American institutions won’t keep us safe from Donald Trump’s excesses

Corey Robin in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_2569 Feb. 03 19.08I recently expressed skepticism that Trump is installing fascism in America. Someone then asked me: what did I think was going to happen with Trump? I answered her as truthfully as I could: I don’t know. The fact is none of us knows. Not even, I suspect, Trump or Steve Bannon. That’s because our political situation is not a fixed or frozen force field; it’s changing every day. It also – crucially – depends in part on what we do.

Before I wrote my book on conservatism, I was a student of the politics of fear. My first book, which was based on more than a decade of research, was an analysis of how political theorists since Hobbes have understood the politics of fear. In the second part of the book, I offered my own counter-analysis of the politics of fear in the United States. Fear, American Style, I called it.

Here’s what I learned about it: the worst, most terrible things that the United States has done have almost never happened through an assault on American institutions; they’ve always happened through American institutions and practices.

These are the elements of the American polity that have offered especially potent tools and instruments of intimidation and coercion: federalism, the separation of powers, social pluralism and the rule of law.

All the elements of the American experience that liberals and conservatives have so cherished as bulwarks of American freedom have also been sources and instruments of political fear. In all the cases I looked at, coercion, intimidation, repression and violence were leveraged through these mechanisms, not in spite of them.

More here.