The American Republic will end someday. That isn’t a particularly novel or edgy observation. It’s quite banal. “Greece fell, Rome fell….” (China hasn’t fallen yet, but its longest lasting dynasties seem to have a shelf-life of “only” a few centuries, so maybe that counts.)
For me the question is when, not whether, the Republic will fall. I don’t know if a Trump presidency will bring about the fall, but it might. Or it might set the Republic on the course toward its fall. Maybe Trump would do it with a bang so loud we’ll know it’s happening.
Or his election will be one more step in legitimizing a “church and king” faction that perhaps has always been latent in American political politics.
Legitimization is not a yes or no proposition. It happens by degrees and in stages. A formal nomination by a major party can legitimize this faction even if the nominee will never win. I’m not the first to make the comparison, but while here was no way Jean-Marie LePen was going to win the French presidency in 2002, getting to the runoff gave him and his constituency a big boost. If that analogy holds for Trump, then his presumptive nomination is a bad thing indeed.
But maybe t the Republic has already fallen. This “church and king” faction–well, maybe it’s not a faction, maybe it’s a “style” of politics–certainly had its antecedents. Maybe the deal was sealed at some point. Maybe Wickard v. Filburn. Maybe Korematsu. Maybe the Cold War national security state and military industrial complex. Maybe the Espionage, Sedition, and PATRIOT Acts (or maybe the Alien and Sedition Acts). Maybe the milling factionalism in our politics and the thousand pinpricks into civil society and individual privacy and democratic governance that might very well be the inevitable consequence of what some call “modernity.”
I once attended a presentation by a professor on Augustus and the end of the Roman Republic. According to him, when Augustus seized and consolidated his power, he did so on the fiction that Rome was still a Republic. Romans still spoke as if they lived in whatever had passed for a Republic ca. c.e. 0. But they also knew who was calling the shots. It was only in retrospect that people saw his reign as the beginning of something new.
Trump is no Augustus. Or at least I don’t think so. I don’t fear or dread Trump as much as the #NeverTrump people seem to. If his nomination–and possible election–augur ill for us, it’s one step of a process that depends on decisions we have already made and on decisions we will make in the future.
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