We are now living in Trump’s America. The man who has assumed the Presidency is dedicated to enriching himself and the billionaires in his cabinet at the expense of ordinary Americans blinded by his demagoguery. The Women’s March was a wonderful event; demonstrating widespread opposition to racism, sexism,, and xenophobia, but it will be essential to maintain this politics of resistance in the difficult days to come. For in terms of historical analogies, it is almost impossible to find any Presidential comparisons—including the extreme conservatism of the Reagan administration.
Although many may find the analogy overblown, the Trump Presidency may well represent our Berlin 1933 moment. This observation does not belittle the suffering and devastation wrought by the Holocaust and Second World War, but Trump’s control of nuclear weapons and assault upon measures to limit global warming may well usher in new atrocities and global catastrophes.
There were many prominent German politicians, industrialists, and generals who essentially thought they could control the megalomaniac Hitler and his movement, but those efforts at collaboration failed miserably, and the world suffered the consequences. Today, we honor the Germans who risked their lives in opposition to the Hitler regime. In our Berlin moment, Americans must decide whether they will make their stand in resistance or become collaborators.
In our Berlin moment, Americans must decide whether they will make their stand in resistance or become collaborators.
While now engaged in a battle of wills with the Trump administration, the mainstream media has only itself to blame for the rise of Trump by putting profits ahead of journalism. During the Republican primaries, the billionaire businessman reaped unfettered access to the airwaves with his every unsubstantiated comment eliciting extensive coverage while policy matters were ignored. In the general election, the media sought to project a sense of fairness by concentrating on Hillary Clinton’s emails while generally ignoring charges of Trump campaign connections to Russia.
Following the surprise victory of Trump in the Electoral College, the mainstream media has attempted to legitimize the Trump administration by emphasizing themes such as respecting the peaceful transfer of power and treating Trump as if he were any other incoming President; ignoring the threats posed to American democracy by Trump’s demagoguery.
The thanks given to the mainstream media for this policy of collaboration is a declaration of war by the Trump administration against a free press. Arguing over trivial issues such as the size of the inaugural crowd, a favorite diversionary tactic of the Trump team, Trump surrogates Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway have introduced the concept of alternative facts for which it is unnecessary to offer substantiating evidence. Such doubletalk reminds one of Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda; not to mention the nightmare visions of George Orwell’s 1984.
This propaganda campaign seems to enjoy considerable success as many Trump supporters reject independent journalism in favor of fake news from sources such as Brietbart News and the Alt-Right. In a contemporary version of Hitler’s Brown Shirts, some Trump supporters have employed violence and intimidation in support of fake news stories while intimidating reporters and opponents of Trump.
Fascism’s rise to power during a period of economic distress and political division in the 1930s was also fostered by the scapegoating of Jews and other minorities. Today, Trump’s rhetoric targets Mexican and Muslim immigrants as a threat to American jobs and security. Citing the economic and crime dangers posed by illegal Mexican immigration, Trump still promises to build a wall along the Mexican border for which Mexico will pay. To fight terrorism, Trump intends to ban Syrian refugees from entering the country and promises strict vetting and ideological tests for immigrants and visitors from Islamic nations. He has not ruled out a national registry for Muslims.
Trump speaks of a narrow nationalism which he refers to as America first. We have not seen this degree of nativism since the anti-immigration fervor of the 1920s that fostered the growth of the Ku Klux Klan on the national level. And it is also worth remembering that the American First organization of the late 1930s and early 1940s embraced the anti-Semitism of its leaders such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh.
Sexism and racism have also played prominent roles in the rise of Trump. He has consistently objectified women with his misogynist rhetoric, and women’s reproductive rights are under attack in his pledge to appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade and in his support for the Republican pledge to defund Planned Parenthood. Trump undermined the legitimacy of the Obama Presidency with his leadership of the Birther Movement.
Attacking the Black Lives Matter Movement as political correctness gone amuck and stereotyping black Americans as all living in crime-filled ghettos, Trump has garnered little support from black Americans while appealing to a white working-class constituency; many of whom seem to blame a black President for their cultural and economic displacement in America. Thus, Trump represents the fascist desire to return to an earlier and simpler time of alleged greatness.
Despite the sexism and racism, many defenders of Trump insist that the jobs test is the only one that counts. From this perspective, Trump and his billionaire friends are job creators, and their wealth represents attainment of the American dream—although like Trump most inherited their wealth. In a similar vein, deregulation and the promotion of fossil fuels do not matter if they pass the jobs test. While progressives are not particularly enamored with deregulation, other aspects of the Trump economic agenda are attractive, such as increasing employment through expanded infrastructure development and revisiting trade deals that seem to have hurt American workers.
But in endorsing any part of the Trump economic agenda, those on the political left should be very careful for resistance to Hitler was undermined by the perception that he was improving the German economy and restoring pride to German workers. This narrow economic perspective is, unfortunately, capable of justifying fascism such as the refrain that at least Mussolini made the trains run on time.
Many historians dismiss the notion of fascism coming to America. It can’t happen here because of the nation’s Constitution and separation of powers. The federal system, however, has allowed a minority, through the Electoral College, Senate, and a gerrymandered House of Representatives, to dominate the government on the state and national levels. The bulwark of an independent judiciary was contested by Trump who mocked the ability of a Hispanic judge to fairly rule on a law suit involving Trump University.
Impeachment is a remedy provided to address malfeasance by a chief executive; however, Vice-President Mike Pence seems even more committed than Trump to implementing Republican policies of privatizing Social Security and Medicare, while reducing legal protections for the LGBTQ community.
But the greatest danger to our freedom seems to be Trump’s authoritarian personality disorder. He cannot tolerate criticism and enjoys playing to the emotions of his followers in Nuremberg type rallies. Similar to a fascist leader, he believes that he is capable of embodying the general will of the people, and, thus, there is little respect for institutions that might curtail his ability to implement his agenda for his people.
My greatest fear is that we will have our own Reichstag Fire in an act of terrorism or nuclear incident, and that Congress will provided Trump with his own Enabling Act of temporary dictatorial powers which, like Hitler, he will never surrender. Democracy will fall to the cheers of Trump supporters and collaborators. It can happen here. The resistance must fight this by making every day the political equivalent of the women’s march.