12 min read

Is the USA Going to Choose Dictatorship? Plus, Why This is a Remarkable Moment in History, and What Trump’s Return Means

Is the USA Going to Choose Dictatorship? Plus, Why This is a Remarkable Moment in History, and What Trump’s Return Means

I’m Umair Haque, and this is The Issue: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported publication. Our job is to give you the freshest, deepest, no-holds-barred insight about the issues that matter most.

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  1. The fall and rise of Trump: How the former president regained control of the Republican Party (El Pais)
  2. This Could Well Be Game Over (NYT)
  3. Biden not a popular topic of discussion among some young, liberal Democrats (WaPo)
  4. Far-right candidates see Super Tuesday wins at traditional Republicans’ expense (Guardian)
  5. Trump Is Winning This Election Right Now. Here’s Why. (The Nation)
  6. In Florida, Skyrocketing Insurance Rates Test Resolve of Homeowners (Inside Climate News)
  7. The most important idea in Zen Buddhism for today’s world (Big Think)

We’ve been discussing (groan) Trump quite a bit lately. Tomorrow, more interesting things, I promise. For today, though, we need to…continue. By asking a question. Is America really going to choose dictatorship over democracy?

Why This is a Remarkable Moment in History (and Not in a Good Way)

It’s hard to underscore how remarkable a moment in history this is. America’s poised to re-elect a former President who:

  • Faces almost a hundred criminal charges
  • Has been found guilty of fraud, defamation, lying
  • Led a coup or “insurrection” against the seat of government where lives were lost
  • Openly and literally touts being a dictator

It’s easy to lose track of that, sight of that, in all the noise. The purpose of the blitzkrieg which accompanies—produces—social collapse is to create a kind of Great Forgetting, after all. To numb the mind, and dispirit the soul. Hence, let me put it in a much sharper way. We are witnessing the possible end of the world’s largest and oldest democracy.

So remember, for a moment, all that. America’s poised to re-elect that figure. In a sense, “we all know that,” but the implications are as profound as they are dire and illuminating. It’s hard to say what else Trump could have done to disqualify himself to people, after all. The line about “shooting someone on Fifth Avenue” rings truer by the day. And so to re-elect a figure like this, knowing all this, raises some difficult questions—because, of course, it’s profoundly abnormal. Not just for people to grudgingly accept a demagogue of this ilk, but to cheer them on. 

What’s different about this time around is that nobody really, can claim innocence, or feign naïveté. The first time Trump ran for office, you and I warned, as did everyone vaguely thoughtful around the globe, that this was troubling. Warnings of fascism and authoritarianism were ignored, marginalized, and trivialized—“but her emails!”—and all of that enabled Trump to ascend to the Presidency, shortly after which there were camps, “family separations,” a surge in extremist violence, all of which culminated in the coup attempt of January 6th.

But back then, I suppose, the average person—even the average Trump voter—could claim a sort of innocence, and that claim can be considered maybe even fair. The warnings were pretty extreme, and there was little precedent in American history, let alone modern Western history, short of the Nazis, really, for such a swift, severe meltdown. Looking back, there was an innocence, followed shortly by a sense of disbelief. The “resistance” emerged, the center-left quickly found itself disoriented, and protests began.

This time, though, really is different. Nobody can say that they don’t know what Trump is, who he is, what he wants, or what he intends. We should all have read, by now, or at least understand, the outlines of, Project 2025. That’s not a claim that anyone’s going to be able to take seriously in a few years, because it’s unfair and childish. Trump himself is crystal clear in his intentions, promises, and agenda, and as the old line goes, “when a demagogue tells you who they are, believe them.”

Consider how Trump’s approval ratings remain high after all he’s done—and rise, daily, above Biden’s. Or how people will nod and agree with his “policies,” as if there were any, apart from shredding the government and abusing its powers. Our media too often plays along the pretense that there’s some kind of modern, legitimate governance agenda in Trump’s hands, when of course, there are just merely empty promises—and a plan to create a totalitarian state by purging government, erasing constitutionality, and reshaping what was once consensual, legitimate self-government.

So this time around, Americans—enough of them, at any rate, that if the Presidency were held today, Trump would likely win it—are going to vote for a demagogue, knowing full well what they’re getting into. They might disavow it later, and they probably will, claiming: “but nobody could have predicted this!,” when women and the LGBTQ are jailed or put in camps, or even “real American” families are separated, or young women are imprisoned for life for miscarriage, or any other number of easily plausible horrors—and yet now, we should all know exactly what we’re voting for.

Are Americans Really Going to Vote For Dictatorship over Democracy?

All of that raises some pretty dire and dismal questions about people. I don’t want to get personal, and this isn’t a jeremiad. But we do have to ask: if a figure not just endorses violence, but uses it, if they try to overthrow government, if they’re convicted of fraud and lying and so forth, and you still vote for them…what are you voting for?

Is it fair to say any of the following?

  • If a figure uses violence, and you vote for them, you’re legitimizing it
  • If a figure attempts a coup, and you vote for them, you’re backing it
  • if a figure’s convicted of serious crimes, and you vote for them, you’re saying the rule of law doesn’t matter


I don’t know if it’s fair to take that all the way. But I do think it’s fair to say that on some level, the answer is yes, even if it’s a sort of minimal “but what harm can he really do” degree. And yet even that sort of willful ignorance is plenty foolish to pave the road to democracy with folly and self-deceit.

Last time around, people could claim ignorance, by way of innocence. But this time around, they can’t—the most that they can say is “we didn’t think he’d go this far,” but that’s not some kind of moral exculpation—it’s just an admission of sheer gullibility and folly, really. 

Americans, we’re told, are voting for “the economy” or “inflation” or “immigration” and so on. This is the way that punditry puts it, because these are the questions pollsters ask about. But there’s a truer and deeper truth here.

Democracy asks us to be grown-ups. That is, we are to weigh our own narrow, blinkered personal interests—and biases—against higher values and enduring ideals. In this case, that means: is it really worth giving up a democracy? What about equality and truth and justice? How about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Do those matter to us, or just “the economy,” “immigration,” and so on, the mundane, wearisome affairs of everyday life? 

Are we really “just” voting for immigration or the economy when we vote for Trump? Isn’t that claim a little bit ridiculous, at this point? There’s a lot more, there, in the promise, intention, and purpose that we’re also accepting, and maybe even endorsing, after all.

So when we’re told that it’s OK for people to vote solely on the basis of “priorities” or “issues,” it’s as if the deeper foundations of this project we call civilization don’t matter—and as if fascism and authoritarianism have mere “policies,” versus fanatical visions of absolute control, coercion, and democratic self-destruction. Hey, the economy’s bad, so let me back the nearest crackpot demagogue! That’s an error that our media, intellectual class, and pundits make, over and over again-equating these two forms, legitimizing implosive forces. At the very least, to keep a democracy, we must vote for it, over and above. “A democracy, if you can keep it,” as a very wise mind once said.

In other words, the choice between democracy and dictatorship is crystal clear this time around. Even if people say it isn’t, speaking numinously of “priorities,” as if cutting taxes were somehow what’s at stake here—that’s not a plausible claim anymore, more an absurd one. This time, to vote for Trump is to vote for dictatorship. Isn’t it? Isn’t that he himself is promising?

So where does that leave us? Asking the difficult question: are Americans really ready to give up democracy for dictatorship?

The Growing Possibility of a Trump Landslide

An old friend called me up not so long ago, after many years. And he said: “You don’t know it, but I’ve been reading you for a long time now. And what you used to write would make me really angry. I’d say: there’s no way! We’re going to elect Trump, he’ll turn out to so fascist, the economy’s going to hurt so badly—all of it. But now…watching it all keep happening, I believe you.” I chuckled, and said: “Where have you been and what have you been up to, anyways, Chris?”

I try to teach you to think in a very different way than American punditry or even American thinking, per se. Why do I get so many things “right?, though that’s not how it should be put? My predictions tend to accurate because I was taught to think in terms of trends, or historical forces. Trends aren’t just “datapoints”—rather, they’re the meaning in data, often lots of it, joining it dynamically and systemically. We’ll talk about that more, but I’m mentioning it so we can think together about…

What do trends say will happen at the election? You see, the consensus take, of pundits and chattering classes, etcetera, was badly wrong: Trump, they thought was finished. But here he is, and he’s never been stronger, because now he has the same approval ratings or higher, after all the abuses. How did that happen? What does it tell us?

Trump has managed to:

  • Amass popularity, sometimes surpassing his first run for office
  • Even amongst young people and minorities, groups who should be rejecting him wholesale
  • Consolidate power within the party
  • Break any internal resistance or alternative from his own side
  • Shatter norms to the point of openly preaching dictatorship

That’s a brief summary of the last 12-18 months or so. During that time, Trump’s done something remarkable—surged back to power, even more dominant than the last time. 

Meanwhile, Biden’s…sinking. I don’t say that in a gleeful way—it makes me sad. Yes, I disagree with him on many issues, like Gaza, debt, and more. But I also think that to see him sink in the polls, while a demagogue rises—that’s a troubling thing.

The trends, in other words, are getting more disturbing by the day. Trump’s rising, Biden’s sinking. Faster and faster, harder and harder. Along many dimensions, from popular power, to internal support, to among “independent voters.” All this points to the growing possibility of a Trump landslide. I’m not saying that it will happen, but I am saying that the risk is growing, and that in itself is abnormal and unhealthy.

Landslides are dangerous things, for many reasons. In our era, though, landslides tend to be accompanied by social manias. Bandwagon effects occur. It becomes “cool” or just voguish to choose a certain candidate or make a certain choice, for reasons of social pressure, conformity, fitting in with an in-group. This is beginning to happen, my Spidey-Sense says, with Trump. 

Not for people like you and me, to be certain. But amongst different elements of various social groups. Let’s go to young people—they should be admonishing one another never to vote Trump, even protesting right now, horrified by the possibility of another such Presidency. They aren’t. Instead, Trump’s support is rising. That tells us something: that social pressure isn’t coming from among and within young people themselves to make it “uncool,” unacceptable, a violation of norms, to vote this way.

Once the possibility of a landslide sets in, in other words, it tends to grow and grow. The risk becomes self-perpetuating. The Democrats, not understanding the modern world much at all, from technology to media, aren’t grasping just the peril of the situation they’ve placed America in. They seem to be leaning and chewing on a straw while the house burns…again. 

The End of the World’s Largest and Oldest Democracy

All of that begins to touch on just why this is such a remarkable moment in history. But let me try to sum it up now. What are we witnessing?

  • The world’s oldest and largest democracy is on the cusp of no longer being one.
  • Not by way of external force, but through choice: by choosing dictatorship instead.
  • The front-runner for President isn’t just someone vaguely threatening to undo democracy, but someone who’s proven to be capable of it, dedicated to it, his sole agenda
  • Americans, enough of them, across social groups, are so enthralled by this spectacle, that they’re backing him more and more as the days go by.

When I put it like that, maybe it helps, or maybe you already know it. But I feel, perhaps, it helps to have a reminder. This is an incredibly special moment in history. What are some comparable ones? Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Hitler being given special powers over the Reichstag. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand. You might object—but again, we’re witnessing the world’s largest and oldest democracy about to give it up.

What would de Tocqueville have made of that? The Founding Fathers? What would someone like Aristotle have said? 

A “special” or “remarkable” moment in history. What does that mean? That list of comparable ones gives you some sense. A pivotal moment. A turning point. An instant where history changes. The past is undone, and another future emerges. The trajectory is altered. Sometimes, in complexity theory, we call this “a bifurcation point”—imagine a curve, splitting into two new ones. 

That list of comparable moments, though you can certainly add to it, remains relatively small. That should lend insight into just what sort of scale and scope we’re presented with. Imagine a probability distribution, of time. Most moments are just…moments. They pass by, and we barely notice them. Others matter a great deal—a wedding, a funeral, etcetera. There are less of those. Still others have an even more momentous impact—they shape the destinies and choices of millions. We call those, today, elections, or yesterday, conquests, perhaps—they’re rarer still. But rarest of all are those in our list, which is why there so few: genuinely pivotal moments, from which there’s no going back.

This is where America is, and the world alongside it. We’ll talk more about the implications of a Trump Dictatorship for the world—from climate catastrophe to global financial meltdown to war exploding to destabilization growing. Is the end of the world’s largest and oldest democracy a form of “the end of the world,” anyways? Should we see it as mattering with the intensity and gravity it appears to have when I put it like that?

*No, India isn’t the world’s largest democracy anymore—it was demoted some time ago, by most good political indices of democracy, and I follow their categorization.

The Political Economy of Jackass

I wonder if America understands: there’s no going back, after this. This is it. The choice, the moment, the decision. Dictatorship or democracy. A second Trump era isn’t going to end lightly or well—it’s not going to “end,” in a political sense, at all. There exists already a detailed and sophisticated plan to purge government, install loyalists, and create the beginnings of a totalitarian society and state. This is serious business, to the bad guys. But is just a stunt, a joke, a laugh, to people.

Remember the show Jackass? The point of the show wasn’t to watch amazing stunts. You’d watch, instead, for the wipeout. The moment the stunt went wrong. When everything burst into flames. It was a pioneering thing, in its own time—something new: we’re not cheering on the stuntman, we’re cheering on his failure. We want it all to go wrong. Ha-ha—did you see how he ate it?

At some level, our politics is becoming Jackass. The die-hard Trumpists, of course, are there for an agenda of bigotry, supremacy, hate, and violence. But the rest? Trump’s growing mass appeal is about something….lighter, yet perhaps not much less sinister. There’s the feeling that some people just want to watch a wipe-out. Not Trump’s, but the government’s, America’s, society’s. It’s close to “some men just want to watch the world burn” levels of malignancy, but not quite there. It’s closer to…watching Jackass, and guffawing when the poor guy eats cement.

Get those “libtards!” Hey, those “f****”—let’s teach them a lesson. Women? They’re barely people, let’s grab ‘em by the. Ha-ha-ha. There’s a sense of the same sort of cheap spite, veiled in humor, behind Trump’s resurgence. The same feeling of grade-school bullying gone mega. Some people want to watch society, everyone else, governance, rules, norms, codes, civilization…wipe out. Eat the pavement. Kiss the dirt. 

Or is it just “Papa Trump will fix everything! Including my miserable life!”

I don’t think enough people are straight-out raging KKK-level supremacists and bigots to really explain Trump’s newfound popularity all over again. But I do think that they’re little-league ones, and our politics have become Jackass, in which it’s OK to cheer on the wreckage of others, or even the wipeout of civilized society. In the name of what, though?

In the end, that’s the question history will ask. How did it happen? How did a figure with all this baggage, from leading a coup to being found guilty of fraud to touting becoming a dictator…win so much popularity…again? To the point that politics itself became a Jackass level spectacle, where throngs cheered on the idea of wipeout? 

That tends to happen when people lose hope. In themselves, their futures, their societies, everything. As living standards fall and crater, through the generations. When the idea of a better life seems reserved for the most venomous, embittered, greedy, and vile. Hey, if that’s who I have to be to win this game…maybe I should try just a little taste. 

Poison is poison, though. It kills. The drinker, not the maker. America, I fear, is about to learn all that the hard way.

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