Seeing Trump, Imagining Hitler

“Before Adolf Hitler took power, virtually no one understood his unthinkable evil. Since his suicide, no one has fully explained how a talentless crank was able to turn Europe into a charnel house.”

—From “Imagining Hitler,” by Christopher Hitchens’ for Vanity Fair

If you can, indulge me as I go deep, very deep, into the weeds. This post is not for those with short attention spans or the faint of heart. Its 5400 words may never get read by anyone but me. But write it I must, hoping that I am off-base and ultimately and spectacularly wrong, but fearing I’m not:

most of us who follow the news saw all, or at least part, of Trump’s post-election “thank you” speech in Cincinnati last week. It was his first big event since he managed to win the election by losing the vote. Like all of Trump’s rallies and rally speeches, it was appalling, full of bravado, bluster, and bunkum that played well with the cultists in attendance.

But because the Cincinnati speech was given after Trump clearly knew he had lost the popular vote by more than two million votes, and clearly knew that tens of millions of people were trembling in fear at the thought of his presidency, the speech he gave was particularly dreadful and disturbing. Trump could have given us sobriety and humility, even if he had to pretend to be sober and humble. He could have delivered to us some dignity and thoughtfulness, even if had to borrow such qualities from a speechwriter. Instead he gave us more of the same, more of what he have seen, more of himself: a needy demagogue who may or may not have a coherent fascistic philosophy, but who definitely has fascistic instincts and impulses that rise from a disordered mind.

The speech last week was on my mind when I read Christopher Hitchens’ wonderful 1999 review of Ian Kershaw’s book, Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris. Keeping in mind Trump’s Cincinnati rally, complete with “Lock her up!” chants that Trump didn’t bother to subdue or mitigate, here is Hitchens’ opening paragraph:

“What a piece of work is man!” says the Prince of Denmark. “How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!” Well said, but where, as Ron Rosenbaum so intelligently asks in Related imagehis recent book, Explaining Hitler, do all the Jeffrey Dahmers come from? This is sometimes put, by nervous theologians, as “the problem of evil.” We often phrase it, colloquially, as the problem of Hitler. “His face in those early years,” wrote Arthur Koestler in 1942, “an unshaped pudding with a black horizontal dot, came to life as the lights of obsession were switched on behind the eyeballs.” And then those paragons of animals, those with the godlike and angelic faculties of reason and understanding, flung themselves down by the million and groaned great noises of worship and adoration. And this in the country of Beethoven and Goethe, where, to continue with Koestler for a moment, “the features of it retained their crankish ridiculousness, with the black dot under the upturned nose and the second black dot pasted on the forefront, but it now assumed the grotesque horror of a totem-mask worn at ritual dances where human sacrifices are performed.” A piece of work—no question about that.

An unshaped pudding with a black horizontal dot in the country of Beethoven and Goethe? How about a strangely shaped nest of florescent hair on an unnatural orange head in the country of Bob Dylan and Mark Twain? And we, we who have seen and experienced what is behind Trump’s eyeballs, now know all about the “lights of obsession.” And after countless rallies relentlessly broadcast on cable television, we have come to know those who figuratively flung themselves down and literally “groaned great noises of worship and adoration.” We can only hope that a line will be drawn before we get to human sacrifices.

Hitchens, who succumbed to cancer almost five years ago, asked:

Is it the insult to one’s integrity and intelligence—the shame of having still to cringe at the thought of such a person—that partly accounts for our continued fascination with der Führer? The maddening thought that, in other circumstances, he could have been such an ordinary bore and nuisance? The man’s opinions are trite and bigoted and deferential, and the prose in Mein Kampf is simply laughable in its pomposity.

Is that why we, in this day, have a continued fascination with Trump? Because he insults our integrity and intelligence? For all those out there who disdain the comparison with Hitler, we can see that der Führer and Trump have things in common. Their real opinions are trite and bigoted—and deferential to a certain idea: that their respective countries should be great again; that their lack of greatness has something to do with pigmentation or foreignness, which has diluted the superior stock. Their narratives are, indeed, laughable in their pomposity. But as Hitchens pointed out, “subversive or mocking wit” was not sufficient to discount and marginalize Hitler and, as we know today, discount and marginalize Trump.

One of the most depressing things about Hitchens’ insights is this simple statement:

It’s important to remember that many people, before the war, could look at Hitler and see a man with whom business could be done.

If that doesn’t sound familiar, in terms of what we are learning about the reaction to President-elect Trump both domestically and abroad, then you haven’t been paying attention. We are just now at the point in our history where we, as a nation theoretically opposed to authoritarianism, can decide what we see when we see Trump. Some people see an opportunity to cash in. Others see a path toward an ideological takeover of government and its institutions. But some of us see the makings of yet another regime of madness, scaled to Hitler’s Germany or something much smaller, and we can decide what we should say and do about it.

Hitchens reminded us of the historically chiseled, but nevertheless flawed, Winston Churchill, who said of Hitler (the version below is not the one Hitchens quoted from 1937, but the original from 1935):

It is not possible to form a just judgment of a public figure who has attained the enormous dimensions of Adolf Hitler until his life work as a whole is before us. Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds or remove the guilt of blood, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, wicked, and even frightful methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler.

Hitchens characteristically criticized Churchill’s assessment, made “after Hitler’s seizure of power,” as “a bit lenient.” Churchill went on to say (this part Hitchens did not quote in his review):

Such a final view is not vouchsafed to us today. We cannot tell whether Hitler will be the man who will once again let loose upon the world another war in which civilization will irretrievably succumb, or whether he will go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the great Germanic nation and brought them back serene, helpful and strong, to the European family circle.

It is on this mystery of the future that history will pronounce Hitler either a monster or a hero.

Mystery of the future. Monster or a hero. How many similar, pre-holocaust or pre-administration Churchillian voices have we Americans heard since November 8? How many well-meaning folks have urged us to give Trump a chance, to give him time to rise to the occasion and be better than his rise to power? How many have urged us to contemplate the mystery of the future under Trump, to do business with him like he was any other newly-anointed leader?

Today, as people attempt to make the best of our new Trump-dominated world, we are exhorted, as Churchill went on to write about Hitler’s thinly-disguised intentions, to “never forget nor cease to hope for the bright alternative.” We are asked to respect what Trump has accomplished. In his day, Churchill offered the public “admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled [Hitler] to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome all the authorities or resistances which barred his path.” Are we to do the same regarding Trump? Churchill said that Hitler “was the child of the rage and grief of a mighty empire and race which had suffered overwhelming defeat in war.” Are we supposed to see Trump, champion of rage-filled and grief-stricken alt-right whites, in the same explanatory light? Or should we heed the warning now and not wait for the worst?

The New York Times ran a piece on Saturday titled, “Extremists Turn to a Leader to Protect Western Values: Vladimir Putin.” Those extremists turning to a fascist named Putin aren’t living in reactionary, refugee-resenting enclaves in Western Europe. They are here in Christian America. And they have a champion. Or two:

Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump mystified many on the left and in the foreign policy establishment with his praise for Mr. Putin and his criticism of the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But what seemed inexplicable when Mr. Trump first expressed his admiration for the Russian leader seems, in retrospect, to have been a shrewd dog whistle to a small but highly motivated part of his base.

What some call dog whistle politics, with its coded language, others call open and unapologetic demagoguery. When Trump began his campaign last year by asserting that Mexico was sending to America criminals and rapists, he wasn’t whistling. He was singing like the fat lady. And the fact that he went on to sing the praises of a fascist, Vladimir Putin, was another part of what motivated the alt-right:

Throughout the collection of white ethnocentrists, nationalists, populists and neo-Nazis that has taken root on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Putin is widely revered as a kind of white knight: a symbol of strength, racial purity and traditional Christian values in a world under threat from Islam, immigrants and rootless cosmopolitan elites.

The Times began its piece with a quote from the founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, whose self-described mission “is defending Faith, Family, and Folk against the politicians and oligarchs who are running America into the ground.” The founder of that group is not ashamed of his love for the former KGB Colonel:

Russia is our biggest inspiration. I see President Putin as the leader of the free world.

The Times also quotes a white supremacist who used to be a KKK lawyer but who now speaks before alt-right extremist groups:

I’ve always seen Russia as the guardian at the gate, as the easternmost outpost of our people. They are our barrier to the Oriental invasion of our homeland and the great protector of Christendom. I admire the Russian people. They are the strongest white people on earth.

Last year this same man gave a speech at a far-right conference in St. Petersburg that “ended with a cry in halting Russian: ‘God save the czar!'” Thus, you can see that Trump’s singing in tune with Putin charmed the racist snakes who see Putin’s fascism as the salvation of White Christendom. But was Trump only pretending to hypnotize the snakes as part of his office-seeking performance? Or is he a true believer himself?

Trump had plenty of opportunity, both during the campaign and after it concluded, to openly and forcefully condemn Russia for its interference in our presidential election. He hasn’t done so. In fact, this past July he invited the Russians to get more involved and has never repented of that flirtation with treason. And while he remains silent these days on Russian aggression against American democracy, he has managed to tweet out his disgust at cast members of a popular Broadway play, and his hostility to an NBC comedy show. That he focuses on such things, while showing little or no concern for a foreign fascist’s attempt to meddle in our democratic affairs, has to tell us something important about him and his instincts. Add to all this a quote the Times offered us from Stephen Bannon, who will be Trump’s top strategist in the White’s House:

In a speech in 2014, he said that Mr. Putin ran a “kleptocracy,” but also that “we, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes.”

Traditionalism. Putin the traditionalist. For alt-righters, that word not only includes old, bigoted views on homosexuality—Putin is their bedfellow on that issue for sure—but an overt hatred for liberalism, which is seen as not sufficiently white and Christian and nationalistic and too friendly to “foreigners.” While Putin himself may not care so much about those issues because he cares more about destroying NATO and moving back into Eastern Europe and reviving a Russian empire, American white nationalists do care and are jazzed about Trump’s win and Bannon’s presence at the front.

One of those white nationalists—he disingenuously prefers the term “economic nationalist”—is Richard Spencer, now famous for his ugly, Nazi “Hail Trump” salute at a post-election conference in Washington, the same one where he characterized Trump’s victory as “the victory of the will,” a reference to a Nazi propaganda film. Spencer, who once worked as an assistant editor at The American Conservative magazine, now heads a racist-nationalist think tank, the National Policy Institute, and manages a website called AlternativeRight.com. He believes “the alt-right is going to change the world” and that it was “very hopeful for me that Bannon is at least open to these things.” According to NPR,

Spencer called Trump’s campaign “the first step towards identity politics in the United States.”

As far as Putin, Spencer is all in:

He said the group was encouraged by Trump’s foreign policy, particularly the way he praised Russia throughout the campaign and his skepticism for the U.S. commitment to NATO.

The Times reported that Spencer,

produced a video last year in which he claimed that “an understanding” between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin might bring together Slavic and American Caucasians and eventually “foretell a unified white world.” This summer, he echoed those remarks when he told The Nation magazine, “I think we should be pro-Russia because Russia is the great white power that exists in the world.”“We can look to Putin as someone we can admire and understand.”

There is no ambiguity there.

All of this—Trump’s admiration for Putin, his appeal to or cynical exploitation of white fascist sympathizers like Richard Spender here in America, and his giving alt-right promoter Stephen Bannon a top administration post—leads me to believe, at the very least, his intuitions are severely and dangerously tilted in the wrong direction. Trump may, after a ridiculous dodge, reluctantly and unenthusiastically disavow white supremacists like David Duke, but he has an enduring affection for an increasingly aggressive Russian thug and what he represents. And lest you think none of this has anything to do with Hitler or Nazi Germany or fascism, think again.

voigt and duke.jpgUdo Voigt is the former head of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and a current Member of the European Parliament. Oh, and Voigt is also a neo-Nazi. Yes. He is. A neo-Nazi. The NPD is a neo-Nazi party and Voigt was its leader for 15 years. He is, of course, a holocaust denier, believing the old Nazis killed “no more than 340,000 Jews.” Voigt has met more than once with a fellow holocaust denier and Trump voter mentioned above, David Duke. They took a couple of Nazi-nice pictures together, perhaps to show both how normal bigotry can look and how white supremacy can bridge the Atlantic.

The Times tells us that the NPD “views Chancellor Angela Merkel as a traitor because she opened the door to nearly a million migrants from Syria and elsewhere last year.” And echoing Trump’s (and Mike Pence’s) wretched criticism of President Obama for not being as strong a leader as Putin, Voight criticized Merkel—one of the few powerful voices of moral sanity left in the free world it seems—by praising the Russian despot:

We need a chancellor like Putin, someone who is working for Germany and Europe like Putin works for Russia. Putin is a symbol for us of what is possible.

What is possible is the resurgence of genuine fascism. Russian historian and philosophy professor, Andrey Zubov, lost his position at what is considered “the most elite university in Russia” for comparing Putin’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014 to prior Nazi aggression. Zubov wrote,

This has all happened before. Austria. Early March, 1938. The Nazis want to build up their Reich at the expense of another state.

An article in Newsweek (“Is Vladimir Putin a Fascist?“) this spring began this way:

A growing number of Russian analysts, in Russia and abroad, have taken to calling Vladimir Putin’s regime “fascist.” And they don’t use the term casually or as a form of opprobrium. They mean that Putin’s Russia genuinely resembles Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany.

That article informed us that Andrey Zubov,

argued that Russia’s president was building “a corporate state of a fascist type packaged in Soviet ideology, the ideology of Stalinism,” resulting in a Russia that closely resembles Italian fascism with its “nationalism and union with the church.”

“Soviet ideology, the ideology of Stalinism,” of red fascism.  It is important to interject here something most Americans don’t understand about Russia and the way many Russians think about history and their place in the world. Max Hastings, British historian and author, wrote in 2007:

Stalin killed at least as many people as Hitler. In Berlin today, no one would think of displaying publicly an image of the late Fuhrer. Yet in Moscow, it is deemed perfectly acceptable for taxi drivers to stick a picture of Stalin in the corner of their windscreens.

“He made Russia great,” I have heard many Russians say. “In Stalin’s day, this country was respected.”

They do not care that such respect was forged from terror, by Russia’s ruthless willingness to inflict death wholesale in order to impose its will.

That is reminiscent of what Churchill saw in 1932: “bands of sturdy Teutonic youths marching through the streets and roads of Germany, with the light of desire in their eyes to suffer for the Fatherland.” We ignore these deep-felt emotions, and the people willing to exploit them, at our peril.

Thinking about the former Soviet Union and lost Russian greatness reminds me of a man named Arkady Shevchenko. While I was in college, I went to Wichita State University to hear Shevchenko speak. He had been a Soviet diplImage resultomat under the famous Andrei Gromyko. Gromyko was a towering figure in Soviet diplomacy and politics, having been involved in everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis to nuclear arms treaties to détente to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev. Shevchenko was appointed Under Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1973, and not longer after that began working with the CIA. He defected from the Soviet Union five years later and became the highest ranking Soviet official to flee to the West.

Shevchenko published a best-selling book in 1985 (Breaking With Moscow) about his personal rise and experiences and about the inner workings of the Kremlin. In it he detailed what I heard him generally touch on during his lecture: the Soviet Union, a child of the Russian Revolution, was ultimately hell-bent on expansion and would use any means available to achieve it, including making fools out of gullible Westerners. Détente, for instance, was not really an attempt to “thaw’ relations between the two superpowers and make the world safer, but a means of achieving, first parity, and then military superiority. The Russians, presiding over a failing state, refused to accept ultimate failure as an option.

In that 2007 article, historian Max Hastings began with an account of his experience, as a member of “a party of British fisherman” on a charter plane to Russia, in 2005 (when Vladimir Putin was president of Russia).  I will quote at length from the piece:

“There will be a slight delay,” the pilot announced over the broadcast system, “because the airport has lost our landing clearance.”

Two hours later, he reported: “I’m afraid we shall have to come down in Finland, because the Russians say that unless we leave their airspace immediately, they will send up fighters to escort us out.”

When the aged bus which eventually conveyed us from Finland to Murmansk reached the Russian frontier, we endured two hours of torment.

No one had told the border guards that the Cold War was over. They pored over our passports. They searched every spool of our fishing tackle.

Bitterness and resentment about our expensive possessions and their threadbare poverty oozed from their every pore. At last, grudgingly, stone-faced and without a smile between them, they waved us into their miserable country.

Those unhappy petty officials in the forests of the remote Russian north-west embodied the spirit of their president, Vladimir Putin, who on Sunday delivered a brutal broadside against the United States and Britain, avowing his country’s enmity for us.

Some 25 years ago, when the Cold War was still icy, I asked that great historian Sir Michael Howard whether it was inevitable that the Russians would always be our enemies. Yes, he said sadly, “because they will always resent our success and be embittered by their own failure”.

That remains as true today as it was in 1982. For all the oil and gas riches of Putin’s country, for all the Russian oligarchs jetting and yachting around the world with their billions, their nation is still characterised by brooding anger. They feel themselves victims of a huge injustice.

They have lost their empire. They have endured 20 years of perceived Western slights and condescension, since the economic collapse of the Soviet Union.

They see the Americans preparing to deploy missiles in their former East European satellites. They watch Russian dissidents flaunting their wealth and – as they see it – treachery from the heart of London.

And thus it is that they applaud Putin to the rafters for telling the West that he will stand no more of it.

Sound familiar? That same sentiment animates Trump’s rally-loving legions.

We have good reason to believe that Vladimir Putin is, as Hastings described him, “Stalin’s spiritual heir.” The old historian said of Putin,

He astonished the world, last year, by telling an interviewer in deadly earnest that the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That famous Putin statement, officially translated by the Russian government as “the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century,” has been used as a club by both those on the right and those on the left. But most people don’t realize that in that speech in 2005, in which that statement was uttered, Putin draped a lot of rhetorical camouflage over his ambitions. He adorned his speech with Western-esque aspirations, with Trumpian deflection. He touted “democratic values,” but, he said,  “developing democratic procedures should not come at the cost of law and order.” He championed “Success for everyone. A better life for all.” He wanted “all our law-abiding citizens to be able to be proud of the work of our law enforcement agencies” and noted that “we need principally new approaches to fighting crime in our country.” He had a lot to say about terrorism:

Eradicating the sources of terrorist aggression on Russian territory is an integral part of ensuring law and order in our country. We have taken many serious steps in the fight against terrorism over recent years. But we cannot allow ourselves to have any illusions – the threat is still very real, we still find ourselves being dealt serious blows and criminals are still committing terrible crimes in the aim of frightening society. We need to summon our courage and continue our work to eradicate terrorism. The moment we show signs of weakness, lack of firmness, the losses would become immeasurably greater and could result in a national disaster.

He said,

Our objectives on the international stage are very clear – to ensure the security of our borders and create favourable external conditions for the resolution of our domestic problems.

He even had an opinion on the news media:

I also wanted to raise another, very specific, issue here today, namely, what must be done to ensure that national television fully takes into account Russian civil society’s most relevant needs and protects its interests. We need to establish guarantees that will ensure that state television and radio broadcasting are as objective as possible, free from the influence of any particular groups, and that they reflect the whole spectrum of public and political forces in the country…I am sure that these proposed measures will improve the quality and objectivity of the information our society receives today…

He even tossed in a word about what we call the death tax:

Incidentally, I think it would be a good decision to abolish the inheritance tax, because billion-dollar fortunes are all hidden away in off-shore zones anyway and are not handed down here. Meanwhile, people have to pay sums they often cannot even afford here just for some little garden shack.

President Putin had ideas about immigration that sound a lot like Republican talking points today:

I also think that an increase in our population should be accompanied by a carefully planned immigration policy. It is in our interest to receive a flow of legal and qualified workers. But there are still a lot of companies in Russia making use of the advantages of illegal immigration. Without any rights, after all, illegal immigrants are convenient in that they can be exploited endlessly. They are also a potential danger from the point of view of breaking the law.

It turns out that Putin, who was only 53 years old when he gave that speech, had no intention of pursuing any Western-style reforms. He set out to enrich himself, and later, because Russians play chess, to engage in a long-game rehabilitation of Russian hegemony, which necessarily involves aggression against the West. He was rumored to be “Europe’s richest man,” and in 2007 the CIA estimated his wealth “at around $40 billion,” according to The Times of Israel.  That same publication, in January of this year, quoted Adam Szubin, the acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury, as saying:

We’ve seen [Putin] enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalizing those who he doesn’t view as friends using state assets. Whether that’s Russia’s energy wealth, whether it’s other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don’t. To me, that is a picture of corruption.

Corruption. Trump. Putin. Hitler. I’ll ask again: Is there something in the air that should really terrify us? Should we be so cautious as to not speculate about the similarities? Ignore the confluence of events that make it seem we are about to repeat an awful history? Is it better that we go on and hope against hope that the signs we see are misleading us? Should we listen to the 1930s Churchill who said we should “never forget nor cease to hope for the bright alternative”? Is that the stance we should take here in our time? After all, rather than impersonate a grotesque maniacal killer like Adolph Hitler, it is much, much more likely Trump will prove to be nothing more than a profoundly insecure grifter who duped his followers for wealth and worship and then lost interest in the affairs of state, turning the government over to others—deeply and disturbingly conservative others to be sure—to run. But even if our situation doesn’t evolve into a horrific holocaust, we have no good reason to believe things will otherwise turn out well, given what we have seen and our seeing.

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference, is a very conservative guy. A Mormon from Utah, McMullin ran as an independent presidential candidate this year, to offer an alternative for Republicans and conservatives who could see Trump was ignorant, bigoted, and dangerous. Needless to say, he failed miserably. Republicans, including members of the Religious Right, flocked to Trump and made him the president-elect. But McCullin isn’t done fighting. He is trying to start a new, Trump-less conservative movement and is still making people aware of the cultural calamity we may face. He penned an op-ed for the New York Times that appeared today (“Trumps Threat to the Constitution“). I will quote from it at length, in case you are a victim of the Times’ pay wall:

…his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.

He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.

Image result for David Evan McMullinThere is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day. Last week, Mr. Trump commented on Twitter that flag-burning should be punished by jailing and revocation of citizenship. As someone who has served this country, I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.

Mr. Trump also recently inflated his election performance, claiming — without evidence — that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This, too, is nothing new. Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power. Eroding confidence in voting, elections and representative bodies gives them a freer hand to wield more power.

As a C.I.A. officer, I saw firsthand authoritarians’ use of these tactics around the world. Their profound appetite for absolute power drives their intolerance for any restraint — whether by people, organizations, the law, cultural norms, principles or even the expectation of consistency. For a despot, all of these checks on power must be ignored, undermined or destroyed so that he is all that matters.

Saying that, “We can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy,” McMullin adds,

We cannot allow Mr. Trump to normalize the idea that he is the ultimate arbiter of our rights. Those who can will need to speak out boldly and suffer possible retaliation. Others will need to offer hands of kindness and friendship across the traditional political divide, as well as to those who may become targets because of who they are or what they believe.

I would have never thought it possible, before the emergence of Trumpism, that I could so profoundly agree with someone so far away from me, so far across “the traditional political divide.” But I do. The resistance to fascism, or quasi-fascism, or any other form of authoritarian rule will necessarily have to include people, good people, from all backgrounds and belief systems. We can sort out and argue over the other differences later, when the threat subsides.

The Book of Proverbs tells us that “the righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth.” Ah, but the 20th century especially saw the righteous removed in the most violent of ways, and the wicked did then and still do today inhabit the earth. But how can the wicked succeed in our supposedly enlightened times? Christopher Hitchens remarked, “no one has fully explained how a talentless crank was able to turn Europe into a charnel house,” a soulless place where corpses are piled up like firewood awaiting a long and frigid winter. Hitchens is still right of course. And my position is that because he is right, because we cannot explain such an incomprehensibly strange and unfathomably deadly twist of fate a mere two generations ago, we should do all we can to make sure that our own talentless crank, about to assume unimaginable power as the President of the United States, will not make us a part of another fascist nightmare.

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15 Comments

  1. These are sobering reflections. This is a most informative post, and I thank you for the research and effort that clearly went into it.

    I see now why I did not get any response from you on my comment about understanding the “opposition”. You must have regarded what I said as appeasement of sorts. Therefore, I feel I must clarify and restate some of my thoughts.

    I maintain that we must listen to and understand the position of our fellow Americans who, having views considerably different than mine, voted for Trump. Some, even most of them, will not be amenable to any discussion, but we could get some to re-think their positions. Our side will need every person we can get. Some of his followers are quickly becoming disillusioned by Trump’s changeability in the face of reality. I happen to believe that Trump said whatever he needed to get elected, then will do whatever he wants once in power.

    By the selection of his cabinet and almost everything he has said since his election (as you have pointed out), Trump indicates that he is in disagreement with most of the principles I find important – universal enfranchisement, diverse cultures, tolerance for other lifestyles and religions, reverence for the democratic process, civil disagreement and discussion – the list goes on and on. Trump is elitist, self-centered, arrogant, sexist – that list goes on and on and I can give direct quotes for every element of it – there is little doubt of his views. While he can demonstrate constraint and civility, left to his own devices he has neither.

    Thus, “our side”, people who hold those principles stated above important, must resist his efforts to dilute those principles, to do away with them in our country. At this moment, I believe we have the majority of citizens in our country on our side, as witnessed by the popular vote and the recount efforts underway. Our resistance must be conducted under the laws and rules of our government and society, and we must resist vigorously and relentessly. It will call for sacrifice for us – certainly for some of us and maybe for all of us.

    I really believe that is the difference between America today and the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s and 1930’s. We have a vital, determined, (relatively) informed group of people who will bend every effort to resist the erosion of our democratic principles. These people are in our general population, in our government, in our military, and in our police force. If we pay attention, and if we resist in a lawful, relentless way, I think we will prevail.

    The Democratic Party should examine what the constituency of its strength is, and act to energize those constituencies as a majority. Democrats should use all of the communications waveband that is available today – the mainstream media has failed the democratic process by its fixation on selling time and acquiring viewership, and is no longer effective in purveying truth. I believe you are correct, Duane; if it takes using Twitter, then we should use Twitter. We must put our views out there for others to understand using every means at our disposal, using every nuance of effective communications in doing so.

    I am frightened of this Trump phenomenon, too. I live in a country that I thought I understood, and find that it is different than I thought. I am going to work hard to inform people, understand people, and resist this movement to un-civilize our country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael,

      I am not in a position to respond to you at length now, but I want to apologize for missing your earlier comment. I did not intentionally ignore you and I will go back and read what you wrote and respond to all of your comments. I have always appreciated your contribution to the discussion on this blog. If it weren’t for people like you, I would likely throw in the towel. Again, please accept my apology and allow me to respond when I am able to do so appropriately. I don’t know how I missed your original comment, but somehow I did. My bad. I have a lot of outside stuff to do in the next day or two, but I will get back in the fray as soon as I can.

      Duane

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    • Michael,

      Bravo! I am impressed by this statement of understanding and commitment. I expressed to you earlier how I approach these things, but I want to say here that when you say “we must resist vigorously and relentlessly” you are saying exactly what I think we all should be saying on this side of the divide. That’s the only sane reaction to what we have seen and are seeing and will continue to see.

      And when you say the Democratic Party should “act to energize” its constituents, you got that exactly right, too. I am not one who thinks we should make a narrow play to people who we have little chance of reaching, while risking the trust of those who look to us for hope. Sure, we need to have a working-class message, but “working class” encompasses more than disgruntled white guys in rural Wisconsin or western Pennsylvania who could, whether they shared it or not, ignore Trump’s bigotry and sexism and xenophobia. Along with working-class economics (including the right to union organization), we need to defend values of inclusion and tolerance for diversity, civil rights for all, as well as oppose Republican strategems like voter suppression.

      Oh, and thanks for the Weimar reference. That started a whole train of thought.

      Duane

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  2. Ben Field

     /  December 5, 2016

    A very sobering essay on the demagogues that destroyed nations by practicing despotism. Hopefully, history will not be repeated from the failure to remember how easily such begins and ends. In the opening quote, Hitchens says no one understood the unthinkable evil of Hitler before he took power. At least Trump has been exposed on his vulgarity, fraud, greed, and psychological defects. We know, before the brown shirts arrive, of his danger and should challenge any citizen practicing racism, homophobia, or hate against those with whom they disagree. Trump has turned us into a policeman, ready to take action against such. At least the better part of the nation disagrees with a dictator-in-chief, and perhaps enough of his supporters will awaken before he becomes one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ben,

      You have put the best face possible on this. Trump has been, generally, exposed for the fraud he is and that is a good start. But Americans, hoping against hope, will likely increasingly give him the benefit of the doubt for some time to come. That’s usually what happens until actual governance, and the decisions that come with it, start to reveal who he and his administration will be.

      As for his supporters, the cultists among them will be with him until the end. The other hard-core supporters, we both know, will never abandon him so long as he keeps making his rhetorical case (however false it is) against the ambiguous establishment, as well as against people unaffectionately known as “the elites.” Those hard-core supporters seem to be relish his attacks against the people they hate, more than they relish any other thing about him. They don’t care if he peoples his administration with billionaires and bankers and anti-worker ideologues, so long as he keeps poking a stick in the eye of elitist “libtards.”

      I hold out some tiny hope that enough people only loosely supportive of Trump will see through all the bluster eventually and see what he is really doing. That, I suppose, is up to the press and, as I have tried to make clear, partly up to us.

      Duane

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  3. ansonburlingame

     /  December 6, 2016

    Duane and Michael,

    Again, good blog and response by Michael, as before.

    5400 words that essentially compare Trump to men of the past (and present) that created hell on earth, the facists for lack of a better word, Hitler, Putin. KKK, etc.

    Just consider if you can someone that wrote a 5400 word essay detailing the hell on earth created by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, even the French Revolution all in the name of equality for the “working man”, while chopping the heads off of “rich people”, “legally” shooting them or sending them to concentration camps (gulags, re-education camps, etc.)

    The one thing in common with both “right and left” thugs, facists if you will, was the unrelenting accumulation of power by each of them. Neither side would tolerate a challenge to their authority.

    More so that ever before, at least in my lifetime, has American political debate gone so far in each direction, though neither side will claim they are “too far left” or “too far right”. Each side claims “majority” support. I believe both sides think their support is part of the old Nixon claim of the “silent majority”.

    Of course the “majority” of Americans do not want authoritarian rule from either the Right or Left, facism or socialism. Just keep in mind, Duane, as you unleash the “dogs of social war” against the right, there are a substantial number of Americans that have and will continue to deeply resent a move towards socialism or the Left.

    I can also point out the the only real social violence in our streets, mayhem against cops, “burn the bitch down” in Ferguson, recent events in Portland, OR., etc. has been from the Left, so far. In that sense I would include radical Islamic terrorism as “leftist” as well, a call for violent overthrow of the existing American “way”. We have yet to see mobs of white supremacists roaming our streets and when Black Lives Matter advocates do such “roaming” you call it “peaceful protest”!!

    The Center, the realm of compromise is our only way out. Having said that, might you write 5400 words, or so, about where you and yours could accommodate some “Trumpisms” as long as you got some “socialism”, left leaning ideas embedded in law and then good enforcement of such laws by both sides, together!!

    Anson

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    • Anson,

      You remain, in my opinion, categorically confused, in terms of evaluating the Trump phenomenon. This isn’t a merely a matter of one side going too far, although that, as we will soon see, is part of it. What is bigger, and what you seem not to see, is that, first, Trump is a looter. He achieved what he achieved in November (and before that) by lying and by stealth, and he has no plans to change a damn thing when he takes over the White’s House. His main focus will be on how much he can loot. There is no reason to believe he won’t put his own financial interests ahead of the nation’s interests. No reason at all. In fact, it is just the opposite. Name me one president in modern times who refused to liquidate his potential conflicts of interest and pay at least some respect to the idea of “country first”?

      Second, he is dangerously ignorant, and dangerously uninterested in learning anything necessary for the job he will hold next year. We have never seen anyone like this, Anson. Never. He is in a class by himself and he is scaring a lot of people who have the credentials to know how much danger he presents. If he were to announce to the world that he won’t make any national security decisions, and appoint competent and sane Republicans to run the foreign policy side of things, I would breathe a sigh of relief. But he won’t. He has too much at stake in terms of his business interests all over the world. It appears the best pick we will get is “Mad Dog” and we don’t know how much Trump will pay attention to him, since he isn’t family or part of his trusted inner circle.

      Third, he is a pathological liar with no regard for the truth or for those who attempt to defend it. Again, we have had no one in high office like this. We don’t even know if his obvious lies are obvious to him. The worst case scenario, I fear, is that he can, at an instant, delude himself. Jesus.

      Most people, outside of the Trump Cult, see all this. Yet you, for some reason I can’t figure out since you are not a Trump cultist, continue to see all of this through the old paradigm of left-right politics. It’s that, for sure (because Trump appears to be turning most domestic policy over to ideologues like Pence and Ryan), but it is much, much more than that. This man represent an existential threat to our nation and to our democracy. He is unprecedentedly unpopular because people perceive this.

      Finally, you talk of accommodation. How do you come into an agreement, however remote the possibility, with someone who has no principles? To use a small example, the man has fucked over plumbers and carpet layers and other small business folks. He has stiffed bartenders and real estate brokers. He has even screwed over lawyers who represented him. He has been sued for such things countless times, with around 75 lawsuits still pending. His word is worthless. He will say one thing one day and say the opposite the next. He has no commitment to consistency or integrity. Look what he did to Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani! He is an unethical, thin-skinned, bigoted asshole with a short attention span and no appetite for education, and, as I keep saying, with one or more personality disorders.

      This isn’t merely a clash between ideologies. This is a clash between sane governance and the unthinkable.

      Duane

       

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  4. Ben Field

     /  December 6, 2016

    Anson.

    That “liberal rag”‘ Time Magazine, reported these incidents just five days after the election.
    Evidence or right wing nut jobs representing Trump’s America…

    http://time.com/4569129/racist-anti-semitic-incidents-donald-trump/

    The the “liberal rag” Newsweek reported that right wing extremists are a bigger threat to America than ISIS..,

    http://www.newsweek.com/2016/02/12/right-wing-extremists-militants-bigger-threat-america-isis-jihadists-422743.html

    The KKK is marching in support of Trump’s racism. Your President, not mine, has bragged on video of sexually assaulting women with impunity because of his celebrity. It is beyond belief that any rational human could support such an animal. If you have no knowledge of right wing extremism occurring today, then you are either blind or refuse to see. I promise to follow the GOP example of the last eight years, and delegitimize the President at every occasion I encounter.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anonymous

     /  December 7, 2016

    Duane,

    Please leave this post for a few days, I am still directing friends to it!

    Like

  6. ansonburlingame

     /  December 10, 2016

    Duane,

    I hope you admit that you are very caught up, extremely worried, about Trump’s personality, style, demeanor, etc. I am too and you, more than most herein, know it. I don’t like the man. I have never felt that way about Obama (the man) and never joined the cult of “adjective’s” (Muslim, Kenyan born, black man with only black motivations, etc.) But his policies, you bet I didn’t like them, nor his fundamental “philosophy” related to how to get other people/countries to “do better”.

    I do have confidence in the “Office of the Presidency” as well as the other checks and balances in our Constitution, however. If Trump tries to drive the country off the rails I believe democratic opposition will prevent a holocaust of sorts. It did exactly that with Obama (though I don’t consider his intentions would create a holocaust, just a huge MESS in government) and he had to resort to Executive Orders and speeches in various attempts to get his way.

    Hillary would have more or less followed Obama’s lead in policies and that is why I could never vote for her, simple as that. All the personal crap against her and I could write a long paragraph listing them, were beside the point for me.

    I of course am a strong supporter of conservative approaches to both domestic and international affairs. On the other hand I support liberal ideas on gun control, abortion, etc. as well. I oppose Black Lives Matter in the same way I oppose the KKK, etc. also. And yes, my opposition to such as Black Lives Matter results in some calling me a racist, ignoring my opposition to white people like the string of adjectives used above by one of your supporters.

    Trump is taking steps to legally divorce himself from his business interests. But you and others will claim some golf course around the world “has benefited” from a Trump policy decision. Baloney in my view but no one can prove a negative.

    I watched a rather lengthy Paul Ryan interview last night outlining in considerable detail what he is “cooking up” as initial first steps in Congress, starting about 1 PM on Jan 20, 2017, just after Trump is sworn into office. EVERY plan or intention he mentioned have my support, my conservative support. Can he do it, will he do it, well who knows, but in terms of intentions he has my support, on immigration, energy policies, tax reform, restrengthening our Armed Forces, and best of all, his awareness that he CANNOT do all such things by driving up the national debt as well. The “leverage” he and Trump will have in achieving their goals will be to dramatically improve our economy, get growth in GDP into the 6,8 even 10% range in the next two or three years, while keeping unemployment at the “natural level” and holding inflation at bay.

    Ryan supports Trump’s “$1 Trillion to improve our infrastructure”. BUT he does not mean a $1 Trillion check from the federal government to do it. He wants to “leverage private investment”, instead. Now what the hell does that mean? I have no idea, but if our roads, rails, etc. are “improved”, dramatically AND our national debt does not jump up by $1 Trillion as it did with the inept “Obama stimulus”, well good for him, and Trump.

    Here is one you should keep your eyes on, the “$125 Billion in back-end Pentagon spending” that has arisen. Actually it is not THAT bad. It is “only” $25 billion per year in a $600 billion dollar budget, but it is still bad, for sure. 1 million men in uniform (about) and another million “back-end bureaucrats” (human resources, accountants, “advisers”, etc.) is exactly what I saw in the Pentagon almost 30 years ago and left the Navy and a good career, in disgust.

    Trump should privately explode over such crap, but not tweet about it. Do you think he will raise all sorts of hell with his “Mad Dog” SecDef and make damn sure he dramatically improves that situation. I think he will do exactly that, kick bureaucratic asses all over the place. Then you and yours will write about what a “bully” he is!!

    You are a strong supporter of liberal ideas. I am a strong supporter of conservative ones. Thus we will always disagree on “politics”. But if Trump tries to “act like Hitler” I will be in the streets by your side because “I don’t like facists, communists, socialists, thugs, killers, (see other adjectives above), either”. But if all Trump does is advance what I consider to be good conservative government, then you will be protesting without me in tow for sure.

    As well, I fully expect the minority opposition in Congress to pull all the same tricks used by the GOP over the last 8 years to oppose Obama. As long as they do so “democratically”, using the rules, laws, etc. in place to protect minorities that is fine with me. I also expect Dems will stand a reasonably good chance, maybe, to regain a majority in the Senate in two years. Claire will be running again for sure. Whether or not I support her will be TBD, for now at least. Can you and yours wait two years for another round or should you continue to “unleash the dogs of social war” right now. That is your call but I will not support that “cause”, for now at least.

    Anson

    PS: I think I mentioned herein that I wrote Claire and Roy a letter right after the election, urging bipartisan cooperation. Roy has not responded but Claire sent me a letter signed by her. It was nothing more that pure political crap, telling me how good she has been in supporting Missouri. OMG!! What a waste of time, mine and hers.

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  7. Duane, you wrote this impressive post more than two months ago, but here in February and three weeks into the Trump presidency I am finding no flaws in your portents. All hope is gone that a sane and benevolent Trump might emerge from his campaign demagogue persona. There is no depth to this man beyond a compulsive desire to amass wealth, compel attention, and wield power.

    I was impressed by the insight that the evil despot Josef Stalin’s image is still revered in Russia. This political passion for national power and identity, a central component of patriotism, is even more powerful than I appreciated. It is a reprise of an historical truth.

    I appreciate more than ever the effort you are putting into posts like this one. Thank you. Not many will read it because of length, but those who do will be strengthened accordingly and will hopefully help lead us out of this mess. There are thinking people still out here in the majority who voted Democratic. It is no accident that Orwell’s 1984 has climbed to the top of best-seller lists.

    Like

    • Thanks, Jim.

      I am more disturbed than ever about what we are seeing. I am also more disturbed than ever, too, about your point that not many people will read lengthy pieces, or books, anymore. That is at least part of why we got here. To put it bluntly, too many people just don’t know anything, even rudimentary anythings, about history or politics or philosophy or science. Or what they know is false and they don’t know that it is false. Or they don’t know what they don’t know. I could go on. Add to all that the fact that the right-wing has almost completely undermined or deligitimized all of the institutions, including journalism, that we need to survive as a functioning democracy that actually functions for all, as opposed to those with money and means.

      Most disturbing of all, though, is that the leaders of one of our major political parties are looking the other way while a clearly incompetent, clearly disturbed, clearly compromised grifter—with a weird affection for a murderous Russian, with a frightening indifference to the truth, with an increasingly dark view of America that he both encourages and exploits through fearmongering—is saying and doing things that could, quite literally, ruin our country and the world as we know it. And these Republicans are tolerating all this mostly because they believe they will get from him tax cuts for their wealthy friends, deregulation of business, the final crippling of labor unions, and, the gem of right-wing political philosophy, the dismantling of the so-called welfare state.

      Meanwhile, the biggest threat to our species is rarely mentioned these days, except in those stories about heroic scientists and others trying to preserve vital government climate data from destruction by science-deniers coming on board the Tr-mp administration.

      I suppose the best news out there is that people, rather tardily, are rising up to express themselves against some of the outrages going on. We can only hope the disparate movements forming will somehow, before it is too late, coalesce into a large and powerful one, one that can actually turn red places purple and purple places blue.

      Our only hope.

      Duane

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