Despite the fact that it looks as though Trump’s handlers have tried a last resort of mainlining Valium into him before speeches about how much he cares about African Americans, (in front of all-white audiences) I have wondered how so many Americans have come to a point in their lives that they can consciously make the same mistakes that Germans were making during the rise of Adolf Hitler. You see, they were a broken people, ravaged by WWI. We are not.
Admittedly, I ruffle at the all too often marginalization of Hitler’s unparalleled evil any time someone compares a politician in the U.S. to Hitler, but in Trump’s own jargon, “He’s no politician”. I wholeheartedly agree. But the Trumpism phenomenon is closer to bringing fascism to our own country than at any time since Hitler almost managed to conquer the world.
Trumpism has nothing to do with ideology, taxes, party loyalty, or leadership. In fact, his only link to the Republican Party, is its historic role as the incubator of this, the most serious threat to our democracy since we were literally crippled at Pearl Harbor. But he said at his rambling, incongruous, almost incoherent RNC speech, “That he alone could fix America’s problems.”
Isolationism, exceptionalism, tariffs, walls. Make America Great Again? See if any of the below, from FDR in 1940 sounds familiar:
“Isolationists came in different sizes and shapes… like those who sought to arouse people’s “hatred” and “prejudices” by resorting to “false slogans and emotional appeals.” With fifth columnists who sought to “divide and weaken us in the face of danger,” Roosevelt declared, “we must and will deal vigorously.” Another group of isolationists, he explained, opposed his administration’s policies simply for the sake of opposition — even when the security of the nation stood at risk.”
The glamorous public face and articulate voice of the isolationist movement belonged to the charismatic and courageous Charles Lindbergh…a man with name recognition, a man of wealth…even as Nazi troops, tanks, and planes chalked up more conquests in Europe…the danger, in his opinion, was not that Germany might prevail but rather that Roosevelt’s antifascist statements would make the United States “hated by victor and vanquished alike.” Fascism, democracy– six of one, half a dozen of the other. His defeatist speech could not have been “better put if it had been written by Goebbels himself,” Franklin Roosevelt remarked two days later. Undaunted, In Berlin, Lindbergh’s wife, Anne, was blinded by the glittering façade of a Potemkin village. She was enchanted by “the sense of festivity, flags hung out, the Nazi flag, red with a swastika on it, everywhere, and the Olympic flag, five rings on white.” The Reich’s dynamism was so impressive. “There is no question of the power, unity and purposefulness of Germany,” she wrote effusively, while the vast majority of Germans toiled for minimal pay and lived in fear and poverty, making them especially susceptible to the promises of returning to greatness, but with little information as to the how and why it would be accomplished.
Power. The trappings of wealth. It was very seductive. Hitler could have easily worn a stupid “Make Germany Great Again!”
In England there was “organization without spirit,” Lindbergh would tell a radio audience in August 1940. “In France there was spirit without organization; in Germany there were both.All Germans looked alike, marched alike, had expelled naysayers and even the press had no desire to challenge this greatness.”
Of course, a completely overlooked historical note of importance contributing to the advance of fascism in the U.S. is yet another slice of the “death by a thousand cuts” from the Dick Cheney (some say Bush, but we know better) administration…then-FCC Chairman, the arrogant and imperious Michael Powell’s (son of proud papa Colin Powell) decision to remove the restrictions that made it unlawful for a company to own too many television, radio or press outlets that was expressly indicated by the Constitution and current law.
The insanity of allowing consolidation of media conglomerates (6 corporations now control 90% of American media) is allowing Trumpism to go unchecked, unchallenged, undetailed, and virtually unvetted spectators by broadcast media, rather than as watchdogs of American corruption.
Trump has already transcended the party that manufactured him. Neither he nor is growing army of supporters care about the party. And the cowards in the Republican Party, which has prospered off of promulgating the lies of supply-side economics, war for profit, tax cuts that pay for themselves, and racial divide is viewed with suspicion and even hostility by Trumpeteers. Their loyalty is to him and him alone.
We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic immobility or displacement of jobs by trade policies and immigrants. It doesn’t. It stems from a heretofore whites-only mentality that has quashed any attempt by the rest of America to claim their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
Trump doesn’t represent economic solutions–he offers attitude. His public persona of tough guy is nothing but a life-long construct, honed from cloaking himself in lies of business acumen, patriotism, philanthropy, and machismo. Yet, he recoiled like a little boy (which he later lied about while tweeting from the comfort of his keyboard shield in his comfortable jammies) when he was confronted by a strong woman pastor in Flint, Michigan who would not allow his usual spew of lies from her pulpit at an event to express support for the poor people of Flint who have endured undrinkable water for over a year at the hands of an unscrupulous Republican Governor and legislature.
He claims, and his followers believe, that our culture of respect and inclusiveness has produced national softness and ineptitude. His rambling and inconsistent utterances have only one goal: to incite and play on feelings of resentment and contempt, amalgamated with bits of fear, hatred and anger.
That this facade of a tough-guy, whose get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably been as big a surprise to Trump as anyone else. Trump is quite literally a textbook sociopath. But the phenomenon he has created–and that our television media allows him to perpetuate–has become something larger than himself, and something far more dangerous to democracy and to America.
As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared that what he was witnessing in France would one day happen in America — that the releasing of popular antagonized emotions would lead not to greater democracy but to the coming of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people.
Fascism is not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer, Gaddafi, Noriega, etc.), in whom fate of nations rested in one man’s hands. Whatever the problem, only they could fix it. Today, there is Putinism in Russia, Kim Jong Un in North Korea (whom Trump has made no bones about idolizing) both of whom have nothing to do with belief or policy and both are portrayed as tough and single-handedly control their people against all threats, foreign and domestic…and have stolen billions from the ordinary people.
In such an environment, every national political figure confronts an unambiguous choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable groups — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose blind ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon (think: Christie, Giuliani, Gingrich). They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a prestigious post in the new order. And those who just try to survive (think: Ryan, Priebus,McConnell), who mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them eventually anyway.
Many more will kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is occurring. Let the storm pass, they maintain, and then we’ll pick up the pieces and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t disaffect the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to be brought back into the fold. They think they will shape him, counsel him, pilot him in the proper direction and, not parenthetically, save their own political skins.
What these people cannot or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe neither them nor their party anything. He will have risen to power in spite of the party; propelled into the White House by a following dedicated only to him. By then that following will have grown radically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the general election, his throngs will likely encompass a majority of the nation. Imagine the feeling of invincibility that will engulf his ego addiction. Remember your history lessons of your school days…you’ve seen this before. You just have to open that mental file drawer, pull out the folder and revisit the text.
He would have his blind followers, the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not the cowardly broadcast media of today. They would be the first to fold. Certainly not a Republican Party that conceded to him even when he was relatively weak.
This is how fascism takes over in America; not with jackboots and salutes (although there have certainly been those at his rallies) but with a television con man, phony billionaire, textbook egomaniac who’s “tapping into” popular resentments; with a national political party he supposedly represents remaining mostly silent; with a national press corps who has been neutered by the lure of profit by their parent entertainment conglomerates rather than letting their news departments maintain their watchdog journalists status.
When so-called national political reporters for major network “news” organizations, decide that it is not their jobs to fact-check national political candidates, we are re-creating the exact circumstances that we, as students, asked about in American History classes: “How could the people in Germany have let that happen”?
At this time in our history, in our country, if we let fear, prejudice, racism, laziness misplaced “principles/ideologies”, or simple apathy allow us to ignore the importance of keeping a totally unqualified con man out of the Oval Office, there may be students in our future wondering how we let this happen, on our watch, in this country.