Neopatrimonial Governance, eh?

Reactionary populism has – in one form or another – been around for quite some time…Reactionary populism started, as best I can tell, gaining real traction in the GOP during the Obama years. It did not, however dominate the party.

This changed with Trump. He not only mobilized reactionary populists. He also mainstreamed the reactionary-populist worldview.

Once in power, reactionary populists pretty much always pursue neopatrimonial styles of governance. This involves breaking down “state autonomy” and transforming government bureaucracies into an extension of their own personal authority…

In practice, patrimonial authority predominates; the state serves the personal interests of its leadership; agencies ‘just happen’ to target opponents of the regime for audits and regulatory violations (the Obama IRS scandal, if it weren’t bollocks, would have been a good example of how this works). Supporters somehow almost always submit winning bids for government contracts. Opponents don’t. That kind of thing.

The conceptual challenge here extends far beyond political science. Americans don’t tend to think about regimes in terms of patrimonial and legal-rational authority. This is a real problem. It makes it much harder for people to understand the nature and extent of the threat—especially if it involves reforms that, on face, might seem reasonable.

This is particularly true, I’d wager, for Republicans who otherwise do not particularly care for Trump or Trumpism. The reason? Trump’s efforts to establish personal authority over the civil services easily slot into longstanding GOP complaints about bureaucracy…

Some reactionary populist demagogues are true believers. Others are cynical opportunists. But, as I noted above, no matter where they fall on that axis, they invariably attempt to consolidate their power by transforming the state into their own personal patrimony.

Whether you characterize the smell of Trump’s “Schedule F” plan for personal patrimony as “stink” or “stench” reflects how quickly you presume he’ll try, again…if he ever gets back into office. And how many Republicans ride his coattails into Congress to rubber stamp his preamble to fascist rule.

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