Election 2016: Our Dystopic Future

Prepare for economic hardship, endless war, climate change on steroids, and a federal government incapable of addressing any major domestic issue. And that’s if Clinton wins.

The near-global sentiment – not just of everyone living in the United States – is that we cannot wait for the 2015-2016 US Presidential Election to be over. Believe me, I’ve felt that way, too. But in recent days that sentiment has been rapidly replaced by dread over what comes next – no matter who wins.

In short, one of the two major parties in the United States has completely detached itself from reality, driven, after 30 years of Fox News and hate talk radio, by tens of millions of proudly ignorant and hate-filled individuals. This isn’t news. But because these people have nominated for the most powerful job in the world a narcissistic, bullying con man whose extreme wealth has enabled both his sociopathic behavior and his painfully obvious mental health issues – and because horserace-obsessed political media in this country have largely treated ideological extremism as business as usual – it’s easy to forget that a level-headed president dedicated to rational thought has for the last eight years largely insulated us from the kind of systemic collapse that could result.

That ends Tuesday.

I’ve been warning for months that Donald Trump has surrounded himself with world-class experts in dirty tricks and authoritarianism, employed to advance the interests of some of the last half-century’s worst dictators. I’ve been warning for months that all Trump needs to do is keep the election close – so that post-election ratfucking can either help him seize power or, at minimum, ensure that Hillary Clinton will be incapable of exercising it.

The release last week of an FBI letter announcing that it had come across e-mails from Clinton while investigating Anthony Weiner implicates Clinton. again, of absolutely nothing – but it enabled the horserace media and right wing fever swamp to yet again bring up “those damned e-mails,” one of an endless parade of ginned-up non-controversies Republicans have been trying for years to get to stick to her (Benghazi!!!). That “October Surprise” falls exactly in line with Trump’s plan. Clinton’s momentum from the debates has been successfully reversed. Nate Silver’s 538.com, the gold standard in data-based election forecasting, now gives Trump a one-in-three chance of winning.

That’s close enough for semi-plausible post-election monkey-wrenching and claims of fraud, at least for Trump’s gullible, hate-filled followers. And almost as importantly, the radical Republican congressional majorities that have enabled that party to block much of Barack Obama’s agenda for the past eight years now stand a better chance of retaining their majorities – meaning that either they’ll have renewed cause for all-out war on a President Clinton, or that their most extreme impulses will become law under a President Trump. Even the plausible chance of such a scenario has put global markets in a tailspin this week. It will be worse next week.

In the short term, for months Trump has been warning his followers – because Donald Trump doesn’t just have supporters, he has followers – that the election would be rigged. He’s also been claiming that Clinton should have been ineligible to even run for president because she’s a criminal (remember what I said about “detached from reality” – she hasn’t been charged with anything, let alone convicted). And for years groups of far-right white supremacists and anti-government fanatics have been rapidly growing, a growth fueled largely by the color of Barack Obama’s skin but given renewed vigor by last month’s acquittal of the far-right protesters who staged an armed takeover last winter of part of Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge – an acquittal supporters are reading as officially justifying any action, no matter how violent, anywhere, against anyone, in service of resisting what they see as an illegitimate government.

What does this mean? It means that if Clinton wins next week, Trump has a ready-made army eager to wage war on everyone it hates, or that Trump tells it to hate, to challenge her illegitimate reign. That list is nearly endless and already includes an overwhelming majority of Americans: Muslims and other religious minorities, Mexicans, Blacks, immigrants, and anyone else who’s not White; the poor, sexual minorities, liberals, the disabled, people who are educated (especially scientists and other blasphemous disciples of the Enlightenment), the elderly, the young…anyone who can be and thus has been defined as an “Other,” and whose removal will, in their eyes, help “Make America Great Again.” This is a fascistic army in waiting, terrifyingly reminiscent of the Red Guards, Hitler Youth, or any of the other enthusiastic tools of history’s worst mass murderers. All that’s missing is the critical mass that would give these fanatics power and free license. Next week could provide that.

That’s true even if Clinton wins. If Trump wins, of course, his paramilitary radicals in waiting get the backing and blessing of the state.

If Trump Wins

A Trump win also likely means a collapse of global financial markets, who, despite Trump’s radical capitalist bent, hate uncertainty – and Trump is the most erratic major politician in modern world, let alone American, history. The financial “services” (sic) industry has grown from ten percent to approaching half of the US economy in the last 20 years – thank the deregulation of Hillary’s husband for that – and so if the markets tumble, so do we, much more directly than in the past. It’s easy to imagine a Trump victory leading immediately to a major global depression. With a Trump win, such an outcome in the US seems far more likely than not. One in three.

A major economic downturn, in turn, will require scapegoats – which is what Trump’s list of “Others” will become, especially in an economy that will leave almost everyone behind, many scrambling to stay afloat, and, for those already struggling, scrambling to stay alive while what’s left of the New Deal social safety net is abolished. And more than enough of those struggling to stay alive will be angry about it to justify the kind of police state that makes today’s “police state!” rhetoric by some leftists empty and laughable. President Trump will show you what a real police state looks like. Because, freedom.

More traditionally, a Trump victory likely also means full control by far-right fanatics of the presidency, Congress, and, at some point in the next four years, the Supreme Court. Abolishing access to health care for millions will be the first order of business. Tax cuts that, in combination with economic collapse, will gut the federal treasury will follow shortly, followed by the abolition of Social Security and Medicare as unaffordable luxuries given the struggling economy. State and local governments, long reliant on federal money, will be similarly gutted.

Things we take for granted, like universal public K-12 education or municipal water systems, will be, regretfully, privatized or abolished. And, eventually – depending on which of the current justices die first – you can also kiss goodbye to Roe v. Wade (and the Griswold decision that preceded it, codifying the right to privacy and making contraception legal); gay marriage; absence of Christianity from the public sphere; and any inherent rights to citizenship, due process, or, most importantly for cementing these changes, access to the ballot box.

A lot of people have noted over the years that if fascism ever came to the US, it would be done legally within our existing political framework. And so it is here. Most of this has already been widely advocated. Bircherite conservatives, of the type now prepared to seize power, have never reconciled themselves to the New Deal of 85 years ago, let alone more modern developments like the abolition of Jim Crow, women in the workplace, Medicare, legalized abortion (or even sex education), and so on. Trump has openly called for the jailing and deportation of 11 million people, and openly encouraged violence against people who oppose him. Abolishing environmental regulations is a far-right rallying cry. Republicans control Congress now because of gerrymandering and voter suppression, just as their ancestors controlled the franchise under Jim Crow; they know how well it works. So does bald-faced lying.

As for more modern issues, like climate change, or a free and open Internet? Authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world, especially China, have already shown how to control and suppress that. The possible loss of net neutrality is benign by comparison. And Trump would likely increase greenhouse gas emissions, just to demonstrate to his rubes what a hoax the whole climate thing was. And throw the scientists in jail.

And so on. With the steady drip of 24/7 news cycles, it all becomes a routinized blur. Most people have no idea what a future of all of these elements, taken together and enforced with technology unthinkable to past authoritarians, would look like, or even that it’s possible. It is.

Eight years after the exit of an unqualified president who was responsible for a global economic collapse, genocidal levels of death and displacement in Iraq, and the drowning of a major American city – among many other things – a possible majority of American voters are prepared to opt for a far riskier and more radical option.

That’s despite the president who served in the interim now prepared to leave office with record-high approval ratings. And that, in turn, brings us to Hillary Clinton, whose unique weaknesses as a candidate and leader explain much of that disconnection have put Trump within a plausible scenario of winning, only days before the election. What awaits us if Clinton wins?

The Clinton Scenario

If a Trump victory is the dystopian nightmare scenario, a Clinton win gets us to almost the same place, only not as quickly.

First of all, in the short term, things are close enough now that Trump is guaranteed to refuse to honor the results, for all of the reasons – voter fraud, rigged elections, biased media, Clinton being a criminal, etc. – we’re already familiar with. There will be riots, and armed attacks. (One person’s terrorist is another’s “freedom fighter.”) People will die for the “crime” of not being, in Sarah Palin’s memorable formulation, “Real Americans.”

Markets won’t crumple in a Clinton win the way they would with a Trump presidency, but his refusal to honor the results will have an immediate economic impact. Trump is likely to refuse to recognize her legitimacy, and to encourage tens of millions of Americans to follow his lead. That means low-grade guerrilla war, but it also means Republicans in Congress and the states doing everything possible to obstruct her.

Clinton will be, in any likely scenario, unable to get any of her domestic agenda approved by Congress. That includes, in the last two weeks, Republicans talking openly about refusing to consider, let alone approve, any Supreme Court or other judicial nominations at all for the entire length of a Clinton presidency – essentially, attempting to destroy one of the three branches of federal government for nothing more than partisan political advantage. A lot of people on the right seem to like this idea, and why not? They’ve paid no political price at all for their refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination. Ditto for passing federal budgets, paying America’s debt, and other forced crises of the type that have already been narrowly avoided multiple times, along with the global market collapse they’d trigger. The Constitution is sacrosanct to these people, at least as a piece of paper to wave around in front of the rubes. It’s more socially acceptable than the Confederate flag.

One way or another, the days are likely numbered for even the limited economic recovery Obama has managed to shepherd almost wholly by executive fiat.

If Clinton can’t get her reasonably liberal social or economic agendas passed by Congress, she’ll try to work with them on the areas where she does agree: corporate power and military spending. The latter will be made much, much worse by Hillary Clinton’s long and well-documented love of discretionary warmaking as a first option for dealing with conflict – or any behavior seen as contrary to America’s economic interests – anywhere in the world. If Donald Trump can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes, neither of them should be trusted with the most powerful and lethal military in the history of the world.

It’s hard to say what impact Clinton’s warmaking and market-induced economic misery would have on each other. Most likely, Clinton would use the only economic stimulus path available to her, which would be more war and further military expansion. Regardless, her legitimacy, let alone her agenda, will be questioned at every step. The impeachment papers are already drawn up. If Republicans control the House, passing them will be the first order of business, even before she’s done anything; and (if Republicans retain control of the Senate) a Senate trial will commence. They won’t have the votes for conviction – unless Clinton hands it to them the way she’s threatening to hand them the election, which is always possible – but it will further poison an administration where she already begins as the second most-disliked major party nominee in modern US history. (Trump is #1.)

Hillary Clinton’s opponents have no compunction about using the most radical remedies available, including triggering a global economic collapse, to disempower her. Republicans have far fewer Senate seats to defend in 2018 and will almost certainly win (or win back) Senate control then. And if Clinton has been wholly ineffective, with a diet of domestic misery and foreign war, come 2020, almost any Republican nominee can beat her – and given the extremism of the Republican base and the types of candidates they seem to adore, we’re right back where a Trump win would put us next week.

Sadly, Washington state residents can’t do much about all of this – our electoral votes will almost certainly go to the Democrats in this and in all foreseeable years, as will our Senate and most of our House seats. But it’s very, very hard to see this ending well – next week, let alone over the next four years or beyond. It’s been widely thought that politics in the United States would be revolutionized by demographic change. It’s looking more and more like that wasn’t quite right. The US is instead at dire risk of being revolutionized by the resistance to demographic change. That resistance has hit on a radical but unassailable truth: Larger and larger numbers of people who aren’t white Christians matter only if “one person, one vote” matters.

I hope – I really, really hope – I’m wrong about all this, and we’re not all suffering from mass PTSD by Thanksgiving. But the only way I can see to being wrong is if the far-right radicals preparing to seize power, and the megalomaniac leading them, don’t do what they themselves say they want to do. But all the available evidence suggests we should take them at their word. And prepare accordingly.

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