As we witness the rapid emergence of an autocratic regime we should expect tests of loyalty to be used as a tool of intimidation, likely within weeks if not days. Loyalty oaths in the U.S. predate the McCarthy era of the 1950s, but they became
The "populist" Trump administration executive orders double down on unpopular policies as their claims abound to a mandate based on falsifying evidence of crowd size and vote totals. The new president already uses intimidation tactics against individual companies to bring other companies in line. But the Republican party counts on the support of big business. Big companies with a national presence have been socially liberal for a long time, though they have maintained tolerance for Republican social policy as a necessary price for favorable tax and trade policy. What happens now when individual industries, not companies, are singled out for harsh treatment. Actions to eradicate portions of the Affordable Care Act already threaten the stability of the insurance industry. Actions on trade threaten companies whose imports will become noncompetitive due to punitive tariffs.
We should not expect the Trump administration to back away from their policies. They will continue to disrupt the peace and economy of a country that is actually doing pretty well. We are about to face a test of just how strongly voters felt about the emails, about Benghazi, about all those conspiracy theories they wanted to believe had some merit.
The next logic approach to doubling down will be to question the loyalty of the opposition - the popular majority who happen to live in the major cities of the U.S. Popular protests by marches or other means will escalate. The Trump administration will question their loyalty as an appeal to their base who believe in an autocratic leader who should not be questioned. Protesters may be met with violence. And we may see demands for loyalty oaths which are designed to intimidate and subdue opponents. We already have the example of Nikki Haley approved as U.N. ambassador telling other nations that they better get in line and follow the U.S., not because we are the beacon of the world, but because we have a laser focus on them - "taking names" of those who choose not to follow us.
"Taking names" rings in the ear as the shrill echo of the McCarthy era "naming names". Bring in the witness from Hollywood or academia, ask the witness under oath whether or not they were ever a "Communist" and than ask for the names of people the witness knew to be Communists. This approach strains each witness, pitting self preservation of career and family against basic loyalty to friends and colleagues as well as sense of meaning of good citizenship and American values.
Whether taking names of countries deemed to be unfriendly or forcing the witness to name names for the committee, the Trump administration and their (so far) unflinching henchmen in Congress will double down on tactics to appeal to their base in rural American and try to define American values as loyalty to them rather than loyalty to traditional American ideals and values. These new autocrats will cause enormous disruption in American life. Whether or not they fail, sooner or later, will depend in large part on how quickly companies that are not in the oil industry react with vigor. Loyalty to party - the Republican Party - is now stronger, much stronger, than loyalty to the United States of American.
History will look back at this time and discuss the mistakes of the "Muslim Scare", like the "Red Scare" of the 1950s. We can only hope that this era is short lived.