Friday, December 02, 2016

Reasons to Worry, Reasons Not To

Donald Trump by By Gage Skidmorevia Wikimedia Commons
 By Gage Skidmore
via Wikimedia Commons
Right after the election in which a minority of American voters put Donald Trump in the White House, I began to see online articles suggesting Mr. Trump and his supporters have a brilliant agenda for working the end of American democracy. Some articles I have read suggest Mr. Trump's intellectual incoherence actually has a brilliant covert purpose, and his operatives have a plan of such speed and subtlety that Americans standing up for tolerance and freedom can only hope to watch helplessly as Mr. Trump and his minions construct a fascist state.

I wish I knew these articles grossly overestimated Mr. Trump's native abilities.

Homeland Security photo
I wish even more that the best outcome of Mr. Trump's coming administration looked less chaotic and miserable. Donald Trump and his friends on the right wing of the Republican party may not have a brilliant plan. They still can, and probably will, inflict four years of absolute misery on the poor and dispossessed in the United States. We have already seen an appalling increase in bullying and harassment throughout the United States and even in other countries. The Republican Congress looks set to dismantle even the minimal social safety net in place in the United States. The next four years look set for more catering to the wealthy few at the expense of children going to school hungry. Unless the course of the incoming administration changes, the leadership they provide will reward the worst behaviour by police and public officials at every level.

At best, a man who has paraded his ignorance and prejudices will soon have the ability to give orders to the most powerful and destructive military on the planet. He will also control the world's most sophisticated surveillance apparatus. This frightens me. It frightens a great many people. It should.

The situation justifies fear. It does not justify despair. If Americans give up their particular experiment in individual freedom and self government, the election of Mr. Trump will mark a step in that process, not the culmination of it. The nightmare transitions from democracy to fascism in Europe during the last century had five features the present time does not suffer from. Whether these differences will prevent the development of a new form of fascism at the hands of Mr. Trump and particularly his more extreme supporters, we do not yet know. But these differences do give us reason for hope, and in a dangerous time, hope can provide a critical strength.

What did the fascist parties of the twentieth century have that Donald Trump and the Republicans don't?

  1. A disciplined party unambiguously committed to a sole leader. Fascist governments can tolerate multiple power centers, indeed, some historians consider fostering rivalries central to Hitler's governing method, only one person can set the direction and weild supreme power. The Republican Party, by contrast, has multiple figures with power bases that effectively rival Mr. Trump, and which can check Mr. Trump's actions.
  2. Nations shaken by a half decade of total war. A single battle of that war, the battle of the Somme, left as many people dead as the whole "war on terror". The British lost more than ten times as many troops in just the first day of that notorious battle as the Americans have lost in the whole war on terror to date.
  3. The fascist parties all had armed militias they integrated into the state. While various groups in the United States call themselves militias, and pose varying degrees of threat, they have neither the discipline nor the loyalty to a single leader the fascist militias did.
  4. Weak constitutions. Americans have lived under their current constitution longer than Germany has existed as a nation, and every single American civil servant has sworn, unambiguously, to preserve protect and defend their constitution against all enemies. 
  5. Colonialism and "white" supremacy as accepted principles. Even the "liberal" opponents of fascism in the United States and Britain accepted colonial ideology and "white" supremacy to a degree only a right wing extremist would defend today. 
None of these differences justify complacency, but they do give us a reason not to despair. The nightmare described in Eugene Ionesco's play Rhinoceros may yet play out in American life, but nothing makes that end certain

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