The aftermath of the 2016 election is recognizable to any parent who has argued with a child. Everythings fine until the kid loses interest in what you think. Once it becomes clear the child really doesnt care about your stupid rules, you lose it and start screaming. The less control you have, the more hysterical you become.
Dying regimes are the same way. They get more repressive as they fade. As their power ebbs, rulers lash out against dissent and disobedience. Deposed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu barked orders at his guards as they led him to the firing squad.
Our leaders understood Donald Trumps election as a direct challenge to their power. Theyve been fretting about his authoritarian tendencies ever since. Because they lack self-awareness, they dont perceive this as projection. They cant see that theyre actually talking about themselves.
Lets say you were an authoritarian who sought to weaken American democracy. How would you go about doing that? Youd probably start by trying to control what people say and think. If citizens dissented from the mandated orthodoxy, or dared to consider unauthorized ideas, then youd hurt them. Youd shame them on social media. Youd shout them down in public. Youd get them fired from their jobs. Youd make sure everyone was afraid to disagree with you.
After that, youd work to disarm the population: Youd take away their guns. That way, they would be entirely dependent on you for safety, not to mention unable to resist your plans for them. Then, just to make sure youd quelled all opposition, youd systematically target any institution that might oppose or put brakes on your power. Youd be especially concerned about churches, the family and independent businesses. Youd be sure to undermine and crush those, using laws and relentless propaganda.
If, despite all this, election results still didnt go your way, youd use an unelected bureaucracy to neuter any leader you hadnt handpicked yourself. But youd be shaken by an election like that. Youd resolve never to allow one again. To make sure of that, youd work tirelessly to replace the old and ungrateful population with a new and more obedient one. Thats what youd do.
Sound familiar? For all of his many faults, President Trump isnt doing any of that. Our ruling class is.
Its probably a fruitless exercise on their part. The status quo is over. A revolution is on the way.
Hopefully, itll be the kind of low-grade revolution where everybody learns something and nobody gets hurt. But it will be wrenching either way, because revolutions always are. This used to be a placid country. Its not anymore, and wont be for a while.
What went wrong?
The disaster began when almost everyone in power joined the same team. You used to hear debates between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, on issues that mattered to the rest of the country. Thats over. Our public debates are mostly symbolic. They are sideshows designed to divert attention from the fact that those who make the essential decisions, about the economy and the government and war, have reached consensus on the fundamentals. They agree with each other.
They just dont agree with the population they govern.
Left and right are no longer meaningful categories in America. The rift is between those who benefit from the status quo and those who dont. Thats rarely acknowledged in public, which is convenient for those who are benefiting. The people in charge are free to pursue policies that are disconnected from the public good but that have, not coincidentally, made them richer, more powerful and much more self-satisfied.
But not more impressive. Our leaders are fools, unaware that they are captains of a sinking ship.