Get Used to This Phrase During the Trump Years: American Authoritarianism
December 02, 2016, 1:32pm

Dear leader tours the nation holding raucous rallies for the worshipping faithful.

By Charles A. Pierce –

A couple of events on Thursday gave us a peek into what the next four (or eight) years are going to be like. First, there was this panel discussion at Harvard among the various geniuses who helped run the presidential campaign just past. Apparently, this devolved into something between a middle-school food fight and a lacrosse match played with human heads. Bloomberg News passes along the blow-by-blow.

“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am glad to have lost,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri responded. “I am more proud of Hillary Clinton’s alt-right speech than any other moment on the campaign because she had the courage to stand up. I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

“Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?” Conway fired back. “You going look me in the face and tell me that?”

Well, yeah.

In fact, if you took part in any Republican presidential campaign since 1964, you helped run a campaign in which white supremacists had some kind of platform or another. There were some candidatesGerald Ford, John McCain, and George W. Bushwho were less direct about it than were Richard Nixon with the Southern Strategy, Ronald Reagan at the Neshoba County Fair, or Poppa Bush with Lee Atwater, but it still percolated within the party apparatus beneath them. El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago just took away the party’s Inside Voice on such matters.

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(And, in the true bipartisan spirit, let me point out that Palmieri’s bringing-a-nerfball-to-a-nuclear-exchange quote perfectly encapsulates 40 years of liberal political futility.)

“Guys, I can tell you’re angry, but wow. Hashtag he’s your president,” Conway said.

And then they all took selfies and flounced off angrily to gym class.

Triumphalism is the order of the daytriumphalism in the face of the fact that the president-elect’s margin of defeat in the popular vote is up to 2.5 million at this point, and triumphalism in the face of the fact that the president-elect’s approval rating is the worst ever recorded among presidents-elect. And there is no better example of it than the fact that the president-elect is now on a Wanks Over America Tour of self-congratulations. He is great, and you are great for voting for him, but not as great as he is just for being him.

Thursday’s stop was in Cincinnati, as reports. It was genuinely unsettling, but, hell, it was better than sitting through all those boring intelligence briefings. Let Pence handle those. He’s got time between KFC runs. Meanwhile, watch these people cheer what I’m saying. They love me, dammit, because I’m, well, me.

The raucous rallies during the Trump campaign road show often had the feel of a rock concert, and Thursday night in Cincinnati had all the hallmarks of a reunion tour: Trump took a veiled swipe at fellow Republicans. He remembered his general election foe by joking, “We had fun fighting Hillary, didn’t we?” He boasted about size of his victory and repeatedly bashed the media. Protesters briefly interrupted the proceedings. And the crowd chanted “Build the Wall” and “Lock Her Up.” He boasted about his wins in Midwest states that normally vote Democratic, declaring he didn’t just “break the blue wall, we shattered it.” He veered off-script to make fun of a protester, saying she was being ejected from the arena so “she could go back to Mommy.” He repeated his recent threat that, despite Constitutional protections, “if people burn the American flag, there should be consequences.” And he repeated many of his signature campaign promises, including a pledge to “construct a great wall at the border.”

At this point, nobody would have been surprised if he’d shown up wearing a white military uniform and talking from a balcony. He took a shot at Ohio Governor John Kasich, who didn’t show up to pay homage. He danced again on the media’s head, despite this CNN dispatch that may set a record for suicide-by-euphemism.

The ostensible purpose of the event was to stress a message of national unity after a fractious campaign and to lay out a road map for Trump’s presidency. But the President-elect showed that the heavy burdens of office that are about to settle on his shoulders and the behavioral constraints that normally apply to a head of state are not going to cramp his quintessential political style. In apparent diversions from his teleprompter, he lashed the “dishonest” media, jabbed Ohio Gov. John Kasich who refused to support him, crowed at his victory over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He boasted about his election win, which defied the pundits who said he had no path to 270 electoral votes. He doubled down on controversial campaign vows to build a wall on the border with Mexico, to restrict Muslim immigration into the US and to repeal and replace Obamacare.

And in renewing his bonds with his loyal, vocal supporters, who chanted “Build the Wall” and “Lock her Up” in reference to Clinton, he sent a warning to opponents in Washington, even members of his own party, that he plans to marshal his unique political power base throughout his presidency. And perhaps more than anything else, Trump was having fun, reveling in being back as the rhetorical general of his grass roots army, riling his foes and commanding the spotlight surrounded by a worshipful crowd.

If it wasn’t clear already, it’s clear by now that we all ought to be re-reading a lot of Hannah Arendt before Inauguration Day. In The Origins of Authoritarianism, she famously warned:

Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered with corruption The modern masses do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.

The only true resistance to whatever comes next is sadly confined to a civic and political imagination that has grown stunted and crippled, and a commitment to truth and to political involvement that long ago surrendered to distraction, flash, and meaningless intellectual junk food. The democratic muscles needed for pushback have atrophied almost to the point of uselessness, and that’s alright because the institutions through which those muscles could be used are shells of themselves. Get ready for four (or eight) years of empty spectacle in the service of destructive policies that the president-elect doesn’t care enough to understand.

Hashtag the end.