Corey Robin in n + 1:
The interregnum between Trump’s election and his inauguration has occasioned a fever dream of authoritarianism—a procession of nightmares from faraway lands and distant times, from Hitler and Mussolini to Putin and Erdogan. But what if Trump’s antecedents are more prosaic, the historical analogies nearer to hand? What if the best clues to the Trump presidency are to be found in that most un-Trump-like of figures: Jimmy Carter?
Journalists and pundits often fixate on a President’s personality and psychology, as if the office were born anew with each election. They ignore the structural factors that shape the Presidency. Yet every President is elected to represent a combination of ideologies, policies, and coalitions. That is the President’s political identity: Lincoln brought to power a Republican Party committed to free labor ideals and the overthrow of the slavocracy; Reagan, a Republican Party committed to aggressive free-market capitalism and the overthrow of the New Deal.
Every President also inherits a political situation in which certain ideologies and interests dominate. That situation, or regime, shapes a President’s exercise of power, forcing some to do less, empowering others to do more. Richard Nixon was not a New Deal Democrat, but he was constrained by the political common sense of his time to govern like one, just as Bill Clinton had to bow to the hegemony of Reaganism. Regimes are deep and intractable structures of interest and belief, setting out the boundaries of action, shaping our sense of the possible, over a period of decades.
Every President is aligned with or opposed to the regime.