Reading List: Adam Serwer on Authoritarianism

The Rule of Trump begins in earnest.

Adam Serwer for The Atlantic brought a deep dive into the Republican Party's slide into authoritarianism, covering where they are, how they get here, and where they're heading. 

The focus of the piece is on how Trump's acquittal by Senate Republicans has acted as a fulcrum by which the balance of power has shifted, as evidenced by his unrestrained rampages of firing those he suspects are more loyal to the Constitution than to himself, his spreading of favors through executive clemency, and his meddling in the Justice Department.

I think these two paragraphs are especially on-target:

Much has been made of Trump’s unfitness for office. But if Trump were the only one who were unfit, his authoritarian impulses would have been easier to contain. Instead, the Republican Party is slowly transforming into a regime party, one whose primary duty is to maintain its control of the government at all costs. The benefits here are mutual: By keeping Trump in power, the party retains power. Individuals who want to rise in the Republican Party and its associated organizations today must be unwavering in their devotion to the leader—that is the only way to have a career in the GOP, let alone reap the associated political and financial benefits. Allowing Trump to fall would render all the humiliations, compromises, and sacrifices the party has made to keep him in power meaningless.

But keeping Trump in office is not the ultimate goal, despite party members’ obsequious public performances toward Trump. Rather, the purpose is to preserve the authoritarian structure Trump and Barr are building, so that it can be inherited by the next Republican president. To be more specific, the Trump administration is not fighting a “deep state”; it is seeking to build one that will outlast him.

Serwer's piece is a bit more forward-looking than I've been. When I think about the Republican party's growing complicity in Trump's power-grabbing agenda, my working assumption has been that they are increasingly motivated by fear of losing his base. To take action against him going into an election year would be to risk splitting the GOP vote and losing everything, and even just failing to adequately protect him might be enough. I don't think they could win the presidency without him at the top of the ticket, no matter the reason... even a medical emergency would be read by his rabid fanbase as proof of a Deep State coup (how else would the healthiest president in history, a nigh-immortal demigod, "suddenly" come over ill?) in which the GOP would be seen as complicit.

And if they don't have his base turning out to vote for the presidency, they're going to lose downticket races badly. With so much of the GOP's plans for the future revolving around holding onto power in a changing electorate, they risk destruction if they ever lose enough of it at once.

But Serwer's points are astute. I'm convinced now that the Republican Party hasn't given up the hope of outlasting and outliving Donald Trump, and this helps make the behavior of men like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio more comprehensible. It's not just that they're cowards. They want to have a helping of what Trump's having, and they're young enough to think they can get it even if Trump's immediate successor is one of his progeny. A president Ivanka or Junior they could expect to be a little more tractable, a little more pliant and reasonable, providing a transitional figure from the volatile Cult of Trump to an everlasting Cult of the Elephant God.

The GOP has been pursuing an agenda of single-party rule for decades now. Trump merely upped the timetable past the point many were comfortable, but so far his gambles have paid off. The GOP knows it faces its own imminent destruction if they stumble or fail, but I think they see light at the end of the tunnel and clear skies if they can power through until November.

So that's all they can do, and they're going to do it with whatever passes for their hearts and souls and with all the hands they can muster.

Neighbors, this really is going to be the most consequential election of our lifetimes. I hope we’re ready for it.

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