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It’s just a shot away


Jamelle Bouie points out that one of the ways Donald Trump has broken traditional political journalism in this country is by simply saying right out in the open that he was conspiring to do the kinds of things that traditionally had to be uncovered by investigative journalism:

With the help of these unscrupulous allies, Trump plans to turn the Department of Justice against his political opponents, prosecuting his critics and rivals. He would use the military to crush protests under the Insurrection Act — which he hoped to do during the summer of 2020 — and turn the power of the federal government against his perceived enemies.

“If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them.’ They’d be out of business. They’d be out of the election,” Trump said in a recent interview on the Spanish-language network Univision.

As the former president wrote in a disturbing and authoritarian-minded Veterans Day message to supporters (itself echoing a speech he delivered that same day to supporters in New Hampshire): “We pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American dream.”

Trump has other plans as well. As several of my Times colleagues reported last week, he hopes to institute a program of mass detainment and deportation of undocumented immigrants. His aides have already drawn up plans for new detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border, where anyone suspected of illegal entry would be held until authorities have settled the person’s immigration status.

Given the former president’s rhetoric attacking political enemies and other supposedly undesirable groups, like the homeless — Trump has said that the government should “remove” homeless Americans and put them in tents on “large parcels of inexpensive land in the outer reaches of the cities” — there’s little doubt that some citizens would find themselves in these large and sprawling camps.

Included in this effort to rid the United States of as many immigrants as possible is a proposal to target people here legally — like green-card holders or people on student visas — who harbor supposedly “jihadist sympathies” or espouse views deemed anti-American. Trump also intends to circumvent the 14th Amendment so that he can end birthright citizenship for the children of unauthorized immigrants.

All of this, like the January 6th insurrection/attempted autogolpe, can be seen in real time by anyone with a TV or an Internet connection.

In addition to Trump’s words, which we should treat as a reliable guide to his actions, desires and preoccupations, we have his allies, who are as open in their contempt for democracy as Trump is. Ensconced at institutions like the Heritage Foundation and the Claremont Institute, Trump’s political and ideological allies have made no secret of their desire to install a reactionary Caesar at the head of the American state.

As Damon Linker noted this month in his essay on these figures for Times Opinion, they exist to give “Republican elites permission and encouragement to do things that just a few years ago would have been considered unthinkable.”

Americans are obsessed with hidden meanings and secret revelations. This is why many of us are taken with the tell-all memoirs of political operatives or historical materials like the Nixon tapes. We often pay the most attention to those things that have been hidden from view. But the mundane truth of American politics is that much of what we want to know is in plain view. You don’t have to search hard or seek it out; you just have to listen.

And Donald Trump is telling us, loud and clear, that he wants to end American democracy as we know it.

Those last four words seem superfluous, unless “democracy” means a profound parody of the concept, as in the “managed democracy” that keeps tyrants like Vladimir Putin in power.

Another way in which Trump has broken the media is by taking advantage of the fact that democracy in any meaningful form requires at least two major political parties that are themselves committed to the concept. We don’t have that in America at present, which means the choice we face is to either let the Republican party end democracy, or to end the Republican party. We are watching Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance being worked out in real time, one lead story and cable news segment at a time.

All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves. Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, whereas for the common-sense, essentially hedonistic world-view which Mr. Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is willing to shed a pint of blood. Before you can even talk of world reconstruction, or even of peace, you have got to eliminate Hitler, which means bringing into being a dynamic not necessarily the same as that of the Nazis, but probably quite as unacceptable to ‘enlightened’ and hedonistic people.

George Orwell, “Wells, Hitler and the World State,” August 1941

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