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Any Republican President Would Be Terrible. Trump Is Even Worse.

[ 238 ] May 12, 2017 |
Cue endless screaming

Cue endless screaming

In the most recent thread, someone asked if Corey Robin had revised his view that Trump is just a more incompetent version of Rubio or Jeb! in light of the Comey firing. At least in terms of his initial reaction, the answer is apparently “no”:

I must confess that I don’t understand the argument here at all. The phrase “going after the FBI” is very misleading. It’s true enough that the FBI has authoritarian tendencies of its own, and if Comey had been fired for his election tampering or for the FBI not policing local police brutality enough, this would not be authoritarian. Firing the Director of the FBI in order to obstruct investigations into you and your aides after explicitly demanding a guarantee of personal loyalty is…pretty much Authoritarianism 101. Both Chait and Dan have laid out the reasons why this is so deeply concerning, but I have no idea how this point could even be controversial. If this isn’t evidence of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies I’m not sure what the evidence would even look like.

Still, Twitter isn’t the ideal forum for argument, and perhaps he’ll explain his reasoning at greater length. In the meantime, perhaps I should point out why I wasn’t persuaded by the earlier argument that Trump doesn’t have distinctive authoritarian tendencies. (I suppose I might disagree with Chait here too, although I think this is reading too much into the title — AFACT Chait has been freaking out plenty.) Corey cites three major reasons to doubt Trump’s authoritarianism. The first concerns his slow-walking of executive branch appointments:

Trump, in other words, has failed to fill 85% of the positions in the executive branch that he needs to fill in order to run the government to his specifications. It’s a strange kind of authoritarian who fails, as the first order of business, to seize control of the state apparatus: not because there’s been pushback from the Senate but because, in most instances, he hasn’t even tried.

I think this is material to Trump’s competence, but not really to his authoritarianism. Having unconfirmed acting heads of various departments would work just fine. In addition — I’ll come back to this — Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are more about his personal power that larger policy goals. I don’t think “run[ing] the government to his specifications” is particularly important to Trump as long as nothing is interfering with his ability to loot the treasury and private individuals or making him look bad.

The second argument is that Trump has not, yet, defied any of the court orders he’s complained about. This could be a data point, but given the substantial likelihood that the Supreme Court will uphold some version of the travel ban I’d hold off on reaching any conclusions yet. I’ll also note that there’s more than one form of noncompliance: what matters is not just whether Trump announces he’s defying the order but whether the officials under his command are willing to comply.

The the third, weaker argument concerns public opinion:

In March, I was on a panel of liberal scholars and writers where it was the universal consensus that Trump had an almost intuitive grasp of and control over public opinion – as evidenced by his tweets, which were held to be the invisible puppet strings of the American mind.

He’s elaborated on this point here:

Not only has he had the worst approval ratings of any president at this point in his term, but he’s also been singularly incapable of moving the needle of public opinion toward his positions. As I pointed out in my Guardian article last Tuesday, two of Trump’s signature positions—against immigration and free trade—are today more unpopular, almost by record levels, than they were when Trump was elected. Ironically, for all the talk (from people like Jeet Heer) that Trump’s words are a form of action, the main action that his words, qua words, have produced in the realm of public opinion is a movement away from his positions.

I’ve never encountered anyone on the left who thinks Trump is popular, myself, but certainly the consensus of the panel was obviously wrong. But this isn’t relevant to Trump’s authoritarianism, simply because both Corey and the unnamed liberals are mistaken about the potential of the president to control public opinion. Trump has failed to move public opinion not because he isn’t authoritarian but because with some exceptions in times of war no president — irrespective of their adherence to democratic norms — can. (Tax cuts and defense spending, for example, were less popular after Reagan left office than when he was first elected. Republicans took over Congress because in a nearly inevitable realignment marginal conservative voters in the South started voting for more conservative Republicans instead of relatively conservative Democrats. And Republicans have remained electorally competitive not because Regan or Bush or Trump persuaded a majority to support their unpopular agenda, but because the framers in their Infinite Wisdom created institutions that massively overrepresent their core constituencies.)

Trump’s unsurprising inability to move the public opinion needle is neither here nor there. What matters is his adherence to basic rules and norms, and here there’s a lot to be concerned about. His refusal to release his tax returns — not because of principled privacy reasons, but because he evidently has a lot to hide — followed by his open corruption is very disturbing. His immigration orders and how they were produced are very disturbing. It’s true that some of his authoritarian tendencies — most notably vote suppression — are shared by mainstream Republicans, but that doesn’t make them less authoritarian. And while it’s true that most of his cabinet appointments are generic Republican hacks, I don’t think any other Republican candidate would have nominated Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Any Republican victory would mean an increase in arbitrary violence against people — especially people of color and/or the poor — but Trump/Sessions are likely to be worse that the already bad Republican norm.

Still, with all there always was to be concerned about, the Comey firing –which Trump isn’t even denying was done for fundamentally authoritarian reasons — is really bad. I suppose we can disagree about whether it’s the clearest evidence for Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, but it’s clear evidence.

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  • Judas Peckerwood

    Opinions are like assholes, Corey Robin’s more so.

    • StillWithHer

      Corey Robin isn’t an asshole and I think he has been right about most things thus far.

      • Regardless of what you think about the latter part of your statement, the former is pretty objectively true.

        • StillWithHer

          I have never even seen the guy be unfriendly towards anyone.

          • Last year, he led an attack on me on Twitter because Campos wrote a post making fun of Matt Bruenig. I had nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, I received 100 tweets from him and Connor Kilpatrick about what a terrible person I was for something I didn’t write. There are so many examples of this sort of thing from him.

            • StillWithHer

              I thought everyone besides Eric Garland had agreed that Twitter isn’t real life?

              • So your evidence that Corey is a great guy to everyone he has contact with comes from you having beers with him?

                • StillWithHer

                  No, I honestly did not know of those events.

                • Ahenobarbus

                  I think the point is, what does it mean when you say you’ve never seen him be unfriendly to anyone.
                  Are you basing this on real life meetings?

                • efgoldman

                  Are you basing this on real life meetings?

                  As far as I remember, SWH has never based anything on real life.

                • StillWithHer

                  Only because I know we live in the Matrix

                • zhirzzh

                  Are you even pretending not to be a troll anymore?

                • StillWithHer

                  Uh…uh…Green Lantern. Didn’t. Even. try. Kirsten Gillibrand is good. Familiar with all Internet traditions. Freddie DeBoer is Satan without the redeeming qualities.

              • veleda_k

                So, you think it’s cool for GamerGate to harass and threaten women because, hey, Twitter isn’t “real life”? Or is that only an excuse for people you like?

                • StillWithHer

                  Yo, I did my time in the great Gamergate Wars. I even bought supporting memberships at the last three Hugos to vote against the Sad Puppies.

                  Robin and Loomis having an online slapfight over Matt Bruenig ain’t Gamergate. Gamergate was disturbing for the most part precisely because it slipped into real life.

                • veleda_k

                  So, Gamergate was bad because it crossed into real life. Harassment and abuse are okay as long as it’s all online. Okay.

  • CJColucci

    Trump is Nixon, but stupid.

    • waspuppet

      Yeah, just because he’s a bad authoritarian doesn’t mean he’s not an authoritarian.

      • LeeEsq

        Bat at authoritarianism or incompetent authoritarian. All authoritarians are bad authoritarians even if they are skilled at it.

        • What I’m learning is that to a lot of people the word authoritarian names something good. “He’s incompetent, how can he be an authoritarian?”

          It’s just another word for Republican at this point.

          • StillWithHer

            It ain’t that deep fam. It is just a confusion between “good” as in skillful at attaining ends and “good” as in that which is morally right.

            • And authoritarians are neither, so what’s your point?

              • StillWithHer

                I’d like to see the argument that Genghis Khan wasn’t good at what he was trying to accomplish.

              • Pete

                This is repetitive of SWH, and I hesitate to line up on that side, but many authoritarians have been skillful at attaining their ends.

                • Since the example is “not hiring enough people to get the job done,” I think that’s relevant here.

                  An authoritarian boss is not usually a boss who is prudent and knowledgeable and good at delegating. An authoritarian boss is often someone who compensates for not being trusted by requiring obedience and loyalty, and who hires underlings who prioritize a show of obedience over avoiding groupthink.

                  Now, if you think all bosses are by definition “authoritarian”, which I guess is arguable, or you think “authoritarian” amounts to “knowing what you want and hiring people who can get it,” that won’t work for you.

                  An authoritarian follower is generally someone who believes all bosses are by definition competent and good. On really no evidence. So I find it interesting that so many seem to believe the leaders authoritarian followers choose really are at least competent.

                  Do some people who are competent also have authoritarian tendencies? Sure. But it’s impossible to prioritize authoritarianism and competence simultaneously. Something has to give. At the very least, a group of employees has to be designated as free from worrying about overt displays of authoritarian values.

                • To put it another way: Stalin was good at finding people who would kill for him. He was less good at organizing farms, and at biology.

                • Dennis Orphen

                  He knew how to count though.

    • howard

      In the immediate aftermath of the election I said that trump would combine the worst of Nixon and bush 43.

      It turns out I was an optimist.

  • StillWithHer

    What has become steadily clear is that, despite what we all might have feared on Nov 8th, Trump didn’t come into office executing some well planned out right wing coup de main orchestrated by Puppet Master Bannon.

    He is just a bored stupid old man with no ideology other than a worship of wealth and an innate crotchetyness.

    The Republicans (excuse the vulgarity) shot their load on a guy who isn’t competent enough to get their vile right wing shit through. They may never have another chance like this, ever.

    And on top of all of that demons like Kevin D Williamson and George Will are so salty they could be used to help keep food from rotting over long distances.

    Someone like Cruz or Rubio would have made all of this an unmanageable Conservative hellscape. What we are watching is just deeply incompetent nonsense.

    • CP

      The Republicans (excuse the vulgarity) shot their load

      I can’t tell if the vulgarity you’re apologizing for is the term “shot their load” or the word “Republicans” XD

      • StillWithHer

        One gives life, the other takes it away

    • tsam

      Right, but to question the idea that he’s demonstrably authoritarian is…misguided. He absolutely is. His opening speech, the Central Park 5, gonna “lock you up”…

      What has become steadily clear is that, despite what we all might have feared on Nov 8th, Trump didn’t come into office executing some well planned out right wing coup de main orchestrated by Puppet Master Bannon.

      These coups** in bigger republics are a slow burn, not an overnight changeover.

      **Coup probably isn’t the right word for what’s happening now, where we abandon norms and traditional fealty to a process that meant the office was bigger than the person holding it.

      • N__B

        “Degeneraton.”

        • tsam

          That’s a good one.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        At no point in that post does StillWithHer question whether Trump is an authoritarian. He instead states that, “Trump didn’t come into office executing some well planned out right wing coup de main orchestrated by Puppet Master Bannon,” which isn’t inconsistent with Trump being authoritarian, it just makes Trump a different flavor of authoritarian.

        • tsam

          I can read.

          He seems happy to have the debate.

    • sigaba

      I don’t know if you can prove X isn’t auhtoritarian on basis of intention or competence. Historians and researchers have been actively debating for over 50 years this question in the case of Hitler and they still don’t have any sort of firm consensus, and if Hitler wasn’t an authoritarian than who is?

      • sigaba

        I would add, Robin’s argument sounds a lot like the argument that X or Y isn’t racist because X or Y doesn’t manifest hatred of a particular race, X or Y don’t have an “Original” race hatred or ideology. Or further, that X or Y isn’t racist because it X or Y doesn’t mean anything by it.

        This completely sets aside the institutional or structural nature of these things– people might not intend to be racist, or authoritarian, but in a particular social context these phenomena emerge because of certain potentiating factors, combined with a strong propensity for large numbers of people to conform, or at least not dissent, out of fear, or for profit, or to avoid locally adverse consequences.

        I guess in that light I’d say that the question of wether DJT is an authoritarian is meaningless, because authoritarianism is something that exists in a society among large masses of people. All of the actions of these people taken together is what counts.

      • StillWithHer

        I don’t see the comparison. Hitler was miles ahead of Trump in both competence (yeesh, I know it is icky to say that) and clarity of purpose, and was the beneficiary of immense good luck as well as incredibly weak political institutions.

        Interwar Germany was just ideologically and psychologically a totally different ballgame than the modern day US

        • sigaba

          Hitler was miles ahead of Trump in both competence (yeesh, I know it is icky to say that) and clarity of purpose

          What’s your basis for that comparison? I don’t think the “miles ahead” description is at all accurate. There’s no question that Hitler was surrounded by very competent people, and he himself was very popular and a reputation as a brilliant speaker and political infighter, but there’s very little substantiating evidence of this, people who weren’t under his spell and dealt with him personally thought he was a knave and a loudmouth with a lot of angry opinions, and his handlers had to constantly protect him from embarrassment and control who had access to him. A lot of the stories about his competence and cunning were contemporary propaganda and hard to substantiate.

          His speeches are actually grammatical messes; his book was unreadable and had no specific plans; he spent many years of the 20s in prison for a Keystone Kops-level putsch and only the intercession of rightwing politicians and a completely corrupt judiciary got him out early. The basis of his “genius” seems to be more about what contemporary German society wanted in a leader and less what he actually was.

          When he finally got IN to government he simply had the SA beat up anyone who opposed him, this is not brilliance, it’s the opposite. His actual running of the German state was chaotic and virtually guaranteed that the state would suffer an economic collapse by 1940, thus the war became an existential necessity. People have argued that Hitler did all of this on purpose in order to bring about the war, and the conditions necessary to start the Holocaust, but nobody can actually prove this, it’s just an interpetation. He definitely wanted the war, like every German rightwinger did, but he was effectively forced into a timetable by his shambolic and corrupt administration. And at a certain point after 1935 or so, it’s impossible to tell if he’s doing things on purpose or if he’s constantly having his hand forced by Himmler, Goering, or Heydrich, or someone else, because they’re all constantly trying to outdo each other and Hitler always has to be Left of No Man. He created the conditions, almost completely with words and words alone, but once things were rolling he was more or less redundant.

          • Dennis Orphen

            Well put.

        • Dilan Esper

          The Holocaust was as awful as it was because it was an efficiently run and carefully planned government program.

          Evil and skilled/competent is far scarier than evil and incompetent.

          • But it was not run by Hitler. It was run by a combination of men who knew how to tell other men to do things and men who did those things. It was not run by men with pathologies like Hitler’s.

            • StillWithHer

              Hitler’s unique pathologies established the large scale framework and most of the guiding ideology that allowed incredibly efficient murderers to do what they did.

              • sigaba

                That’s an extremely general statement, change a few words and it could be the mission statement for a paper company.

                It’s so general, in fact, we could just as easily apply it to Trump; only hindsight makes it true for Hitler. We don’t know what Trump’s “unique pathologies” might enable in his followers — I wager quite a bit.

              • CD

                I’ve lost track of the larger point at issue, nor do I like arguing this stuff. But “most of the guiding ideology” is quite wrong. European antisemitism had a long, deep, and frequently-murderous history. The holocaust was by no means inevitable, but it could only happen because it made sense to a lot of ordinary Germans, and that pre-dated the Nazis.

          • sigaba

            That’s absolutely true, but don’t count on Trump’s personal incompetence to save anyone from anything. Hitler didn’t organize the Holocaust, he just gave an order, he had whole armies of people to make things efficient.

      • guthrie

        I seem to have missed the discussions that Hitler might not have been an authoritarian dictator who wanted people to do what he wanted.

      • btfjd

        I could be wrong, but isn’t the argument specifically about whether Hitler planned all along to kill every Jew in Europe, or whether the Holocaust developed momentum as it went along? But arguing over functionalism versus intentionalism isn’t the same as arguing whether Hitler was an authoritarian or not–news flash, he was.

        Hitler, though, had two overarching goals which he formulated as early as Mein Kampf, maybe even as early as Pasewalk. He wanted to make the German Reich “judenfrei,” and he wanted “lebensraum” in Eastern Europe by destroying the USSR. Trump has no such fundamental purposes as far as I can tell, other than the aggrandizement of himself and his family.

        This makes him less dangerous than Hitler, or Stalin, or other similar ideologues who achieve absolute power. But he’s still pretty damn dangerous.

  • tsam

    Trump made his authoritarianism crystal fucking clear as soon as he debarked that elevator to make his entry speech.

    • N__B

      YOU LIE!

      It was an escalator.

      • tsam

        I’M FAKE NEWS, MUTHAFUCKAH

  • wfrolik

    As the person who did ask, (and who JUST checked Robin’s twitter feed-kid you not,) I want to thank you for this response.

  • Given the sheer number of unwritten and customary checks on Executive power, Trump is far worse than a generic Republican simply because he exposes them as toothless at such an incredible rate. When Bush the Younger took unprecedented steps to politicize the Department of Justice, or looked the other way on torture, that was bad, but they were also scandals and took years to do. Trump fires the FBI director for investigating him, has an AG who perjured himself in his confirmation hearings, and is brazenly ignoring all kinds of ethics and anti-corruption statues (remember that putting Kushner in the White House is itself probably illegal), and more. None of them get more than cursory attention because he’s instantly onto something else.

    In other words, Trump’s policies are bad, but what makes him so much more damaging than a Cruz or a Rubio is that he’s paved the way for a competent authoritarian by blowing away decades and centuries of checks on Executive power, and all in less than four months in office.

    • eclare

      but what makes him so much more damaging than a Cruz or a Rubio is that he’s paved the way for a competent authoritarian

      This is what makes me most nervous. I mean, sure, the Senate eventually killed Caesar, but it was too late to save the Republic.

  • DamnYankees

    In my view, the story here isn’t really about Trump. Trump is Trump. He’s an authoritarian asshole.

    The story is the Congressional GOP, and by extension the entire party. It’s just a party that believes in absolutely nothing but its own power. There’s nothing else, nothing left. It would be hard to imagine a less patriotic President – someone who not only doesn’t care about democracy or rule of law or the constitution, but literally doesn’t even pretend to. He openly doesn’t care, and is stomping on it.

    And the GOP doesn’t care. They are fine. They’ll take it and do nothing more than express tiny amounts of concern while doing nothing.

    I don’t know what the path forward is. Even if you get rid of Trump, you still have this party. It’s completely broken and backwards. What the hell do we do? A democracy can’t persist if one of its two major parties doesn’t care about its persistence.

    I’m depressed.

    • ap77

      Taking it even further . . . it’s not just the congressional GOP. It’s the GOP voters.

      • CP

        Yes.

        • LeeEsq

          We’re stuck with them though.

    • StillWithHer

      I kind of wonder if the people living during the fall of Rome had any inkling that they were?

      • efgoldman

        if the people living during the fall of Rome had any inkling that they were?

        Probably not, without Fox to tell them.

      • tsam

        Only the occasional blog post called it, but everyone else just lol-ed.

      • rea

        At some point between 476 and 1453 people caught on that the empire was falling, surely

        • StillWithHer

          Around 1453 must have been hard to ignore, yeah.

          • rea

            Well, those Ottomans killing the Emperor and capturing the Eastern Capital made things fairly clear.

      • sigaba

        Fall of the Republic? Not really, many of them thought they’d benefit from the corrupt and wealthy Senate being brought to heel. (Alot of plebes probably though the Gracchi’s Goldman Sachs speeches were disqualifying and only an honest dude like Caesar could Drain the Swamp.)

        Fall of the City? Hard not to notice all those Lombards slaying people right and left.

        Fall of the Empire? Ask a Byzantine in 1100 if the empire had fallen, he’d say no, the best bits were merely carted east after the rump state that contained Rome changed hands a few times. Meanwhile the Roman Pope maintained influence and taxation powers in every city and local government from Acre to Dublin, a situation an Auraelian could hardly dream of.

        Things don’t change on the ground in the way historians construct, we can’t talk about the Fall of the Roman Empire in terms that are meaningful to the people that experienced it, because for the most part the “Fall” was nothing more than a name change and part of a political and economic trend hundreds of years in motion.

        • njorl

          (Alot of plebes probably though the Gracchi’s Goldman Sachs speeches were disqualifying and only an honest dude like Caesar could Drain the Swamp.)

          The Gracchi and Caeser were in the same party. It was probably not a good idea for the Optimates to change the rules of politics to include wholesale murder of the opposition.

        • Dennis Orphen

          Bravo.

      • btfjd

        If you read Boethius and Augustine, it’s clear that they did.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Once you have opened your eyes and can truly see, finding the path forward becomes a possibility. Our collective blindness is what has led us here. Give it a minute, suppress the compromised attention span that mother culture has imposed upon far too many us, and your eyes will adjust.

    • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

      I’ll have you know Obama once forgot to where a flag label pin! And forgot to raise his hand to his heart during the national anthem! He’s the America hater libtard

      • StillWithHer

        If he had had one more year in office, tan suits would have been mandatory in all professional settings.

    • JMV Pyro

      I think it’s unsustainable. I also think that unfortunately there’s a whole lot of avoidable pain and suffering that’s going to be caused in the meantime.

      A democracy can’t persist if one of its two major parties doesn’t care about its persistence.

      You know, I’ve been wondering this for a while now: just how long has the United States really been a “democracy” as we recognize it today. I’d argue not until the 1960s, which is also when most conservatives think America went to shit.

      • Davis X. Machina

        What made it a democracy just happens to be what they’re sure made it go to shit.

        Such a co-inky-dink!

    • AMK

      This is also very relevant to the GOP-wide response (or lack thereof) to the Trump-Russia connections.

      What is modern Russia? It’s a flat-tax oligarchic/neofeudal, authoritarian ethnonationalist state where the paramount entities are the security services, the traditionslist quasi-state church and the extraction industries; which exist in an interlocking web of corruption, propaganda and constant supression of dissent to the benefit of shifting coalitions of ultraweathly families that intermingle their own intetests with the state.

      In other words, a GOP paradise–what red America would look like if you removed blue America from the equation tonorrow and fast-forwarded ten or fifteen years.The way that some on the left look at the nordic countries as models, the right now looks at Russia. That’s the scandal.

      Ultimately, the question is how a liberal democracy deals with illiberal threats to its own existence. People give me shit here when I suggest, for example, that Dems should not provide funding for opioid response because the epidemic is killing tens of thousands of GOP voters a year. But active measures have to be taken.

      • Davis X. Machina

        There also are those who — reluctantly of course — will throw in with that same flat-tax oligarchic/neofeudal, authoritarian ethno-nationalist state because it has the ability to cooperate in smashing the US imperialist hegemon.

        The struggle continues!

  • CP

    And Republicans have remained electorally competitive not because Regan or Bush or Trump persuaded a majority to support their unpopular agenda, but because the framers in their Infinite Wisdom created institutions that massively overrepresent their core constituencies.)

    Oddly enough, the country that America reminds me the most of right now is Lebanon. There, the system was set up to give roughly proportional representation in government to each of the three big sectarian groups. Problem: said representation was determined by the census of 1932 and hasn’t been revisisted since, which means that the demographics of the Lebanese government no longer look anything like the demographics of the Lebanese people. Some groups are now massively overrepresented, because that’s the rule, and God forbid we recognize that the rule no longer serves the country, if it ever did.

    The U.S. is in a similar situation of a representational system that wasn’t terrible in the days it was set up when most Americans did live in rural areas (though of course, it was terrible in other ways) but is now completely out of sync with the population it rules.

    (Feature, not bug, of course, as far as an assload of people are concerned. The Right People are entitled to wildly disproportionate representation. Don’t you know who they are?)

    • mongolia

      if we didn’t eliminate the electoral college and the senate, cities would dominate over people in rural areas, dontchaknow?!?!?!

    • LeeEsq

      Lebanon was one of those countries that I thought would really benefit from a very strict separation of religion and state. Get rid of the entire confessional nature of representation and institute something more normal but insist on no religious parties, no religious based independent politicians, no clergy talking about political issues, and no religious based law. Enforce it as best as you can.

  • brewmn

    This does a pretty good job of dismantling Robin’s arguments:

    http://www.publicseminar.org/2017/05/trump-is-an-authoritarian-in-his-actions-and-his-words-and-words-are-actions/#.WRYfznqSg3k

    …his administration is the most nepotistic, and kleptocratic, US administration in memory. He has brazenly ignored every convention, rule, and law governing conflicts of interest, and he uses his office to advance the business interests of his friends, his family, and himself. That his conduct resembles Papa Doc Duvalier more than it does Franco or Mussolini does not make it any less authoritarian.

    Trump’s words — Tweeted daily to tens of millions, and broadcast to hundreds of millions — are real. They are political acts. Trump’s words mobilize hatred against “foreigners.” They denounce and demonize journalists and independent news organizations. They enact, and encourage, an utter cynicism about the distinction between truth and falsity. They incite anger and hostility towards judges, and the rule of law, and regulations and procedures that stand in the way of the decisive action of The Leader.

    If that is not “authoritarianism,” then what is?

    • StillWithHer

      Corey Robin: “Liberals pay attention to Trump’s words and not his actions.”

      That guy: “LET ME BREAK DOWN WHY HIS WORDS ARE AUTHORITARIAN!”

      • Scott Lemieux

        Firing Comey to obstruct justice strikes me as more action than words, but anyway.

        • StillWithHer

          If he fired Comey for that reason and not just that he is a dullard with no sense of optics or any sort of attention span, then, yes, I agree.

          • nemdam

            Well if you analyze Trump’s words, he says that’s why he did it. Or can you not determine motive via someone’s words?

          • Matty

            If?

          • ColBatGuano

            You think Trump just woke up on Monday and said “Fuck it, I’ll fire Comey today.”? What do the optics have to do with it?

        • Lost Left Coaster

          Also unleashing the fury of the state on innocent people who may be undocumented immigrants is a pretty solid example of an authoritarian action, not just words.

      • sigaba

        In politics words are actions. Dissent itself is nothing more than words, authority derives from statements of shared meaning and purpose, er, words.

      • tsam

        Hitler’s speeches at the Nuremberg Rallies didn’t prove he was an authoritarian either. We had to wait around for action.

        • StillWithHer

          Get back to me when a.)Trump has a party that actually likes him and b.) burns down Congress and blames it on the DSA

          • brewmn

            Nice job ignoring the fact that Trump still has the support of 80% of the Republican base. He doesn’t need Ryan or McConnell to “like” him. They’ll carry his water just the same.

          • tsam

            Think about it a little harder–in the context of the discussion we’re having.

            Words vs. actions…? Does it really matter that much? History says not really.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Get back to me when a.) Trump has a party that actually likes him

            Huh?

            If you mean rank and file, he’s still popular among Republicans. And if you mean Congress, well, please enlighten us to how they have opposed or impeded his agenda in any way. I mean, they just passed his stupid bill that is putting a lot of their seats at risk — and this reflects that they don’t like him?

            • Scott Lemieux

              Seriously — the idea there’s any meaningful tension between Trump and the congressional GOP is as delusional as the idea that Merrick Garland could constrain Trump as FBI Director.

      • calling all toasters

        You did a really good job of pretending the first quote isn’t there.

    • mds

      That his conduct resembles Papa Doc Duvalier more than it does Franco or Mussolini does not make it any less authoritarian.

      Just so. If we use Robin’s “reasoning,” a caudillo could never be an authoritarian unless he were efficiently and thoroughly staffing the bureaucracy. Hell, plenty of Roman emperors would fail to be authoritarian by this standard, which really underscores just how fucking stupid it is.

  • brewmn

    And I love his argument that pointing out that pointing out that Trump is in the banker’s pockets is a more effective way of bringing about his political defeat than prosecuting him for impeachable acts. As with a lot of other leftists, I find myself asking of Robin, “How can someone so smart be so stupid?”

    • StillWithHer

      The impeachment fantasy is panem et circenses for the kind of people who watch Keith Olbermann and Maddow.

      • brewmn

        So is the notion that pointing out Trump is friendly with bankers will sway enough votes to make a difference in 2018 or 2020.

        • brewmn

          For the record, the question I rhetorically ask of Robin does not extend to you.

          • StillWithHer

            If you are going to be unconstructively snide, try not to do it by replying to your own post.

    • aturner339

      He literally wrote the book on conservatism as fundamentally hierarchical and then when confront with the most hierchical candidate to date seems to believe his supporters are populists.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Leftists have predicted 16 of the last zero populist uprisings, but they have a strong hunch number 17 is JUST around the corner.

        • StillWithHer

          What is a “populist” uprising?

          • Pete
            • catbirdman

              And yet, I have a hunch that we’re really just one major chaotic event away from seeing transformative levels of violence. A dirty bomb or something else on the level of 9-11 or bigger. I’m not even saying that it’s being planned by Trump or his people, although it very well could be — I wouldn’t put it past Bannon or Gorka, for example, to set out to purposefully shock the system in a major way, just to see what happens. I’m a 52-year-old, peace-loving liberal biologist, born and raised in southern California, and I’m sitting here thinking about moving to Canada and/or arming myself for the first time in my life. Not even under 8 years of W did I think, “Well, probably time to shop for a fucking pistol.

              One thing history tries to teach us is that shit can get real in a hurry, and we’re living in a country populated with a whole lot of heavily armed rubes who are positively DOWN with what we’ve seen from Trump so far. I feel like I’d be putting my head in the sand not to seriously consider a few worst-case scenarios, because they don’t seem far-fetched to me anymore. This is a serious effect of what Trump’s doing to our country — me times a couple hundred million — just by being the chaotic, self-obsessed prick that he is.

              • Redwood Rhiadra

                I’m sitting here thinking about moving to Canada

                Unless you speak French, have a Canadian relative, or are a member of one of the recognized First Nations, you will not be allowed in.

                That was one of the first things I investigated after the election.

                • catbirdman

                  Lol I just filled out the online questionnaire and they said I’m not eligible, but could be if I were to be accepted to a study program. Maybe I’ll apply for grad school!

                • bender

                  Or have half a million dollars to invest, I believe.

      • Well, NewishLawyer seems to think he’s not really hierarchical, just a low-status person’s uneducated idea of what hierarchy is like. So do all those Rs who insist the guy is really a D.

    • nemdam

      Maybe he’s not very smart?

      • JMV Pyro

        I would say it’s more of a cultural/ideological thing then an intelligence thing. For some reason, a lot of people in the Jacobin/DSA/Chapo crowd do not like the idea of focusing on Trump as an authoritarian.

        If I had to guess why, it would be that they see Trump as the symptom of a wider disease and want to focus on whatever that is(capitalism, the Republicans, Neoliberalism, etc.)rather then Trump, who they view as relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

        • StillWithHer

          For anyone who cares about such things, the wounds from the Primary are still pretty fresh. Nobody wants to get played. Nobody wants to go through the grueling next 4-8 years just to end up back at Obama 2.0 or worse.

          What was eye opening and politically difficult for me and I think many other “BernieBros” was feeling the real merciless weight of the pro-Clinton campaign and the countless ways they treated the Left as an absurd, contemptible enemy during the entire election cycle. It is a feeling hard to forget.

          One thing I can’t imagine is championing Bernie and seeing him get to the General Election, lose, and then spend the next six months trying to convince Clintonites it was somehow their fault. It seems only a matter of principle that the party faction that loses takes its wallops, but the Clintonites have shown a skill in blame deflection that borders on the paranormal and a shamelessness to match.

          I think we want the opportunity to elect someone in the Bernie mold, and that won’t happen while the current Democratic establishment controls the narrative.

          • calling all toasters

            One thing I can’t imagine is championing Bernie and seeing him get to the General Election, lose, and then spend the next six months trying to convince Clintonites it was somehow their fault.

            Wait for the punchline….

            I think we want the opportunity to elect someone in the Bernie mold, and that won’t happen while the current Democratic establishment controls the narrative.

            • veleda_k

              No, hey, that’s totally right. The only person Sanders cultists blamed for Sanders’s loss was Debbie Wasserman Schultz The DNC the debate schedules Hillary Clinton clearing the field the stupid and neoliberal Democratic voters Sander’s himself. No blame shifting there, no sir.

          • Gator90

            It seems only a matter of principle that the party faction that loses takes its wallops

            You don’t say.

          • ironic irony

            One thing I can’t imagine is championing Bernie and seeing him get to the General Election, lose, and then spend the next six months trying to convince Clintonites it was somehow their fault.

            Isn’t that exactly what the BernieBros are doing to Clinton supporters (or Clinton herself)?

            • StillWithHer

              I must have been unclear – I mean – If Bernie had won the Primary and gotten to the general election only to lose to Trump, Clintonites would be right to want the heads of BernieBros on a platter. (And, one would have thought, vice versa)

              • Scott Lemieux

                Clintonites would be right to want the heads of BernieBros on a platter.

                Actually, they wouldn’t. Especially if he lost because the director of the FBI called him a crook less than two weeks before the election.

          • Nick056

            Oh fuck off with the wounds of the primaries. Wounds? The constitution is Caesar’s body, Mitch McConnell and friends are standing there holding the dagger, and you’re talking about the primaries?

            Please. I’ve said plenty about the Democratic establishment, Clinton, etc. — now it’s all hands on deck. He fired Comey and admitted he did so corruptly. Forget the primaries, which Hillary won.

            • StillWithHer

              I was responding to what I thought was a sincere and thoughtful post by JMV Pyro. Go check Putin isn’t under your bed.

              • Nick056

                Joking about Putin this week is pretty rich.

                I read your comment, it’s hard to believe anyone is complaining about the Clinton machine right now. The thing is, the more Trump comes off as obstructing justice, the more adverse inferences are permitted, the more illegitimate her loss seems, the more complaining about HER machine is tendentious.

          • efgoldman

            feeling the real merciless weight of the pro-Clinton campaign and the countless ways they treated the Left as an absurd, contemptible enemy

            Oh, goodie. Let’s re-litigate the fucking primary again. Just where you’ve been headed since this thread hit.
            And “The Left” was and is absurd and contemptible. Try being Democrats, instead of working against the only party that shares a lot of your goals.
            I think Jacobin and their followers are ignorant, mendacious and contemptible, yes.

        • gmack

          If I had to guess why, it would be that they see Trump as the symptom of a wider disease and want to focus on whatever that is(capitalism, the Republicans, Neoliberalism, etc.)rather then Trump, who they view as relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

          That’s part of the issue for Robin. Another part has to do with his first book (Fear: The History of a Political Idea). HIs aversion to analyzing Trump as an authoritarian stems, in part, from his belief that the liberal analyses of Trump are rooted in political mobilizations of fear, and that this mobilization is something of which we should be critical.

          My own view is that Robin is onto something here, but also that he’s overplaying his hand, so to speak. I do think there is a strand of liberal critique of Trump that distorts the threats Trump poses and that also forecloses some our ability to work toward more positive alternatives (in particular, I am not particularly fond of any analysis that is trying to show that Trump is always “winning” no matter what happens, or that he’s some sort of strategic super genius who is brilliantly laying the groundwork for an authoritarian take-over). On the other hand, I think Robin’s preoccupation with these strands of liberal critique can blind him from some of the uniqueness of Trump’s threats.

          There is also a broader tendency in Robin’s analyses of the contemporary situation to be more preoccupied with diagnosing/criticizing aspects of liberalism than with examining the right. This can come off as at least tin-eared in the current context (though I must say, the Tweet that SL cited in the original post sounds considerably worse than “tin eared” to me).

          • tsam

            Awesome comment.

          • Scott Lemieux

            I think gmack is really onto something, and I think this essay provides reinforcement for it. It makes the link to the first book explicit, and also makes it clear that he’s viewing Trump through the lens of a Democratic primary he sees as having near-apocalyptic significance (which also helps to explain his minimization of the Trump/Republican threat.)

            • gmack

              Cool. Thanks for the link. I hadn’t actually read this essay until now, though I sort of gleaned much of its content from his other writings since the election.

              Having now read it, I’ll make a highly general observation: The effort to root one’s position on a highly specific political situation (e.g., Trump’s firing of Comey) in a broader theoretical diagnosis of a whole mode of thought (e.g., X philosopher’s claim that liberalism is best justified/rooted in fear, as opposed to a positive vision) can no doubt generate interesting insights; at its best, such efforts can shift our vision and challenge a collection of basic assumptions about what’s going on and how we can react to it. But when it fails, it fails pretty spectacularly.

          • Brien Jackson

            “My own view is that Robin is onto something here, but also that he’s overplaying his hand, so to speak. I do think there is a strand of liberal critique of Trump that distorts the threats Trump poses and that also forecloses some our ability to work toward more positive alternatives (in particular, I am not particularly fond of any analysis that is trying to show that Trump is always “winning” no matter what happens, or that he’s some sort of strategic super genius who is brilliantly laying the groundwork for an authoritarian take-over). On the other hand, I think Robin’s preoccupation with these strands of liberal critique can blind him from some of the uniqueness of Trump’s threats.”

            I agree with this. I’ve grown REALLY tired of “the resistance” types who are constantly bleating about “distractions” and Steve Bannon SUPERGENIUS and hanging on every word of various cranks and frauds on Twitter who are maximally fabulist every day at every story. To say nothing of the straight forward conspiracy theorists. It’s so bad I even had to concede that Sarah Jones wrote a really great article denouncing those people.

            But that’s really odd to apply here, because it’s precisely the liberal writers who have written a lot about the deficiencies of American Constitutionalism and the radicalization of the GOP who are LEAST likely to be taken with that stuff. Here is him throwing some serious shade at Masha Gessen, even.

            There is also a broader tendency in Robin’s analyses of the contemporary situation to be more preoccupied with diagnosing/criticizing aspects of liberalism than with examining the right. This can come off as at least tin-eared in the current context (though I must say, the Tweet that SL cited in the original post sounds considerably worse than “tin eared” to me).

            Rephrased; Given the choice between criticizing Trump or bashing Chait, Robin will pick the latter every fucking time.

            • Corey is in some sense committed to something like what Rorty called the idea that “polishing the mirror of nature”, figuring out the best, most accurate thing to believe, is really important for doing politics right, at least on some level. And that’s true.

              He is not that I see committed to saying what this means in detail. For one thing, he presumably thinks everyone knows where to look for that. For another, that’s for people on the ground to choose, not for intellectuals to dictate. Intellectuals’ sphere is elsewhere.

              So when he looks like he’s telling us on the ground what to do, we’re probably misunderstanding him.

              If I’m wrong about that, maybe someday he’ll write a book explaining why, I guess.

          • mds

            HIs aversion to analyzing Trump as an authoritarian stems, in part, from his belief that the liberal analyses of Trump are rooted in political mobilizations of fear, and that this mobilization is something of which we should be critical.

            Hang around Crooked Timber comment threads long enough, and commenters like Bruce Wilder will express the extension of this, which is that “identity politics” is a phony mobilization tactic used by Democratic politicians to distract people from how they’re actually indistinguishable from Republicans. That this seems to be such a natural progression makes me wary of Robin’s thesis that “existential threat” rhetoric is really just a cynical ploy at vote-getting by Democrats. I could see it having some explanatory power (e.g., how mobilization against the Walker regime in Wisconsin was co-opted by Democrats who were completely incompetent at articulating anything other than “Walker bad”), but we must be careful not to dismiss all expressions of fear as overblown.

  • keta

    …Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are more about his personal power that larger policy goals.

    YES! To believe Trump gives a flying fuck about policy beyond whatever he feels most flatters himself is to deeply misunderstand him.

    As DamnYankees notes above, it’s the GOP elects who are most flexing authoritarian muscle. The bloated ego of an incompetent simpleton at the helm merely provides cover.

  • Sebastian_h

    Corey is a little weird. He spends years and tens of thousands of words spinning speculative and tenuous connections between types of conservatives–but can’t recognize clear cases. You’d think that buying into tenuous cases would make you think that clearer cases were super damning, but apparently not.

    • calling all toasters

      He’s definitely a “stare intently at the trees, assume the forest” sort of guy. Which reminds me– did his endless hunt of Neera Tanden for rolling her eyes result in socialism yet?

      • nemdam

        That article is all you need to know about Corey. And Neera. As in if that’s the worst thing they have to say about Neera, she must be pretty good.

        • calling all toasters

          That was the day I stopped reading him.

      • I instantly get nervous. Here I’ve been accused by Clinton’s possible Chief of Staff of lying. This is not a person you want to cross.

        What a tool.

        • StillWithHer

          ITT: Neera Tanden apparently the Hill to Die On

          • calling all toasters

            She was for Corey. For the rest of us she was just a manifestation of his derangement.

            • StillWithHer

              Mostly I think because her hill to die on was somewhere in the Golan Heights

              • calling all toasters

                Oh, is she insufficiently pro-Assad?

        • Pseudonym

          Ah, so Trump isn’t the real authoritarian, Neera Tanden is. Got it.

          • StillWithHer

            Blinded by the rays of sunlight off your shining white armor.

      • ForkyMcSpoon

        But… she looks from side to side, not up.

        But Sister Neera does looks like she’s not intently paying attention to Brother Cornell, which I guess makes her a monster.

    • so-in-so

      The story of the blind men and the elephant?

  • Joe_JP

    basic rules and norms

    Yes.

    We were going to be stuck with a Republican in office here sometime, but Trump isn’t just “shrugs” there. Rules and norms matter.

    And, basic competency. The fact we didn’t have to deal with an alien invasion from Mars or something here doesn’t mean that already in some fashion him and his staff’s incompetency hasn’t screwed us over even at this early date. Long term, it’s much more likely.

    Again, more so than even some other Republican whose policy alone will blow things for us. On this level, yeah, even Ted f-ing Cruz is better than Trump. Though his competency as a whole, outside of some skills at legal stuff and campaign strategy,* is unclear.

    ETA: Picking Carly Fiorina makes me inclined to qualify that, but he did show some skills.

    • StillWithHer

      Short of literal “Foreign boots on the ground” sort of national existential crises, wanting a competent Republican pres is insane. Especially that gelatinous half human hybrid Ted Cruz.

      • Joe_JP

        Living thru 9/11 et. al., I’m not going to assume this sort of thing isn’t going to happen, whatever test you are putting out there. And, Trump there makes it happening more likely.

        Having incompetent people flying the plane I’m on is also not something I desire.

        • StillWithHer

          We somehow waddled through with W.

          • Bloix

            We waddled through with W because we got lucky. If we’d been unlucky we would be living in Dick Cheney’s one-party authoritarian paradise. With Trump we got unlucky. I confess I don’t see a lot of luck in the future but man, I hope I’m wrong.

            • Joe_JP

              as Samantha Bee notes, Trump is so bad that we are pining for Bush even on a norms and competency level. If a Republican won in 2000, yes, I rather it be a competent one. Small scale, including on things like Medicaid expansion and GLBT rights, competent/half-way reasonable Republicans over the alternative has mattered on the state level too.

              • TopsyJane

                Trump is so bad that we are pining for Bush even on a norms and competency level.

                I’d not go that far myself, but Private Eye would:

                George W. Bush
                An Apology

                In recent years our readers may have had the impression that……George W. Bush was in some ways an unsuccessful and controversial president. Headlines on his tenure such as “So Long Bush, You Murderous Warmonger,” “Idiot Tyrant Dubya Grabs Oil As He Bombs Innocent Children,” and “Loony Bush Can’t Even Speak English Good” may have aided this regrettable impression.

                In the light of the election of Donald Trump, we now realise how lucky we were to have a president of such unimpeachable stature….and that the 43rd President is one of the most distinguished, noble and honorable holders of the office….as well as a man relentlessly devoted to world peace. As such, he deserves nothing less than recent headlines, including “Freedom Fighter Bush Defies Loony Trump,” “Bush is Eloquence and Dignity Made Flesh,” and “New Mandela Bush Spreads Universal Peace and Love.”

                We hope this clears the matter up.

            • Brien Jackson

              Well also, it’s not exactly right to say that the Bush administration lacked competency specifically. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Card, Powell….lots of people in the upper reaches and inner circle of that administration had a lot of real, high level experience with government and the executive branch specifically (to say nothing of the ever present option of Daddy Bush), and at least passed the threshold of being minimally competent at the mechanics of the job, even if their policies and goals were awful.

              Trump can’t even clear that bar! Who’s he always got around him? Kushner, Ivanka, Bannon, Priebus, Spicer, and Pence. The gap between that group and Bush’s is staggering!

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Who is “we” in that sentence?

            Just asking because George W. Bush’s presidency cost hundreds of thousands of lives, at minimum.

            • StillWithHer

              People who didn’t die during the Bush administration and aren’t going to die during the Trump administration, I suppose.

              • farin

                The only trustworthy commentators are those who have died under at least one previous President.

              • calling all toasters

                The deported and the unjustly imprisoned will be A-OK though.

          • ironic irony

            Some people didn’t.

            • veleda_k

              Eh, no one who mattered.

    • Joe_JP

      Breaking: Dep AG Rosenstein sees no need at this point for special prosecutor in #Russia probe

      Sen. Gillibrand said she opposed him for not guaranteeing a special prosecutor on Day One. Cory Booker, Kamala D. Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto. Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal also voted “no.”

      • SatanicPanic

        There’s your 2020 president shortlist then

        • StillWithHer

          Nah, you forgot Big Daddy Cuomo

          • SatanicPanic

            No I’m not.

            • StillWithHer

              Easy Tony, reachin across the aisle. The Cuomeister is coming for that Oval Office.

              • Scott Lemieux

                The Cuomeister is coming for that Oval Office.

                So did George Pataki, whose chances of winning the Republican nomination were identical to Cuomo winning the Democratic one in 2020.

                • efgoldman

                  So did George Pataki, whose chances of winning the Republican nomination were identical to Cuomo winning the Democratic one

                  Nah, Pataki had zero chance; Andy Boy’s is at least twice that.

      • tsam

        Dep AG Rosenstein sees no need at this point for special prosecutor in #Russia probe

        This came as a huge surprise.

  • nemdam

    I like this idea where defying a court order is authoritarian, but defying the law isn’t. Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution from the second he was sworn in. Not divesting his business and employing his family into key positions is all the evidence one needed to conclude Trump thinks he is above the law which is the fundamental attribute of an authoritarian.

    If he hasn’t been convinced now, I wouldn’t hold my breath on Corey ever believing Trump is an authoritarian. I believe there are still Democrats to blame for this.

    • so-in-so

      ICE did defy court orders within a week of his taking office. That probably ought to count.

      • calling all toasters

        Yeah, but Corey’s white, so that doesn’t count.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      I like this idea where defying a court order is authoritarian, but defying the law isn’t. Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution from the second he was sworn in. Not divesting his business and employing his family into key positions is all the evidence one needed to conclude Trump thinks he is above the law which is the fundamental attribute of an authoritarian.

      So Obama was also an authoritarian? He ignored the War Powers Act which seems far more egregious given that it involves killing large numbers of people and not merely lining one’s pockets.

      • Pete

        If you want to claim that every US President since Ford has been an authoritarian, go right ahead, but I think that devalues the term.

      • ColBatGuano

        The War Powers Act was passed in 1973 and promptly forgotten, even by Congress.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Especially by Congress!

    • Mike G

      Shorter Corey:
      I don’t see Trump growing a toothbrush mustache, so no signs of fascism here.

  • calling all toasters

    It took me a few minutes to figure out what the Inspector Javert of Brooklyn College meant by his tweet. Apparently anything that hurts the FBI is anti-authoritarian– right? Even if it results in Giuliani being put in charge? Or am I missing something?

    • CD

      It’s the negation of the negation. Of the negation. I lose track.

  • Bloix

    “Trump has not, yet, defied any of the court orders he’s complained about.”
    He’s been president for all of FOUR MONTHS. And he doesn’t need to defy any court orders. He gets to appoint the judges and he’s just getting started. In two years there will be judges throughout the federal system who will uphold everything he does. (This is courtesy of Mitch McConnell, who refused to hold hearings on lots of open judgeships, not just the S Ct seat.)

    But this Russian thing is breaking too early. He doesn’t have the judges in place yet and he hasn’t managed to purge the civil service and fill the Justice Dept with hacks at every level. We don’t know what it is but obviously it’s very, very bad. He needs to suppress it or at least slow-roll it for a long time, and Comey wasn’t going to let him.

  • Origami Isopod

    I suppose I might disagree with Chait here too, although I think this is reading too much into the title — AFACT Chait has been freaking out plenty.

    I’m not defending Corey Robin here, but Chait says in his tweet, “Before it seemed the authoritarian threat was overblown. But now Trump’s going after the FBI. Time to freak out.” The time to freak out was last November 8.

    • StillWithHer

      Chait is the Bill Kristol of the…Center.

      • Harkov311

        I assume we’re using your definition of “center.” Meaning everything to the left of conservatism and to the right of full socialism.

        Liberalism, in other words.

        • StillWithHer

          The guy makes Lemieux look like Chairman Mao

          • brewmn

            Which explains why Scott is so fond of linking to Chait’s takedowns of Republicans. None of which you have apparently ever read.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I’m not defending Corey Robin here, but Chait says in his tweet, “Before it seemed the authoritarian threat was overblown. But now Trump’s going after the FBI. Time to freak out.” The time to freak out was last November 8.

      True. OTOH, this piece would seem to indicate that Chait doesn’t think that Trump’s authoritarianism started with the Comey firing, and I’m inclined to privilege that over a tweet (although that’s not Corey’s fault; he did tweet that.)

    • Brien Jackson

      That is a…weird thing for Chait to say, because Chait has written a ton of words in the past 18 months or so detailing Trump’s authoritarian impulses, and also pointing out that the entire GOP has become an authoritarian party. I don’t get what he means by “overblown,” but Chait was definitely freaking out from day one.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Myself, I think the content of his columns is better evidence of what he thinks than the headlines/tweets used to promote them.

        • Brien Jackson

          Well I’m assuming he writes his tweets.

  • thispaceforsale

    Administration is now in a death spiral. Will the country be able to detach itself from the domino of dumpster fires?

    • Dennis Orphen

      Democracy Dead. Republic in Death Spiral. Country is your Nym.

  • jroth95

    perhaps he’ll explain his reasoning at greater length

    Really? You think Corey Robin might explain his reasoning at greater length? Is your next supposition that Ovechkin might disappear in the playoffs? That the Mets might mishandle injuries? That the NYT Opinion page might feature a useless soi-disant liberal?

    Robin’s loquaciousness is exceeded only by his self-regard.

    • StillWithHer

      I read Reactionary Mind in a single sitting.

  • hey so

    All he said was that Trump wasn’t more authoritarian than a garden variety politician (his counterfactual is FDR), and I’ve never read Robin as putting a lot of daylight between conservatism and authoritarianism.

    Yeah, Ted Cruz probably wouldn’t have fired Comey, but he wouldn’t be so incompetent as to find himself in a position where he had to and certainly wouldn’t be dumb enough to pull the trigger even if he did. Robin’s thesis holds.

    • calling all toasters

      All he said was that Trump wasn’t more authoritarian than a garden variety politician

      Let’s see…
      Trump is more racist than a garden variety politician.
      Trump is more narcissistic than a garden variety politician.
      Trump attacks the press more than a garden variety politician.
      Trump attacks the courts more than a garden variety politician.
      Trump is more nepotistic than a garden variety politician.
      Trump attacks commonly understood truth more than a garden variety politician.
      Trump is more corrupt than a garden variety politician.
      Trump is more of a populist demagogue than a garden variety politician.
      Trump violates institutional norms more than a garden variety politician.
      Trump likes military displays more than a garden variety politician.
      Trump demands acknowledgement of his greatness more than a garden variety politician.

      I can see how Corey would have missed these minutiae, though.

      • hey so

        Robin’s thesis is that he openly engages in these things because he’s weak, not because he is more prone to them than others (though he may be).

        If you didn’t know anything about Suharto you’d probably think he was charming.

        • hey so

          To clarify, Robin isn’t saying Trump isn’t dangerous. He’s saying Trump is more dangerous because he is weak, though his stance on this has been evolving in the past few weeks since the budget passed.

        • calling all toasters

          I don’t even understand how that can be a thesis. Of course Trump is personally weak. And of course he puts on his Mussolini-face to attract other weak people who are angry and afraid, and who want a man on horseback. This is how every fucking dictator does it.

          • hey so

            If you want an idea of what makes a strong authoritarian, stick to the ones who die in office of natural causes.

            EDIT: this one’s pretty good https://tompepinsky.com/2017/01/06/everyday-authoritarianism-is-boring-and-tolerable/

            • Scott Lemieux

              So are all American conservatives authoritarian, or none? I’m getting dizzy.

              • hey so

                Have you read The Reactionary Mind? Robin would say they are.

                What’s the source of confusion here? Were you surprised the Evangelical Right fell in love with somebody like Trump?

                Or…are you saying you think Robin is saying Trump doesn’t intend to be authoritarian, rather than just failing to do it effectively?

                • I’ve read the book and pretty sure Robin doesn’t use the word “authoritarian”.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I’ve read it. Being committed to hierarchy and being committed to authoritarianism are not the same thing. You can be a reactionary without believing that the national police force works for you personally.

                • Robin quibbles, I think, between saying his conservatives are committed to hierarchy and saying they’re committed to making themselves certain to be on top of the hierarchy when they’re not really anymore, by finding age-old victims to dominate and twisting even liberal theories to their own use.

                • hey so

                  I’ve read the book and pretty sure Robin doesn’t use the word “authoritarian”.

                  Did you miss the part where the whole book was connecting conservativism to reactionaries?

                  I’ve read it. Being committed to hierarchy and being committed to authoritarianism are not the same thing. You can be a reactionary without believing that the national police force works for you personally.

                  This is a pretty narrow definition of the authoritarian tendency! Most members of the religious Right are not personally trying to be king; they’re fine with not being anywhere near the top of hierarchy as long as they don’t think they’re at the bottom, per Altemeyer.

                • I can go do a search on the word but I’m not encouraged by your seeming not to know the definition of the word “word.”

                  ETA If your response is going to be “you’re so stupid you don’t know that I’m right and you’re wrong,” please don’t bother.

                • hey so

                  I’m confused. Are you saying somebody who seeks to establish a rigid hierarchy doesn’t necessarily deserve to be called authoritarian?

                • Did you miss the part where the whole book was connecting conservativism to reactionaries?

                  Do you have grounds for assuming that either “conservative” or “reactionary” is used by Robin as implying, or being implied by, “authoritarian”? If, as bianca steele says (and you haven’t bothered to refute), the word “authoritarian” doesn’t appear in the book, then those grounds—supposing you to have them—must have some basis outside the book. What is it?

                • hey so

                  The simplest response would be, “do you know of any reactionaries that aren’t?

                • hey so

                  The more complex answer is that Robin doesn’t namecheck authoritarianism because he sees it as a tool, a method of exercising power, rather than a philosophy in itself. This is the basis of “watch what they do, not what they say”: authoritarian rulers, after all, don’t engage in authoritarianism for its own sake. They do it because they want things that more diffused government can’t give them (fascism, Great Leaps Forward, shitloads of money, etc.). Since Reactionary Mind is about conservativism as a philosophy, how conservatives actually exercise power is left to the imagination (spoiler: not democratically).

                  Personally, I don’t think this is enough; after all, it’s all well and good for Edmund Burke to whine about how everything went to shit but when I consider how conservativism as affected my life I need to explain how they can turn this essentially Romantic idea into a mass movement. So that’s where Altemeyer comes in: Authoritarianism DOES exist as a personality type, and it’s frustratingly common even among people who’ve lived their lives in praise of a government system like the U.S.’s expressly designed to counter it (to whatever extent it succeeds at doing so).

                  So, you’ve got one author (Robin) who says Republicans are part of an intellectual tradition that longs for a return to a hierarchical system that uniformly exercised power through authoritarian means, and another (Altemeyer) who says a very large number of people long to live under a hierarchical, authoritarian system. Please explain why I’m wrong to consider this essentially the same conclusion?

                • calling all toasters

                  authoritarian rulers, after all, don’t engage in authoritarianism for its own sake.

                  Yeah, they certainly don’t get a thrill from exercising power.

                  You are a caution.

                  P.S. please save the reply where you “explain” that you weren’t talking about THIS, you were talking about THAT. You’re killing innocent electrons.

                • hey so

                  Yeah, they certainly don’t get a thrill from exercising power.

                  haha oh jeez compared to whom?

                  I’m pretty sure Obama enjoyed being President.

                • hey so

                  Or rather, I don’t consider Obama an authoritarian but I’m sure he enjoyed being President.

                • calling all toasters

                  I just realized… you’ve never had a job with a boss.

                • hey so

                  Dude, what the hell are you even talking about?

                • hey so

                  I mean, of course I’ve had bosses. Some of them have been authoritarian and some of them have not. I navigate them with the interpersonal skills I’ve learned through the process of becoming an adult human being.

                  Altemeyer says about half of his samples exhibited authoritarian tendencies and half did not. Based on my personal experience with folks who’ve had authority over me at various points in my life, this seems about right.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Robin’s thesis is that he openly engages in these things because he’s weak, not because he is more prone to them than others (though he may be).

          How many of these things were true of Jimmy Carter, who was also in a weak position? (Indeed, weaker — the Republican Congress has been much more supine for Trump.)

          • calling all toasters

            You’re missing the point, Scott. Openly engaging in authoritarianism is a sign that you are not authoritarian.

            • hey so

              Trump is trying to be totalitarian, which comes from a position of weakness.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Trump is trying to be totalitarian,

                Nah.

              • calling all toasters

                So if he tries to not be authoritarian, that would be strength, which would make him authoritarian? Gotcha.

                But no matter what he is, Hillary is worse, amirite?.

                • hey so

                  So you didn’t read the article I posted and really have no interest in considering authoritarianism beyond what you learned from the History channel, huh?

                • hey so

                  Also, 1) I voted for Hillary, and 2) you’re a child.

                • Yeah, no one here has read that.

                • calling all toasters

                  I actually read that did-you-Americans-know-that-authoritarianism-is-not-totalitarianism pile of snot. I can see why you like it so much. Not sure what it has to do with anything, but I’m sure you feel that it is absolute proof that you’re the smartest guy here. Good luck with that.

                • hey so

                  It is in response to your frankly weird contention that authoritarians always come in with the jackboots like Mussolini, or maybe bianca’s attempt upthread to characterization authoritarian governments as, well, Ricky Gervais in the Office.

                  I mean, do you not feel you are glossing over something particularly important? Vladimir Putin is pretty uncontroversially authoritarian, but Russians love him based on polls. What’s more likely: all those polls are cooked, or that he really has made the lives of Russians better (not a hard thing to do after Yeltsin, maybe) and all they’ve had to do is give up their political freedoms and dismiss Pussy Riot as a bunch of troublemakers?

                • calling all toasters

                  Who are you arguing with? And why are you trying to convince them of Putin’s popularity?

                  Answer neither of these questions first.

                • hey so

                  There is such a thing as an effective authoritarian, loved by his subjects. He is still a monster.

                  This is…an alien concept to you, evidently?

              • tsam

                I WOT M8?

          • hey so

            Maybe Jimmy Carter wasn’t actually an authoritarian piece of shit, or at least was not an aspiring authoritarian who was really bad it, which is the kind of leader who goes full-bore at tearing down institutions rather than simply subverting them.

            I’ll go Full Hot Take and say GWB was a pretty good example of a successful American authoritarian, in this mold.

            • hey so

              an aspiring authoritarian who was really bad it, which is the kind of leader who goes full-bore at tearing down institutions rather than simply subverting them.

              And just for fun, I’ll even say Mussolini was arguably in this mold, except he caught some lucky breaks. If Luigi Facta stood his ground against the March on Rome Mussolini would have spent the next 40 years in Switzerland writing sad letters.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, Ted Cruz probably wouldn’t have fired Comey, but he wouldn’t be so incompetent as to find himself in a position where he had to and certainly wouldn’t be dumb enough to pull the trigger even if he did. Robin’s thesis holds.

      Yes, a thesis is likely to hold up if one redefines it to make it unfalsifiable.

      • hey so

        Not at all. It took years for Washington and the MSM to come around to Bush having lied about Iraqi WMDs. The Trump administration can’t maintain a lie for 3 hours.

        • Scott Lemieux

          There are words here but none are relevant to the question of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies.

          • hey so

            That’s because they aren’t about his authoritarian tendencies (which aren’t beyond what we’d expect to see in people generally, and in America, Republicans); they’re about his weakness.

            • hey so

              And to clarify, I’m not talking about personal weakness. I’m taking a different tack than Campos, though I certainly don’t think Trump being a Fox News Grandpa with dementia doesn’t matter. I’m talking about his weakness as a leader, which starts with him but continues throughout his administration: Spicer and Conway’s horrible messaging, Bannon trying to strongarm erstwhile allies, the relentless infighting, the easily-traceable embarrassments like Gorka, etc.

              Somebody mentioned upthread that 33 of 69 things Trump’s actually done involved the EPA, but that’s not evidence of Trump being particularly focused on environmental deregulation; it just means Scott Pruitt is one of the only people in there who’s good at his job.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Ah, so you concede that this “weakness” gibberish is not relevant to the post. Since it’s certainly not remotely interesting in itself either, there’s no need to pursue it further.

              • hey so

                My point is this post is attacking a strawman. Robin isn’t saying Trump doesn’t have authoritarian tendencies. This passes without comment because Robin’s position, based on his past work, is that all Republicans and indeed many if not most Democrats do: again, his counterfactual for effective authoritarian Presidential action is FDR.

                So the fact that he’s authoritarian and would like to govern that way isn’t that interesting or unique. If Trump is worse than Ted Cruz (and I agree he is, whether or not Robin would), it’s because he is bad at being authoritarian, which means he’s way more likely to directly attack and destroy institutions rather than subvert them to get what he wants.

                I linked one post from Tom Pepinsky about Malaysia on this, but all his stuff’s good. But I guess that’s not interesting to you?

  • Is Sessions the only outlier? Pruitt is not only a corrupt tool of the oil industry, he’s a highly effective fanatic. 33 out of the 69 actual policy actions taken by Trump in his 100 days were attacks on environmental protection. Perhaps someone who knows more about Anne Gorsuch can give us a rating. Also, Bannon.

  • hey so

    mispost