Article 43


Sunday, May 05, 2019

America In Collapse 4

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(How) Americas Having a Classic Authoritarian Meltdown
The Four Steps of Authoritarian Collapses, and How They’re Happening in America With Eerie Precision

By Umair Hague
May 3, 2019

An Attorney General “skipping” a hearing to protect a rogue President after both have lied to a bewildered nation about whether high crimes have been committed? This is, to put it bluntly, jaw-dropping. It’s the stuff of failed states, my friends: places where democracy not just no longer functions - but leaders don’t even aspire to pretend to be interested in it anymore.

You should be a lot more worried about America than you probably here. Here’s the hard, brutal, unforgiving truth.

Authoritarian meltdowns proceed in predictable, consistent ways, made of four classic stages which follow each other - and Americas having a textbook one. Nobody talks about that, really - because unfortunately, American discourse is still made of exceptionalism and hubris. “Meltdowns? Pah, those are things that happen in poor, dirty countries!,” cry the pundits, the Ezra Kleins and Chris Hayeses. It can’t happen here! The pundits and columnists and talking heads might be critical of Trumpism - but they appear to have little idea how dire the stakes actually are. They are dire indeed, my friends. Take your wildest expectations - and magnify them.

Let me explain - and you are most welcome to disagree, if you like. You can accuse me of alarmism if you want - but I think that these day, not being sufficiently alarmed is the true mistake.

Authoritarian meltdowns, when they don’t happen outright, thank to military coups, tend to proceed according to the following four steps. Think of them like dominoes falling. Each one makes the next a little easier to knock down.

Legislative, executive, judiciary  the branches of government are taken over by fanatics and extremists in that order. Bang, bang, bang! Sometimes it takes a decade or two - sometimes just a year or two. Sometimes it takes hard work - sometimes it’s as easy as pie. But the sequence is consistent, predictable, and reliable. There’s an inner logic to it. The last to fall is the judiciary because it is the most independent, the hardest to crack - and also a democracy’s last refuge, because if the courts can’t decide against tyrants - who is there left? That sets up the fourth step - social implosion.

These first three steps are whats known as a “soft coup” a takeover without the use of military force. A soft coup is often seemingly perfectly legitimate - “hey, they won,” so they can do whatever they like - even while it’s fundamentally opposed to the values, procedures, and aims of democracy.

Then the real fireworks begin - the fourth step, social implosion, a society finally turning into a failed, collapsed democracy, a true authoritarian state, not just politically, but also culturally, socially, psychologically, economically, a place from which there’s often no coming back for generations. How could there be? There’s no check now from any branch on the others, on executive or legislative or judicial power, the following things to happen, in more or less the following sequence.

Sham elections, which are rigged, controlled, manipulated, and outright doctored, in oddly comical ways, Friend! 99% of Russian Vote for Putin!!. Serial and systemic human rights abuses. Crackdowns on dissent. The raiding of the public purse, in broad daylight. Expropriation of minorities, and demonization of marginalized communities - to give thetrue people” a sense of power. Hate and rage become social norms, celebrated and applauded. Society becomes something very much like modern day Russia - ugly, backwards, uncultured, ruled by its thugs and criminals and mafias, the most violent and abusive rising to the top. Inequality widens, poverty grows, life expectancy falls - fuelling more range and anger, directed downwards at the hated others, not upwards at those responsible for it - and so the vicious cycle continues. Bang! Implosion.

Do you see how all these things are linked? The first three steps, like dominoes - legislative, executive, judiciary captured by fanatics. The final step - having been captured, the powers considerable and vast powers of government are used an instrument, by the fanatics and extremists who now have seized them, to turn a democratic society against itself, inside out, upside down.

Now lets think about America. Would you say it’s following the sequence above, or not? Id say that if you even glance at America, it is following that trajectory - the four steps of a classic authoritarian meltdown - perfectly. Unerringly. With eerie precision. Do you see how startling that is? How unnerving? That’s why I say: not being alarmed enough is the true mistake at this point.

Consider recent events - an AG lying in public to a toothless Congress, conducting oversight hearings that seem utterly impotent - while shouts of rage erupt from people = what’s all that? That is the capture of the judiciary by fanatics. The AG thinks he is above the law - and wants the President to be above it, too. In other words, far from being the public attorney, the representative of justice for the people… he’s become a tool in the authoritarian machine, playing his part, which is to place the mafia beyond the reach of the rule of the law. But for a President or an AG to be above the law is also to say that legislative and judicial power hold no meaning whatsoever. They are effectively autocrats, who can do as they like. If the law doesn’t apply to them = what does?

Let me make that sharper. Now that the judiciary’s been captured, whos to ensure the impartiality of the next election? Sham elections tend to follow judicial capture, because then there’s nothing and no one left to appeal to for fairness, for justice. So autocrats twist results to say whatever they want to say - Russia Love Putin!! 99% Percent Vote!! - in absurd, ridiculous ways, precisely because they can get away with it. Americas *this close* to a sham election now that the judiciary’s captured - it was the last working institution left, and it’s fall bodes ill for American democracy.

So how did we get here? The classic way. The first American political institution to fall to extremists was the legislature. That happened in the 1990s, by my reckoning, though you might date it to the 1980s. America was once a progressive place - high tax rates, civil rights, few extreme ultra rich. Things were going in the right direction. Then along came the strain of ultra-extreme conservatism thatגs ascendant today. Figures like Newt Gingrich made it their lifes work to make extreme, fanatical rules not just the law of the land - but normal, idealized, romanticized. They used dirty tricks like gerrymandering to rise to power - and then made soft alliances with Faux News and so on to effectively spend decades BRAINWASHING Americans with bizarre, absurd propaganda (You don’t need healthcare!! That’s for weaklings!)

Soon enough, by the turn of the century, the American legislature was the rich world’s most extreme, by a very long way. So were State polities - governorships, state legislatures, and so on. Kansas illustrated just how extreme America had become - public services were slashed to the bone. In Congress, fanatics used extreme tactics to stall and block any kind of progress whatsoever. Healthcare, retirement, education? All filibustered, denied, stopped up. The gears of the state ground to a halt. What was the result?

I read today that kids cant graduate high school without paying off ғlunch debt ԗ do you see what I mean a little bit? What kind of rich country wont feed its own kids a decent school lunch? Only one thatҒs come to believe strange lies about cruelty and selfishness and greed being good  which is just what the GOP spent decades doing.

The next institution to fall after a legislature is usually the executive. Why? Because after a legislature is captured by fanatics, a process of corrosion begins, paving the way for one of their own to head a state and rule a society. Once fanatics establish extreme norms in a legislature, once they make it perfectly normal for anger, rage, bitterness, vengefulness, and deceit to reignits almost self-evident that a demagogue will become head of state.

Feeding into this dynamic a fallen legislature leads to a fallen executive - too is the fact that the policies of fanatics just don’t work. Instead of giving people genuinely better lives, they focus on all kinds of absurd nonissues. Hence, Americas Congress spent two decades debating how to take healthcare away from people, bills written by lobbyists, corruption in plain sight. They were “debating how to never solve a single real problem,” but only make them worse. People grew frustrated, angry, embittered. The rise of a demagogue, a Trump, was inevitable.

And that’s exactly what happened in America - the classic pattern repeated itself. After the legislature fell to fanatics, so did the Presidency, finally. Americans aren’t nearly horrified enough that there are bona fide white supremacists in the White House. They’ve kind of become inured to it, resigned to it. But what that means is that the executive branch of government no longer works democratically in any way whatsoever - it is for anti-anti-democratic systems, like supremacy, fascism, and authoritarianism, right out in the open. See the point - the classic pattern: first the legislature, then the executive. Like dominoes. That’s the stuff true COLLAPSE is made of.

The judiciary falls last, after the executive, for just a reason, too - it needs a tyrant to protect, and it needs a corrupting force to taint it. Without a demagoue, the judiciary chugs along, usually, pretty well. But when a demagogue comes along, watch out - the pressures become intense for the judiciary to become his protector, guardian, advocate, instead of the peoples. That just happened, with Barr’s disgraceful testimony to Congress, where he put both himself and the President beyond the reach of any kind of democratic check on power. Bang! The last working institution left just crumbled = in front of everyoneŒs eyes.

And its true that people were upset about it - as rightly one should be. But the meaning of this dire event in a nations history - its judiciary imploding into the hands of fanatics - was lost. Nobody really discussed it or pointed it out. So let me make it crystal clear.

The classic pattern of an authoritarian meltdown - it’s four historical steps - is now playing out at home, with eerie, unerring precision. First the legislature falls to fanatics, then the executive does, and finally the judiciary. After all three branches of government have been captured by fanatics, then the sequence of transformation into true authoritarianism begins: sham elections, human rights abuses, crackdowns on dissent, domestic militarization, expropriation, violence against minorities and the press, and then worse - the stuff of true historical horror - in that order, roughly.

Exactly that pattern is now very much playing out in America. Yet America’s thinking class seems not to understand in any way whatsoever that America is undergoing a classic authoritarian collapse, cycling through all its steps in just the right order, one after the other, predictably, consistently, eerily, precisely. Either they dont know it, they donҒt understand it, or they cant admit it. ThereҒs little real concern from pundits, media, and so on, who are more occupied with the scandal du jour, instead of warning people about the bigger picture, which is a true authoritarian meltdown.

But that is the true danger, my friends. American democracy may well be on its last legs. America tomorrow might be a democracy in name only. A place very much like Russia  replete with sham elections ever few years for a preening demagogue, tyrant, party, while society turns to violence, in despair, to make ends meet, a place of regress, stagnation, misery, and futility. If that scenario sounds extreme to you ח my friend, you are not taking Americas situation nearly seriously enough. It couldnҒt be more dire. Whats left after the legislature, executive, and judiciary have all fallen? Not much.

This is how democracies die. This is exactly, precisely, and unerringly how democracies die. Through the four steps of authoritarian meltdown җ and they show no signs whatsoever of stopping in America, because awareness of them seems limited at best.

A wise person might even observe that the pattern of authoritarian collapse above is so well know that its precisely what AmericaҒs own intelligence agencies used to destabilize other countries. Cant achieve a military coup? Target people with enough propaganda to subvert the legislature җ then get to the Presidency  then stack the judiciary. Bang! Mission accomplished. Call it the domino theory of how to destabilize a country, and take it over one little step at a time, each one easier than the last.

America invented the soft coup, my friends. Iגm sad to have to say it, but its true. And so perhaps, then, itҒs no surprise that Americas own worst, itҒs most greedy, selfish, and abusive had not compunction whatsoever about doing exactly and precisely that to their very own country. But the rest of us  the decent, thinking, intelligent ones left ח should.

Posted by Elvis on 05/05/19 •
Section Dying America
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