Sixty-four years after Khrushchev's warning, Trump decides to give authoritarianism a try.
Only his ineptitude stands in the way.
In November 1956 Nikita Khrushchev, then secretary of the Communist party, was speaking at a reception in Moscow. Tensions between the free world and the Communist bloc were high, and nuclear war seemed inevitable. It was in that atmosphere that Mr. Khrushchev, no shrinking violet ever, stated basically that if we didn't favor Communism, sucks for us. In his words:
"Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!"
Nikita Khrushchev died in 1971. By that time relations between the USSR and the United States had normalized a bit, though the Berlin Wall still stood, avowed anti-Communism gained Nixon a few votes, and the average American occasionally gave some passing thoughts to nuclear war, especially with Vietnam raging. But the thought that Communism could undo our democracy remained an absurd pipedream.
Russian leaders have come and gone since, and our relationship with that country has always been capricious, but the idea that Americans would hand over their personal freedoms to an authoritarian ruler contradicted everything we had learned and come to believe about our country and, for that matter, every free country in the world.
Today, three-plus years into the Trump regime, it's happening before our eyes. At first it was harmless stuff—the attempt to muzzle the press. Every president has probably wished he could do it; and Trump was following in a long line of presidents in conflict with reporters. But there was a difference: other presidents had not had a state news channel to defend him and create policy.
Then came the purges, names you've already forgotten—men and women who ran afoul of the president's attempts to undermine the Constitution. There was Michael Atkinson, Glenn Fine, Christi Grimm. There were Alexander Vindman, Gordon Sondland and Jessie Liu. Don't forget the big names like Sessions and Mulvaney. All gone, because that's what an authoritarian leader does—gets rid of anyone who contradicts him or fails a loyalty test. (Mulvaney remains United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland—that's almost like being gone.)
What's left on the slog toward authoritarianism? How about using the military to crush civilian protest? Better yet, how about employing and empowering a shadow army of people who may or may not be police, may or may not be government employees, may or may not have Constitutional authority, may or may not be right-wing extremists with a uniform purchased on line and some weapons from the local gun shop?
Sixty-four years after Khrushchev's threat and 49 years after his death, Trump has made him a prophet. We are being buried, and we're doing it in the most economical way—with our own shovels and our own labor, led on by a president with no sense of history or decency but a desire to—in his current word of choice—dominate. So far only his ineptness has delayed the worst, but when he fully realizes that a toothless Congress will never interfere, you can expect a continued descent into authoritarianism and away from democratic ideals. It's too late for Khrushchev to smirk, but that's not exactly a smile on Putin's face.