican officials to no avail. The same was not true of many Republican politicians in Congress.
The climax came in Washington DC in January; a crowd of Trump supporters assembled to coincide with the final ratification of the election results by Congress. A detailed assault on the electoral college vote was aided by Republican members of both houses. Most Republican voters believed that the election was stolen. What followed has been described as a “riot”, “mob”, “insurrection”, “coup” and the launch of a “second civil war”.
On January 6th, 2021 the US Capitol building was occupied by Trump supporters, some of them armed, while both houses of Congress were supposed to validate the electoral college results. There was considerable insider collusion: the capitol police and local reinforcements offered only weak resistance; Republican congressmen gave directions to the intruders beforehand; and Republican senators began attacking the results of several states. The building was locked down and its occupants hidden. Eventually certification of the results was concluded and Joseph Biden was officially president. Trump was impeached for “inciting insurrection”. At a “Save America” rally, he said “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore”. “If those people had been Black, they would have been shot” was a frequent comment. Wikipedia’s page, “2021 storming of the United States capitol”, has an excess of details concerning these events.