Can President Trump be Checked?

If liberal democracy is to survive this time of testing, we’re all agreed that Trump needs to be, at minimum, checked, but in terms of how to do that effectively, well, that’s a very difficult question. So far, the complexity of resisting an authoritarian and illiberal nationalist like Trump has proven so difficult that opposition to him has been pushing and pulling against itself. Hopefully, this won’t be the pattern for four years–or eight–and we’ll figure out how to be effective against him, his movement, and the levers of power that will be at his disposal, which will be considerable. I don’t think the country will be the same out the other end if we can’t pick the lock on how to effectively resist him, and then hold smartly and bravely together.

I recall Schopenhauer once writing of Christianity that its most effective argument had always been the stake. That’s true of all anti-rational discourses, of course (Islam, Maoism, etc.). History suggests that whenever an alpha male spearheading an anti-rational discourse can reach the pinnacle of power–whether by hook or by crook, by democracy or palace coup–he stays there, not by recourse to reason, but by obfuscation and force. If you don’t have reason on your side to justify power, there’s always fog and coercion. We’ve seen the fog side of Trump all year. We are about to enter an era of fog and coercion. It’s going to cost something to resist Trump–maybe everything.


Ms. Oates said that closing cultural institutions to oppose President-elect Donald J. Trump “would only hurt artists.” Lively Twitter exchanges followed.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in atheism, Bernie Sanders, brexit, climate change, donald trump, God, philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Can President Trump be Checked?

  1. A majority of Americans voted for Hillary. The republicans have to keep that in mind when governing or they may very well lose their seats in the mid terms. At this point I think it’s reasonable to say that it’s only a matter of time for things to spiral out of control for Trump. To fool part of the public is one thing, to fool judges is quite another.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I think Trump becomes more dangerous if things, as you say, “spiral out of control.” In the midst of danger, the left may find it is even less effective at checking Trump, not more so. Recall that Hitler consolidated power in a crisis and a terrorist incident (the Reichstag fire). The best outcome of the next four to eight years would be a gentle tip toe away from the danger he poses by keeping the economy humming along, giving him the impression he’s doing a good job, and letting Trump imagine himself, as he fades into senility, that he is Ronald Reagan leading a smaller government revolution.

      I think this is Ryan’s strategy. Flatter Trump, keep him calm, as he signs off on a substantially libertarian and Federalist (distributing power to the states) agenda (with some red meat for religious conservatives tossed in).

      What neither Ryan or liberals should want is a war, a major terrorist incident, a banking crisis, a severe economic downturn, etc., with Trump at the helm, for then his authoritarian instincts will be the most difficult to box-in.

      I’ve been thinking of Hitchcock’s The Birds all year as the metaphor for Trump and his movement. The birds (American citizens), once seemingly familiar to me, have become a dark collective force that I barely comprehend, and feel alienation toward. Maybe the fever will pass if Trump is outlasted, but perhaps not if the birds are stirred.

      Don’t stir the birds? Tip-toe gently?

  2. North Charlton says:

    “I recall Schopenhauer once writing of Christianity that its most effective argument had always been the stake. That’s true of all anti-rational discourses, … If you don’t have reason on your side to justify power, there’s always fog and coercion.”

    As with the “individual shared responsibility” slavery-to-the-innate-dysfunctions of others mandate … I am sure you will agree.

    Modern Liberalism is, in essence, government managerial agency, directed at the citizenry, and backed by the government’s coercive power. It is predicated on government managerial intervention and direction of the populace, not upon impartial arbitration of disputes or convincing arguments.

    Most modern liberals do not even believe any such argument, or arbitrative appeal to an objectively mandatable standard via reason, is even possible.

    Modern liberals blather on in sometimes vague, sometime more explicit utilitarian terms, but the fact is, that they are themselves on record to the effect that no manner of instrumental reasoning can itself demonstrate the objective validity of the utilitarian premise they flog for convenience’s sake.

    We pay an insurance tax in order to to benefit viral laden anal-receptive denizens of gay bath houses, because the cops will eventually show up if one refuses. Not because it is in our best interest to do so, nor because you can demonstrate it is an objective “good”. But rather because it suits the sensibilities of some portion of the populace that is generally called “progressive”. The “liberal” portion of the populace has simply determined that throwing their neighbors into jail if those neighbors deny an active obligation or duty to underwrite the autogenous and behavioral disorders of the liberals and their pets, is a program that the liberals are determined to see in place and operating.

    Just before the election our good friend the “architect” of ObamaCare, Jonathan Gruber, said the only thing really ailing the program was that the coercive penalties were not strong enough to thoroughly motivate everyone to get with the program and shoulder the yoke.

    Some liberalism. Some “progress”>

  3. Staffan says:

    Analyzing Trump will not be helpful. Remember that he and HRC were the two most disliked candidate ever. People didn’t vote for either one but against both of them. So the answer lies there. But it seems neither Dems nor GOP are capable of self-criticism. Instead they seem to wallow in outrage at the monstrous fascist clown, thus setting yourselves up for another four years.

    Indeed, the infantile frustration growing in Academia, with riots at Berkely most recently, is rapidly turning the Left into a illiberal mob that is little more than an mirror image of the extreme Right.

    I’m guessing you’re not a fan of alternative media, but I hope you read this article. It’s not in the style of Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. It’s a colleague of yours resisting the resistance. Standing up for what Berkely students stood up for 50 years ago,

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I’m not thrilled with the contemptuous and superior tone of the article you linked to, but the substance I largely agree with. Of course the Berkeley riots are fascism from the left, and it heightens my own concern that the bourgeois liberal democracy we’ve long taken for granted, with rule of law, tolerance of opinion, and separation of powers is under stress from both left and right. What would have alarmed me from Trump is if he had said, “I agree with the protesters. Shut down provocative speech not in accord with the majority of the local community.” But Trump was on the side of the angels this time–although not out of principle, but because he agrees (apparently) with Milo. We’ll see if liberal democracy survives the stress test of the Trump era. I take each moment of the Trump presidency on a case-by-case basis, asking a simple question: “Does Trump’s action or comment (or the left’s reaction to a Trump comment or action) threaten the long-term health of the liberal Republic or Constitution from a vantage of ten years hence?”

      Example: Gorsuch, no. Trump’s tweet defaming a federal judge: yes. Trump’s pick of a Secy of Defense who opposes torture: no. Berkeley riots: yes.

      • Staffan says:

        But you still think of Trump as cause rather than effect. Take a step back and ask yourself how eight years of Obama could end with Trump. Consider the PEW survey asking people if the country is more politically divided than before: when Obama took office 46% said yes, today it’s 86%. This isn’t necessarily Obama’s doing, but it’s even less likely to be caused by Trump.

        To me, it seems fair to say that there is an establishment, a network of people in charge, in media, business, the academic world. This establishment is pushing for globalization and immigration with little or no concern for national interests. And they’re not exactly champions of the liberal democracy as dissenters are increasingly ostracized, boycotted, or prosecuted. This, to me, is the real stress test. Not the populist who capitalizes on its effects.

      • Santi Tafarella says:


        You make a great point about cause and effect here. I certainly agree that Obama (for instance) should have nailed the banking industry to a cross. Trump is a direct result (in my view) of the loss of credibility of elites after the financial meltdown. Whenever I put the DVD in of “Inside Job,” (the famous documentary), I’m reminded of how bad it got–and the wreckage it continues to generate.

        But Trump has six Goldman-Sachs people on his staff. Six. And he’s shooting down Dodd-Frank. So populist appearance and reality are two very different things. I’m guessing we’re heading for another meltdown in a couple of years–if not sooner.

        And Trump is now in charge. And nationalism is fine as a rebalancing of trade priorities, but does it have to translate into a dismantling of the Constitution and the appearance of Putin-like authoritarianism? Can’t you run fresh trade agreements through the Senate in an open process without also attacking the courts, etc.?

        Your thoughts?

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