By now anyone who’s spent any time hanging around here is fully aware of my “Novocaine Drip” hypothesis, but if not, maybe it’s time to go over it one more time. It goes like this;
Ever since Donald Trump descended that escalator—in front of a paid crowd(!!) of applauding muppets—to declare his candidacy for president, his actions have had one consistent thread connecting them all. Generate a continuous deluge of outrage by consistently and relentlessly blowing past all of what had been until then considered the accepted cultural, political, social, and in some cases legal boundaries of decency, integrity and “the American Way”.
The reaction from everyone who did not respond to this tsunami of bullshit positively (and many did, in fact the dominant portion of the GOP electoral base did for sure, and are still in thrall, particularly to the blatantly racist/tribalist/nativist elements of his performance) moved from initial derision (Huffpo put all their stories about him in their “entertainment” section for quite a while in the early going) through gradually increasing incredulity (he’s going to implode any minute was the wisdom, this cannot possibly result in him being nominated), and thence, after his successful nomination, into a comfortable conviction that HRC would mop the floor with him in the presidential election. This is America after all, it was said and even more widely assumed, and our political system is designed to prevent blatant racists, or fascists, or theocrats from ascending to power. (It’s not of course, but let’s not get diverted into a discussion about that right now.)
That comfortable conviction evaporated painfully the night of the election. I’m sure as hell not going to re-litigate that unprecedented and spectacular electoral cock-up on the part of the Dem establishment again—we’ve done that to death around here—but it all came down to one starkly unsettling fact; Trump was going to be the president.
At this point, the natural tendency of almost all Americans to have faith in the system—the law and the constitution and the “checks and balances” of the political edifice itself—kicked in again powerfully. The outgoing president—one Barack Obama— issued comforting words about how the very seriousness of the office of the presidency itself has a tendency to change the occupant. He’ll “pivot” was the almost universal refrain—from the media, from the political class, from the punditocracy. He’ll have to, they said, the weight and formality and the crushing responsibility of the office will demand it.
It became glaringly apparent almost immediately to any canny observer that Trump didn’t give a fuck about any of that. He staffed his White House with racists (oh fucking yes he did, Bannon, Miller, Gorka, Sessions et al) and fascists (yes to that too, Kushner for example, and Mnuchin) and cunning idiots (Carson, DeVoss, Pruitt et al), and then proceeded not only to refuse to pivot, but turn the outrage generator volume knob up to eleven. Maybe twelve, but who’s counting any more?
This is not a strategy with no precedent; it could be taken from the playbook of any aspiring fascist in modern history. In the case of Trump it almost certainly is, at least if the stories about him having a book of Hitler’s speeches on his nightstand for years have any credence. And even if those stories have it wrong about the Hitler material, the closeness to which his behavior adheres to Hitler’s historical positions and strategy is simply too pronounced to be coincidence.
Let’s list a few, just for grins, and let’s note that many of these are not unique to Trump; the GOP has embraced a lot of them with enormous enthusiasm as well, and for years. This crap goes a long way back, but it is particularly virulent and concentrated in US politics currently;
- Accuse the adversary of committing the very same offenses, and having the very same devious characteristics, as your own organization.
- Make these accusations often and relentlessly, and as preëmptively as possible.
- Make shit up as often as is necessary, hourly if you have to, so as to; a) completely control the content of the news cycles, and b) keep the adversary playing perpetual defense. Attack! attack!! attack!!!. Never back up and never admit a mistake or own up to any inaccuracy.
- Rely upon the fact that people of goodwill generally won’t respond in kind. They are not power addicts as a rule, and don’t tend to have an appetite for deploying relentless mendacity and vindictiveness. They will always bring a butter knife to a gunfight and often not even that.
- Play the victim. Relentlessly portray yourself and your organization to your supporters as being constantly surround by “the other”, by forces dedicated to destroying all the good that you represent, those forces being precisely responsible for all of the current difficulties and unhappiness. All opposition always comes from establishment power and privilege (“elites”) which conspire to maintain their advantage at all costs. In this scheme of things, and this is important to remember, opposition cannot possibly come from anywhere else, and there must never be any real acknowledgment that a political adversary might actually have a point. Relentlessly portray that adversary as possessing precisely that level of inflexibility and highlight every disagreement as evidence of “obstruction”.
- Rely upon the reliable tendency of most Americans not to expect the worst, and take advantage of their inclination to comfort themselves. We’ve spoken of some ways in which this has already been apparent; “He’s a joke, a buffoon”, “His entire campaign will implode”, “He’ll go down in flames in the presidential election”, just look at the polling!!”. The latest one, now to be found on almost every “progressive” website is; “He’s an idiot, he’s stupid, and will eventually fuck up so bad that even the GOP will refuse to fly air cover for him” And so it goes.
You get the idea, and it’s possible to extend that list extensively, but we’re approaching 1000 words already and I’m still working on getting some stamina back.
So all that describes the dynamics of my Novocaine Drip hypothesis in action. Progressively increase the intensity and the frequency of outrage. This engenders outrage fatigue and as an added bonus makes it more difficult for ordinary people to coalesce around a particular issue to demonstrate against. That which initially, had it been attempted on day one, would have created a shitstorm of public protest is now perpetrated without much fuss at all. Some feverish news coverage for 48 hours or so, quickly eclipsed by the next burst of outrage generation.
So far, however, the primary targets of all this outrageous behavior have been the public. There has been public pushback and some demonstrations, sure. Most notably the recent Women’s March, and some while earlier there was substantial pushback against Trump’s original immigration edicts.
But nothing really about rolling back enviro protections or the installation of Federalist Society picks to the Judiciary, and that vast transfer of wealth to the billionaire class and corporate interests that was the GOP “tax reform” package slipped through with barely a whisper from the public. There’s a long list of travesties which could be inserted here, and which have been successfully perpetrated with barely any public outcry at all.
But now comes the movement to complete the coup, to go for the brass ring and capture the apparatus of government completely, so that the checks and balances no longer exist in any meaningful form. To accomplish that it’s not enough to sedate the public, it’s necessary to directly challenge the authority of all agencies which traditionally (and constitutionally) have responsibilities and obligations to prevent power from accumulating in any one pair of tiny hands.
Trump has already challenged the Judiciary and got away with it. A judge accused of being incapable of impartiality in an immigration case because he’s of Mexican descent, for example. There are others.
Now, with increasing frenzy and ferocity and for some months, it has been the turn of the Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and their supposed “inability” to conduct a fair investigation of Trump and his cronies by reason of them being part of a “deep state” cabal of opposition to him personally and to the policies he represents. An FBI director summarily fired, initially with some pathetically fabricated excuse but later publicly acknowledged by the president himself as being connected in his mind to being rid of “the Russia thing”. A blatant vendetta against a senior FBI official, organized around some bullshit issues of his wife running for office as a Democrat, appears to have produced the desired result of an “early retirement”.
But now, this very week, the challenge is directed squarely at the authority of Congress itself. A resolution to increase the sanctions against Russia as a penalty for conduct of which the Congress disapproves was passed by both Houses with overwhelming majorities. Veto-proof majorities.
These resolutions instructed, as the law and constitution allows them to do, the White House to take certain actions. The White House, to cut to the chase, is now saying “fuck you”, we’re going to do this our way, not your way.
This is the opening salvo in a new phase of the coup (and this is a fucking ongoing attempted coup, that has been obvious for ages, and I’m long past being willing to explain or justify my choice of words in this matter).
For the first time the administration is saying to Congress “we’re going to interpret the meaning of anything you send us, starting now, the way we goddam well want to interpret it, and regardless of how you intended it.”
I’m not sure where the point of no return is with shit like this, in times like this, in the exact context of all this. Perhaps that’s not knowable. But if Congress, the GOP controlled Congress, lets this bullshit slide, we will have taken one hell of a dangerous lurch toward that point.
Yes, I know there are GOP voices in Congress who have insisted that there’s a line in the sand they will not cross with respect to impeding Mueller’s investigation and the independence of what Trump calls “my guys” in the DOJ. But words don’t count, votes in Congress are what counts, and aside from running into something of a buzzsaw with the initial attempts to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, even the loudest complaining GOP Congressional voices (Flake, McCain, Kasich, Huckleberry Closetcase, etc etc) have fallen back in line when it’s time to vote, and the GOP leadership is clearly “all in” at this point. They really have nowhere else to go politically so long as Trump holds the dominant portion of the GOP electoral base in thrall, and I think we’re all agreed that unless he roasts live puppies in full view out on the White House lawn, that’s going to continue.
There’s something of a turning point happening here, and it’s not a turn toward the light.
It’s a profoundly disturbing development in an ongoing coup which mirrors successful fascist coups in history, certainly in its methods if not precisely in its style. If this coup is to fail, Congress must assert its legal authority over the White House. And if it declines to do it now (which it almost certainly will), it will be all the more uphill next time, and the time after that.
Expect more challenges to Congress. Expect more challenges and increasing levels of conspiracy-centric bullshit directed at Mueller and the FBI. Expect the pace and outrageousness of all this to escalate to levels of shrill madness the like of which none of us have ever seen in our lifetimes. Expect another year of this at least, regardless of what Mueller uncovers, or when he issues a report.
Do not expect the GOP to find a spine, or the Dems to learn how not to bring a butter knife to a gunfight.
All that stands between us and the complete collapse of the American experiment with a Constitutional Democratic Republic is the willingness and determination of Congress to assert its rightful authority, both with an insistence that it’s legal directives be followed, and in its determination to protect the institutions which traditionally are independent of presidential control. The effectiveness of Mueller’s report, should it be a condemnation of Trump’s conduct, will be directly proportional to the willingness of this Congress to; a) acknowledge its validity, and b) pursue and implement its recommendations.
Trump and his enablers know this, hence the frantic attacks on the entire edifice surrounding Mueller’s authority. If the coup is to continue, they must be in a position to neutralize whatever disclosures are to come, by whatever means necessary.
This is where we are now, teetering on the very edge, and the ground beneath is not solid at all.