Call it a...meme, by now. "The Trump dictatorship." That's how America's papers and columnists have settled on describing it, as they do with such things. I like it, it's clever. Concise. Let's just go with it, even if it evades some of the finer points of fascism and authoritarianism, for now.
A Trump dictatorship appears more inevitable by the day now. America, enough of it, at any rate, appears to have a certain curious hunger for authoritarianism. Ahead of Biden in the polls, Trump appears unassailable. If current trends hold, the world is going to be shaken by the end of American democracy. So. What you should expect from a Trump dictatorship?
First of all, let's clear up a misconception. There's already the sort of fake "debate" that surrounds everything now from climate change to economics emerging. Not very bright people are arguing very loudly, as they tend to do, that it won't be a dictatorship.
Let me assure you that it will. Trump himself, of course, proudly boasts about it out loud. My track record when it comes to predicting this kind of thing is sadly near perfect. That's not because I'm a genius, it's just because I've studied social collapse, and there's not a case in history of someone promising to be a dictator, having a plan to be a dictator, and then turning around and being some kind of benevolent democratic saint. Not one.
When demagogues promise to be dictators, watch out. They mean it. In Trump's case, that's never been more true. That's of course because there's already a literal 1000 page plan to reshape the government from day one. All of it. This is authoritarianism not just in theory, rhetoric, ideology, but in practice.
Who's America's largest employer? Walmart? McDonald's? Not even close. It's the government, by a very long way. The government is always the largest employer in any society. So now imagine that there's a 1000 page plan that goes into fine detail about how every single agency, department, and division is to be purged, transformed, and reshaped, along authoritarian lines. Most people haven't read the plan—understandable, who wants to read 1000 pages? So just skim the contents, and your heart should skip a beat or three.
Because you'll immediately understand how serious it is for the largest institution in a society to be purged and remade for authoritarianism to be made real.
So what should you expect from a Trump dictatorship. There's an old and wise saying, a cliche, even, and yet in this case, it's never been more true. Prepare for the worst, expect...maybe something a little better. In this case, you had better prepare for the worst. A Trump dictatorship is going to be far, far worse than most Americans—even those who back Trump, at the margins—are capable of yet believing.
Americans have no real experience living under authoritarianism. They don't fully grasp the abuses of power that happen, or how quickly they emerge, or how much impunity true autocrats enjoy, because, of course, they've reshaped the entire engine of governance along authoritarian lines. The figures who amateurishly argue "but it won't be a dictatorship, because there are checks and balances!" are these sorts of Americans, unfortunately—they speak not from a place of experience, but one of delusion, to put it bluntly.
You see, when a government is remade, checks and balances stop existing. What's a government? What does it include? The rule of law, under departments of justice. Which of course also oversees punishment, correction, and discipline. The administration of everyday life, and what boundaries and norms and codes it's to permit. The governance of the moral fabric of a society, too, in what kinds of behaviors and ideas and sentiments are permitted, encouraged, and allowed. Checks and balances of all these forms are eviscerated by authoritarians, precisely so that they can impose their own.
And if you don't think that can happen in America, I invite you to look at the downfall of Roe, and how dramatically it's reshaped American life. Imagine that times...a thousand. Law after law, change after change, reaching right into the heart of everyday choices, freedoms, and rights. "It can't happen here" is the delusion that should be warned against most sternly of all now.
The best analog for what America will become under a Trump dictatorship is probably Russia under you know who. His Russia's the kind of place that Trump, of course, openly admires. But not just Trump. The fanatical wing that's emerged behind him, writing 1000 page plans. The die hard MAGA types. America's "conservatives" now write paeans to Russia and pay fealty in visits to Orban's Hungary.
What's life in you know who's Russia like? Well, it's an authoritarian dystopia, to put it bluntly. Freedoms and rights in the modern sense of the word don't really exist. Everything is tightly and finely controlled. We all know and sometimes laugh grimly at the not-so-mysterious critics who "fall out of windows." No aspect of society—the press, social groups, intellectuals, families, individuals, however you choose to break it down—is permitted to exist in a modern way, really. The authoritarian...decides.
A better way to think about is that through the lens of at-risk groups. The LGBTQ, for example, have come under severe attack, their freedoms and rights drastically limited and curtailed, to the point that they're propagandized scapegoats. Minorities of various kinds, too, are painted as enemies of the state, as are critics, whether journalists, intellectuals, artists, singers, or just average people. Society's organized around patriarchal lines, and men are to be chest-beating patriots, while women are to be mothers and wives.
Would you want to be any of these groups in America under a Trump dictatorship? If you're in them, I'd think very, very hard about what life is like in Russia, and what life would be like for you.
It's all but certain that all these groups and more will become scapegoats for America's woes. Their freedoms and rights will vanish, not just step by step, as they did during the first Trump era, but this time, giant leap by giant leap. That's already begun to happen, of course—think of Roe again—but like I said, what's to come is much, much worse than Americans are yet capable of fully imagining.
I don't think that Americans really understand how much power an authoritarian government has. So let's do a few examples. The LGBTQ become scapegoats, and you have a gay kid. Now your family gets "investigated" for being the wrong sort of people, and maybe even punished and disciplined in various ways, which of course, leads to being socially ostracized. Shades of Florida, already. Don't think it can't happen here.
Let's imagine that now, that a crackdown on critics begins, and the various federal crime agencies—now firmly in the hands of Trumpists—begin to gather files on even lightweight dissidents. Imagine that they're monitored and surveilled for the tiniest infractions—not even infractions, really, just suspicions of infractions, harassed, intimidated, browbeaten.
Or let's imagine the real point, how authoritarians really break societies. Now every government employee has to basically pledge loyalty to Trump, and the MAGA project. Who's that? Only every local official, municipal officer, mayor, everyday functionary. Now think of how much control such officials have over the tiniest aspects of everyday life. Who can use a park, and when? What books are in a library, or is it even one? Who gets to go to schools, where? What rules say who can live in a neighborhood? What does law enforcement look for in a "suspect"? What interactions are permitted between people, and what counts as harassment, abuse, and intimidation, or even violence?
What happens in authoritarian breakdowns—what makes them truly frightening—is that every violent crackpot and fanatic is given a badge, a title, an office. The worst sorts of people in a society—true believers in totalized ideologies—are given absolute power. Imagine that the local police are Trumpists, or the local town council is. Who's going to check them, exactly? Nobody, and that's the problem. Absolute power in the hands of a society's crackpots. Imagine it for a second.
This is what happened, of course in the most famous example—Nazi Germany. The Nazis were street rabble, vicious sorts who'd brawl and beat scapegoats in the streets. A few short years later, they had real power—not just Hitler, but the average member of the party, who used to beat people they hated in the streets. Now they had a fine outfit, with gold tassels and polished boots, a grand title, like Obersturmfuhrer or what have you, an office in a mansion that belonged to some family, and a whole new set of privileges.
Those privileges basically amounted to checking on whether or not society was proceeding according to the authoritarian project. As the Nuremberg Laws were passed, those powers expanded, and now the petty authoritarian enforcer had the right to forcible take Jews and others from their homes, rip apart families, shutter businesses, and so on. The point isn't the legalities at all—rather, it's that an army of petty authoritarians is perhaps the single worst thing that can happen to a society.
In that regard, the danger of the Trump dictatorship isn't just Trump. Not this time. Rather, it's that a "machine bureaucracy," as we call it in organizational science, emerges behind and underneath him. Legions of petty authoritarians. Think of them as mini-Trumps. In every town. Neighborhood. School. Public office. Public place. Now imagine how deranged, violent, and hateful such figures already tend to be—not the average marginal Trump voter, but the true believer, who still applauds the coup of Jan 6th and laughs eagerly at invitations of brutality. Now imagine how dramatically life gets reshaped.
That's what's on the line. I'd think long and hard about remaining in America. A Trump dictatorship is going to be much, much worse than Americans are capable, like I said, of imagining. That's not an insult. It's what happens. The average German could scarcely have believed what the Nazis wrought. The average poor Russian proletarian at the turn of the century could have barely believed what evils Stalin was to.commit. Societies don't grasp authoritarianism, until it's too late, and it happens to them, because this is a thing learned by experience, unfortunately.
Let me put all that in plainer English. During a Trump dictatorship, authoritarianism will be put into practice, which is totalitarianism. We'll discuss that more in coming days. Hear my warning, my friends. America's ignored my warnings before. And you can judge for yourself where that led.
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