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Another Day, Another Step Towards Authoritarianism

Trump spins Russia's potential interference in 2018 midterms in favor of Democrats

Yesterday I posted a column that sought to make sense of the current discussion of “Trump and treason.” The point, which I have reiterated repeatedly over the past two years: whatever might be true of the not-yet disclosed connections between Putin, Trump, and the Trump campaign, everything about Trump, including his affinities for dictators and his obsequiousness towards Putin, displays a dictatorial approach to power, an approach that is contemptuous of democracy and of us as citizens.

Today we were treated to further evidence of this contempt.

This morning Trump, who has repeatedly denounced the Mueller investigation and the findings of his own intelligence agencies that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 elections with the goal of aiding his campaign, and who only yesterday referred to the notion of Russian interference in 2016 as “a hoax,” declared that he was very concerned about Russian interference in the upcoming 2018 elections — to help Democrats. As NPR reports: “I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election,” he wrote on Twitter. “Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”

This is sheer bullshit, on par with the claim that he fired James Comey because Comey was unfair to Hillary Clinton.

The President of the United States is laying the foundations in advance for the delegitimation of Democratic gains in November. Having falsely claimed for over 18 months, in the face of serious evidence to the contrary, that he was the beneficiary of no Russian meddling, he now claims, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever and contrary to everything that has thus far been known, that the Russians will aid his opponents, the Democrats.

It is a commonplace of conventional political science scholarship about liberal democracy that this form of democracy, unlike other specious forms, allows for citizens to empirically validate leaders through free and fair elections. Through his Tweets today Trump, who has long demonstrated his contempt for liberal democracy, reveals that he prefers a more “metaphysical” approach to elections: electoral results that benefit him represent authentic expressions of popular will, however questionable these results; and electoral results that benefit his opponents are obviously fraudulent, however untainted they seem, because they benefit his opponents, and are therefore contrary to the people’s will, because only he can incarnate this will.

Meanwhile, in another part of our nation’s august capitol, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was today addressing a “leadership summit” of conservative high school students (these reactionaries and their “summits!). While in the middle of disparaging young liberal “snowflakes,” condemning the supposed repressiveness of college campuses, and praising his audience for “fighting back,” the students in the audience started chanting “lock her up! Lock her up!” Sessions, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, did what any loyal member of the Trump administration would do: he joined the chant.

“Lock her up!”

Almost two years since the November 2016 election that Trump miraculously (apparently not!) won in the Electoral College, and eighteen months since Trump began serving as President, this slogan — “Lock her up!” — remains the essential go-to line at all Trump rallies and apparently at conservative events across the country.

“Lock Hillary Clinton up!”

“Imprison the woman who ran as the Democratic candidate for President of the U.S., the woman who received more than 65 million votes, 3 million more votes than our guy.”

These are words.

Our election laws have not (yet?) been changed.

We proceed on the expectation that in November we will participate in an election that will be “free and fair.”

But each day that passes gives us further reason to fear for the future, for the words are speech acts linked to other acts, and they are frightening.

This President is doing every he can to obstruct an investigation into his campaign’s collusion in unfair and illegal practices in 2016.

And this Attorney General is doing everything he can to curtail any serious federal effort to enforce voting rights, while all the while his Republican colleagues in the states do everything they can to purge the voting rolls and limit voter access.

And Trump, with the loyal assistance of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, is doing everything in his power demonize his opponents in and out of government; to foment doubt about the forthcoming November elections; and to convince his supporters that the likely Democratic gains could only be explained as a result of foreign meddling, i.e., that they will be illegitimate. What follows from this we can only guess — and fear.

In 2016 encomiums and benedictions were bestowed upon the Electoral College, and Clinton’s popular vote advantage was “explained” by all of those “illegal” Mexicans who supposedly voted for Hillary.

In 2018 we are being readied for the claim that Democratic margins are “explained” by the nefarious activity of Russians, or Salvadorans, or Muslims, or… it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Trump and his Republican party — and make no mistake, the Republican party is now his party — be insulated from the actual, empirical preferences of voters as expressed in the ballot box.

Can anyone doubt that this President, this administration, and this Republican party are hostile to constitutional democracy? And that defeating them in the 2018 and 2020 elections is an urgent priority?

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Jeffrey C. Isaac

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