Certainly, if Trump fits anywhere on the political spectrum, it is squarely with the alt-right crowd. Many of its hallmarks are at the core of his political outlook. He embraces its white christian-nationalism and exhibits its paranoia. Invented resentments and slights roil him, as they do the alt-right. Anti-intellectualism and science denial are part of his mental makeup too. Mirroring his alt right friends, he is ready to prosecute an all out war against Muslims in defense of “Western Civilization.”
And, in line with his extremist friends on the fringe, he favors a governing style that is defined by disruption, vengeance, and, above all, a frightening disdain for democratic norms, a free press, and a vibrant civil society. Going over to more authoritarian, strongman forms of rule would be as easy for Trump as it would for his leading strategist and alt-righter Steven Bannon.
At the same time, Trump’s alt right political disposition hasn’t caused him to declare war on the traditional right-wing elites that have dominated the Republican Party for four decades, nor they on him. In fact, on a range of issues and methods of governance the two are on the same page. He, like them, is ready to radically restructure the role and functions of government to the overwhelming advantage of the 1 percent and secure Republican rule, albeit by undemocratic means, for the half century ahead.
This doesn’t make Trump a poster boy for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan, McConnell’s counterpart in the House, nor the two GOP leaders White House favorites. And yet, up until now, this marriage of the traditional right and the alt-right seemed sturdy enough. There has been some grumbling by Republicans in Congress about Trump, but it has been muted, limited to a few voices, and not at a level to cause a rupture in their common front. No one on either side was talking about a divorce, acrimonious or otherwise.
However, with what is transpiring in Washington this week and how it plays out in subsequent days and weeks, things could change. Whether a break between Congressional Republicans and Trump happens will depend on many factors, some of which we have little control over. Among them are the leaking of more egregious wrongdoing by Trump and his advisors, the media stepping up its investigatory role, the courts’ readiness to dispute Trump/Bannon’s executive orders, deepening divisions in elite circles, a further cratering of Trump’s already low public approval, a willingness of some Republicans to put country, Constitution, and democracy over party, the fighting spirit of the Democratic Party Congressional leadership, and, not least, Trump’s reaction to all this.
Taken together, they could create unbridgeable strains between Congressional Republicans and Trump and trigger a full congressional investigation of the misdeeds and crimes of this erratic and volatile pretender in the White House.
No doubt, Trump will counterattack. He will bully. He will fume. He will threaten independent-minded politicians, journalists, judges, whistle blowers, state agencies, and demonstrators with harsh penalties.
He will also lean hard on Congressional Republicans to act as a firewall, protecting him from any Congressional inquiry into his actions. But whether he will be successful or not is another matter. If more incriminatory evidence comes out against him and public disapproval of his presidency grows, Republicans in Congress, if not for noble reasons, then out of pure instincts of self preservation, could easily decide to put some distance between themselves and Trump, even joining their adversaries on the Democratic side to look into Trump’s misdeeds and crimes.
If that were to occur, Trump could find himself on very shaky ground. Impeachment and criminal charges could follow, which would likely call into question the integrity of the election process and could lead to a succession crisis.
Even if Pence were to escape ensnarement in this sordid affair and become the next president, the uniquely dangerous cancer of Trump, Bannon, and the alt-right at the head of the state would be removed. Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that the Republican Party would be weakened, while the Democrats and the broader democratic movement would emerge with new confidence and vigor.
Could the stakes be any higher? Can we afford to sit on the sidelines? Shouldn’t our voices, insistent and persuasive, be heard in red and blue state alike?
New York Times columnist Charles Blow presciently writes:
“Every day there is a fresh outrage emerging from the murky bog of the Donald Trump administration … Every day there is a new round of questions and a new set of concerns that raise anxieties and lower trust … Every day it becomes ever more clear that it is right and just to doubt the legitimacy of this regime and all that flows from it.”