A recent Washington Post Robert Kagan oped (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/23/robert-kagan-constitutional-crisis/) says what a lot of us have been thinking: the United States is heading into a constitutional crisis. Would-be dictator Donald Trump is determined to run for President in 2024 and “Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary.” To deal with this existential threat to our country, it’s necessary for all of us — not just our leaders in Washington DC — to take extreme measures.
Robert Kagan observes that Trump has consistently been underestimated: “[The establishment] underestimated the extent of [Trump’s] popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power.” Kagan details the forces that animate the Trump movement: “Suspicion of and hostility toward the federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tensions, with subtle condescension on one side and resentment on the other; distrust of the broader world…” Kagan continues: “What makes the Trump movement historically unique is not its passions and paranoias. It is the fact that for millions of Americans, Trump himself is the response to their fears and resentments. This is a stronger bond between leader and followers than anything seen before in U.S. political movements.” [Emphasis added]
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but this an existential crisis. It’s time to get back on the barricades. Here are the measures I suggest:
1.Guaranteeing fair elections has to be our number one priority. In these difficult times, many policy initiatives are vying for our attention: climate change, racism, economic justice, reproductive rights, affordable housing, public health…to name only a few. But we have to focus our efforts: guaranteeing fair elections has to be our unmistakable top priority.
The problem is that millions of Americans have pledged their fealty to Donald Trump. And he is willing to do anything to regain power. A recent University of Virginia study (https://www.alternet.org/2021/09/clear-and-present-danger-majority-of-trump-voters-believe-its-time-to-split-the-country-in-two/? ) detailed the extent of this problem: “A majority of Trump voters believe it’s time to split the country into two, with ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ seceding from the Union.”
2. Enact Vaccine Mandates. While enacting vaccine mandates might seem peripheral to the central problem, it isn’t, because vaccine mandates are a rare “two-for.” First, requiring vaccination helps keep us (relatively) safe from Coronavirus; second, vaccine mandates drive a deep wedge into the Republican Party. Mandates are a powerful wedge issue because hard-core Trumpers subscribe to conspiracy theories and many of these theories suggest that Coronavirus vaccines are evil. (Recently Trump has given half-hearted support for vaccination; but there’s no evidence that this has changed the behavior of his rabid base.)
Therefore, if you are Trump supporter and you are required to get vaccinated, you have a difficult choice: get vaccinated to save your job — as a nurse, police officer, bus driver, or whatever — or not get vaccinated and lose your employment and possibly die. This choice largely falls on Republicans.
Approximately 55 percent of all Americans have been fully vaccinated; A recent NBC News poll (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/nbc-news-poll-shows-demographic-breakdown-vaccinated-u-s-n1277514 ) found that 69 percent of ADULTS had been vaccinated: 88 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and 55 percent of Republicans. The NBC poll found that among those “Republicans who support Trump more than party,” only 46 percent had been vaccinated. (Nationally, there’s about a 13 percentage point difference between counties that voted for Biden and counties that voted for Trump — there’s a 17 percentage points difference in California.) Many Trump followers are going to get very sick, and possibly die, because they won’t get vaccinated.
Bottom line: Unless they are vaccinated, Trumpsters shouldn’t be allowed to be public employees, use public facilities, go to theaters or sport arenas, or use public transportation.
3. Restrict Hate Speech. One of the consequences of the Trump ascendancy is that “hate speech” has been empowered. Trump has obliterated the boundaries of political correctness. He feels he can say whatever he feels like, whenever he feels like it. And because of his stance, Trump’s followers believe they can say whatever sexist, racist, or xenophobic phrase that pops into their mouths. Because of Trump, is it any surprise that the daily news features videos of minorities being threatened or taunted by white folks?
But the Trumpster conduct goes way beyond speech; opponents of Trump are threatened. It’s become common for public officials — those who are perceived to be in Trump’s way — to be threatened with physical assault or death; often their families are threatened. (This is the same “brown-shirt” behavior that characterized Hitler’s early followers — “Sturmabteilung”.)
Robert Kagan deplores the current state of the GOP: “The Republican Party today is a zombie party. Its leaders go through the motions of governing in pursuit of traditional Republican goals, wrestling over infrastructure spending and foreign policy, even as real power in the party has leached away to Trump. From the uneasy and sometimes contentious partnership during Trump’s four years in office, the party’s main if not sole purpose today is as the willing enabler of Trump’s efforts to game the electoral system to ensure his return to power.” [Emphasis added] Kagan speculates that many erstwhile Republican leaders are afraid of being primaried. Sadly their motivation is more basic: they fear for their lives. Many otherwise decent Republicans are afraid to oppose Trump because of the damage his deranged followers might do.
Trump is a thug. He’s the reincarnation of Hitler. The conduct of his followers needs to be opposed and penalized.
(By the way: we need to severely penalize those who planned and participated in the January 6th insurrection.)
4. Protect Voting Rights: Robert Kagan understands the nature of the dilemma facing the republic: “Senate Democrats were wise to cut down their once-massive voting rights wish list and get behind the smaller compromise measure unveiled last week by Manchin and Sen. Amy Klobuchar… Heading into the next election, it is vital to protect election workers, same-day registration and early voting. It will also still be necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which directly addresses the state legislatures’ electoral power grab.”
Passing these changes in the Senate means either abolishing the filibuster — a move that seems unlikely — or gaining the support of ten Republican Senators. Kagan asks, “If that means political suicide for this handful of Republicans, wouldn’t it be better to go out fighting for democracy than to slink off quietly into the night?”
Summary: This is not a drill. We’re in the middle of an existential crisis. Get to work!