Tuesday, November 22, 2016


The United States started down its path to darkness two weeks ago in the election of Donald Trump as president. The night is overtaking us quickly. Videos are showing white supremacists shouting "Hail Trump" in a not-so-subtle reminder of another great nation that brought catastrophe upon itself by willingly marching into the abyss of totalitarianism. Those Americans who dismissed Trump as a foolish clown, a rude and crude buffoon, an inept politician who could not harm the country should think again. Just look at what has happened in the two weeks since the election. Trump is no joke.
Authoritarian strong-men typically carry out several sweeping changes to solidify their power. Trump is showing signs of these. One is to surround himself with loyalists and put them in secondary positions of power. This is happening in the appointments Trump has already announced. Naming Jeff Sessions as Attorney General should send chills down any thinking person's spine. He was rejected for a federal judgeship in the Regan era because of reported racist remarks. The people of Alabama then rewarded him with election to the U.S. Senate. He has been in the forefront of the move to clamp down on immigration and was an early supporter of Trump on this issue.
As a political power, Trump has no opposition. The Republican party has completely caved. Its leaders, even some who had spoken out in moral indignation against candidate Trump are now groveling before him. Nothing spoke louder of this dynamic that the sad imagine of Mitt Romney arriving before a magisterial Trump standing at the front door of his palatial New Jersey golf club. It reminded me of Louis XIV standing at the top of the long and ornate staircase at Versailles receiving his foreign representatives who had to climb up to him. The symbolism was too obvious, then and now. Romney kowtowed to the strongman he not so long ago called a phony, a fraud, and a con man. It is remarkable what a dangling of the Secretary of State job can do to even the most principled of men. As for the Democrats, they are holding on to only one shred of power, the 60 vote requirement to cut off debate in the Senate. Otherwise, they had been reduced to impotence. Bottom line, the strongman has virtually no opposition to whatever power he wishes to wield.
A second move a dictator uses in solidifying power is to abolish other political parties and imprison his opponents. Trump does not need to worry about a Democratic Party opposition. It is almost non-existent. However, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he will imprison his opponent. With ultra-conservative Sessions as Attorney General there is a real possibility that the FBI will reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails and indict her. This could mean a trial which could mean conviction and punishment. It is not unthinkable given the vindictiveness Trump displayed in the campaign.
A third move a dictator uses is to abolish the free press. On Monday, a downright terrifying event occurred along this very line. Trump summoned 25 TV news network executives and reporters to his Manhattan Versailles (Trump Tower) and informed them in no uncertain terms what he expected of the press. Moreover, it was all ordered off-the-record. See a report of this confrontation here . It was reported that he unloaded on his most outspoken critics, CNN and NBC. My canary-in-the-coal-mine is CNN's Wolf Blitzer, one of the attendants. The moment the Wolf capitulates is the moment we know the Bill of Rights is dead. 
All signs indicate this will be a strong counter-revolution that will last for a long time. In fact, roll backs are already happening weeks before Trump takes office. The House of Representatives just defeated a bill that would have required federal contractors not to discriminate against LGBT persons. Now the contractors are free to discriminate at will. This is just the tiny tip of a big iceberg. There is much more to come, some of which we cannot even imagine today. There are horror stories of rolling back voting rights, abolishing Medicaid, and privatizing Medicare and Social Security, not to mention "registries" for Muslims, and mass deportations of immigrants. A powerful and massive internal police to carry out these policies may be on the horizon.
What could all of this mean for the schism in South Carolina and for the Episcopal Church? It is impossible to know the effect on the Church which has been in the forefront of human rights for the last sixty years. The Church's great democratic crusade culminated last year in the adoption of same-sex marriage. It is unimaginable that the Episcopal Church would bend to any pressure to scale back its commitment to the equal rights of all people. However, the conservatives in power will likely soon restore a Scalia-type majority to the Supreme Court that may well take a dim view of the Church's social reforms. Eventually, a state decision on the issue of the Church/diocesan relationship will probably be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It could either refuse to take the appeal or it could take the appeal and rule against the Church as backlash against its social policies. At this point, much is uncertain.
What is certain is that basic American democratic-republican values are on the line both in the structure of the government and in the relationship of the government and social groups. A strongman is in the process of consolidating power. He was elected after he ran a campaign of bigotry, fear and division. The early signs of the new administration are frightening. Those of us who are committed to the defense of historic American principles had better renew our vigilance and prepare to fight in the trenches. Wolf Blitzer where are you?

See also the thoughtful essay by House of Deputies President Gay Jennings here .