Anyone familiar with European history of the 20th Century has to be genuinely worried about our country. Donald Trump has revealed himself as the same type of political figure who rose to power in Spain, Italy and Germany during the economic turmoil of the 1930s. Now, I know that in the last seven years we have been flooded with hyperbolic allegations of fascism and totalitarianism in our political discourse. Right wing nuts claim Obama is “imperial” and seeking to destroy our democracy. Left wing nuts claim to see fascism behind every attempt to undermine Obama’s policies. Hyperbole is rampant, but in the case of Donald Trump, one has to wonder if hyperbole is even possible. History is calling to us to stop, even as it endeavors to repeat itself once again. I just never thought it could happen here.
I am not referring to Trump’s avid study of Hitler’s speeches, or the obvious imitation of Mussolini’s mannerisms in speeches, or even of his obvious admiration for the use of violent power to repress opposition (e.g. the Chinese or Putin). Trump is an authoritarian, with many of his promises of action being contrary to the Constitution and the law. He justifies actions completely contrary to American ideals and principles to preserve the same. His appeals to division and scapegoating are as familiar as history in Europe of the 1930s with its economic uncertainty and resurgent Nationalism. Like the rich and powerful of Hitler’s era, the billionaire class in this country encouraged him early on, thinking they could control him, but in reality they were creating the environment that would ultimately challenge their own power.
Trump is not hard to figure out and his tactics are as familiar as can be. What is hard to witness is the willingness of many Americans to ignore reality and support Trump no matter how intolerant, how xenophobic, how misogynistic or vulgar his behavior or policies. Americans seem to be unconcerned with his inveterate dishonesty (e.g. “There is no violence at my rallies.”) and are totally invested in him as a redeeming figurehead – they claim he is the only one who can change things. Even a few well educated supporters of Trump appear willing to be “good Germans” in the hope that he will change the system. Many people I know who are usually intelligent, honest, and tolerant refuse to consider the reality of what Trump represents in the futile hope that he is what they want him to represent.
Like past demagogues in history, every outrageous act of Trump is dismissed as a media lie (i.e. the Jews), or a conspiracy of the establishment to thwart the “will of the people.” “USA! USA!” has been appropriated by Trump supporters as the new “Seig Heil,” as though Trump represents the realization of American greatness. Violence against opponents is encouraged at his rallies, and opponents of Trump are characterized as the enemies of American values.
Some argue that Trump is the consequence of the GOP exploiting the politics of division ever since Nixon, and they may be right. However, Trump is less difficult to understand or dismiss than the millions of Americans who mindlessly support him. The disease of men like Trump are easily controlled if the swamp of support is small. What we are seeing in Trump is a profound spiritual disease of American society.