There’s a storm coming. We all know it. And yet Americans are pretending that everything is normal.
We are going to be confronted with an existential crisis eleven months from now. And the majority of Americans don’t care.
I want to connect the dots running from the monster Bob Kagan piece that Charlie talked about this morning to Bill Kristol’s interview with Jonathan Karl.
It’s dark and it’s urgent.
1. What Time Is It?
There is a clear path to dictatorship in the United States, and it is getting shorter every day. In 13 weeks, Donald Trump will have locked up the Republican nomination. . . . The idea that he is unelectable in the general election is nonsense . . . The fact that many Americans might prefer other candidates . . . will soon become irrelevant when millions of Republican voters turn out to choose the person whom no one allegedly wants.
For many months now, we have been living in a world of self-delusion, rich with imagined possibilities. Maybe it will be Ron DeSantis, or maybe Nikki Haley. Maybe the myriad indictments of Trump will doom him with Republican suburbanites. Such hopeful speculation has allowed us to drift along passively, conducting business as usual, taking no dramatic action to change course, in the hope and expectation that something will happen. Like people on a riverboat, we have long known there is a waterfall ahead but assume we will somehow find our way to shore before we go over the edge. . . .
The magical-thinking phase is ending.
This is—all of it—exactly correct. We are at a moment of interregnum during which we can see a storm on the horizon. But because it’s sunny where we are right now, the public is pretending that everything is okay.
Kagan goes on to note that Trump’s political power is about to increase:
Votes are the currency of power in our system, and money follows, and by those measures, Trump is about to become far more powerful than he already is. The hour of casting about for alternatives is closing. The next phase is about people falling into line.
This is correct.
Once Trump is the nominee, then some percentage of Republicans who currently say they won’t vote for him in a general election will change their minds. Confronted with him as their party’s nominee, they will get onboard.
The hope is that this will be offset as Democrats and independents, who said they wouldn’t vote for Biden when Trump was a hypothetical, change their minds once Trump is the actual nominee.
What’s the net-net on that trade? We don’t know. But I expect a bump for Trump in general election polling once he’s the nominee.
Trump will thus enter the general-election campaign early next year with momentum, backed by growing political and financial resources, and an increasingly unified party. Can the same be said of Biden? Is Biden’s power likely to grow over the coming months? Will his party unify around him? Or will alarm and doubt among Democrats, already high, continue to increase? Even at this point, the president is struggling with double-digit defections among Black Americans and younger voters. Jill Stein and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have already launched, respectively, third-party and independent campaigns, coming at Biden in the main from the populist left. . . . The Democratic coalition is likely to remain fractious as the Republicans unify and Trump consolidates his hold.
Then Kagan asks a question that is at once simple and devastatingly depressing: How do you make the case for Trump’s unfitness to someone who does not already believe it?
Kagan also highlights the great risk created by the criminal prosecutions of Trump: What happens to the rule of law when it is confronted by democracy and The People side against it?
The likeliest outcome of the trials will be to demonstrate our judicial system’s inability to contain someone like Trump and, incidentally, to reveal its impotence as a check should he become president. Indicting Trump for trying to overthrow the government will prove akin to indicting Caesar for crossing the Rubicon, and just as effective. . . .
Think of the power of a man who gets himself elected president despite indictments, courtroom appearances and perhaps even conviction? Would he even obey a directive of the Supreme Court? Or would he instead ask how many armored divisions the chief justice has?
Again: This is not science fiction. We’re not talking about some hypothetical future a decade from now. Donald Trump is going to be the nominee. In November 2024, tens of millions of Americans will vote for him. The only uncertainty is whether or not he will eke out enough votes in a handful of states to carry the Electoral College.
Even if you are highly confident that Trump will lose, how confident are you? Put a number on that, for me. Do you think Biden has a 9-in-10 chance of being re-elected?
Now answer me this: Would you get onto an airplane if I told you that it had a 1-in-10 chance of crashing?
2. The Second Term
Jonathan Karl is a straight-news reporter. He talked with Bill Kristol this week about a Trump second term and Karl might as well have been Ian Bassin.
Why is Karl so alarmed that he sounds like a pro-democracy activist?
Because he’s spent the last year reporting on Trump. He’s interviewed Trump and loads of Republicans. He told Kristol that 95 percent of the sourcing for his book came from Republicans, many of whom worked for Trump. And the picture they painted for Karl was dystopian.
Acting appointments from top to bottom.
A cadre of thousands of political appointees, vetted for personal loyalty to Trump, replacing career civil servants.
An understanding among Trump lieutenants that they are free to break the law because they will be pardoned.
An overriding desire on the part of Trump to seek retribution against perceived enemies.
Again—and I cannot emphasize this enough—this is not a prediction from me and my weirdo, Never Trump friends. This is what the people who worked for Trump believe he will do.
The world looks normal right now, but it is not. Forces are in motion that will bring us to a point of national crisis one year from now. We know this as surely as we know that the sun will rise tomorrow.
So why aren’t people acting like it?
I wish I knew.
But we can’t control other people. We can only master ourselves. Let me tell you what I’m doing.
I’m going to keep ringing this bell. Even though everything seems normal.
I’m going to be honest with you about the state of play. I won’t play angles and I won’t sugarcoat reality.
And I’m not going to wave my hands and both-sides the world, as if there is any equivalency between the failings of the liberal order and the purposeful, autocratic aims of illiberalism.
That’s the job. And that’s what we’re doing at The Bulwark. Every day.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join us. Sign up to get most of what we do for free. Become a Bulwark+ member if you can and support the mission. Or just keep reading, and organizing, and preparing.
But don’t give up. The storm is coming.
3. Lepin Top Gun
Many moons ago I wrote about “Lepin.” Lepin is a Chinese knockoff of Lego and it’s an amazing product—truly, one of the greatest acts of IP theft of our time. Where Lego made Harry Potter sets, you could get a Lepin “Justice Magician” set that was exactly the same product for a fraction of the price.
Anyway, I was thinking about Lepin knock-offs when I saw this ad:
It’s not Top Gun—it’s Top Combat Pilot!
I regret to inform you, however, that even though the guy looks like a knockoff, that’s the genuine Dennis Quaid.
Curious, I jumped over to Fox Nation to see what Top Combat Pilot is all about and discovered that it’s part of an entire genre.
Honestly, if I made this up, I’d be accused of being mean to Cletus.