The 2024 presidential election is already over—11 months before balloting—and Donald Trump has not only won but is likely to become a dictator. I had no idea, but then I’m not as prescient or delusional as neoconservative Robert Kagan—your choice on his state of mind; is he a straightforward and clear thinker like, say, CounterPunch’s marvelous contrarian Jeffrey St. Clair, or losing his marbles in a Biden sort of way, even at the age of 65?—who wrote a long essay for The Washington Post on Nov. 30, headlined, “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending."
A position paper like Kagan’s isn’t original—The Atlantic, typically schizoid, slathered its January/February issue with warnings about Trump, featuring crazies like David Frum, McKay Coppins, Franklin Foer and editor Jeffrey Goldberg; The New York Times ran a more mealy-mouthed story on the subject on Tuesday—but it’s particularly noxious, not necessarily for his #NeverTrump criticisms of the former president, but because he wants it on the record that he foresaw the political apocalypse but hardly anyone paid attention. (One supposes, should Trump win, the race to book publishers will be fierce.)
Absolution is Kagan’s goal, and he gives the impression that he might join Barbra Streisand, Liz Cheney and John Cusack in self-imposed exile—France, obviously, although I’m not sure how they’d fare under Marine Le Pen—fleeing just in time to escape the Trump apparatus that he predicts will round up journalists (I give him credit for alluding to Woodrow Wilson’s suspension of the First Amendment, but then again, until 2015 or so, Kagan was a militaristic Republican who, along with Bill Kristol after 9/11, advocated weekly for the invasion of Iraq), and the riots, especially in blue states! that are equally as inevitable as a dictatorship.
As so many coddled historians have claimed, It Can Happen Here (alluding to Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 book It Can’t Happen Here that’s probably sold more copies in the past seven years than when it was published), and maybe it will. Similar dire scenarios were spun about Lincoln, FDR and Nixon, but no matter. Kagan’s likely correct that Trump will win the GOP nomination, and if you believe the polls, has a good chance of defeating Joe Biden, who’s perfected double-talk and baby-talk in the past year, but along the way he makes so many ironclad assumptions about 2025 that it’s difficult to take him seriously. (And I did, at least to the point where I read every word of his self-aggrandizing sermon.)
Kagan says that Trump will escape unscathed from the many lawsuits he currently faces. He writes: “Will the judges throw a presumptive Republican nominee in jail for contempt of court? Once it becomes clear that they will not, then the power balance within the courtroom, and in the country at large, will shift again to Trump. 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.”
Barrister Kagan also invokes Weimar Germany—in lamenting the intra-party squabbles of the Democrats—and compares Trump to Napoleon. I doubt many diehard Trump loyalists (I’m not one of them) will read Kagan’s essay, or The Atlantic, but if so, they probably wouldn’t mind Trump as Caesar or Napoleon, a touch of historical panache to relish.
And, again flouting his clairvoyance, Kagan states the GOP will control the House of Representatives and very likely regain the Senate. He willfully ignores Trump’s Oakland A’s-like record in elections: the Republicans were stomped in the 2018 midterms, Trump’s petulance cost them the Senate in 2020, and in 2022 what was supposed to be a “red wave” was a banner night for the Democrats, owing, in large part to the losses of the badly-qualified candidates that the Mar-a-Lago would-be kingmaker endorsed. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop the Beltway oracle, who speculates that Trump will overturn the 22nd Amendment and run for a third term. And the Supreme Court? Patsies! I think John Roberts would dispute this: “Would he even obey a directive of the Supreme Court? Or would he instead ask how many armored divisions the chief justice has?”
This is rich: “We continue to drift toward dictatorship, still hoping for some intervention that will allow us to escape the consequences of our collective cowardice, our complacent, willful ignorance and, above all, our lack of any deep commitment to liberal democracy. As the man said, we are going out not with a bang but a whimper.” Lord Kagan has appointed himself the nation’s moral sage—even to the “cowards” who’ll exercise their right to vote for whom they choose—although, as demonstrated by his demagoguery, he doesn’t blame himself.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023