The Coming Autocracy, II

A few weeks ago I wrote in these pages that we in America are almost assured of heading for a degradation of democracy and a sharp rise of autocratic governance if Donald Trump wins the presidency again this coming November. In that op-ed I focused on the groups that would be under attack if Trump is installed in the Oval Office: immigrants, women, the poor. This second essay focuses on the templates for Trump’s potential actions as president provided by what Republican state governors have been doing for several years.

Currently, 23 states have ”Republican trifecta” governance, meaning that the governorship and both houses of the state legislature are controlled by that party. (To be fair, there are also 17 states with Democratic trifectas, including Connecticut; each bloc serves about 41% of the total population of the U.S.)

Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas have been leading the way, but they are joined in their efforts, if not always in the headlines, by such governors as Kim Reynolds of Iowa and even by Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, who has to deal with a legislature that he does not control. One and all, these governors are attempting to rid their states of recent immigrants; to criminalize abortion; to push women out of the workforce and back into their marital homes; to remake school curriculums so that they exclude materials that cast doubt on anything they don’t approve of — interpretations of race relations, women’s rights, evolution, American and world history, even certain mathematical concepts; to reformulate voting in ways that will exclude and overburden likely Democratic voters; and to marginalize such minority groups as gays and trans-genders, and to some extent, all people of color.

Sanders’ official website touts her plans to have “universal school choice” — meaning, to enable families to opt out of public schooling — and to “invest in prison space to get repeat offenders off the streets,” even though every expert in the rehabilitation of criminals advises earlier paroles and treating potential recidivists with care on the outside, rather than re-incarcerating them.

In these states, as well, gun-toting rights are being advanced, so that it may soon be possible to see, on the streets of their cities the sort of open-carry excesses that have become common in Texas.

Unnecessary arming of civilians is not going to augment public safety, according to recent research; as one report puts it, right-to-carry laws and the removal of restrictions on concealed weapons have been shown to “increase violent crime, firearm robberies, gun thefts, workplace homicides, and mass shootings.” Such governors also advocate placing armed police officers in schools, ostensibly to prevent violence.

Fifteen Republican governors have chosen to deprive poverty-level students in their states of food assistance during the summers, despite it being made easily available under a bipartisan federal bill. This has injured 8 million children across the country.

Seven Republican-trifecta states have refused to extend Medicaid eligibility to low-income people, adults and children alike. The damage done thereby is almost incalculable.

Republican-trifecta governors are also cutting state taxes, essentially defunding their own state operations so as to then be able to plead that the coffers lack enough revenue to pay for needed services for its citizens. “Starve the beast,” the cry of the Gingrich and George W. Bush years, is now state policy in 23 states.

The Republican governors’ efforts to restrict, de-fund, criminalize and forbid day-to-day activities are being felt in private, semi-public, and public arenas, from the bedroom and bathroom to the doctor’s office, schoolroom, voting booth, sports locker-rooms, company offices, and beyond. Efforts to over-fund the police while underfunding welfare and assistance to the needy — the aged as well as the poor — are multiplying.

Will Trump use these Republican-governor activities as template for his own actions as president?

It is not hard to imagine every one of those being replicated and magnified on the federal level by an incoming president pledged to dismantling the civil service and substituting obedient political hacks for veteran experts and lifelong public servants. The consequences will be severe, unpleasant for everyone, and very long-lasting.

Salisbury resident Tom Shachtman has written more than two dozen books and many television documentaries.

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