So Donald Trump came to Washington pledged to drain the swamp. Only it’s appearing that the alligator in chief is his good buddy and role model, Vladimir Putin.
This is a story that most Republicans wish desperately would go away. But having been declared enemies of the people by the Republicans, the news media have every conceivable incentive to continue the water torture, drip by drip. One possible way to end it would be to impanel a real investigation, presumably with a special prosecutor. But that would surely seem like cure worse than the disease in the eyes of the Republicans.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Trump stoically enduring the water torture. Surely he will seek to take some action to end it. One course would be to declare the First Amendment obsolete and use the power of the government to attack the media directly, for instance with mass arrests on “Trumped-up” charges. This would presumably be tied in with moves to ensure that all those “illegal voters” (meaning everyone who doesn’t vote Republican) are excluded from the 2018 elections. In other words, a fascist putsch.
I would not put this past Mr. Trump, not for a moment, but I think that some of those around him—and conceivably even he himself—would see such a course as excessively risky. After all, he lacks a hardened and tested corps of Brown-shirts, or Black-shirts, or Blue-shirts whom he can depend upon for the necessary “wet stuff.” He would have to rely on a lot of people in government—people who are not ideologically committed to him and might hesitate to carry out actions that on their face would be seriously illegal. Congressional leaders like Congressman Ryan and Sen. McConnell might be persuaded to try to secure legal cover for a putsch, but it is by no means sure how much support they could count on in Congress, The more imaginative might find it easy to envision outcomes in which they would wind up being hanged from lampposts by outraged mobs, all the more so in the wake of the past few weeks of “town meetings.”
More likely, it seems to me, would be reliance on good old demagoguery, stirring up some desperate threat so as to take power in the name of protecting the nation from imminent disaster. Mr. Trump would suffer in such an endeavor in having cried “wolf!” a great deal already, leading to a lot of threat fatigue among much of the population.
Of course his friend Mr. Putin might be able to help with this by invading the Baltics, or something. But saving Mr. Trump’s skin is a sideshow from the Kremlin perspective and it’s unlikely that it would seem worth the risks and costs of a direct confrontation. The ideal thing from the White House standpoint would seem to be some naked aggression by Iran, a major push by ISIS, or perhaps a Chinese move. It would need to be pretty genuine because there are a number of people in the Intelligence Community who might well blow the whistle on a fake threat. But with the aid of Mr. Putin and his merry men, and perhaps Mr. Netanyahu, something might arranged.
(I observe that we’ve had manufactured threats in the past for demagogic purposes; need I mention WMDs in Iraq, or the Gulf of Tonkin Incident? Still, the actions these were concocted to justify fell well short of the short of putsch addressed here.)
In any event, I do not look for Mr. Trump and the senior Republicans to walk quietly down to path to an investigation. Stay tuned.