(What follows is an updated version of a 2018 post)
What we have been witnessing since 2016 is a continuation of the classic scenario that wannabe autocrats follow as they cement their illicit authority over We The People. As my spouse will readily affirm, I have long been a worst-case-scenario kind of guy. Over four years ago, when America’s political world began to be turned upside down, I shared my view with anyone who would listen that we were looking at the beginning of the end of our Republic, which elicited universal but friendly rebukes based upon the belief that, in America, one person can never be above the law, a point of view endlessly echoed by pundits in progressive media echo chambers.
My retort has been that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all of the laws that have followed are written on fragile, easily destroyed paper. Those documents have no magical powers, and anyone with sufficient power—ill-gotten or otherwise—can choose to circumvent and/or ignore them.
The power of which I spoke then and write about now is not the power of The Rule of Law, which is a mythical power that depends upon the Tinkerbell Effect; rather, it is the power that comes from an ability to instill fear in the minds of a critical mass of citizens—fears of significant material loss, of unjust incarceration, torture, and/or fear of death—fears used by an autocrat in order to force that critical mass into compliance. Imagine, for example, the treasure trove of treason that is the sum of Facebook posts and Tweets ready for pillaging by an autocrat looking to punish opponents.
Human history is replete with thousands of examples of this use and abuse of power from playground bullies to Al Capone, Adolf Hitler and Attila the Hun, each of whom manifest our primate legacy: the instinctive need of some (almost always) males to seek and ascend to positions of power coupled with the instinctive response of the majority of a clan (or nation) to acquiesce in the face of fear.
There is no difference in effect between the results of Adolf Hitler’s actions and the actions of a dominant silverback gorilla, actions which the latter uses to dominate his troop and the former used to dominate a nation. The principal difference between the two is that a silverback uses his personal size and strength to overcome opposition and maintain control, while the strategies used by dominant male humans are more complex but no less effective.
Driven by what some authorities suggest was a pathological narcissism, Adolf Hitler dominated a nation by using deceits, most notably the practice of blaming scapegoats for his country’s ills, and by relying upon media outlets eager to curry favor, the rise of military and justice subordinates willing to do his bidding, and by exploiting the inability of millions of his countrymen to understand and foresee the negative consequences of absolute power in the modern world.
When Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, Germany had a constitution. The Weimar Constitution had articles and paragraphs and expectations by which the nation was to be governed. The government and people of Germany took for granted that the Rule of Law as outlined by the Weimer Constitution would be followed. The Weimer Constitution was different in specific content from the United States Constitution, but it was exactly alike when it came to being printed on paper.
Gorilla societies, we know, are guided by power pure and simple. When a stronger silverback appears, he literally overthrows the existing leader if he can, after which the troop responds to the whims and wishes of the new boss. We assume that our American society is far more sophisticated because it is guided by the Rule of Law; unfortunately, the Rule of Law is a myth, a beautiful contrivance of truths and beliefs that not only transcend primate instincts; the Rule of Law contradicts those instincts, so that a society in compliance with the Rule of Law can rise above the world of fang and claw, which is the natural world in which humans not only fear to tread: most of us think we are beyond its reach.
Living in a nation where the Rule of Law is unquestioned due to delusion, complacency or ignorance or all three—as sometimes happens with myths—there can come a time when the Rule of Law is accepted as being as unmovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. It is then when the Reverse Tinkerbell Effect ascends, and the Rule of Law becomes vulnerable to the pathological, narcissistic needs of a Tyrant who understands that the Rule of Law only exists when everyone wholeheartedly and sincerely believes in it and acts accordingly.