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Authoritarian regimes: Zimbabwe, Venezuela, next the USA

It is no secret I had grave concerns about the suitability of Donald J Trump. Now I’m having trouble sleeping at night. I’d like to pull together several articles I read today. Each paints a concerning picture in its own right. Together, they almost spell Armageddon. I’ve always been concerned about not what is happening today, but where it is leading. This is not just some small country having a few political issues. This is one of most powerful countries in the world – the outcome affects us all, especially other democracies. We’ve already seen our own government embrace Trump’s immigration bans.

The first is an article by Jennifer Wilson on this site, Trump’s Chief Strategist: I want to bring everything crashing down.

The relationship between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon is an unholy alliance, in which the shared goal is the destruction of institutions, and the undermining of the authority of traditional agents of governance and administration in the US.

There is a Twitter hashtag of #PresidentBannon indicating he is seen as the power behind the throne. He may have more difficulty than he thinks, trying to use Trump for his own agenda, as we shall see later in this article. That aside, he is a nasty piece of work with a lot of power as Wilson evidences.

The second article, How to Build an Autocracy, is written by David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush during 2001–02. Not exactly, one suspects, a man wearing a democratic button.

First Frum paints the future.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

Then he goes on to look at the global situation, citing a “democratic recession” – democracies are in decline.

The exercise of political power is different today than it was then—but perhaps not so different as we might imagine. Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished. Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated.

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

He then looks at Trump’s relationship with the congressional Republicans.

Trump has scant interest in congressional Republicans’ ideas, does not share their ideology, and cares little for their fate. He can—and would—break faith with them in an instant to further his own interests. Yet here they are, on the verge of achieving everything they have hoped to achieve for years, if not decades. They owe this chance solely to Trump’s ability to deliver a crucial margin of votes in a handful of states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—which has provided a party that cannot win the national popular vote a fleeting opportunity to act as a decisive national majority. The greatest risk to all their projects and plans is the very same X factor that gave them their opportunity: Donald Trump, and his famously erratic personality. What excites Trump is his approval rating, his wealth, his power. The day could come when those ends would be better served by jettisoning the institutional Republican Party in favor of an ad hoc populist coalition, joining nationalism to generous social spending—a mix that’s worked well for authoritarians in places like Poland. Who doubts Trump would do it? Not Paul Ryan. Not Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. For the first time since the administration of John Tyler in the 1840s, a majority in Congress must worry about their president defecting from them rather than the other way around.

It is a long article, but well worth reading in full.

Jane Caro has written The Virtual Reformation. Caro looks at why we are where we are.

Social researcher Hugh Mackay has dubbed our times an ‘Age of Anxiety’. All the old certainties have been turned upside down and the only thing that we are told we can rely on is an ever-increasing pace of change.

To a jittery population that is cold comfort. In our existential dread we thrash about for people to blame: the left, the right, Muslims, refugees, feminists, believers, unbelievers, terrorists and that reliable old omnibus – political correctness. The one thing we all agree on is that the future looks alarming and unpredictable. We are, we believe, in uncharted waters.

But perhaps that is not so. Perhaps human beings have been through something like this before.

Final words of warning from Andrés Miguel Rondón, In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did.

The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.

If we look at all those threads, we can see the interweaving. For days I had been thinking of Mugabe and seeing Trump as the Western version. Then I read about Chávez.

As Frum highlights in his article, it is not now we need to worry about – it is in four, five, six years time. Unless we stop it now. Unless the American people stop it NOW.

There is a another article which is the match that will light the flames: in these days of fake news, however, I am wary. While the article is reported in many places, I can’t find it on a mainstream website such as Washington Post – but then, does that mean anything these days?

John D. Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist who taught psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, minces as few words as the president in his professional assessment of Trump.

“Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president,” says Gartner, author of “In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography.” Trump, Gartner says, has “malignant narcissism,” which is different from narcissistic personality disorder and which is incurable.

Source: usnews.com

The diagnosis is particularly worrying due to the behaviours of the patient. Behaviours that benefit only themselves – at any cost. Yes, Gartner broke his professional code to speak out, because he believes people need to know.

Robert Kuttner writes in The Huffington Post of The Inevitability Of Impeachment.

Only with his lunatic effort to selectively ban refugees (but not from terrorist-sending countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where Trump has business interests) has Trump discovered that the American system has courts. It has courts. Imagine that.

The more unhinged he becomes, the less will conservative judges be the toadies to ordinary Republican policies that they too often have been. Anybody want to wager that the Supreme Court will be Trump’s whore?

In the past week, Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have tripped over each other rejecting his view of Putin. They have ridiculed his screwball claim of massive voter fraud.

I believe this was written BEFORE the President fired his acting attorney general. I’m waiting for him to try to fire a judge, which he is not empowered to do.

We have every reason to be concerned. We also need to heed the lessons available to us and ensure this doesn’t happen in Australia.


29 comments

  1. Sheila Newman

    The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: Trump. Add finance by Soros.

  2. Robyn Dunphy

    The problem is convincing the voters they’ve been duped, Sheila. Clearly that’s not so easy….universally.

  3. Sean Stinson

    Jesus H. Christ. How can you seriously compare Mugabe with Chavez?

    I know things have been wonky since they started up the Large Hadron Collider, but he more articles I read on this site, the more convinced I am that I’m living in an alternate reality.

    🙁

  4. Robyn Dunphy

    Sean, I didn’t compare them. I provided them as examples of people who got into power and then …….. diminish freedoms, for want of a better term. In Mugabe’s case, it is more that he never left: precisely what I see Trump may try to do. Hopefully the USA is a little more robust than that, but I’m not betting on it.

    You might like to read this, I only came across it after I published. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tobias-stone/history-tells-us-what-will-brexit-trump_b_11179774.html

  5. wam

    the fear of your post ignores major differences between your examples and the usa the main being size of country and of population, since bush, trump does have an army to employ anywhere is the country in emergency to support the suspension of the constitution perhaps long enough to dismiss parliament but the size makes the spread pretty thin.

    according to some the combination of these executive powers could lead to the postponement of the presidential election indefinitely

    so to rephrase the fear yes it is possible for trump to do a mugabe

  6. Robyn Dunphy

    Yes, wam, there are many ways. I’m not a details person, so I’m not likely to analyse to that degree. The population is pretty sparse in many areas. He’d only need to “penalise” one place, let’s say San Fran, to set an example – of course, to protect the nation……

    Part of the problem is no-one, or very few, want to consider such an outcome a real possibility. Therein lies a problem. “Oh, it couldn’t happen here”. No? Why not, exactly?

    I also found yet another disturbing article.

    Very interesting in the analysis of the objectives and personalities.

    http://observer.com/2017/01/donald-trump-bannon-flynn-national-security-coup/

  7. Sean Stinson

    Sorry, casting Chavez as a populist dictator ignores the struggle of the Venezuelan people against US imperialism, and frankly makes me sick.

  8. Robyn Dunphy

    Sean, it is the concepts, not the specifics.

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    I am a little confused about what “populism” means. It seems to be used in many different circumstances. Is listening to the wishes of the voters populism?

    “populism
    ˈpɒpjʊlɪz(ə)m/
    noun
    support for the concerns of ordinary people.
    “it is clear that your populism identifies with the folks on the bottom of the ladder”
    the quality of appealing to or being aimed at ordinary people.
    “art museums did not gain bigger audiences through a new populism”

    “Populism – Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism
    Populism is a political style of action that mobilizes a large alienated element of a population against a government which is seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests. The underlying ideology of Populists can be left, right, or middle.
    ‎Demagogue · ‎Right-wing populism · ‎Left-wing populism · ‎Populist (disambiguation)
    Top stories”

    https://www.google.com.au/search?q=populism&rlz=1C1CHZL_enAU727AU727&oq=populism&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i59&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

    Why is the term being used as always being negative? That I don’t understand.

  10. Robert G. Shaw

    Excellent question Florence.

    It’s most recent ‘meaning’ was decidedly negative because it’s the one the Democrats gave it after losing to the ‘deplorables’. They in turn got it from the Brit establishment who used it disdainfully to describe the Brexiteers.

    In a nutshell: used by the political elites to describe the demos whenever the demos make an unscripted move, or a move contrary to their (the elites) wishes or designs.

  11. Robert G. Shaw

    Robyn, a fine article.
    Spoiled, only for me, by the paranoid hyperbole of your header.

  12. Sean Stinson

    “Sean, it is the concepts, not the specifics.”

    Sure, and Trump is the new Hitler.

    Some of us are roasted, ridiculed, fact-checked and censored for expressing their opinions on this site. Others seem to get away with writing whatever they want, as long as they are expressing a popular opinion.

    So pardon me for wanting to defend the honour of a revolutionary leader who stood up to US bullying, fought for the dignity of his people, and whose enormous popularity even enabled him to survive a CIA backed coup.

  13. Harquebus

    I have been following the Venezuela situation for some time. It being a good indicator to our own future.

    “A fleet of rundown Venezuelan oil tankers carrying some 4 million barrels of oil and other fuels is wallowing in the Caribbean Sea. Not because of bad weather, or mechanical problems, but because Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA, doesn’t have the cash to get them to their final destinations.”
    http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/26/venezuela-is-so-broke-it-cant-even-export-oil/

  14. michael lacey

    “We have every reason to be concerned.” The United States is a Plutocracy it has been for some time!
    When Obama left office!
    50% of the country is living in poverty or poor ; 33 million people still do not have health coverage
    50 % of the country makes less than 30000 dollars a year which is less than a living wage!

    Neoconservative austerity sacrificing the many so a few can have all the goodies that is the real concern. Trump the symptom of a bigger disease!

  15. Sean Stinson

    @Harquebus

    You realise you are quoting from the official mouthpiece of the Council on Foreign Relations? A little like quoting Mein Kampf I’d suggest – no doubt a reliable source, straight from the horses mouth so to speak, but must be read “against the grain”.

  16. Harquebus

    Sean Stinson
    Thanks for that.
    It could be false but, at this point I see no reason to doubt the substance of the story. Would they produce blatantly false facts of this nature that can be easily disproved?
    Do you have website or something? I was very disappointed to see your last contribution pulled.
    Cheers.

  17. Davidius

    I’ve been watching US politics since the cold war, Kennedy’s election and all subsequent presidential campaigns and results. Never, even with fruitcakes like Reagan and Bush junior, have I woken EVERY day and said to myself:’Hmmm… I wonder what disaster the prez has inflicted on us today.’ But that’s where we’re at and it’s happened from Day 1. This ‘malignant narcissist’ pops up with his daily signing/show-and-tell for the media to blithely disseminate. Remember when we all did show-and-tell at school? Most of what we displayed was crap but the teacher made us feel good about that crap. Baby Donald’s getting his tummy rubbed by the media and likes the feel of it. But for Christ’s sake Baby Donald’s crap needs to be called out by mainstream media just a little more emphatically for what it is. In the meantime, we must hope the momentum of the people’s anger and willingness to maintain the rage will continue and grow.

  18. Frederick Froth

    Speaking of the Trumpenfuhrer’s mental and emotional instability or how he is a constitutional sociopath, and how it will be dramatized via his applied politics this essay is very informative.
    http://www.logosjournal.com/2016/kellner-2

  19. Sean Stinson

    @Harquebus

    Not questioning the facts, just the editorialising. CFR are truly vile, responsible for propagandising the very worst aspects of US foreign policy. The likes of Robert Kagan, who argued the case for a “pearl harbour-like event” as a catalyst for projecting US power in the “new American century.” Kagan has recently gone on record criticising Trumps push toward isolationism and non-intervention (IMO, Trump’s singular redeeming feature) as “the twilight of liberalism.” Tells you what sort of twisted cranks these people are.

    Here’s some positive news from Venezuela to offset the fascist drivel:

    http://en.granma.cu/mundo/2017-01-25/venezuela-delivers-14-million-housing-units

    Yes. I do have a blog which i just set up recently, thanks for asking. Pretty simple affair – will be updating when i feel motivated to write more – this latest episode has taken the wind out of my sails for the time being.

    http://www.thelastyawn.com/

  20. Harquebus

    Sean Stinson
    Thanks for the links. I will follow them.
    The news aggregators that I use are usually pretty good at sorting real from fake although, nothing is guaranteed. I trust my bullshit meter quite a bit I do admit.
    Thanks for the heads up though. It is appreciated.

    “Exclusive: Millions of barrels of Venezuelan oil stuck at sea in dirty tankers”
    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-pdvsa-tankers-idUSKBN15A0JA?il=0

    Search criteria: venezuela idle oil tankers

    “I have opinions, but they’re just that, opinions, and opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one and they usually stink.” — Curt Schilling

    Cheers.

  21. Robyn Dunphy

    Robert and Florence, from my readings I see populism as a decidedly negative political strategy where a person or group, of whatever idealogy (including nothing more than self-enriching objectives), uses various psycholoical ploys (as outlined in Frum’s article) to fan the fires of discontent in a population in order to gain control. It is by its very nature neferious in intent. There is no intention to actually help the very people that vote the person or group into power.

    Robert, thank you. Sorry if you saw the headline as hyperbole. I don’t – i.e. that was certainly not the intent.

  22. Robyn Dunphy

    Robert and Florence, from my readings I see populism as a decidedly negative political strategy where a person or group, of whatever idealogy (including nothing more than self-enriching objectives), uses various psycholoical ploys (as outlined in Frum’s article) to fan the fires of discontent in a population in order to gain control. It is by its very nature neferious in intent. There is no intention to actually help the very people that vote the person or group into power.

    Robert, thank you. Sorry if you saw the headline as hyperbole. I don’t – i.e. that was certainly not the intent.

  23. Robert G. Shaw

    Robyn, hi.

    In this, our present context, I see populism as a clear rejection of elitist values, culture, and politics,
    I think Clinton unwittingly acknowledged and made cruelly concrete that till then quite nebulous idea the moment she called half of Trump’s voters ‘deplorables’.

    “Fires of discontent” can be stoked in a variety of ways – I don’t believe populism has exclusive claim over that tactic. Perhaps it’s the easiest one to recongnise because it’s the one that reaches deepest into our irrational fear of the Others, whether they be Hillary’s Deplorables, or Hanson’s Muslims.

  24. Freethinker

    Invading Mexico will be the start of the 3rd WW.

  25. Roswell

    Freethinker, it could be part of the big picture. 😟

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