Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Democracy Thing

Well now we've got the Atlanta indictments, more than forty more charges, a queue of suits from the former President on down lining up for mugshots and fingerprinting. Former President Trump is now indicted, on top of everything else, for a "serious felony" calling for a mandatory five-year prison sentence, and with no way to pardon himself or fire the prosecutor. This is his fourth set of indictments -- you've got the Mar-a-Lago documents case, the Stormy Daniels payoff case, January 6th and efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election, and now charges for racketeering and attempting to overthrow a legitimate election in the state of Georgia. He is currently in the pipeline for four trials involving ninety-one separate charges.

Never mind that the Trump Organization has had to pay big fines for fraud, and Trump is still getting slapped around in the case where he raped a woman and then badmouthed her in public and she won her case for defamation and he kept flapping his jaw and she sued him again. The House of Representatives is about to produce a report on emoluments, enumerating some of the ways the Trump family and their parasitic mobsters enriched themselves while he was in office. That ball will begin rolling soon; the DOJ wants to act like that kind of robbery is normal but they will have to do something once the evidence is placed right in front of them. There are also other grand juries looking at stuff, we don't know what. Well, there is talk about Arizona following Georgia's example; still in the rumor stage though.

Donald Trump is a bad person.

Oddly, he is popular with a certain small segment of the population. It is the modern version of the same subpopulation that supported Hitler before the US entered World War II, who identified then as now with the slogan "American First." Woody Guthrie referred to them in a song as Firsters, which is pretty good.

If there is something you could call an "idea" behind it, it is for America to have a strong leader who will be able to sidestep the slow-moving and inefficient government, the "administrative state," to allow cops and judges to put more people in prison for longer sentences on weaker evidence, to give the police more power to harass and execute "suspicious" people on the street. We wouldn't necessarily go to war with foreign countries but would cut off the US from the rest of the world with travel bans and tariffs and brutality at the borders. A narrow segment of the country would be favored in all government decisions, and nonmembers of that ingroup, including LGBT+ people, nonwhite and immigrant people, women, the poor, non-Christians, intellectuals, artists, people who criticize the leader, would live under an ongoing dynamic of stochastic punishment.

Sensible people describe this as a threat to democracy, which raises the question: what if the majority of voters actually want that? Right now Joe Biden is presiding over a period of unprecedented prosperity and stability, with good relations with the rest of the world, and his approval ratings, last I looked, were in the thirty-percent range. Trump's ratings are also in the thirties but it is hypothetically possible that, in a fair election, the population would select an unapologetic, narcissistic, multiply convicted felon for President. Isn't that democracy?

Well, no, not really. Democracy is not the same as "majority rule." The US has been systematically working for a couple hundred years to put together a system of laws, policies, and processes that keep the country thriving while protecting both the property and the rights of citizens. There was irony in the original "All men are created equal," of course, they didn't really mean "all people" as we would mean it today, but over the years the circle has expanded, and we now recognize that all races and ethnicities should be treated as equal to everyone else, women should be treated equal to men, renters should be equal to homeowners under the law. Even gay and trans people get protection under the law, technically speaking. (Not so much progress on the indigenous front, but it's coming.) The democratic ideal is that the justice system should treat everyone the same. We're not there yet, but it's a good noble project and progress has been made.

If voters turn the country back over to Trump or some other autocrat in the next election, we will lose all that. As he did last time, he will activate the justice system to execute his personal revenge whims and treat the Presidency as a smash-n-grab -- it'll look like one of those videos of teenage gangs stealing stuff from department stores, but counting in the billions of dollars, not hundreds. Picture the armed paramilitary on Lafayette Square in uniforms with no identifying patches or badges, shooting into a crowd to clear the plaza for a hypocritical photo-op of the President with an upside-down Bible. Even if the next authoritarian is elected by a majority of votes, this is not what democracy looks like. It is not government "for the people."

The rightwing pundits are outraged that Trump is being treated like any other criminal, for instance Laura Ingraham said this week, "These people are sick. How is a mug shot of the former president in any way necessary or in any way good for America?" They literally believe that their man-god is above the law, and cannot understand why it is reasonable for the justice system to treat him like any other person who has been indicted on multiple felonies. The Magna Carta has simply been lost on them. That was 1215, that's a long way to roll the clock back.

Here's my understanding of this. The government is big, slow, inefficient, expensive, hard to deal with, sometimes makes wrong decisions -- everybody knows that. Most Americans believe that the Constitution is based on important and sound principles, and that it describes an ideal system for serving the needs of the greatest number of people, given careful monitoring and attention. The people who believe the system can work are called "liberals." They see the same problems with the bureaucracy as everyone else, but they try to find ways to make it work, and more or less succeed at that -- look at Biden's management of the economy, for instance, what happened to the inflation you were complaining about? What about that unemployment rate? Weren't we supposed to have a recession? Liberals are people who believe that a democratic, constitutional system of government can work, with competent management.

But there is another group of people who feel that they are very insightful because they can see that the government is an inefficient, frustrating bureaucracy. So first of all they assume that liberals ("libtards") can't see how inefficient government is, or that they like it that way, and second of all, because it's easier to complain than to fix things, they think it would be smarter to tear the whole thing down and put an authoritarian in charge. I won't go into the reasons that democracy is better (basically, it buffers against corruption), but, well, look at the Trump presidency and see how well that worked. Trigger warning: it did not work. Think of Trump declaring that Obamacare is a "disaster," and then all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't think of anything better in four years of single-party rule. Not even a proposal. A big, fat book of blank pages, literally. Look at his seven or eight aborted "infrastructure weeks," versus Biden's actual infrastructure bill that is making the country a better place to live. Authoritarianism does not work for a country with three hundred million people. We hate it but there needs to be administration, bureaucracy, rules. "Daddy will spank you if you're bad" does not scale up to the national scope.

In one act of majority-rule, if by some twist of fate a fair majority supports him, or at least a majority of the electoral college, the public can reject democracy for the future and put an end to this historic experiment in self-government. One authoritarian's ingroup will make the decisions for all of us, while they're stuffing their pockets with tax money and payoffs. Look at them -- Michael Flynn, Sydney Powell, the My Pillow Guy, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Javanka -- living in a world of delusion where they are the victims and "bad people" (outgroup members) need to be punished instead of themselves. The Internet can't even keep up with the list of Trump associates who have been indicted, convicted, or pled guilty to serious crimes, never mind the thousand-plus who have been busted for the insurrection at the Capitol building. Once Trump or somebody like him is in the White House, issuing pardons and interfering with elections in the states, destroying education, there will be no return to democracy.