A Bad Goon is Rising

We are at a critical juncture in our country’s history. We are forced to ponder: Could a dictator take control of our government — after first assuming power by winning a legitimate national election? Or after overthrowing the results of an election they lost (as almost happened in 2020)? The answer is YES! We know this because it’s happened before in other countries. Many times.

Even if we limit ourselves to the 20th and 21st centuries, the surprisingly large group of “elected” dictators includes: Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Juan Peron of Argentina, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Adolf Hitler of Germany. Yes, that Hitler. The Nazi. The man whose name has become almost synonymous with evil. He “emerged as Germany’s chancellor” in 1931, after an election — and “proceeded to consolidate unlimited power before anybody realized what was happening.”

The list is by no means complete. Sadly, it may soon include one more name: Donald J. Trump. Trump’s own words make this intent clear. And, as confirmed by a growing number of pundits, “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable.” Or, to put it another way: “There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power.”

Poll results

Of course, in order for this dismal prediction to come true, Trump must first win in November. That’s why I find a recent New York Times poll so unsettling. It strongly suggests Trump is on a trajectory to victory. I remain skeptical of polls, especially this early in the election season. And even if they are accurate, there is still ample time for trends to reverse. But I believe it would be a mistake to entirely dismiss the ominous warnings contained in this poll. Here are the key take-aways:

• Biden is very unpopular…and continues to get more unpopular as time goes on: “The share of voters who strongly disapprove of Mr. Biden’s handling of his job has reached 47 percent, higher than at any other point in his presidency.” Even Democrats are “deeply divided about the prospect of Mr. Biden, the 81-year-old chief executive, leading the party again.”

• Trump is also highly unpopular. However, he “is winning 97 percent of those who say they voted for him four years ago, and virtually none of his past supporters said they are casting a ballot for Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden, in contrast, is winning only 83 percent of his 2020 voters, with 10 percent saying they now back Mr. Trump.”

• Biden is losing support among key groups of his 2020 coalition — including women, Blacks, Latinos and “nonwhite voters who did not graduate from college.” 

• “Only 23 percent of Democratic primary voters said they were enthusiastic about Mr. Biden.” For Trump, the number was more than double: 48%.

• “Mr. Trump’s policies were generally viewed far more favorably by voters than Mr. Biden’s.” This is true despite the fact that Trump has no policy agenda at all — other than grievance and retribution. Meanwhile, Biden has a strong record of accomplishment. Yet, people continue to assume Trump will handle the economy and immigration better than Biden.

• “Mr. Trump was winning 70 percent of those who backed Israel” in the Gaza war. It’s one of several political paradoxes in play today: It almost certainly means that a significant number of Jews are supporting Trump, despite his tacit support for anti-semitism.

• Voters in the latest poll are less likely to view Trump as having committed serious federal crimes than those polled a few months ago (53% now vs. 58% last December). At either level, in yet another quasi-paradox, this means that a significant number of voters simultaneously believe Trump is a criminal but still intend to vote for him. Trump’s infamous prediction that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any support now seems eerily prescient. It’s also an ominous sign of the public’s tolerance for a Trump dictatorship. Indeed, according to a Harris poll: “56 percent of those surveyed at least somewhat agree that Trump will act like a dictator if given a second term.” Yet he may still win.

Nate Cohn summarized the central paradox, in an accompanying Times article:

“Joe Biden should be expected to win this election. He’s an incumbent president running for re-election with a reasonably healthy economy against an unpopular opponent accused of multiple federal crimes. And yet President Biden is not winning.”

Surprisingly, there appeared to be one glaring omission in the poll results. The words “insurrection,” “autocracy” or “dictator” never showed up. At all. Where were the voters’ concerns about this? Perhaps the poll didn’t ask the right questions. Or perhaps it’s because, despite all the alarm bells going off for the past three years, the public at large remains unconvinced that Trump is the threat to democracy that he clearly is. If so, it’s a further sign of how much trouble we are currently in.

What to do

If we have learned anything at all these past years, it’s that our government will not save us from Trump. Congress won’t do it (having passed up two chances to convict him after impeachment), the executive can’t be counted on to do it (as evident by the fizzle of the Mueller report and the reluctant start to the current Trump investigations) and the courts certainly won’t do it (as evidenced by Trump’s success in delaying trials until after the election — and the Supreme Court’s willingness to assist him in this effort).

If Trump is to be stopped, we must do it ourselves — by convincing the public of the danger Trump poses and making sure he loses in November. It’s a job made even harder because the other side is not wasting any chance to tilt the odds in their favor, often employing tactics of questionable legality. At the same time, we have to combat a much larger more long-term problem: the right wing’s dismantling of agreed-upon facts and the related spread of disinformation (read this Atlantic article for a superb analysis of what’s happening here).

Dealing with all of this effectively is a tall order. But we have no other choice but to try. It’s time to pull out all the stops. This is a five-alarm fire. Whatever else you’re doing now, it’s almost certainly not as critical as doing this.

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2 Responses to A Bad Goon is Rising

  1. Ted says:

    Great piece, Ted! GOTV!

  2. Nick Lauer says:

    You have captured my worries all too well, Ted.

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