The dumpster fire was lit early when White House strategists ballyhooed Trump’s plan to “deconstruct the administrative state.” The plan propagated the dissolution of the tax system, business and environmental regulations, trade pacts, and immigration policies that “stymied economic growth and infringed on U.S. sovereignty” (“Washington Post”).
Under Trump, this “deconstruction” successfully created multi-trillion dollar deficits that disproportionately rewarded the 1%, gave a “sugar high” to the economy, separated migrant families and caged their children, alienated our allies, created a cabinet of crooks and nincompoops, legislated against climate change, replaced congressionally vetted agency heads with unqualified temps, disabled almost every major institution and norm in our government.
And THIS was their success story, their pride and joy.
What the “deconstruction theory” discounted was Trump’s unrelenting lawlessness and incompetence. No matter that Trump hyperventilated in the company of dictators, coddled white supremacists, insulted allies, violated nepotism laws, constitutional emoluments clauses, co-opted the state and justice departments, our court system, the CIA, FBI, EPA, our armed forces, our election system. No big deal.
Then, like a lightning bolt, a major crisis struck and laid bare Trump’s inadequacies, risking all the hard-won “deconstruction” he inflicted on America. His indifference to the murder of George Floyd and its subsequent national outrage struck first. Almost simultaneously, it intersected with his spectacular bungling of COVID-19.
The consequences have been devastating. Dead and dying people have been crowding our hospitals for months; millions more are infected and spreading the infection, while the uninfected live in constant peril and upheaval. Meanwhile the economy will be on life support for the foreseeable future. And the national protests continue unabated.
And here we are: Dumpster Fire meets Reichstag Fire.
Whether the Reichstag fire was set by Communists or Nazi provocateurs is unknown. Hitler, however, blamed the Communists and used the fire as a pretext to suspend the basic rights of the German people. “The fire is just beginning,” said Hitler. “There will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in the way will be cut down.” (Snyder, “On Tyranny)
Trump cynically used the BLM protests to deploy federal secret police to “dominate” the “radical left wing” protesters in our cities and “cut through them like a knife through butter.” (Interestingly, there is no evidence the protesters all share the same political agenda. We know from earlier protests that the violent right wing agitators like QAnon and the Boogaloo Boys mixed with protesters and acted as agent provocateurs, even killing police. News reports indicate that even Blackwater has lined up against protesters in Colorado Springs)
This is Trump’s “Reichstag Fire Moment”– his opportunity to appear tough on crime while distracting attention from his leadership failures, his plummeting poll numbers, and his fear of being labeled a “loser” in November. Trump is trotting out the oldest tricks from “The Authoritarian’s Handbook”– distraction, diversion, and division. Instead of dealing with the “causes” of the pandemic and civil unrest, he has chosen to attack the “effects.” So, he is mounting a multi-pronged smoke campaign to deflect the growing pressure against him.
Using secret police to crush protests is Trump’s most obvious tactic, but not his only one. Hitler’s “Reichstag Fire Decree” not only outlawed and violently suppressed public protests, it also restricted freedom of the press, halted electoral campaigning, allowed the regime to overrule state and local laws, jail protesters without specific charges, and removed constraints on police investigations.
Trump abhors the free press, often uttering his desire to jail “scumbag journalists.” His secret police have hauled citizens to jail in Portland without charges. He has also usurped the legal separation between local/state governments and the federal government by deploying, uninvited, his secret police into (Democratic) states and cities.
Trump furthermore intends to defund and disable the U.S. Postal Service. He has referred to the USPS as a “mess” while calling mail-in voting a “fraud.” This is likely his opening gambit to suppress or hobble mail-in voting, using any resulting confusion as an excuse to claim the election was rigged and the results questionable. Voter suppression by indirect means.
Finally, while most critics attribute his mismanagement of the pandemic to willful ignorance, many (including Mary Trump) believe Trump’s indifference to America’s staggering death toll is intentional. The most jaded and conspiracy minded have even suggested that his negligence is designed to allow the pandemic to reach a critical mass such that he would declare an “Emergency Powers Act” as another means to derail the election.
The nation rests precariously on a knife’s edge. What has been revealed by the recent crises is that the “deconstruction of the administrative state” was never more than a euphemism for the “destruction of our Constitution’s balance of powers.” Trump’s “Reichstag Fire,” has shed even more light on this sobering, elemental fact.