This New Yorker feature on Robert Mercer is a fascinating insight into what I’m come to think of as defensive elites: self-congratulatory yet paranoid billionaires who are prepared to use their wealth to stave off what they see as unwarranted social attack. The analysis offered by David Magerman, formerly a senior manager at Mercer’s hedge fund, seems particularly worrying:

Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”

Another former high-level Renaissance employee said, “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

In The Making of Donald Trump, David Johnston identifies the tactics used by Trump to deflect inquiries into his many shady dealings and questionable decisions. Sometimes this is a matter of outright threats, with an enthusiasm for litigation (1,900 suits as plaintiffs coupled with an explicitly articulated philosophy of vengeance proving a dangerous combination for any who dare to cross him. But somewhat contrary to his public image as a blundering fool, he is often much more subtle than this, engaging in strategies of deflection and misdirection with all the deftness of the most accomplished public relations manager. In other cases, it just becomes weird, with Trump willing to publicly deny that a recording he had previously admitted to be of his own voice was anything other than a hoax:

This combination of viciousness, skilfulness and brazenness has left him insulated from meaningful scrutiny. But what has he averted in this way? What might have happened but hasn’t? On page 154 Johnston offers a description which has caught my imagination:

Together, these strategies – muddying the facts and deflecting inquiries into past conduct – help ensure that Trump’s carefully crafted public persona will not be unmade. He will not suffer the curtain to be pulled back to reveal a man who tricked society into thinking he was all wise and all powerful.

This public persona which has been crafted, sometimes deliberately while at other times impulsively, remains intact. I’m interested in what such a ‘pulling back of the curtain’ requires to be effective: the sustained attention of an audience, a sufficient familiarity with the person(a) in question, a prolonged campaign to sort fact from fiction and a lack of contestation concerning this process of sorting.

What is being framed somewhat unhelpfully as a ‘post-truth era’ are the conditions under which this ceases to be possible. There’s lots of ways in which we could try and explain them, not all of which are necessarily mutually exclusive. The collapse of authority in late modernity. The acceleration of communication. The weakening of journalism and the dominance of public relations. Theories of social change should be able to account for the specifics of such cases, rather than simply allowing them to be rendered thematically.

In his InfoGlut, Mark Andrejevic takes issue with the assumption that fostering ‘disbelief’ or ‘challenge’ is necessarily subversive.  As he puts it, “strategies of debunkery and information proliferation can work to reinforce, rather than threaten, relations of power and control” (loc 293). Recognising this in the abstract is important but I intend to read more about the specific cases in which these tactics are used regressively, as I’m increasingly fascinated by the extent to which these tactics are informed (or not) by epistemological and ontological understandings (even if these words are not used).

Under these conditions, what  Andrejevic describes as the ‘big data divide’ seems ever more prescient by the day. From loc 464:

The dystopian version of information glut anticipates a world in which control over the tremendous amount of information generated by interactive devices is concentrated in the hands of the few who use it to sort, manage, and manipulate. Those without access to the database are left with the “poor person’s” strategies for cutting through the clutter: gut instinct, affective response, and “thin- slicing” (making a snap decision based on a tiny fraction of the evidence). The asymmetric strategies for using data highlight an all- too- often overlooked truth of the digital era: infrastructure matters. Behind the airy rhetoric of “the cloud,” the factories of the big data era are sprouting up across the landscape: huge server farms that consume as much energy as a small city. Here is where data is put to work – generating correlations and patterns, shaping decisions and sorting people into categories for marketers, employers, intelligence agencies, healthcare providers, financial institutions, the police, and so on. Herein resides an important dimension of the knowledge asymmetry of the big data era – the divide between those who generate the data and those who put it to use by turning it back upon the population. This divide is, at least in part, an infrastructural one shaped by ownership and control of the material resources for data storage and mining. But it is also an epistemological one –a difference in the forms of practical knowledge available to those with access to the database, in the way they think about and use information.


This excellent essay by Jan-Werner Müller in the London Review of Books raises an important issue about the forms of political mobilisation facilitated by social media: 

Trump has called himself the Hemingway of the 140 characters. He has ‘the best words’. He loves Twitter, he says, because it’s like having one’s own newspaper, but without the losses. Twitter shares something of the echo-chamber effect of Facebook, but it also makes possible a form of direct identification between the individual citizen and the supposedly sole authentic representative of the people. It is hard to see how this might have been possible before, at least as a matter of daily experience: perhaps going to a party rally and feeling a direct connection with the leader while surrounded by others who feel exactly the same thing. Now, that sense of a direct link is just a click away, day and night: ‘Hey, I’m up at 3 a.m., and so is he, and he’s thinking exactly what I was just thinking!’

This is an illusion, but it is a powerful one. Media-savvy politicians can exploit it in unprecedented ways. For instance, in Italy the anti-establishment Five Star movement emerged from Beppe Grillo’s blog. ‘Hey folks, it works like this: you tell me what’s going on and I will play the amplifier,’ he’d written to his followers. Grillo had been a well-known comedian before entering politics. He has never merely amplified the concerns of ordinary people; the way il popolo speaks is decisively shaped by his leadership even though he has no official position of authority. Trump of course had also been a TV star, someone partly famous for being famous. But the peculiarity of Trump is that he seems the equivalent of Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi merged into one person. Whenever he was accused during the campaign of being just an entertainer, he could point to his competence as a businessman; whenever it was pointed out that his ventures mostly went bankrupt, he could respond that he was primarily a media star.

What forms of political organisation emerge from such a dynamic? Fleeting and fragile ones, predicated on imagined links with the leader rather than relational bonds between the followers. This gives reason to be hopeful but it also creates dangerous incentives for the leader, inviting them to escalate their rhetoric in order to mobilise a base over whom, at least as a collective, their hold remains unreliable. The problem is, as he puts it later in the essay, “The supply of enemies is inexhaustible.”

This is why it’s so important to refuse the story such populists tell about their own success. They ascribe an outcome with complex origins to their own quasi-magical powers to connect with ‘the people’:

Liberals have been wringing their hands at their seeming inability to reach citizens with ‘fact-checks’ and incontrovertible demonstrations of Trump’s continual self-contradictions. It’s curious that in their despair they have resurrected some of the clichés of 19th-century mass psychology. While disputing virtually every claim made by populists – especially their supposedly simplistic policy solutions – they buy without question the story that populists sell about their own successes. When Arron Banks proclaims that ‘Facts don’t work … You’ve got to connect with people emotionally,’ they just nod. But it isn’t true that ‘the masses’ are emotional basket-cases ready to be seduced by a charismatic demagogue. For a start, the neat distinction between reason and emotion is misleading. People are angry for a reason, and usually they can articulate that reason, as part of a larger story about what went wrong in their lives. Trump gained some trust as an outsider and, even more, as a credible exemplar of what it means to be unprofessional in politics. Some trusted him because he told it like it is; but in other cases the trust came first, and led them to believe that he was telling them the real story. 

I’ve recently found myself thinking back to an argument which Jeff Weeks makes in The World We Have Won. From pg 7:

The real achievement is that inequality has lost all its moral justification, and this has profoundly shifted the debate. Inequality now has to be justified in ways it never had to be before.

I take his point to be that the burden of justification has shifted from inequality to equality. This does not necessarily entail a diminution in oppression, but rather a cultural shift in how oppressors seek to legitimate their action e.g. patently Islamophobic sentiment is articulated in terms of a concern for gender equality.

Trump and his supporters are pushing against the boundaries of this framework, but it is still for now in place. What gets dismissed as ‘political correctness’ is something we should fight for. This much shared passage from Richard Rorty illustrates what is at risk if we don’t:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized – are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

I find this suggestion by Audrey Watters extremely plausible. Full interview here.

I think that education data should be a top priority under the new Trump regime. Schools are wildly obsessed with collecting data. They have been for a very long time, but new digital technologies have compelled them to collect even more, all with the promise of better insights into teaching and learning. By and large, I think a lot of that promise is overstated. Now, particularly under Trump, we have to consider if, instead of “helping students”, we’re actually putting them more at risk. I don’t simply mean a risk of hacking, although schools do have notoriously poor information security. Rather, I’m deeply concerned that, by enabling such expansive profiling, we are furthering a dangerous climate of surveillance – a climate that Trump seems quite ready to exploit regarding undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and political dissidents.

In the last few weeks, I’ve written a few times about the epistemological questions posed by post-democracy. This notion put forward by Colin Crouch sees transitions within mature democracies as involving a hollowing out of democratic  structures rather than a dramatic shift to non-democracy. As he described it in a recent interview I did with him:

I defined post-democracy as a situation where all the institutions of democracy – elections, changes of government, free debate, rule of law – continue, but they become a charade, because democratic institutions have been surpassed as major decision-making entities by small groups of financial and political elites. I argued, not that we had reached such a situation in most western countries – there is far too much lively politics for that – but that we were on the road towards it.

This runs contrary to many folk theories of democracy’s death, tending as they do to associate the end of democracy with a sudden seizure of power. It would be foolish to deny this as a possibility, not least of all because political scientists have ably theorised this as ‘authoritarian reversion’:

We think that comparative experience demonstrates that there are two distinct forms of backsliding, each with its own mechanisms and modal end-states. We call these authoritarian reversion and constitutional retrogression. The basic difference between reversion and retrogression as we use the terms is how fast and how far backsliding goes. Authoritarian reversion is a wholesale, rapid collapse into authoritarianism. Such a wholesale movement away from democracy most often occurs through the mechanism of a military coup d’état or via the use of emergency powers.

One of the reasons conversations about post-democracy have entered the mainstream is the number of unfolding cases we can see at present. The authors of the aforementioned blog post cite Hungary and Poland but we could just as easily point to Brazil or Turkey:

Examples of retrogression abound. In both Hungary and Poland, for example, elected governments have recently hastened to enact a suite of legal and institutional changes that simultaneously squeeze out electoral competition, undermine liberal rights of democratic participation, and emasculate legal stability and predictability. In Venezuela between 1999 and 2013, the regime established by Hugo Chávez has aggregated executive power, limited political opposition, attacked academia, and stifled independent media. Crucially, across these examples and others, democratic decay is catalyzed incrementally and under the “mask of law”: It is a death by a thousand cuts, rather than the clean slice of the coup maker.

The extent to which our democratic imaginary is dominated by examples of such authoritarian reversion works to squeeze out constitutional regression. This is further compounded by what I’ve argued are pronounced tendencies in how we conceive of social continuity:

  1. We tend towards a generic assumption of the durability of social structures.
  2. We tend even more strongly towards a generic assumption of the durability of social formations (i.e. assemblages of social structures)
  3. We tend to miss the origins of social formations in the intended and unintended consequences of deliberate action, as well as the interactions between them.
  4. We tend to reason inductively and, in doing so, miss the possibility that the future will be radically distinct from the past.
  5. Even if we deny it intellectually, we tend towards exceptionalism in how we see social formations which are deeply familiar to us.

What capacity we have to recognise the possibility of large scale change reduces it epochal transitions. We have one social formation then we have another, with a detailed conception of the process of change being subsumed into the (inflated sense of the) agency of some macro-actor  whose machinations account for the real or imagined transition. This is why a gradual process of retrogression struggles to register at the level of political experience:

Retrogression, on the other hand, is a more subtle and insidious process. It involves a more incremental, but still ultimately substantial, decay in the three basic predicates of democracy, namely competitive elections, liberal rights to speech and association, and the rule of law necessary for democratic choice to thrive.

One of our core claims is that scholars have largely focused on the possibility of swift autocratic reversions such as a coup d’etat (as in Thailand, Mali, and Mauritania) or via the use of emergency powers (most famously, in Weimar Germany). But we think that threat of constitutional retrogression—a more insidious form of institutional erosion—is more substantial.

The threat is indeed more substantial and our awareness of it is limited by many factors. But some of these, I wish argue, should be understood as epistemological. A process of this sort is harder to conceive of because many of the ways in which we tend to think of social change militate against it.

What I have written so far is prospective, concerning how we imaginatively orientate ourselves to a future possibility. But the same issue confronts attempts to conceive of what is ongoing because such a retrogression is, as these authors describe it, “a death by a thousand cuts, rather than the clean slice of the coup maker”:

Each of the individual changes may be innocuous (or even) defensible in isolation. But a sufficient quantity of even incremental derogations from the democratic baseline, in our view, can precipitate a qualitative change that merits a shift in regime classification. Understanding where, how, and whether that happens in the United States, we think, is furthered by a close study of experience of other countries.

A sufficient quantity of isolated occurrences across the system can cumulatively constitute a qualitative change in the system itself. Democracy can unravel around us, without any grand announcements of its death. Recognising the epistemological obstacles to acknowledging this unraveling can help us appreciate the urgency of the situation we are beginning to face.

An important idea offered by Mike Caulfield. The embrace of frictionless sharing and the relentless pursuit of engagement have created the problems which are now being naturalised by the emerging ‘did Facebook lead to Trump’ discourse:

We have prayed at the altar of virality a long time, and I’m not sure it’s working out for us as a society. If reliance on virality is creating the incentives to create a culture of disinformation, then consider dialing down virality.

We know how to do this. Slow people down. Incentivize them to read. Increase friction, instead of relentlessly removing it.

Facebook is a viral sharing platform, and has spent hundreds of millions getting you to share virally. And here we are.

What if Facebook saw itself as a deep reading platform? What if it spent hundreds of millions of dollars getting you read articles carefully rather than sharing them thoughtlessly?

What if Facebook saw itself as a deep research platform? What if it spent its hundreds of millions of dollars of R & D building tools to help you research what you read?

From this week’s Economist leader. I suspect they’re underestimating the extent to which Trump will largely enact the Ryan-ist mainstream in economic policy. However they’re surely correct about the underlying dynamic: Trump’s policies intensifying the conditions which gave rise to him, creating more anger and encouraging the ethno-nationalist channeling of that anger as a political survival mechanism:

Mr Trump needs to realise that his policies will unfold in the context of other countries’ jealous nationalism. Disengaging will not cut America off from the world so much as leave it vulnerable to the turmoil and strife that the new nationalism engenders. As global politics is poisoned, America will be impoverished and its own anger will grow, which risks trapping Mr Trump in a vicious circle of reprisals and hostility. It is not too late for him to abandon his dark vision. For the sake of his country and the world he urgently needs to reclaim the enlightened patriotism of the presidents who went before him.

There are many reasons not to take Trump seriously. But given the real possibility he might win the election, we need to think through the stated consequence of his policies, particularly given the evident inability of the Republican establishment to restrain him before he holds political office, let alone when he has it.

To take one example: a former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement cautions that Trump’s stated plan to deport all illegal immigrants is foolish but not impossible. What would it look like in practice?

Julie Myers Wood, who headed Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the Bush Administration, told me that she is appalled by parts of Trump’s immigration plan and cautioned critics not to assume that it is impossible. “It’s not as binary as some people suggest,” she said. “You could think of some very outside-the-box options.” A President Trump could permit ice officers to get access to I.R.S. files that contain home addresses. (Undocumented immigrants who pay taxes often list real addresses, in order to receive tax-refund checks.) He could invoke provision 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, in order to detail thousands of local and state agents and police officers to the deportation effort. “You’d put people on a train,” she said. “Again, I’m not recommending this. You could have a cruise ship.”

The American Action Forum, a conservative Washington think tank, ran budget projections of Trump’s plan: raids on farms, restaurants, factories, and construction sites would require more than ninety thousand “apprehension personnel”—six times the number of special agents in the F.B.I. Beds for captured men, women, and children would reach 348,831, nearly triple the detention space required for the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Thousands of chartered buses (fifty-four seats on average) and planes (which can accommodate a hundred and thirty-five) would carry deportees to the border or to their home countries. The report estimated the total cost at six hundred billion dollars, which it judged financially imprudent.

What would this do to America? A logistical exercise of this scale and cost could perhaps be seen as a dark and fascistic stimulus plan, bringing together vast numbers of Americans into an (evil though nonetheless) collective project. The discord this would sow at all levels of American society would lead to further polarisation, inviting ‘tough measures’ to crack down on opposition to this ‘necessary policy’ of the Trump administration and ‘protect our brave law enforcement’ officers.

Even if Trump’s alleged fascism is opportunistic rather than ideological, I find it very easy to see how this policy alone – let alone the other stuff – could lead to an unprecedented militarisation of America and a very rapid descent into actually existing fascism.

If we consider the second-order and third-order effects, high profile injustices and protests against them and reactions to those protests, it’s worth asking how the structures of repression (digital or otherwise) built up in America over recent years might be leveraged against those seen as hostile to the executive? Furthermore, if American troops and law enforcement are widely perceived by the right to be under threat, could this unite currently anti-Trump figures in the security establishment against him?

Are journalists personally afraid of a Trump presidency? That’s the suggestion of this Vox article:

In my experience, it goes yet deeper than this. Quietly, privately, political reporters wonder if Trump is a threat to them personally — if he were president, would he use the powers of the office to retaliate against them personally if he didn’t like their coverage of his administration? How certain are they that their taxes are really in order? How sure are they that a surveillance state controlled by Trump would tap their phones and watch their emails for leverage?

I am not saying this drives coverage of Trump, but it recasts negative coverage of him. Trump has made criticism of his campaign a reflection of an ideal journalists are particularly committed to: that the United States should have a free and open press able to scrutinize leading politicians without fear of reprisal. Thus, when Trump bars different publications from his press conference, it becomes proof that they are doing the work that journalists should do, and that a President Trump might make that work impossible to do.

If so what does that mean for American democracy? I don’t think the concern is unwarranted, at least to some extent, nor do I think that Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama could take it as a given that they would go unharassed in the (increasingly unlikely) event of a Trump presidency. Even if this was not motivated by personal animus, it’s disturbingly easy to imagine a creepingly fascist United States in a few years time, in which a ‘lock her up’ campaign would be used by Trump to motivate his base or distract from economic failure and social decay.

Furthermore, given this idea that the digital surveillance apparatus might one day constitute a threat to individual journalists, should we expect a greater degree of self-censorship than has been the case? I can imagine the sheer fact of the idea being ‘out there’, if this is something American journalists might fall into conversation about when drinking together say, could begin to entrench it in a way that is dangerous even in the absence of a reality to the threat.

An absolutely fascinating article from Arlie Hochschild, whose new book on the American right sounds like a must read:

Traditional Tea Party supporters wanted to cut both the practice of cutting in line, and government rewards for doing so. Followers of Donald Trump, on the other hand, wanted to keep government benefits and remove shame from the act of receiving them – but restrict those benefits, implicitly, to native-born Americans, preferably white.

A worryingly plausible set of suggestions in this article:

  • Absolute Loyalty to the Boss
  • Partisan Control of all Three Branches
  • ICE as a Gestapo for the Foreign-Born
  • Politicizing the IRS
  • Prosecutorial Discretion
  • Presidential Regulatory and Executive Power
  • Trump and the Labor MovemenThe Use of Mobs
  • National Security Emergencies and Subversives
  • Playing Favorites and Enemies with the Press

I just came across this snippet on pg 128 of Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success. It’s hard not to wonder if this is what the presidential contest will herald, after the extremism of the primaries.

By proposing something that might seem threatening or outrageous, he staked out a position that would allow him to seem flexible and reasonable as he negotiated his way to his actual goal.

This address to Congress seems remarkably relevant given current events in the United States. It’s quoted in The Deep State, by  Mike Lofgren, page 30:

Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power. The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing. —Franklin D. Roosevelt, message to Congress, April 29, 1938

Lovely spot by Chris Hedges from a book I read many years ago which, as far as I can tell, made nearly zero impression on me at the time. This quotes from Rorty’s Achieving Our Country:

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

I’ve wondered recently if my world view is becoming a little grim. On a number of occasions recently, I’ve done a talk which I can feel has gone down well and yet I’ve managed to depress my audience about the state of the world in the process. It’s for this reason that I’ve resisted tweeting about my current preoccupation: what would a paramilitarization of Trumpism look like? So I was quite pleased really to find someone else evidently preoccupied by this question, who had taken the trouble to articulate a plausible scenario:

Back in 2010, in Alexandria, Virginia, radical partisans of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, bolstered by Virginia’s egregiously anything-goes open-carry laws, held a Restore the Constitution Rally in Fort Hunt Park on the Potomac River — and they came armed. The event was, by the way, scheduled for April 19th, the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. At the time, I lived a mile or so from that park, and the combination of fear, anger, and disgust that such a weapons-displaying political demonstration could happen in the virtual shadow of the Capitol was palpable.

Admittedly, only about 50 armed people took part, though 2,000 others held an unarmed, parallel rally in Washington, D.C., where carrying weapons is forbidden. Think about how many more might turn out today in a country where there have already been a number of armed rallies and demonstrationsby Second Amendment activists, and in 2016, thanks to effective lobbying by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the majority of states have enacted complete or partial open-carry laws. Meanwhile, all 50 states now have concealed-carry laws, meaning that pistol-packing is lawful in most public places other than Washington, D.C.

So imagine this scenario for a moment: Donald Trump (or a future Trump-esque demagogue) announces that he’s convening a rally in a state where open-carry is permitted — say, in Dallas, at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium — and adds that he wants his supporters to come armed. (Trump has loudly defended the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment during the primary season and on his website there’s a plank called “Protecting Our Second Amendment Will Make America Great Again.”) Under Texas law, it would be perfectly legal for his supporters in the thousands to attend such a rally armed with semi-automatic weapons. And there, at the podium, looking out over the crown of gun-wielding militants would be The Donald, smiling broadly.

It doesn’t take much to imagine the instant backlash this would engender, from near-apoplectic television talking heads to scathing editorials in the New York Times and other newspapers to sputtering denunciations from liberal and moderate politicians, especially those from urban areas. But it’s also easy to imagine Trump’s vitriolic disdain for the naysayers, while the NRA’s pet Republicans tut-tutted over Trump but defended his right to organize such an event.

Imagine then that he repeated the event in other stadiums in, say, Denver, Phoenix, Indianapolis, and Miami — and then announced that he’s establishing the Donald Trump Second Amendment Society? He might even issue specially designed baseball caps emblazoned with the name. How far might we then be from armed marches by the new organization in the streets of American cities, its name, of course, soon abbreviated to the Trump SA (for Second Amendment) Society?

Thanks to Mark Thoma for flagging up an astonishing article published in the journal of the GOP’s intellectual elite. Is this something once unspoken now being given voice? If we are concerned about Trump’s authoritarianism, should we be equally concerned about the potentially terrifying actions liable to be licensed by such naked contempt for vast swathes of your own population?  

 The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s been getting a little bit obsessed with Donald Trump in recent months. There’s certainly a risk of overstating the threat that he poses, such that a preoccupation with the man himself risks obscuring the systemic conditions that have facilitated his emerging status, but I’m increasingly convinced we’re witnessing what might be a culmination of sorts stemming from decades-long trends in American politics. Furthermore, it’s one which might lead to an existential change in the system itself, as an epochal realignment of voters and even the disintegration of the GOP begin to seem like possibilities.

This passage from Ezra Klein captures what I think is the ideological heart of this emerging movement and it’s rather sinister:

This is more than an aside; this is the core of Trump’s ideology. The protesters who interrupted his rally, the political correctness that kept the police from cracking their skulls, the press that takes the hippies’ side — this is why America has stopped being great. We were strong, and we were tough, and we didn’t take this kind of shit from anybody. And now we are weak, and we are scared, and we take this kind of shit from everybody.

This is disturbing and skilful stuff. A performance of populism quite unlike the rhetoric of it which we’re much more familiar with:

“The other night in the debate,” he told thousands in Manchester, “they asked Ted Cruz a serious question: what do you think of waterboarding? Is it OK? I thought he’d say absolutely, and he didn’t. And he said, well, he’s concerned because some people –”

A woman near the front of the crowd interrupted. “He’s a pussy!”

Trump admonished her for saying “a terrible thing”.

“You know what she just said?” he asked. “Shout it out, because I don’t want to say it.”

“You’re not allowed to say that,” he continued. “I never expect to hear that from you again.”

Trump paused, looked out at his election-eve audience and leaned into the microphone: “She said he’s a pussy.”

The audience cheered – shouting “Trump! Trump!” – before he gave the woman a mock admonishment and returned to his rambling, more than 45-minute speech. “For the press,” he said, looking up at the television cameras, “this is a serious reprimand.”