Rationality v Alternative Facts is the Battle of Democracy v Authoritarianism
Trump knows his base is not loyal to the Constitution, the United States, the republicans, or to democracy. Like him, they are authoritarians who want a strongman leader who will force their beliefs on everyone else. Their only loyalty is to Trump, the only truth is what Trump says, and facts are irrelevant. Trump and his administration are not trying to convince us that their lies are true, they are trying to create an environment where the truth no longer matters, where rationality is not required. The battle of rationality v alternative facts is the battle of democracy v authoritarianism.
In court, defending the Muslim ban executive order, Trump’s State Department lawyers argued their case for the ban was based on their belief that Judge Robart did not need to find a rational reason for the ban. Like everyone else, they know there is no rational reason for the ban. If the Trump administration wins this first skirmish, based on this argument, then there are no limits to what this White House can justify. Alternative facts are a necessity in any authoritarian government. The battle over the Muslim ban is a battle between the irrational fear he has stoked and the fact that not a single person has died in a terrorist attack in the United States that was carried out by a citizen from any of the seven countries on the list.
In order for Trump to succeed he must convince enough people that democracy does not offer them the same security as his authoritarian leadership would. He has his cult-like base who have already bought into that ideology, but he needs to expand it. In order to do so, he must create alternate facts and an environment they can survive in. To achieve that he needs to discredit his critics in the media, delegitimize the courts and maintain the support of the congressional Republicans.
We cannot effectively resist him unless we fully understand his game plan. Those calling for the normal checks and balances to kick into place are in denial. This is not normal, and there are no normal solutions, like impeachment for now. In the past, racism, white supremacy, fraud, sexual assault and conflicts of interest were all things that ended political careers. That is no longer the case. We must deal with the reality we are in. The congress can stop him, but won’t. The courts can hinder him, and will for now. But only the truth can destroy him. That’s why he tries so hard to suppress it.
Trump’s Authoritarian Game Plan
History has already provided the blueprint for transforming a democracy into an authoritarian regime, including recent history in Hungary, Turkey, Poland and the Philippines. Much of the groundwork has already been done by the GOP. Republicans recognized that their ability to hold power was diminishing with the changing demographics of the United States. They then set about eroding the obstacles for a party to hold power without a majority of the popular vote. The politicizing of the Supreme Court led to Citizen’s United and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Meantime, state republicans used voter suppression gain an advantage in Senate and presidential elections, and gerrymandering to obtain over-representation in Congress.
With the prep work done, Trump now intends to finish the job. Now he needs to convince enough people that the world is so dangerous they need an authoritarian leader, in the style of Putin, to protect them. His lies are intended to create both fear and confusion, and his reckless behavior is intended to create chaos. These are not side effects, they are intentional tactics. Next he needs to discredit those who would challenge his assertions. By creating fake news and propaganda which then projects their purpose on the real media, the lines of fact and fiction are blurred. By threatening judges with responsibility for any future terrorist attack if they do not ignore the irrationality of his policies, he is trying to mute them. By attacking the courts as politicized he opens the door to make that a reality.
The weakness in his strategy is that until he has consolidated his own power, he needs to keep the legislative branch in check. He must move fast, while both the Senate and House are under Republican control. Republicans will only challenge him if his favorability ratings with the public puts their reelection in jeopardy. His favorability is already at historic lows for this point in a presidency, but if they continue to fall, Trump has signaled that he has a strategy to deal with that too.
In his recent tweets, comments and actions, Trump has begun the groundwork for his Reichtag fire strategy. He has created a false narrative of Islamic terrorist attacks in the United States, so he has his boogeyman. To neutralize the reality that he is actively encouraging such an attack by his provocative words and actions, he has shifted the blame to the courts for blocking his Muslim ban. Now all he needs is a terrorist attack to justify his actions and consolidate his power, whether in response to his intentional provocation or by his own hand.