Lee Jussim, an academic social psychologist, styles himself a rabble-rouser. I will credit Jussim with even-handedness. He’s no lefty; see, for example, Claire Lehmann’s “How a Rebellious Social Scientist Uncovered the Truth about Stereotypes” (Quillette, December 4, 2015). But he displays a knee-jerk reaction to what he perceives as authoritarianism. As Lehmann puts it:
Jussim appears to have had an anti-authoritarian streak since day one…. Ferociously independent, Jussim describes having little respect for, or deference to, authority figures. In high school he says he purposely made life miserable for his teachers, and later he would become an anti-war activist.
Which leads me to suspect that Jussim never got over his case of adolescent rebelliousness.* He seems to have an inborn need to lash out at the current regime, regardless of its political flavor. A case in point is Jussim’s muddled analysis of the state of the union. Jussim’s assertions, in block quotes, are followed by my commentary.
In my blog entry here, I highlighted [four] main signals of rising authoritarianism….
All four warning signals are flashing bright red.
The first signal [the less the results of national elections reflect the popular vote, the more the principle of majority selection of representatives is weakened] is an inherently undemocratic characteristic of the Electoral College (lots of people defend the Electoral College on other, nondemocratic grounds but let’s not pretend there is anything democratic about it). Minorities tend to be more radical than majorities, in part, because radicalism is usually delusional (think about everything from Soviet and Nazi propaganda to the modern “alternative facts”) and, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
Think concretely. Is it easier to convince one person or 1,000,000 people that the moon landing was faked, that AIDs was a conspiracy to kill blacks, or that Adolf was right all along?
Ok, let’s scale it up. How about 2 versus a million? 10 versus a million?
Lenin never actually had the support of more than about 20-25 percent of Russians. Hitler maxed at about 40 percent and his vote total declined before he first adroitly took power democratically then executed his coup from within the halls of power.
Minority rule is a very very dangerous thing…
So a system that empowers minorities to select rulers is at much greater risk of selecting radical rulers.
Jussim implies that majority rule guards against tyranny. How does that square with the enshrinement of the administrative state — which is nearly as tyrannical as it gets — by FDR, a four-time winner of a popular-vote majority, and the expansion of the administrative state by LBJ, another big winner of the popular vote? (FDR was also responsible for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which still rankles leftists — who otherwise view FDR as a god — and libertarians like Jussim.)
And how is a 46-percent popular-vote minority (Trump’s share of the popular-vote total) the same as the type of radical minority from which Lenin and Hitler sprang? We should feel safer with Clinton — a statist in the tradition of FDR — who won only 48 percent of the popular vote?
What about other presidents who won the electoral vote with less than 50 percent of the total popular vote, many of them with smaller shares than Trump’s: John Quincy Adams (1824), James K. Polk (1844), James Buchanan (1856), Abraham Lincoln (1860), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), James Garfield (1880), Grover Cleveland (1884, 1892), Benjamin Harrison (1888), Woodrow Wilson (1912, 1916 — bingo!), Harry Truman (1948), John F. Kennedy (1960), Richard Nixon (1968), Bill Clinton (1992, 1996), and G.W. Bush (2000). The rule that the winner of the electoral vote wins the presidency has been in place for a long time, and it has produced all of those “minority” presidents. Why? Because with the rule in place, candidates aim to win the electoral vote, not the popular vote. Trump is far from the first successful candidate to do so, and he’ll be far from the last.
So the first signal has been flashing red, on and off, for almost 200 years. It’s a rather unreliable signal, especially given the tyranny instituted by FDR and LBJ — who won huge popular-vote majorities. Or maybe John Quincy Adams was a stealth Hitler. No, it was Woodrow Wilson. Jussim is right, just 100 years late.
The second signal [if and when policies and practices threatening our fundamental rights – speech, religion, association, press – are even proposed, those rights are threatened] is flashing hard and fast. The stay of the Muslim ban was issued, in part, because the ban appears to violate separation of church and state, and in part because it violated academic freedom of state universities (this is part of what gave the states standing to argue for a stay of the ban in court).
Only someone who’s ignorant of constitutional law — as Jussim seems to be — would say that the temporary immigration order was constitutionally stayed for either of the reasons cited. Those are merely judicial pretexts for barring a president from exercising a constitutional function. The Constitution protects Americans’ freedom of religion, despite leftists’ efforts to curtail it; the Constitution doesn’t protect non-Americans because they happen to practice a certain religion. The Constitution protects freedom of speech, including the freedom of academics (like Jussim) to spout nonsense; the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right of non-American academics to enter the United States.
In addition to the State Department Purge, President Trump has routinely advocated for torture, which is illegal (also flashing the third signal). His administration has also routinely attempted to silence, intimidate, or derogate members of the government and the press.
The State Department purge? Trump simply went against mindless tradition and accepted the resignations of senior political appointees who were undoubtedly anti-Trump. Sanity ruled, for once, in the treatment of the State Department.
Has Trump, as president, authorized torture? Or didn’t he back down from his earlier statements? I believe it’s the latter. (Though I have nothing against torture if the use of it protects Americans.)
Nor has Trump actually attempted to silence the press. He and Bannon have correctly characterized the press (or most of it) as tools of the Democrat Party and left-wing causes generally. Or are they not allowed to say such things because they’ve been accused of harboring fascistic ambitions by people who are afraid that Trump will — justifiably — dismantle much of the left-wing edifice that stands on the necks of American taxpayers? In any event, I’ve seen no evidence that the press has been silenced. Quite the contrary, in fact. Hour after hour, day after day, the media are dominated by anti-Trump
The third signal [if and when the federal government advocates not changing laws, but violating laws, the rule of law is threatened] flashed hard when the Trump administration instructed the immigration arms of the executive branch to ignore the court rulings.
The link leads to something else entirely. As far as I know, the court rulings have been honored by the Trump administration.
The fourth signal [rising popularity, membership, and political action among hate groups and neo-fascist movements] is flashing because of the rising tide of harassment of Muslims, minorities, and Jews.
There’s a lot of fake hate-thought and hate-crime out there (small sample here). But none of the real stuff is the doing of Trump, who — unlike Hitler — doesn’t hate non-Aryans or homosexuals. Anyway, there’s simply nothing like a mass movement of the kind that helped to push Hitler into power. It didn’t happen here. Or maybe it did, when Barack Obama became president and black thugs were given free reign to burn, loot, and kill.
To be sure, nearly all Presidential administrations have overstepped their legal and Constitutional bounds at some point. The Founders did not create a system of balance of powers and checks and balances to prevent attempts at overreach — they created it to prevent the success of such attempts. However, I do not recall so many attempts at overreach in the earliest days of any Presidential administration since I started attending to politics (around 1969).
The overreach seems to be in Jussim’s fevered imaginings about a fascist takeover of the country.
The question is: Can a system hold against a determined attempt to undermine it? Tyrants such as Hitler, Putin, and Chavez all initially came to power quite legally, and then subverted their respective systems to install authoritarian autocracies. “Following the law” is no guarantee against tyranny.
The “determined attempt” is another figment of Jussim’s fevered imagination. Tyrants like Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ also came to power quite legally. But they were “all right” because they favored “compassionate” big government. (Well, not the segregationist Wilson or the FDR of the internment camps.)
All of which raises some deeply troubling social, psychological, and political questions. Why do people support autocracies? What, psychologically, is necessary for democracy to flourish? Why do democracies fail?
American democracy has pretty much failed because successive presidents, Congresses, and Supreme Courts have violated the Constitution. It’s been going on since the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fascism is already here — but it’s not Trump’s fascism, so Jussim can’t see it.
Democracy, even American democracy, is not invulnerable, and will almost certainly not last forever. That, however, does not mean anyone needs to quietly acquiesce to its demise.
If Jussim means by “American democracy” the rule of law according to the principles of the Constitution, he’s postmaturely correct. It’s already dead. And it will take more than the election of a Trump to revive it.
* I don’t denigrate persons who rebel against incompetent or tyrannical authority. I’ve done it as an adult. I twice succeeded in having incompetent bosses fired. A third effort failed, but knowing that it might, I used it to set myself up for a financially rewarding exit.
* * *
FDR and Fascism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The People’s Romance
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Democracy and Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
“We the People” and Big Government
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
The Left and “the People”