We are only 48 days away from the beginning of the Presidency of Donald Trump. For me the very idea still seems so absurd as to be almost conceptually impossible. How could any electorate vote for someone so singularly ill-suited for office? But as every day goes by with more freak show appointments from the crazed right wing – mad dogs, white supremacists, corrupt billionaires, old style segregations and devotees of Ayn Rand – the true scale of what we are about to face becomes ever clearer. The worst of our (half-joking) nightmares during the election campaign, if the impossible happened, may only scratch the surface of the horrors to come. The administration is shaping up to be a terrifyingly fact-free ultra-right ideological kleptocracy. Ignorance is strength. Knowledge is weakness. The end always justifies the means.
The United States constitution, as fine a founding document as the world has seen (or so we thought), is designed to ensure checks and balances in government. In extremis, corruption or criminality in Oval Office will result in the legislative branch impeaching and removing the president from office – this is what would have almost certainly happened to Richard Nixon in 1974, if he hadn’t have seen the writing on the wall and resigned.
However, the 21st century congressional Republican Party bears little resemblance to that of the past. That will has become an ought (or in truth an outright won’t if ideological ends would be frustrated as a result). It is a radical and radically anti-constitutional party. This has been the trend since the Gingrich revolution in 1994 but appears to now be complete. The congressional GOP does not see even part of its role as holding an ideologically friendly or facilitative executive in check or in upholding the constitutional structures that the founding fathers put in place. The constitution is now a mere tool to be used or disregarded as the ideological end determines. The constitution is no longer essential (in the true sense), but rather purely pragmatic. Just as surely as Hillary Clinton would have faced impeachment hearings within moments of being inaugurated over bullshit email scandals, you can guarantee that Donald Trump won’t whatever outrages he commits.
We saw this anti-constitutional approach in the disgraceful and unprecedented position taken by Senate republicans over President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia. The ‘advise and consent’ powers of the Senate were reinterpreted to deny Justice Garland even an hearing. Nowhere does the constitution suggest a pre-emptive veto power. How does that constitute ‘advice’? What the election campaign demonstrated that even this nakedly unconstitutional stance would have been just a taster of what was to come had Hillary Clinton been elected President and the Republican party retained the senate, as senator after senator said that they wouldn’t confirm any nomination by Hillary Clinton for the Supreme Court throughout the entirety of her term.
That horrific prospect, of course, pales into significance compared to the very real possibility of Donald Trump having four Supreme Court picks in the next four years, given the ages of Justices Ginsberg, Souter and Kennedy. The appointment of ultra-reactionary judges in their 40s the Supreme Court for more than a generation. The commerce clause will be interpreted to preclude almost all federal government intervention in workplace rights or environmental protection; the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act may be held unconstitutional; Roe v Wade and female reproductive rights hang by a thread. This may be only the beginning.
And in the meantime Paul Ryan’s dream of not just repealing Obamacare, but also privatising Medicare and Social Security will now steamroller on. Done by 2018 is the aim. Donald Trump stood expressly on a platform of protecting these entitlements, but like the populist anti-Wall Street stance he adopted in the election disappearing in the immediate post-election announcement of a Goldman Sachs banker as Treasury Secretary, this was mere stump speech rhetoric for the rubes.
A legislative programme constituting massive tax cuts for the wealthy, a radically deregulated financial sector, the end of what passes for the US welfare state, the gutting of environmental and workplace regulations, the end of any campaign finance restrictions and institutionalised voter suppression. Together with already wide-spread gerrymandering, the real possibility of all but permanent entrenched majorities also arises. It is the stuff of the ultra-right’s dreams. Making America Great (for billionaires and banks) Again.
For the ever-more radical congressional republicans, if these ends require the overlooking of conflicts of interest and corruption in the Oval Office, it is a small price to pay. What, after all, is a $1Billion here and a $1Billion, there skimmed off the top of government contracts; diplomacy done on the basis of advantages for Trump enterprises; financial favours for Trump cronies, as compared to the overturning of what remains of the Great Society, the New Deal and the progressive reforms of the 1890s. So don’t expect even the most basic scrutiny of Trump’s finances and business interests by Congress (or an embarrassingly compliant media, for that matter). It’s all part of the deal.
It is no exaggeration to say that we may be entering the twilight of liberal democracy in the United States. The supreme beacon of democracy and freedom (at least in its own image), may have turned out to have been dowsed remarkably easily.
Everything is contingent. Just how contingent, we are about to find out.