Trump’s Enablers Are Driving the Authoritarian Bus

Resentment as a cultural response to economic struggle has political consequences. More than half of US workers are unhappy with their jobs. The frustration you experience by not living the life you imagined is created by the resentment that the outcome of an event is less than you imagined it would be. Donald Trump himself is a cauldron of resentment, who has deeply internalized a life-time of deep resentments, and thus is able to tap into, articulate, and mobilize the resentments of his followers. Donald Trump – figured out how to harness their disillusionment and growing anger – is superior to the others in exploiting the narcissism of small differences to recruit the Republican base. His support for lower taxes and smaller government has surrounded himself with enablers. Enablers support the Trump’s behavior out of fear, love, or a misguided sense of loyalty. Autocrats, like Trump, surround themselves with their political cronies and lackies rather than competent people – have no way of eliciting, recognizing or assessing useful criticism.

From 1949 to 1967 Leo Strauss served as a professor in the University of Chicago political science department, and became the source of the inspiration of the neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. He developed a political philosophy based on deception, the power of religion, and aggressive nationalism. This was a system in which the people are told no more than they need to know as deception is a norm in political life. He recommended the use of religion for the morals of the masses, but not applying to the leaders. If the masses really knew what was going on it would lead to nihilism. The void was to be filled with religious values. Many of the writings of Leo Strauss were dedicated to combating the “crisis of modernity”. This crisis was for him the advent and acceptance of nihilism – a state of being wherein any principle one dare dream is allowed and judgment must be withheld.

Harry V. Jaffa (1918-2015) was professor of government at Claremont College and Claremont Graduate University, and was one of Strauss’s Ph.D. students at the New School of Social Research. During the 1964 presidential campaign, Jaffa, who was serving as a speechwriter to Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, penned the line, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue” in his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination. Although Goldwater claimed repeatedly that the line originated in a speech by Cicero, it appears nowhere in Cicero’s works, and was in fact authored by Jaffa. Jaffa believed that the Constitution followed natural law principles, and therefore prohibited states from protecting abortion or homosexuality. Today the Claremont Institute is now an anti-democracy think tank. It has fueled Trump’s election fraud fantasies.

Established in 1979 by four of Harry Jaffa’s students an independent organization separate from the college where Jaffa taught, the Claremont Institute engages “in the battle to win public sentiment by teaching and promoting the philosophical reasoning that is the foundation of limited government and the statesmanship required to bring that reasoning into practice.” The institute publishes the Claremont Review of Books, a highbrow quarterly of opinion and ideas, and The American Mind, an online magazine that provides more frequent and freewheeling commentary on politics and culture. The institute also conducts often-formative seminars on American political thought and the history of political philosophy for college students and recent graduates. The institute caused controversy by granting a fellowship in 2019 to the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec; and the publication of a 2020 essay by senior fellow John Eastman that questioned Kamala Harris’ eligibility for the vice presidency.

Then there are the connections to the January 6th riot at the Capitol. On 5 January 2021 using the hashtag #HoldTheLine, Claremont president emeritus Brian Kennedy tweeted from Capitol Hill: “We are in a constitutional crisis and also in a revolutionary moment…We must embrace the spirit of the American Revolution to stop this communist revolution.” John Eastman is a longtime Federalist Society member, including a tenure as the chair of the organization’s Federalism & Separation of Powers Practice Group. Eastman’s involvement with efforts to overturn the 2020 election was so alarming that they led to calls for corporations to halt contributions to the Federalist Society altogether. Claremont’s ties to the insurrection go deeper than Eastman – Claremont Senior Fellow Michael Anton helped promote the “stop the steal” campaign in an article titled “Game on for the Coup.” Additionally, Charlie Kirk, leader of Turning Point USA Action, a key planner of the January 6th rally, was named a 2021 Claremont Fellow.

 In 2020 The Daily Beast stated Claremont “arguably has done more than any other group to build a philosophical case for Trump’s brand of conservatism. The Claremont Institute’s mission, as its president, Ryan Williams, recently put it, is to “save Western civilization.” Since the 2016 presidential race, Claremont tried to give an intellectual veneer to the frothy mix of nativism and isolationism represented by candidate Donald Trump. The institute became a significant player in the Trump administration, adding a Washington office and contributing ideas and personnel to the administration. In 2019 Trump awarded the Claremont Institute with a National Humanities Medal. In June 2020 former Claremont Institute president Michael Pack became head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) under Trump. Prosecutors also highlighted an alleged meeting between Eastman, Trump and Pence that was held a few days before Jan. 6. – to delay the official date for counting electoral votes in order to make time for certain states to appoint unlawful electors.1

In April 2022 Thomas B. Edsall of the New York Times observed the institute’s magazine The American Mind and other publications, comprised the “substantial intellectual infrastructure that has buoyed the Trumpist right and its willingness to rupture moral codes and to discard traditional norms.” In 2021 Claremont senior fellow Glenn Ellmers wrote a controversial essay in Claremont’s The American Mind arguing that the United States had been destroyed by internal enemies and that a “counter-revolution” was necessary to defeat the majority of the people who “can no longer be considered fellow citizens”. According to Ellmers, “Most people living in the United States today – certainly more than half – are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.” “Were it not for the patronage of billionaire conservatives and their family foundations, the Claremont Institute would likely be relegated to screaming about its anti-government agenda on the street corner,” says Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog group Accountable.2

Shortly after law school, Eastman worked as a law clerk for Judge J. Michael Luttig at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then later for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Eastman is a founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a law firm that is part of the conservative think tank of The Claremont Institute. Eastman and Trump are accused of filing a false document in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia that made multiple false claims that thousands of ineligible people voted illegally in the Georgia election. Earlier that day, according to the indictment, Eastman had admitted in an email to attorneys connected with the Trump campaign that some of these claims were not true. Eastman was also a primary focus of the House Jan. 6 committee’s investigation in June 2022. Under a subpoena to testify, he responded to nearly 150 questions by pleading the Fifth Amendment, according to CNN.3

Thanks to Eastman’s influence, Claremont is a driving force in conservative efforts to rewrite voting laws and remake the electoral system based on conspiracies about the 2020 election – pushing election conspiracies well into 2022. Right-wing activists and allies of Donald Trump are challenging voter rolls in critical presidential battleground states, which observers say is an under-the-radar effort that could seriously affect close or contested elections. Activists are pressuring local officials in strongly Democratic areas of Michigan, Nevada and Georgia to drop voters’ names from the rolls. As The New York Times points out, one town in Michigan removed 100 names from its roll after activists, who call themselves “election investigators,” used an obscure state law from the 1950s as their rationale. “The Michigan activists are part of an expansive web of grassroots groups that formed after Trump’s attempt to overturn his defeat in 2020,” the Times’ report states. It’s not known exactly how many voters have been removed by the effort, but in some states a challenge alone is enough to limit a voter’s access to a mail ballot, according to the Times.4

After the Thatcher revolution, the think tank industry became a means by which the political class outsourced policy and built a new anti-democratic way of consolidating the new consensus which emerged. The think tank revolution in the UK is a story of the decline of party, which can be seen in the dilution of party research departments. In the United States, the fact is, think tanks have been better suited to the politics of the right-wing. Democracy is undergoing an “alarming” decline across the world as a growing number of countries move towards authoritarian rule. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Authoritarians are not interested in right-wing economic ideas about the free market. Neither do they possess the classic conservative’s love of the status quo.

The Federalist Society is the most powerful and far-reaching legal group for conservative lawyers and judges, thanks to the leadership of conservative kingpin Leonard Leo. Over the past four decades, the Federalist Society has grown its efforts to influence the federal judiciary and has ties to all six sitting conservative Supreme Court Justices. With support from Senator Mitch McConnell and Trump White House counsel Don McGahn, Leo ensured that nearly 90% of Trump’s judicial nominees were affiliated with the Federalist Society.  Eastman isn’t the only far-right Federalist Society member linked to efforts to overturn the election. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz are also longtime members.3 Trump has taken over the RNC: he placed an election denier as chair and his daughter-in-law as co-chair. How much RNC funds go to Trump’s legal bills remains to be determined.

As he seeks a stunning White House return four years after trying to overturn the last election, Donald Trump has made his intentions clear to govern in a more authoritarian way if he’s president again. He is promising a presidency of “retribution” against his political enemies in a campaign pulsating with some of the most venomous anti-immigrant and autocratic rhetoric in modern US history. His demonstrated record of contempt for democratic institutions means that the country’s political, legal and constitutional guardrails are facing a severe new test from a GOP candidate who could be a convicted felon by Election Day and who may see restored executive power as a tool to thwart federal prosecutions. The 2024 election will test American democracy to a degree the nation hasn’t experienced in 150 years. Donald Trump has put America on notice – his second term will be even more disruptive and turbulent than his first. The spectre of America sliding into an authoritarian regime is on the horizon.

1 https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/devos-bradley-claremont-trump-election-fraud-insurrection-1274253/

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claremont_Institute

3 https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/what-you-need-to-know-about-john-eastmans-2020-election-charges

4 https://www.rawstory.com/trump-voter-rolls/

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