Can It Happen Here? | Cass R. Sunstein

Summary of: Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America
By: Cass R. Sunstein


Dive into the compelling analysis of the potential emergence of authoritarianism in America, as explored in Cass R. Sunstein’s book, ‘Can It Happen Here?’. The book examines historical concerns surrounding dictatorship in the United States and delves into the playbook Donald Trump might follow to consolidate power. It highlights crucial areas like attacking the press, Congress, bureaucracy, courts, states and local governments, and the party system. It also discusses the role of divisions between identitarians and nativists, echo chambers, and intolerance in the current political climate.

Trump’s Authoritarian Playbook

The fear of a dictator inhabiting the Oval Office is a concept as ancient as the American republic itself. Trump’s challenge to the democratic system has stirred many fears amongst the American population, but how might he take control and consolidate his power? Through his strategies of attacking the press, Congress, bureaucracy, courts, state and local governments, party systems, and stirring up the public, Trump may be able to gain a steady grip on the American government. While he has yet to achieve full control of each category, his potential power as President of the United States makes the possibility of it all the more terrifying. The playbook Trump is utilizing to establish authoritarianism is complex and multifaceted, but it is one that must not be taken lightly.

The US Government is no Easy Target for a Fascist Takeover

While a small state is easy to conquer, a large and complex government like the US is a poor target for fascism. In Hitler and Mussolini’s times, governments were comparably smaller and easier to control. Moreover, only a small percentage of Washington DC’s population voted for Trump, indicating deep suspicion among civil servants towards dictatorship. Key Trump supporters like Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon lasted briefly in the administration before being replaced.

The Truth About the Deep State

The Deep State is real, and it exists not just in shadowy apparatus in some countries but in the security and intelligence bureaus of the United States. These agencies are entrusted with extraordinary privileges to gather information and can undermine democracy, but they can also serve as bulwark against elected leaders’ illegal or tyrannical behavior. The Deep State has been associated with sinister acts in the past, such as the FBI’s campaign against Martin Luther King Jr. during J. Edgar Hoover’s administration. However, these misdeeds mostly ended when the federal government imposed new restrictions on these agencies in the mid-1970s. There have been concerns during the Trump presidency that partisanship has tainted the Deep State’s neutrality. While some may argue that the leaks of Michael Flynn were justified, it is crucial to prevent a return of the Deep State’s pre-1975 norms.

Divisive Politics and the Rise of Authoritarianism

The increasing intolerance and polarization in modern US politics have led to the rise of authoritarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who exploit divisions within their nations to fuel their power and inflame hostility towards the opposition. Donald Trump tried to follow a similar strategy, but he faced pushback from the American system of checks and balances. Nonetheless, his election shows that the willingness of the electorate to prefer authoritarian candidates over democratic ones still persists. The article argues that the modern political landscape of the U.S. is divided into two factions – the identitarians (left-wing), who focus on identity politics, and the nativists (right-wing), who are wary of globalization and technological, cultural, and immigration changes. The intolerance between these two sides fuels their extremism, and echoes and misinformation on social media strengthen their resolve. The lack of compromise in this atmosphere of intolerance only widens the divide, fosters echo chambers and leads to the rise of authoritarianism.

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