Dual sovereignty in the not-quite post-Trump era

The U.S. constitutional oligarchy[1] faces a threat that is probably unlike any in history.[2]

First, a bit of background: Any authoritarian system of social organization (yes, this includes the U.S. and most of the world) relies on the acquiescence of the mass population. This ‘legitimacy’ means that the government does not need so often to use force to impose its will.[3] To be clear, the violence remains implicit—indeed, Max Weber noted that sovereignty uniquely enables whoever holds it a ‘legitimate’ use of force[4]—and anarchists accordingly regard such rule as based on violence and illegitimate.

Sometimes the violence is more explicit. In some regions of Mexico, for example, drug cartels and the government vie for control and often co-exist, creating a situation of “dual sovereignty.” This also happens in Afghanistan, where it has been said that in some areas, the government rules by day, the Taliban by night.

Gaining the population’s acquiescence requires propaganda.[5] This is about “winning hearts and minds.” It involves a social construction of “community” for people to be loyal to, which means that they are “disloyal” to an “other,” often viewed as hostile and threatening. Rulers often seek to portray the communities they rule as homogenous,[6] hence repression and even genocide of minority groups, whose erasure they may see as existentially essential.[7] Indeed, a defining belief of paleoconservatism—the tendency of conservatism that includes neo-Nazis and white supremacists—is that differing ethnic and racial groups must be segregated.[8]

Some of this should be starting to sound familiar. The U.S. has always been fascist, enslaving abducted Africans and their descendants, slaughtering American Indians, stigmatizing the poor, discriminating against minorities and the poor, all for political advantage among a hegemonic white population.[9]

With the social movements of the 1950s through the early 1970s, including the Civil Rights Movement, anti-war movement, Black liberation, Gay liberation, Feminist (second wave), environmentalist, and hippie movements, the country started to move away from fascism and this provoked a ferocious backlash that has predominated throughout my life: This is neoconservatism, which advocated a “law and order” and an aggressive “defense” response to uphold the U.S. political and economic system which it viewed as the best possible system for all people everywhere.[10]

Many other conservatives also rejected the anti-fascist developments: Social and traditionalist conservatives sought to constrain sexual liberties in ways that historically upheld white supremacy.[11] Capitalist libertarians rejected any socialist or communist impulses outright, even from the New Deal.[12] Authoritarian populists, whom I have viewed as the larger part of Donald Trump’s base, simply rejected all of it.[13]

Trump has often addressed his supporters, both in policy and in rhetoric, rather than the entire country, leading many to see him (probably correctly) as white supremacist. During his presidency, a national “community,” consisting exclusively of those whom Trump regards as Amerikkkans, has been constrained accordingly, excluding people of color, excluding many of the poor, excluding people of divergent sexual and gender orientations, excluding Muslims, generally excluding the “other,” generally excluding a lot of us. He has, whether through calculation or as an idiot savant, created the conditions for a new country that exists within the boundaries of and throughout the territory of the United States but is not the entire United States.

We might be about to see this put into effect. Even as Trump fails utterly in his attempts to retain the presidency following his electoral defeat,[14] some of his supporters have been violent,[15] raising the prospect of a contest for sovereignty as they, like him, refuse to concede the election.

Trump increasingly appears unlikely to prevail in a strategy to manipulate the electoral college by challenging certifications and pressuring state legislatures to appoint alternative electors, throwing the election to the House of Representatives, where there are more Republican delegations than Democratic delegations,[16] but as he flails, he appears to be paving the way to create a new propaganda network that would continue to challenge the legitimacy of the existing order and might even represent a sort of “government-in-exile,” running in parallel to existing institutions, even if not from another country.[17] This network would be accompanied by the threat—and quite possibly, the practice—of violence by right-wing militia groups, whose members include members of the police and military.[18] He will have the support or acquiescence of a significant part of the population that distrusts traditional authority.[19]

If you’re thinking this is starting to look like dual sovereignty, you and I are on the same page.

Since I first learned of dual sovereignty, I’ve been curious about what it actually looks like on the ground. Probably, each example has its own peculiarities that may even outweigh their similarities. But we may be about to find out what it looks like in a case of an ex-president who flouts the norms of the constitutional oligarchy.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, November 3, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  2. [2]Fred Hiatt, “Trump is putting this country through something unprecedented. Here are three scenarios,” Washington Post, November 15, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-wants-to-overturn-the-results-of-a-free-and-fair-election-theres-a-word-for-that/2020/11/13/cb94b77e-25b6-11eb-952e-0c475972cfc0_story.html
  3. [3]Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).
  4. [4]Max Weber, “What is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 114-116.
  5. [5]Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).
  6. [6]Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 2006).
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Genocide,” Not Housebroken, June 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/06/30/genocide/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  9. [9]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” Not Housebroken, July 7, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/06/a-simple-definition-of-fascism/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126); George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
  11. [11]David Benfell, “The connection between ‘original sin,’ misogyny, and white supremacism,” November 25, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/25/the-connection-between-original-sin-misogyny-and-white-supremacism/
  12. [12]Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown, 1970); George Seldes, 1000 Americans (New York: Boni and Gaer, 1948, Joshua Tree, CA: Progressive, 2009).
  13. [13]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  14. [14]Aaron Blake, “Trump lawyers suffer embarrassing rebukes from judges over voter fraud claims,” Washington Post, November 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/11/trump-lawyers-suffer-embarrassing-rebukes-judges-over-voter-fraud-claims/; Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, “Trump team eyes legal, political Hail Marys as options for comeback fade,” Politico, November 6, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/06/trump-legal-political-lawsuit-election-434786; Marjorie Cohn, “Trump’s Frivolous Lawsuits Are the Tip of the Iceberg in His Refusal to Concede,” Truthout, November 11, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-frivolous-lawsuits-are-the-tip-of-the-iceberg-in-his-refusal-to-concede/; Pam Fessler, “Led By Giuliani, Trump Campaign Effort To Stop Certification Falters In Pennsylvania,” National Public Radio, November 17, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/11/17/936027693/led-by-giuliani-trump-campaign-effort-to-stop-certification-falters-in-pennsylva; David Nakamura, “Trump’s bid to discredit election raises fear that he will undermine a smooth transfer of power,” Washington Post, November 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-concession-transition-power/2020/11/07/2b4cf640-20e4-11eb-b532-05c751cd5dc2_story.html; Kayla Ruble and Tom Hamburger, “Board in key Michigan county fails, then agrees, to certify vote totals by deadline,” Washington Post, November 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/michigan-vote-canvassing-board/2020/11/17/12141222-287c-11eb-8fa2-06e7cbb145c0_story.html; Stephanie Saul, “Lindsey Graham’s Long-Shot Mission to Unravel the Election Results,” New York Times, November 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/us/politics/lindsey-graham-georgia-trump-biden.html; Paula Reed Ward, “Federal judge to consider whether to dismiss case filed by Trump campaign in Pa.,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 17, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/federal-judge-to-consider-whether-to-dismiss-case-filed-by-trump-campaign-in-pa/
  15. [15]Mark Bray, “Trump’s Baseless Fraud Accusations Are Already Sparking Far Right Violence,” Truthout, November 9, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-baseless-fraud-accusations-are-already-sparking-far-right-violence/; Marissa J. Lang et al., “After thousands of Trump supporters rally in D.C., violence erupts when night falls,” Washington Post, November 15, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/11/14/million-maga-march-dc-protests/
  16. [16]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Rosa Brooks, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Washington Post, September 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/03/trump-stay-in-office/; Marjorie Cohn, “Trump’s Frivolous Lawsuits Are the Tip of the Iceberg in His Refusal to Concede,” Truthout, November 11, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-frivolous-lawsuits-are-the-tip-of-the-iceberg-in-his-refusal-to-concede/; Eric Lach, “What Happens if Donald Trump Fights the Election Results?” New Yorker, August 21, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/campaign-chronicles/what-happens-if-donald-trump-fights-the-election-results; Robert McCartney, “Here’s one way Trump could try to steal the election, voting experts say,” Washington Post, August 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/heres-one-way-trump-could-try-to-steal-the-election-voting-experts-say/2020/08/16/b5bf0c2a-de66-11ea-b205-ff838e15a9a6_story.html; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  17. [17]Mike Allen, “Trump eyes digital media empire to take on Fox News,” Axios, November 12, 2020, https://www.axios.com/trump-fox-news-digital-media-competitor-25afddee-144d-4820-8ed4-9eb0ffa42420.html; Jonathan Freedland, “This is no conventional coup. Trump is paving the way for a ‘virtual Confederacy,'” Guardian, November 13, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/nov/13/trump-coup-virtual-confederacy-race-legal-trumpian
  18. [18]David Benfell, “Bloody November,” Not Housebroken, October 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/08/bloody-november/; David Benfell, “Donald Trump’s ‘brown shirts,’” Not Housebroken, October 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/30/donald-trumps-brown-shirts/; David Benfell, “The very scary way to four more years,” Not Housebroken, October 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/25/the-very-scary-way-to-four-more-years/
  19. [19]David Benfell, “Epistemology in the present U.S. political crisis,” Not Housebroken, November 14, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/11/12/epistemology-in-the-present-u-s-political-crisis/

2 thoughts on “Dual sovereignty in the not-quite post-Trump era

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.