Neighbor, How Stands the Union?

Yes, Dan’l Webster’s dead–or, at least, they buried him. But every time there’s a thunder storm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, “Dan’l Webster–Dan’l Webster!” the ground’ll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you’ll hear a deep voice saying, “Neighbor, how stands the Union?” Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible, or he’s liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that’s what I was told when I was a youngster.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

Writing today in The Russification of America, Roger Cohen asks a damn good question:

The Russian system under Putin is a false democracy based on a Potemkin village of props — political parties, media, judiciary — that are the fig leaf covering repression or elimination of opponents. Russia runs on lies. It’s alternative-fact central (you know, there are no Russian troops in Ukraine). But what happens when the United States begins to be infected with Russian disease?

Pence’s speech [at the Munich Security Conference] may not have been precisely a barefaced whopping lie, but it certainly showed barefaced whopping disdain for the intelligence of the audience (you know, nothing has changed with Trump, ha-ha.) By comparison, Lavrov was blunt. He announced the dawn of the “post-West world order.” That became a theme. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, announced the “post-Western global order.”

I wonder what that means — perhaps a world of lies, repression, unreason and violence. It advances as America offers only incoherence. To counter the drift, what is needed? A functioning American State Department would be a start.

But is this Russsification gaining much headway in America? The indispensable Jonathan Chait addresses this question in Donald Trump, Pseudoauthoritarian.

“Donald Trump is an authoritarian by instinct,” Chait writes. Chait knows that a good topic sentence needs to be followed by elaboration and illustrations of the main point; he has no shortage of material to prove his case.

That said, will Trump actually be able to “degrade or destroy American democracy”? Well, he has tried to hype or fabricate stories of violence by enemies “while downplaying or ignoring violence or threats from friendlier sources.”  He has “obsessively fabricated a narrative in which he is the incarnate … will of the people,” while calling the press the “enemy of the American people.”

But so far it’s all talk—and it appears to be backfiring. The press is standing up. The courts are standing up. Some of the Republicans are standing up. His tactic of intimidating large corporations has backfired.

Firms whose leaders make favorable statements about the president have seen their stock get hammered. A long list of prominent CEOs has openly criticized Trump. The reason for this is obvious. Trump’s supporters may have disproportionate power in the Electoral College, but his opponents have disproportionate power in the marketplace. Firms cater in their advertising to the young, who overwhelming oppose Trump, rather than to the old, who strongly support him.

If Trump has a plan to crush his adversaries, he has not yet revealed it. His authoritarian rage thus far is mostly impotent, the president as angry Fox-News-watching grandfather screaming threats at his television that he never carries out. The danger to the republic may come later, or never. In the first month of Trump’s presidency, the resistance has the upper hand.