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“Using The Government To Intimidate”: Here’s How Donald Trump’s Authoritarianism Would Actually Work

At various points in his career, Donald Trump has praised authoritarian rulers in places like Russia, China, and North Korea for having the ruthlessness to crush their political opponents. His worship of strength, contempt for reason, and appeal to base emotions has made many observers liken him to an authoritarian ruler, and even debate whether he is an actual fascist. But what would authoritarianism look like in the United States, as practiced by Trump? It would probably take the form of Trump using the powers of the federal government to intimidate his critics in the media — one of the key tools Vladimir Putin used to push Russia’s (far more fragile) democracy into outright despotism. In an interview Thursday night with quasi-official mouthpiece Sean Hannity, Trump responded to Washington Post investigations into his life by casually threatening retribution against its owner, Jeff Bezos:

It’s interesting that you say that, because every hour we’re getting calls from reporters from the Washington Post asking ridiculous questions. And I will tell you. This is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos, who controls Amazon. Amazon is getting away with murder, tax-wise. He’s using the Washington Post for power. So that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed. He’s getting absolutely away — he’s worried about me, and I think he said that to somebody … it was in some article, where he thinks I would go after him for antitrust. Because he’s got a huge antitrust problem because he’s controlling so much. Amazon is controlling so much of what they’re doing.

And what they’ve done is he bought this paper for practically nothing. And he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people. And I’ll tell you what: We can’t let him get away with it. So he’s got about 20, 25 — I just heard they’re taking these really bad stories — I mean, they, you know, wrong, I wouldn’t even say bad. They’re wrong. And in many cases they have no proper information. And they’re putting them together, they’re slopping them together. And they’re gonna do a book. And the book is gonna be all false stuff because the stories are so wrong. And the reporters — I mean, one after another — so what they’re doing is he’s using that as a political instrument to try and stop antitrust, which he thinks I believe he’s antitrust, in other words, what he’s got is a monopoly. And he wants to make sure I don’t get in. So, it’s one of those things. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. What he’s doing’s wrong. And the people are being — the whole system is rigged. You see a case like that. The whole system is rigged. Whether it’s Hillary or whether it’s Bezos.

Obviously, one can debate Amazon’s antitrust practices (a case can be made it is a monopoly) or its tax levels. But Trump is making no pretense of evaluating these questions as public policies to be settled on their merits. His diatribe weaves in and out of Bezos’s finances and the Post’s coverage, and back again repeatedly, leaving no doubt that, in Trump’s mind, the two are one and the same.

Trump is making nice with the leaders of his party now, and the Republican holdouts have been reduced to a stubborn handful. But the GOP leaders going along with Trump should be under no illusion about the likelihood that the candidate they support, if elected, would turn the United States into at least a quasi-authoritarian state. And the ease with which he has brought other Republicans to heel gives every indication that they would help him do it.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 13, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Authoritarianism, Donald Trump, Federal Government | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In For An Awfully Rude Awakening”: Why The GOP Establishment Simply Cannot Win At The Cleveland Convention

Americans love a happy ending.

It’s true of our movies, our religion, and our seemingly unshakable quasi-providential civic faith in historical progress. (Have you heard that the arc of history bends toward justice?) It’s also true of our politics. But for Republicans hoping for a happy ending to the 2016 presidential campaign — well, they are in for an awfully rude awakening.

Just listen to the fantasies gripping the beleaguered Republican establishment and some of its conservative-movement cheerleaders about the likely outcome of a contested convention in July. Sure, the candidate with the most popular votes is a know-nothing populist-authoritarian real estate mogul with few ideological ties to the mainstream of the party. And yes, the candidate with the second most popular votes is a one-term senator who’s spent the past four years playing a high-stakes game of chicken with GOP leadership. But that’s okay: No worries! The party will somehow manage to engineer events in the remaining primaries and on the floor of the Cleveland convention hall so that the first option (Donald Trump) fails to reach the required 1,237 delegate votes on the first ballot and the second option (Ted Cruz) falls short on the next. And then, somehow, a candidate more amenable to the GOP establishment — a Mitt Romney or a Marco Rubio or a Chris Christie or a Condi Rice — will emerge and prevail on a subsequent ballot.

Somehow.

This would be a very happy ending for the GOP establishment. It also is definitely not going to happen.

The idea that in this of all years, with an anti-establishment insurgency roiling the Republican Party (and not just the Republican Party), the leadership of the GOP is going to be able to herd 1,237 cats in the direction of its choosing is flatly ridiculous.

The most likely scenario remains that Trump will either reach 1,237 delegates by the time the last votes are counted in California at the end of primary season or he’ll come close enough (within 50 delegates or so) that he’ll be able to persuade a few dozen uncommitted delegates to come on board before the start of the convention six weeks later. If either of those things happen, Trump will be named the nominee on the first ballot, all the ballyhoo about a contested convention will have come to nothing, and the establishment will have gotten screwed.

But let’s say it doesn’t happen — that Trump falls something closer to 100 or more delegates short of 1,237. In that case, Trump will likely lose on the first ballot (while still coming far closer than anyone else). Then we’ll get to see just how formidable the Cruz campaign’s arm-twisting and delegate-list stacking really is. Because just as lots of Trump’s delegates will be freed up after the first ballot, so will Cruz’s. That means Cruz needs to hold on to as many of his own bound delegates as he can, while also hoping that a sizable chunk of Trump’s (and Kasich’s and Rubio’s and Carson’s) defect to him, while also hoping that lots of unbound delegates come on board, too. If everything goes Cruz’s way, he’ll get to 1,237 on the second ballot, and the contested convention will settle down relatively quickly — with the establishment still getting screwed, though a little less so than it would by a Trump victory.

It’s the futile hope of avoiding this frustrating fate that’s leading some establishment types to work behind the scenes to ensure that things don’t go Cruz’s way on the second ballot.

That’s where the magical thinking really kicks in. And promptly falls flat on its face.

Keep in mind: If neither Trump nor Cruz — the two candidates who earned the most popular votes in the primaries by far — hit the 1,237 threshold, the delegates are effectively free to choose anyone. What is the mechanism that will get them to rally around one option rather than another? There isn’t one.

And this, dear reader, is a consensus-forming problem from hell: 2,472 free agents forming and joining factions however they want and jostling for advantage with no overarching authority imposing discipline on the whole.

Imagine it: There will be lingering Trump supporters; a big faction of Cruz partisans; a group of Kasich enthusiasts in the Ohio delegation and from some Northeastern and Midwestern states; Rubio dead-enders scattered throughout the arena; die-hard Romney fanatics from Utah and elsewhere; Paul Ryan fan-boys from Wisconsin and any place with a big free-market think tank who simply will not take no for an answer. And don’t forget the surrogates from all of these political operations prowling the convention hall, whipping votes for each in a hall filled with members of the 2016 GOP — a party riven by deep, rancorous ideological disagreements that fueled the populist insurgencies that got us to this point in the first place.

If that isn’t chaos, I don’t know what is.

What’s liable to be the result? I have no idea — and neither does the Republican establishment. But I do know that the establishment isn’t going to be able to control it after Cruz has taken his stand on the second ballot and the delegates have untethered themselves from the constraints imposed by the popular vote totals. From that point on, anything can happen.

Which means the party better hope that Cruz prevails. Because after him, the whirlwind.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, April 15, 2016

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Brokered GOP Convention, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Can Newt Gingrich Save the GOP?”: He’s Trying To Play Peacemaker Between Republicans And The Trump Campaign

The Republican Party’s establishment is slowly coming to terms with a tough reality: Donald Trump will be the nominee, and resistance is futile.

Newt Gingrich is the latest party elder to try and normalize the ever-increasing possibility of a Trump presidency, visiting with top GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this week to pave the way for a future working relationship.

“The time is coming when you’ve got to put the party back together,” Gingrich told The Daily Beast.

Asked whether he was meeting with GOP leaders about Trump, Gingrich indicated it was more of a casual conversation—but confirmed that he has spoken with party leadership about starting the healing process—no matter which of the four candidates end up winning the nomination.

Behind the scenes, however, Gingrich’s outreach is more obvious. None of the other remaining Republican nominees would require the kind of healing that a Trump presidency would demand.

“Newt has been on the Hill sharing his views on how Congress could work with a Trump administration,” a Republican leadership aide told The Daily Beast. “Gingrich is trying to legitimize Trump while Mitt Romney and others are out there saying he’s terrible. Gingrich is saying that Trump’s positions are valid—he’s trying to add legitimacy to Trump while everyone else is doing the opposite.”

Gingrich visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to sit down with Speaker Ryan and hold a Facebook Q&A. Just the day before, Gingrich waxed poetic about Trump’s “seriousness” and “shift toward inclusiveness” following the Super Tuesday primaries.

Trump’s shift toward inclusiveness, team effort and unity was vitally important. He has to build a Reagan like inclusiveness to win this fall

— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 2, 2016

Trump’s decision to hold a serious press conference instead of a campaign speech was masterful and a great contrast to Cruz and Rubio.

— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 2, 2016

During one meeting, a leadership aide said, Gingrich said he had been in quiet talks with the Trump campaign.

But Gingrich has stopped “short of endorsing Trump publicly because he knows it’s not the right way to win over conservatives who are alarmed by Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric,” said the aide.

Publicly Gingrich has walked a fine line: praising Trump without quite endorsing him.

“He is a man totally unique. He lives life at a 100 percent pace. I have never seen anything like it,” Gingrich cooed on Fox News Thursday evening. “If he becomes president, there is going to be a wall.”

The former House speaker added, “I don’t mind people saying, ‘I don’t want Trump.’ I mind people saying, ‘I’ll never vote for him.’ I think faced with Hillary [Clinton] as an alternative, that’s a very dangerous position.”

Trump was right to skip CPAC. The votes are in Kansas not Washington. Why give the anti-trump activists a target

— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 4, 2016

Gingrich is hardly the only Republican leader, in recent weeks, to make peace with the idea of Donald Trump as the party’s nominee.

“There is so much at stake… however you disagree with Cruz or Rubio or Trump, the moderate Republican Party is going to coalesce against Hillary. She’s the uniter not a divider, she’s going to unite the Republican Party,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader, told The Daily Beast. “There were a number of significant Republicans who came out against Goldwater, there were people that talked about doing this against Reagan, but I don’t know that anybody significant did it after the primary.”

 

By: Jackie Kucinich and Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, March 4, 2016

March 6, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Newt Gingrich | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The GOP, An Incoherent Mess”: The Left Was Right About The Right All These Years

“If he was for it, we had to be against it.”

— Former U.S. Sen. George Voinovich quoted in “The New New Deal” by Michael Grunwald

The “he” is President Obama. The “we” is the Republican Party. And it is not coincidental that as the former pushes toward the end of his second term, the latter is coming apart.

The GOP is an incoherent mess. Republican-on-Republican rhetorical violence has become commonplace. Party members find themselves mulling whether to break away and form a third party or unite behind a coarse, blustering bigot whose scapegoating and strongman rhetoric has Holocaust survivors comparing him to Hitler.

The situation is so objectively and transparently grim that many on the right no longer even bother to spin it. “I’m a lifelong Republican,” tweeted historian Max Boot last week, “but (the) Trump surge proves that every bad thing Democrats have ever said about GOP is basically true.”

“It would be terrible,” wrote Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens last week, “to think that the left was right about the right all these years.”

But it can be argued that Trump is less the cause than an inevitable effect of the party’s looming disintegration. It can be argued that what’s really destroying the Republican Party is the Republican Party.

The popular storyline goes that voters are seeking political outsiders this year in their frustration over a government where the legislative gears are frozen and nothing gets done. What that storyline forgets is that this gridlock was by design, that GOP leaders held a meeting on the very evening of the president’s first inauguration and explicitly decided upon a policy of non-cooperation to deny him anything approaching a bipartisan triumph.

The party followed this tactic with such lockstep discipline and cynical disregard for the national welfare that in 2010, seven Republican co-sponsors of a resolution to create a deficit reduction task force voted against their own bill because Obama came out for it. They feared its passage might make him look good.

In the book quoted above, Michael Grunwald distilled the GOP’s thinking as follows: “As long as Republicans refused to follow his lead, Americans would see partisan food fights and conclude that Obama had failed to produce change.”

Republicans and their media accomplices buttressed that strategy with a campaign of insult and disrespect designed to delegitimize Obama. With their endless birther stupidity, their death panels idiocy, their constant budget brinksmanship and their cries of, “I want my country back!” they stoked in the public nothing less than hatred for the interloper in the White House who’d had the nerve to be elected president.

And the strategy worked, hobbling and frustrating Obama. But as a bullet doesn’t care who it hits and a fire doesn’t care who it burns, the forces of ignorance and unreason, grievance and fear the Republicans calculatedly unleashed have not only wounded the president. No, it becomes more apparent every day that those forces have gravely wounded politics itself, meaning the idea that we can — or even should — reason together, compromise, form consensus.

There is a sense of just deserts in watching panicked Republicans try to stop Trump as he goose-steps toward coronation, but it is tempered by the realization that there’s far more at stake here than the GOP’s comeuppance.

This is our country we’re talking about. This is its future we choose in November. And any future presided over by “President Trump” is too apocalyptic to contemplate. Yet, the possibility is there, and that’s sobering.

It is bad enough the Republicans may have destroyed themselves. One wonders whether they will take America with them.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 3, 2016

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Default Prevention Act, Really?”: House GOP Plays With Matches; Will The Economy Burn?

The Republican-led Congress has just 12 days before the nation’s debt ceiling has to be raised. If lawmakers fail to meet their responsibilities, the country won’t be able to pay its bills, we’ll default on our debts, the full faith and credit of the United States will be in jeopardy, and the economic consequences will be severe.

At this point, congressional Republicans appear to be divided into two groups. The first, which includes the GOP leadership, knows it must raise the debt ceiling, but this faction has no idea how to complete the simple task. The second, which includes far-right members in both chambers, wants to hold the debt ceiling hostage, threatening to crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats meets their demands, but this faction hasn’t bothered to fill out the ransom note.

So far, markets aren’t panicking, because everyone is working from the assumption that Republicans won’t deliberately create a recession for no reason – though anything’s possible.

What’s striking, though, is how little work is getting done. We’re 12 days away from a dangerous deadline – Congress is only in session for 7 of those 12 days – and Congress isn’t even trying to move towards a resolution yet. Instead, the GOP-led House spent time yesterday on something called the “Default Prevention Act.”

With the potential for an unprecedented federal default two weeks away, House Republicans on Wednesday plan to pass legislation not to avert disaster, but rather to manage it, channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients if the government’s borrowing limit is not lifted.

Let’s put this in everyday terms. Imagine a gang told you they plan to burn down your town unless their demands are met. You’re skeptical and tell the gang to go away. But the gang members stick around and say, “Before we burn down your town, let’s start making plans to prioritize which parts of the town you might want to rescue before we turn violent.”

That, in a nutshell, is what the “Default Prevention Act” is all about – the gang members passed a bill yesterday to prioritize which bills they’ll allow the United States to pay, and which bills will get burned by their fire.

The problem, of course, is that all of this is completely insane.

What we’re talking about is a plan in which Republicans try to manage the fire from their own arson, “channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients” after they refuse, on purpose, to raise the debt ceiling.

And why would GOP lawmakers prioritize the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients? On the former, because so much of the global economy rests on U.S. Treasury bonds, a deliberate default risks crashing financial systems across the planet. That would be … catastrophically bad.

On the latter, congressional Republicans don’t want to be responsible for cutting off Social Security checks for millions of American seniors, right in time for the holidays.

The “Default Prevention Act” is, by this measure, misnamed. It would prevent the nation from defaulting on some debts, while encouraging the nation to default on others.

Making matters just a little worse, Slate’s Jordan Weissmann explained that the GOP plan appears to be illegal and literally impossible to implement.

[E]ven if the government could borrow to pay bondholders and seniors, crossing the debt limit would still be plenty apocalyptic. Treasury’s computers still might not be capable of prioritizing its obligations, in which case we’d still end up failing to pay some bondholders despite Congress’s intentions.

 The mere threat of such an accidental default could cause markets to seize. If the Treasury did successfully keep money flowing to its lenders, meanwhile, the government still wouldn’t be able to cover all of its other costs, and thus would be forced to implement massive, immediate spending cuts to other programs, likely dragging the U.S. and probably the rest of the world into a recession.

He’s referring, of course, to a recession that could easily be avoided by simply raising the debt ceiling – a simple, procedural vote that costs nothing.

Tick, tock.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 22, 2015

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Default Prevention Act, Economy | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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