And It Isn't Only About Low IQs
Señor Trumpanzee at the neo-Nazi New York Young Republican Club, on Saturday, when the other GOP candidates were at some evangelical college in Sioux Center, Iowa: “Can you believe it? This is their new line, you know. Here we go again— ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ ‘Mueller, Mueller, Mueller,’ ‘Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine.’ One hoax after another. But no, I’m not a threat. I will save democracy. The threat is Crooked Joe Biden… And that’s what it is, it’s a hoax. We call it now the threat-to-democracy hoax, because that’s what it is… desperate and shameless attempt to distract from the monstrous abuses of power the left is committing before your very eyes.”
I some ways I’m more worried about the people who are cheering on and excited by Trump’s authoritarianism— whether the hard core fascists that make up the NY Young Republicans or the Christo-fascists that dominate the GOP throughout the South— than I am about the people who don’t care or will be into his hoax bullshit.
Over the weekend, Peter Baker made a funny in discussing Robert Kagan’s prophetic essay about the incipient dictatorship. “When a historian wrote an essay the other day warning that the election of Trump next year could lead to dictatorship,” he began, “one of Trump’s allies quickly responded by calling for the historian to be sent to prison.”
I bet Baker was a Seinfeld fan and he was writing as though for the show, where Jerry’s signature blend of cynicism and sarcasm would be the perfect vehicle to make it both hilarious and thought-provoking. You could almost see Jerry and George discussing it at Monk's Diner— George, always the conspiracy theorist, could bring up Kagan’s warning, leading to Jerry's sarcastic retort about imprisonment. “It almost sounds like a parody,” wrote Baker: “The response to concerns about dictatorship is to prosecute the author. But Trump and his allies are not going out of their way to reassure those worried about what a new term would bring by firmly rejecting the dictatorship charge. If anything, they seem to be leaning into it.”
Yeah, and that’s not funny— at all completely unAmerican Nazi like Kash Patel being given license to come after the media, not to mention criminal investigations into onetime aides who broke with Trump and ratted him out, and purging government of civil servants deemed disloyal… all very Hitlerian. More not-parody: “When critics said Trump’s language about ridding Washington of ‘vermin’ echoed that of Adolf Hitler, the former president’s spokesman said the critics’ ‘sad, miserable existence will be crushed’ under a new Trump administration.”
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert of authoritarianism: “Trump has made it crystal clear through all his actions and rhetoric that he admires leaders who have forms of authoritarian power, from Putin to Orban to Xi, and that he wants to exercise that kind of power at home… History shows that autocrats always tell you who they are and what they are going to do. We just don’t listen until it is too late.”
To be sure, American presidents have stretched their power and been called dictators going back to the early days of the republic. John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, among others, were all accused of despotism. Richard Nixon was said to have consolidated power in the “imperial presidency.” George W. Bush and Barack Obama were both compared to Hitler.
But there is something different about the debate now, more than overheated rhetoric or legitimate disagreements over the boundaries of executive power, something that suggests a fundamental moment of decision in the American experiment. Perhaps it is a manifestation of popular disenchantment with American institutions; only 10 percent of Americans think democracy is working very well, according to a poll in June by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Perhaps it is a reflection of the extremism and demagoguery that has grown more prevalent in politics in many places around the world. And perhaps it stems from a former president seeking to reclaim his old office who evinces such perplexing affinity for and even envy of autocrats.
I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone that many ordinary Germans, disillusioned with the Weimer Republic (democracy) and sick of the economic instability and social unrest following World War I started buying into simple solutions to complex problems… and that included falling for Hitler’s particular kind of charisma. By the last free election in Germany (March, 1933), the Nazis won 43.9% of the vote, followed by the center-left SPD with 18.3% and the Communists with 12.3%. There were even Jews for Hitler, believing his virulent anti-Semitism was directed at Eastern European Jews not at German Jews (much the way Hispanics in the U.S. today who back Trump think his racism is only for people south of the border). The Association of German National Jews was literally an organization of Jewish Nazis, exactly like the Republican Jewish Coalition. Other Jews voted for Hitler because they were afraid of communism, because they had a misguided sense of patriotism and because they miscalculated the threat, just as so many Americans today are miscalculating the threat from Trump.
Jews who voted for Hitler had their big “uh oh” moment in September, 1935 with the enactment of the Nuremberg Race Laws, which took away their civil rights (and citizenship) and also forbade marriages and sex between Jews and other Germans. Non-Jewish Germans started waking up to the mistake they had made by electing Hitler with Kristallnacht (1938), the outbreak of World War II the following year and— for the real die-hards— in 1945, when the Nazis were finally defeated and what was left of Germany was occupied by Russia, the U.S., Britain and France— and when the full extent of the Nazi atrocities were exposed; no more illusions at that point.
“Trump,” wrote Baker, “once expressed no regret that a quote he shared on social media came from Mussolini and adopted the language of Stalin in calling journalists the ‘enemies of the people.’ He told his chief of staff that ‘Hitler did a lot of good things’ and later said he wished American generals were like Hitler’s generals. Last December, shortly after opening his comeback campaign, Trump called for ‘termination’ of the Constitution to remove Biden immediately and reinstall himself in the White House without waiting for another election.”
[Trump’s] defenders dismiss the fears about [his] autocratic instincts as whining by liberals who do not like him or his policies and are disingenuously trying to scare voters. They argue that President Biden is the real dictator because his Justice Department is prosecuting his likeliest challenger next year for various alleged crimes, although there is no evidence that Biden has been personally involved in those decisions and even some former Trump advisers call the indictments legitimate.
“The dictator talk by Kagan and his fellow liberal writers [Kagan is a conservative Republican] is an attempt to scare Americans not just to distract them from the failures and weakness of the Biden administration but because of something they are even more afraid of: that a second Trump administration will be far more successful in implementing its agenda and undoing progressive policies and programs than the first,” Fred Fleitz, who served briefly in Trump’s White House, wrote on the American Greatness website on Friday.
Kagan, a widely respected Brookings Institution scholar and author of numerous books of history, has a long record of support for a muscular foreign policy that hardly strikes many on the left as liberal. But he has been a strong and outspoken critic of Trump for years. In May 2016, when other Republicans were reconciling themselves to Trump’s first nomination for president, Kagan warned that “this is how fascism comes to America.”