Donald Trump Fascist Part VI: Chaos, Human Rights and Democracy
Democracy is a system of government accountable to voters. Democratic republics and responsible or parliamentary democracies have in common that both are governments by the people. However, in the model of responsible government, the supreme power in vested in a parliament made up of representatives of the people. In a republic, the people are represented by a supreme power divided between an elected leader versus a legislative body made up of elected representatives. Republics inherently deal with a system that makes checks and balances a core part of government based on the premise that strong leadership is a requisite of effective government, while, at the same time, there is a need to provide boundaries and checks to that strong leadership.
I usually call a republic a democratic monarchy because the issue is not any objection to a single political leader, but an insistence that the leader be directly accountable to the electorate. A republic denies power to a monarch without limited terms where power is transferred based on inheritance and there is no accountability. Both parliamentary democracies and republics eschew inherited power. Republics elect their kings or queens for limited terms. Parliamentary democracies, if they are monarchies, usually put their monarchs on a pedestal where they have no power. Absolute power is given to the legislative branch of government, subject only to the limitations of an independent judiciary system and sometimes a written constitution.
There is little debate that parliamentary democracies have gradually moved towards a presidential model, or the model of an elected president where the elected representatives often achieve office on the coattails of a prime minister. On the other hand, there remain distinctive differences.
This simplistic version of Politics 101 is not intended to discuss the benefits and dangers of the two respective systems, but to raise the issue of free speech as well as the principle of order and good government. The highest value is placed on the protection of individual rights, especially the right to free speech. For both systems – a parliamentary government and an elected democratic monarchy or republic – are guardians of that fundamental right. From the perspective of a member of a state based on a parliamentary democracy rooted in a principle of responsible government, one is appalled that “free speech” can be so defined that it protects the right of hate speech, certainly to a much higher degree than is the case in Canada. This does not mean that there are no critics in Canada of the refusal to protect hate speech. In contrast, Americans in general are much greater purists with respect to free speech and will often defend the right to express hatred of groups.
In the case of the current debates in the U.S. over Russian hacking into the American electoral system to favour one candidate, the objections are primarily to a foreign state doing so. Spreading false information is perceived as simply part of the democratic political tradition. Listen to Jeffrey Lord on CNN; he even fails to acknowledge the legal limits placed on malicious free speech which intentionally misrepresents. This, according to most American constitutional theorists, is banned by U.S. law. However, whatever the range of differences, the bar is very high in only restricting intentional and explicitly malevolent lying. This is very different than restrictions that can be found in a democracy like that of Canada.
One corollary of such a difference is that the American republic places a much greater stress on human rights; in the U.S., individuals enjoy a wider compass. At the same time, fundamental weaknesses have come to the fore in a democratic monarchy, particularly in the last American election of Donald Trump as the monarch. The American government has moved, certainly in the White House, even further away from order and good government towards chaos. What is less evident is that opportunities to restore order become fewer and harder to implement the longer DT is in office. “Topological mixing” versus linear clarity is enhanced because of the continuous presence of a “shift operator.” In other words, chaos has a propensity to increase because of the continuing central role of Trump.
This points to a second and related major difference. Both democratic monarchies and parliamentary democracies are committed to preserving order and preventing chaos. However, a system of responsible government is more averse to chaos and disorder. For in republics, political division exists, not simply between political parties, but among different governmental institutions. This is part of the system of checks and balances that builds into the system a greater degree of chaos than in a parliamentary democracy. In contrast, order and good government are mainstays of parliamentary democracies and enjoy a higher status. I argue that in parliamentary democracies, the principle of averting chaos is more important than even the protection of human rights and the freedom of speech.
What is chaos? Since the popularity of the 2001 movie about John Nash, A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe, chaos theory has become part of public, though not popular, parlance. The biggest threat for responsible government is chaos even more than breaches of human rights. However, according to chaos theory, systems which are more dynamic tend to have a greater reliance on chaos. Further, in chaos theory, dynamic systems are, ironically, far more sensitive to initial conditions.
Stanford Levinson in his 1989 book, Constitutional Faith, argues that the foundation of the American secular religion is its 1788 constitution that forms the counterweight to fragmentary propensities, on the one hand, and the emergence of tyrants on the other hand. Chaos is anathema to both democratic republics and those responsible democracies which esteem order and good government. Chaos is neither governance nor responsible. Chaos is favoured by fascist systems. In part, it is because fascism offers itself as the only escape from chaos; chaos is created to make the need for fascism apparent. But it goes deeper. For in all dynamic systems, the creative energy, the initial big bang, comes from that chaos.
However, there is a third way in which chaos is favoured – not simply as an impetus and distraction, not simply as an energy source, but as proof of the need for a transcendental mind that will impose order on that chaos. There is also a fourth sense which makes chaos crucial to a fascist system. Chaos undercuts the possibility of a hierarchical ordered system. That is why DT is a populist. That is why he will undercut his army brass and arbitrarily demand that transgender individuals be thrown out of the army. That is why he will upset the leaders of the boy scouts by using a jamboree as a political rally. That is why he will upset most police chiefs when he suggests that there is no problem with roughing up arrested individuals when putting them in a squad car.
Contrary to authoritarian governments and widespread impressions, the leader of a fascist regime does not bring about order by imposing it from above, but by making it the duty of his subordinates and followers to discern and then work towards the realization of the amorphous image of the transcendental mind of the leader. That is why a fascist system, to most people’s surprise, is not a top-down movement. The leader may say that we must build a wall to keep out the bad hombres and that the government of those bad hombres will pay for it, but it is the followers who will have to figure out how to square that circle. For if it is a government of bad hombres, why would it pay to build the wall? The duty of the leader’s subordinates and followers is to discern how to realize this contradictory vision in the leader’s mind.
The dilemma applies to health care and to tax policy, to refugees and to immigration. How can the U.S. be a country open to the poor and an elitist country that builds a great deal of its human capital by skilled and well-educated imports from abroad? Reconciling expanding health benefits both in the entitlements and the people entitled while lowering premiums has to be “im Sinne des Führers ihm entgegenzuarbeiten.” It is the duty of all, especially appointees and followers, to interpret the vision of the leader and work assiduously towards its realization. Thus, initiatives are not just relegated to subordinates, but subordinates are held responsible to take those initiatives. They will of necessity be at odds with other colleagues, since there is no centre of interpretation. That in turn will recreate the chaos that is the foundation of a fascist system and, in turn, the demand for the leader to impose order.
Delegation, interpretation, conflict and disorder will all be hallmarks of such an administration. There will be a chaotic struggle of overlapping and competing centers of power that will vie as if in a Darwinian struggle to predetermine and refine the contents of a mind that works by free association rather than according to the rules of logic. Contrary to popular myths about fascism, the will of the leader will neither be absolute nor monocratic. A four-star general might be recruited to make sense of that chaos, but John Kelly as head of the White House, in spite of his experience and esteemed record, will crash his head against a wall trying to make sense of the slovenly manner in which Donald Trump makes decisions, sticking to some like gorilla glue while discarding others as mere flotsam while tossing the detritus overboard, and, to deliberately mix metaphors, then throwing the subordinate offering that interpretation “under the bus”.
However, when he cannot and does not decide between and among competing interpretations of his inchoate inspiration, any inability to make “spontaneous” and “irrevocable” decisions will drive him to retreat to stare at his own navel and issue a flurry of tweets as if they were a genuine means of communication of policy in a system of governance based on checks and balances.
The result, ironically, is even more personalized rule and the increasing elimination of the separation of the private and the public spheres, a hallmark of fascism as subordinates continue to vie to promote what they believe to be the leader’s will. It will be a system where the buck never stops at the White House Highest Office, except in cases of clear success, even if those successes are not the prime responsibility of the leader’s regime.
This is why so much attention is payed to Donald Trump’s psychological make-up. His self-esteem is not only the centerpiece of the governing structure, but it is one most propelled by past scars left when that self-esteem had been wounded. Was Donald Trump most humiliated when the Manhattan bigwigs in the New York development world spurned this vulgar arrival from Queens and Brooklyn or when the banks turned their backs on him when his businesses declared bankruptcy for the fourth time after the fiasco of his casinos in Atlantic City? It is not simply difficult but impossible to discern which flapping of the butterfly’s wings determined the Trump trajectory.
Donald Trump did not achieve his office on his own. He said that he was the voice of his followers. But they are the echo of his voice. In Nebraska where almost 80% voted for DT, after seven months of chaos in his administration, the vast majority still, as he does, blame the chaos on the “obstructionists.” His voice is viewed as their voice and the expression of sincerity, both because that which he articulates is based on emotion rather than facts and logic, and because he conveys sincerity even as he repeatedly lies and avoids any depth of reflection or deliberation.
But others in addition to the solid base of populism are responsible. Conservatives believed they could manage this vulgarian. Conservatives and the followers of his populism are “strange attractors.” At the very least, the conservatives believed that they could use his rule to advance the conservative agenda in judicial appointments, in administrative changes in a myriad of departments – health, the environment, agriculture, science policy, etc. And they have done so even if there has been no positive legislative record.
However, will conservatives and even his base begin to desert him if the chaos continues as well as his shameless record of lying and betrayal? For he demands fealty but offers no loyalty in return, even as he attacks the responsible media for producing “fake news,” a claim which his followers repeat. Reporters are “scum” and “enemies of the people.” Thus, paranoia is enhanced as DT’s base wallows in fantasies about immigrants and refugees and lap up conspiracy theories.
Another source and expression of chaos is DT’s overt contempt for his appointees, even though he periodically praises them with superlatives, and his covert condescension for the members of his base whom he manipulates with the tremendous repertoire of an actor even as he plays the charmer and cracks “jokes” at the expense of others. When interviewed and asked about their support after seven months of the DT administration, they quickly reveal that they live in “echo chambers or information cocoons.” (Cass R. Sunstein) Instead of exposure to difference, instead of celebrating the unplanned and the unanticipated, what counts is repetition of the same, precisely the environment for enhancing rather than reducing chaos. Chaotic complex systems are characterized by their feedback loops and repetition, by self-similarity rather than broad variation.
There are mundane expressions of this chaos. DT loves to play golf. It is a game in which prediction is difficult and where many variables determine the quality of play. But golf is also a game of honour; each player keeps his own score. DT is renowned for his cheating. More publicly, even in his own golf courses, he breaks all the rules and drives his cart across greens and tee boxes. And he can’t shut up when others are shooting. He talks through his game, filling the narrative with his usual hyperbole. While he celebrates the game for the exercise it offers, he always rides a cart.
Most importantly, DT manifests the greatest contempt for the rule of law. Even though Jeff Sessions has proven to be the most effective cabinet member in realizing a conservative agenda, DT belittles him for doing what he was legally required to do, recuse himself from the Russian investigation. DT fired James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for pursuing the inquiry. DT threatens Robert S. Mueller III, the Special Council heading the investigation, if he crosses the red line of probing his finances. In the meanwhile, he denounces the investigation as a witch hunt, illegitimate and a total fabrication instead of stating, as his own lawyers have done, a commitment to cooperating fully and transparently with the probe. DT, in contrast, does not express any belief in the role of an impartial investigation insulated from political interference, but sees all employees, even those in the Justice Department, even those in the special investigation unit, as his lackeys who owe fealty to him. As Ruth Marcus wrote in The Washington Post, “Trump is a one-man assault on the rule of law.”
It is precisely because of this trait that the longer DT remains in office, the more unpredictable his behavior will become rather than more predictable and better controlled. Uncertainty will increase exponentially the longer he stays in office. This means that he is unlikely to walk quietly into the night if he is indicted. He will battle. He will bring his followers into the streets.
One might dismiss the charge that DT is a fascist because he has neither quasi-militarized black nor brown shirts at his back, only Trump peak caps. Further, DT is wary of foreign wars rather than being a territorial expansionist. And he picks on Muslims rather than Jews. But those are details and different manifestations which are not at the core of fascism. Chaos is. Characterizing the expression of responsible journalism and free speech as fake news is. Chaos is not simply an accidental feature of the Trump administration that hopefully can be corrected by better management, but that which is at its core. Though insufficient in itself, chaos is another necessary condition for defining Trump as a fascist.