The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The worst-case scenario with Trump just happens to fit with everything we know about him

(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

Reassured by the collection of strange and scary people Donald Trump is filling his administration with?

Surprised? There were two possible scenarios for a Trump presidency: the optimistic, statesmanlike scenario, and the scenario that actually had Donald Trump in it.

But the horrible policy positions and unseemly credentials of the people he’s bringing in to serve him are not the biggest things to worry about. The system is designed to correct for bad people and bad policy. The danger is to the system itself as a self-correcting mechanism. The danger is that Trump could strangle the self-correcting elements and instead make a corrupted system self-reinforcing.

What do we know about Trump? What has stayed the same while his stated policy positions have wandered all over the landscape? This. That he has always been about himself. That what counts to him most from others is loyalty. That he believes resistance of any significance is akin to treason. That he aims to punish those who cross him so severely that neither they nor any witnesses to his punishment will try crossing him again.

This is not the description of the president of a democracy. This is the description of an autocrat. And yes, we can get there from here. All it takes is a willingness to use the apparatus of presidential powers to reward friends and punish enemies to a degree where cooperation is the only viable course, and opposition becomes suicide. Matt Yglesias sketches out what this could look like here.

It is scary because it’s all too imaginable. And this at a time when the opposition party is shattered, powerless and in complete disarray. There is very little to stand in the way of a conflagration.

So, yes, keep an eye on whom Trump is appointing and, yes, keep an eye on his policy positions. But much more important than this, if there are any small-d democrats still out there, they had better start digging their fire lines right now.