“It’s in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.”
– Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
American democracy increasingly resembles the frog placed in a pot of tepid water not realizing that as the water temperature slowly rises it’s being boiled to death.
Our temperature is rising. Too few of us are paying attention.
Just in the last two weeks the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has broadly outlined the authoritarian agenda he will implement if he gets another grab at power. The agenda – and don’t buy the nonsense that what Donald Trump says differs from what he does – is profoundly un-American, combining the worst of Know Nothing nativism from before the Civil War with the innuendo laced radicalism of Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
Increasingly the con man who would be president again sounds like a beer hall agitator in Munich. And a vast army of enablers are goose stepping to his commands.
As widely reported and confirmed by Trump advisers in numerous interviews and documents, the former president, and this is a partial list, intends to:
- Dismantle the federal civil service system that has been in place since James Garfield was president
- Conduct wholesale deportations of millions, including people who have been living in the United States for years, or in some cases their entire lives
- Create vast detention camps
- Populate the federal government with thousands of cranks and seditionists who, unlike his first time, will not be dissuaded by the Constitution or law from targeting political opponents through a totally politicized justice system
- Purge the U.S. military of officers unwilling to carry out illegal orders
- Dispatch the National Guard to patrol major American cities and use the power of the federal budget to direct local policing
- Eliminate the federal Department of Education and exert unprecedented control over local schools and colleges
- Enact – again – a ban against Muslims entering the country
- Pardon the guilty of January 6 and lock up any resisters
- Re-evaluate – read withdraw – from NATO, the western alliance that has provided security for much of Europe in the post-World War II era
- End U.S. aid to Ukraine, ensuring that his Russian authoritarian role model, will be able to do to Poland and the Baltic states what he has tried to do to Ukraine
Meanwhile, Trump – a profoundly ignorant man, but at the same time a highly skilled propagandist – is continually conditioning his most ardent followers to their own embrace of his distorted and deeply dangerous approach to American politics. He no longer walks to the edge of inciting violence, but routinely destroys any boundary.
In what the Atlantic called a “dystopian, at times gothic speech” that “droned on for nearly 90 minutes,” Trump told a crowd of his Florida followers recently that he will eliminate the “liars and leeches” who have been “sucking the life and blood” out of America.
Who are these people, these liars and leeches? Mitt Romney? Career prosecutors in several states and the federal government who have investigated Trump’s actions and proven corruption – stands indicted 91 times – and attempt, as the law and our Constitution demand, to hold him accountable? Are the judges charged with administering justice the liars and leeches? Is he talking about former four-star generals who have pronounced him ignorant, unstable and unfit?
Like a Mussolini praising Hitler, he touts as role models the murderous Putin and the strongmen of Hungry, China and North Korea.
This must be called what it is – a fascist government in waiting. The supreme leader’s language no longer hints at the prospect of fascist actions to come, but rather confirms them.
“In honor of our great Veterans on Veteran’s Day,” Trump said on social media, “we pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American dream.”
“This is straight-up Nazi talk,” writes New Republic editor Michael Tomasky, “in a way he’s never done quite before. To announce that the real enemy is domestic and then to speak of that enemy in subhuman terms is Fascism 101. Especially that particular word.”
That word would be vermin. What decent, Constitution loving American calls other Americans “vermin?”
Whether Trump knows it or not, and one suspects he does and certainly his speechwriters know this language – down to the same words – were often employed in Nazi Germany in the 1930s to justify the wholesale eliminate of European Jews. This is solely the language of division and hatred. The language of a man and a movement willing to jettison any respect or deference to the rule of law and the Constitution. It is the language of fascism.
A singular feature of fascist governments through modern history is to demonize a class of people as “subhuman” – Jews, indigenous people, migrants, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, on and on. Demagogues must have a target. Anyone “different” from their mass of followers or any critic is fair game. The fascist leaders of history – in Italy, Germany, Spain – required an enemy, even one casually defined, to focus the hatred and channel the grievance and fear of his followers.
During a recent rally in New Hampshire Trump pledged to “root out … the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country … The real threat is not from the radical right; the real threat is from the radical left, and it’s growing every day, every single day. The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”
The threat is from within. Really? But who, exactly? Who are these vermin? Career educators trying to teach history? Librarians who reject book banning? Newspaper columnists who deplore the ugliness and historical import of such deranged, unhinged talk from a person in a position of power and influence? Maybe you are the “vermin” – watch yourself – lest you be intimidated and frightened into silence. This is how the authoritarian consolidates his power.
“He’s telling us exactly what he intends to do — like it or loathe it,” write Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen in Axios. “And this time, he’ll have prefabbed institutional muscle to turn pugilistic words into policies and action from the get-go.”
This is not a new story, but it may be history too many Americans have failed to understand or heed.
The pot is boiling. There can be no mystery where this is headed. Recall the past. Fight against un-American words and actions by hateful, ignorant people. Embrace democracy and the Constitution.. Influence the present.
A democracy is too important to lose.
A few suggestions from across the world wide web …
Note-taking Lessons From America’s Greatest Biographer
An exhibit on the biographer Robert Caro is now open at the New York Historical Society.
Caro in his New York office
“We mere mortals can peek behind the scenes of his work by visiting the oldest museum in New York City—the New-York Historical Society. It acquired the rights to Caro’s archives and turned them into a permanent exhibit, with plans to rotate the collection of documents over time. The exhibit displayed different stages of his writing process, from interviewing to outlining, so I picked some highlights to share below.”
If you care about history – and writing it – this is a must read. Link here:
Basketball Season: Requiem of a Mississippi cheerleader
The novelist Donna Tartt remembers her young life as a cheerleader.
“The gymnasiums were high-ceilinged, barnlike, drafty, usually in the middle of some desolate field. We were always freezing in our skimpy plaid skirts, our legs all goose-pimples as we clapped and stamped on the yellowed wooden floor. (Our legs, being so much exposed, were frequently chapped from cold, yet we were forbidden to put lotion on them, Cindy and the older girls having derived a pathological horror of “grease” from—as best as I could figure—the Clearasil ads in Tiger Beat and Seventeen—this despite the fact that grease was the primary element of all our diets.)”
Inside the $1.5-Trillion Nuclear Weapons Program You’ve Never Heard Of
I found this piece both fascinating … and deeply unsettling.
A Minuteman missile in South Dakota
“Since the advent of plutonium production, less than a century ago, some parts of the U.S. have borne more of those costs than others. This past summer I drove to the city that’s still making the weapons it was supposed to eradicate the need for; to the plains where nuclear missiles control local economies; to a mine 2,000 feet underneath the desert floor where much of America’s plutonium waste from weapons production goes to rest. My hope was to hear from people who live in those communities to better understand where that era has left them as we teeter on the edge of a new arms race.”
Makes me want to dust off the plans for the bomb shelter. From Scientific American.
Thanks for reading. See you again soon.