Tuesday Reads: Can Trump Succeed at Smothering Democracy?


Good Morning!!

There’s an essay at The New York Review of Books that everyone should read. Written by historian Christopher R. Browning, it’s called The Suffocation of Democracy. It’s very long, so I can’t give you the gist with excerpts.  It’s a comparison of the leadup to Hitler’s regime what is happening now in the U.S. The similarities are striking.

As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.

In the 1920s, the US pursued isolationism in foreign policy and rejected participation in international organizations like the League of Nations. America First was America alone, except for financial agreements like the Dawes and Young Plans aimed at ensuring that our “free-loading” former allies could pay back their war loans. At the same time, high tariffs crippled international trade, making the repayment of those loans especially difficult. The country witnessed an increase in income disparity and a concentration of wealth at the top, and both Congress and the courts eschewed regulations to protect against the self-inflicted calamities of free enterprise run amok. The government also adopted a highly restrictionist immigration policy aimed at preserving the hegemony of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants against an influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. (Various measures barring Asian immigration had already been implemented between 1882 and 1917.) These policies left the country unable to respond constructively to either the Great Depression or the rise of fascism, the growing threat to peace, and the refugee crisis of the 1930s.

Political cartoon for Los Angeles Sentinel

Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference for bilateral relations, conceived as zero-sum rivalries in which he is the dominant player and “wins,” overlaps with the ideological preference of Steve Bannon and the so-called alt-right for the unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states—in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.

Sound familiar? A bit more:

A second aspect of the interwar period with all too many similarities to our current situation is the waning of the Weimar Republic. Paul von Hindenburg, elected president of Germany in 1925, was endowed by the Weimar Constitution with various emergency powers to defend German democracy should it be in dire peril. Instead of defending it, Hindenburg became its gravedigger, using these powers first to destroy democratic norms and then to ally with the Nazis to replace parliamentary government with authoritarian rule. Hindenburg began using his emergency powers in 1930, appointing a sequence of chancellors who ruled by decree rather than through parliamentary majorities, which had become increasingly impossible to obtain as a result of the Great Depression and the hyperpolarization of German politics.

Because an ever-shrinking base of support for traditional conservatism made it impossible to carry out their authoritarian revision of the constitution, Hindenburg and the old right ultimately made their deal with Hitler and installed him as chancellor. Thinking that they could ultimately control Hitler while enjoying the benefits of his popular support, the conservatives were initially gratified by the fulfillment of their agenda: intensified rearmament, the outlawing of the Communist Party, the suspension first of freedom of speech, the press, and assembly and then of parliamentary government itself, a purge of the civil service, and the abolition of independent labor unions. Needless to say, the Nazis then proceeded far beyond the goals they shared with their conservative allies, who were powerless to hinder them in any significant way.

Browning indicts Mitch McConnell as “someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy.”

Browning does point out significant differences between pre-war Germany and the U.S. today. And what if we survive Trump? Browning concludes:

No matter how and when the Trump presidency ends, the specter of illiberalism will continue to haunt American politics. A highly politicized judiciary will remain, in which close Supreme Court decisions will be viewed by many as of dubious legitimacy, and future judicial appointments will be fiercely contested. The racial division, cultural conflict, and political polarization Trump has encouraged and intensified will be difficult to heal. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and uncontrolled campaign spending will continue to result in elections skewed in an unrepresentative and undemocratic direction. Growing income disparity will be extremely difficult to halt, much less reverse.

Finally, within several decades after Trump’s presidency has ended, the looming effects of ecological disaster due to human-caused climate change—which Trump not only denies but is doing so much to accelerate—will be inescapable. Desertification of continental interiors, flooding of populous coastal areas, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, with concomitant shortages of fresh water and food, will set in motion both population flight and conflicts over scarce resources that dwarf the current fate of Central Africa and Syria. No wall will be high enough to shelter the US from these events. Trump is not Hitler and Trumpism is not Nazism, but regardless of how the Trump presidency concludes, this is a story unlikely to have a happy ending.

I hope you’ll take the time to read the whole thing.

Since the Kavanaugh hearings and then the Kashoggi murder, I’ve avoided watching TV as most of the time. Lately, I only watch Maddow and Lawrence; but I’m beginning to think I need to keep up with what’s happening in Trump’s Hitler rallies. I can’t stand to watch him for long, but fortunately there are a couple of journalists who live tweet the rallies in manageable bits. My reason is that it seems that Trump’s blatant lies are actually getting worse. In his most recent rallies, the lies have become so grotesque that it’s difficult to even process. And look what these ghastly lies have wrought:

The New York Times: At George Soros’s Home in N.Y. Suburb, Explosive Device Is Found in Mailbox.

Federal and state law enforcement officials responded to the scene in Katonah, N.Y., a hamlet in the upscale town of Bedford in northern Westchester County, after the Bedford Police Department received a call about a suspicious package at about 3:45 p.m.

“An employee of the residence opened the package, revealing what appeared to be an explosive device,” the police said in a statement. “The employee placed the package in a wooded area and called the Bedford police.”

Mr. Soros, who was born in Hungary, made his fortune running a hedge fund and is now a full-time philanthropist and political activist. He donates frequently to Democratic candidates and progressive causes and has given at least $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations to promote democracy and human rights around the world.

His activism has made him a villain to conservative groups and the target of anti-Semitic smears. Roseanne Barr called him a Nazi in an infamous tweetstorm, and just this month, Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, falsely speculated that Mr. Soros had funded a caravan of migrants moving north toward Mexico. There is no evidence that Mr. Soros paid thousands of migrants to storm the border. Nor is there evidence that Democrats support the effort, as President Trump has said.

Mr. Soros became a major political donor in the United States during George W. Bush’s presidency. He spent millions backing John Kerry’s unsuccessful bid to deny Mr. Bush a second term, was an early backer of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and contributed more than $25 million to Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates and causes during the 2016 election cycle.

That’s a lot less than Republican donor Sheldon Adelson has given, but no one seems to be putting bombs in his mailbox.

Trump tweeted this on October 5:

Lately Trump has been screaming about a “caravan” of refugees from Honduras, claiming they are harboring Middle Eastern terrorists.

The Washington Post: Trump and Republicans settle on fear — and falsehoods — as a midterm strategy.

Trump’s messaging — on display in his regular campaign rallies, tweets and press statements — largely avoids much talk of his achievements and instead offers an apocalyptic vision of the country, which he warns will only get worse if Democrats retake control of Congress.

The president has been especially focused in recent days on a caravan of about 5,000 migrants traveling north to cross the U.S. border, a group he has darkly characterized as gang members, violent criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners” — a claim for which his administration has so far provided no concrete evidence.

“You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country,” Trump said, when asked by reporters Wednesday if he had any proof of terrorists infiltrating the caravan. “We want safety.” [….]

Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser who has long espoused hard-line immigration policies, is one of the chief authors of Trump’s rally messages, though the president often goes further than his prepared remarks.

Read the rest at the WaPo. We are repeatedly told to ignore the rallies and tweets, but I don’t think we should–especially because the messages are getting so outlandish and there does seem to be a segment of Americans who either believe the things he says or just don’t care. Trump is leading a cult.

There is news on the Kashoggi murder. I’ll add those in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


39 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Can Trump Succeed at Smothering Democracy?”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Sky News: Sky sources: Jamal Khashoggi’s body parts found.

    Body parts belonging to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi have been found, according to two Sky sources.

    The sources have told Sky News the writer had been “cut up” and his face “disfigured”.

    One source also suggested Mr Khashoggi’s remains were discovered in the garden of the Saudi consul general’s home – situated around 500 metres away from the consulate.

    It contradicts the explanation being made by Saudi officials that the body was rolled up in a carpet and handed to a local collaborator who was tasked with disposing of the evidence.

    • bostonboomer says:

      The New Arab: Saudi crown prince ‘phoned Khashoggi at the consulate right before he was killed’

      Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

      Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak revealed new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

      “Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

      “Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

  2. NW Luna says:

  3. NW Luna says:

  4. NW Luna says:

    I was listening to one of the local public radio stations. On its news segment they had a feature with a woman from Iraq who came to the US. She was comparing the Saddam regime days with the post-Saddam era. It started out well, but then increasing corruption made conditions progressively worse. She then was able to come to the US on a special program since she’d worked with the US occupation forces after the Iraq war, and is now a US citizen. Now she sees Trump blocking immigrants, separating families, and attacking human rights in many other ways.

    However, she said — in response to worries she hears now from native US citizens — that conditions in the US are not even close to what she saw before her former country slipped back into corruption. My reaction was that because the US is so much better when compared to Iraq conditions that of course she wouldn’t think conditions were similar.

    She said in regards to voting that she didn’t look at Republicans v Democrats — she judged candidates on how they stood on human-rights issues and voted for those who stood for human rights. This had me yelling in the car: “So which party do you think is better on human rights? It sure ain’t the Republicans!”

    Sigh. All the this-side-that-siderism in the name of neutrality makes me furious. Why didn’t the interviewer ask her “So which politicians are supporting and which against human rights?” Or simply have a moderator note that Rs are putting kids in cages and that Trump blocks immigrants from Mid-East countries — except the ones with which he does business?

  5. NW Luna says:

    If Trump’s lie-fests are covered:


    Not holding my breath for the media to do this.

  6. MsMass says:

    What do you all think about this migrant caravan? It will undoubtably end badly, I forsee bloodshed at the minimum. Who do you think is promoting this? Whose idea was it to do this? The timing is very suspect. I wouldn’t put it past the ratfucking Rethugs to have orchestrated this. It drums up fears, it pits us against them, and I really don’t see how this can end without a total bloodbath.

    • NW Luna says:

      I also worry about what will happen. IIRC, the US worked to unstabilize Honduras and the country is now a dangerous place in which to live for powerless people.

    • bostonboomer says:

      No one “orchestrated” a group of Hondurans desperately trying to escape violence and corruption. Trump is definitely trying to use it. How anyone can think this is a national emergency is beyond me, but Congress lets him get away with these outrageous lies.

    • quixote says:

      Streams of people leaving Honduras and heading into Mexico are a constant thing. I seem to remember it’s on the order of 7000 a year. (?? Not sure at all of the number.) Most stay in Mexico in refugee camps with some assistance from humanitarian orgs as well as Mexican government.

      Repub propagandists (Stephen Miller?) realized they could use scary pictures of streams of people to whip up frenzy. The fact that you could get the same pictures every month is a point they’d rather not mention.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      My dad is on a “survival group” (which is nothing more than tRump supporters and white supremacist) there are several people gathering up to go stop the migrants. All along inciting violence. I would not doubt those few people are trolls….but with the way things are now, not all of them…I swear, it is fucking horrible the way people are…

      • quixote says:

        My old neighborhood was a hispanic community. You never saw a bunch of harder-working people. If I had insomnia at 4am, I’d see the ones who went to work in the fields. They’d come back around 3pm, do housework, cook dinner, and, after dark, find time to play with their kids. Others were mechanics, plumbers, cleaners, everybody worked 12-hour days.

        They were quiet, polite (not just to me, to each other too, to everybody) and they never ever ever called the cops for anything even when they should have.

        Nor did they go to hospitals. I found out later that one of the people who’d done some fixer-upper work on the house I lived in had died from a cut. It got gangrenous, and by the time somebody took him to the emergency room it was too late.

        It makes my blood boil to hear such people, working so hard for so little, getting slagged off as some kind of lowlife freeloaders.

        Schrodingers immigrant: simultaneously taking your job and too lazy to work.

  7. NW Luna says:

    From history on fighting Nazis:

  8. OG says:

    The extreme right and the extreme left are both dangerous. They both see each other as evil and detached from reality.

    Then there is climate change which may make our present problems look small by comparison.

    • Enheduanna says:

      My problem is I see the Conservative Movement in its entirety as extreme. They do not care about community – they are all about everyone for himself. They are xenophobic, patriarchal, racist and brutish. They justify any means to gain power and thwart the opposition. There is no thoughtful, principled conservative party in this country anymore. And don’t get me started about fundie Xtians.

      The left may have a few extremists but they are rightly held at bay as fringe elements. Nobody wants a communist government here. Democratic Socialism is not extreme. Tolerance of others (including above mentioned fundies) is not extreme.

      There is just no “both sides” are equal in this debate. IMO

      ITA it’ll be a moot point in a couple of decades.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I totally agree!

      • OG says:

        James T. Hodgkinsin may have s different point of view. He is the congressman shot while practicing for a baseball game with the Democratic Party team. There are many incidents like this.

        Riots on college campuses, stabbings, interruption of speakers, denial of free speech, destruction of property. The list could go on. It is not just a few extremists. I m afraid it us worse than that.

        Many people on the right see the left as anarchists who want to destroy capitalism, private property rights, take away their guns and redistribute the wealth.

        That is no more accurate than your description of the right. But your and they both believe it to be true.

        Eighty per cent of our country are in the middle and do not hold these extreme views. But there are problems on the fringes of which we need to aware.

    • quixote says:

      You’re right but you have to go pretty far back, to about the 1890s?, for examples of extreme leftists like bomb-throwing anarchists or 1910s-1920s Bolsheviks. Our current vandal antifa are just toddler violence.

      Whereas our current right wing violence is both mainstream and lethal. If you’re going to do bothsiderism, make sure you bring perspective.

      • OG says:

        You really need to keep up with the need more than you obviously do.

      • OG says:

        It was on the news tonight, Pelosi and McConnell being heckled and harressed in public. That is an example of the growing danger, violence and extremism from the left. That type activist a sign of dangerous activism.

  9. NW Luna says:

    Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor announces she is withdrawing from public life because of dementia

    One of her last interviews was in 2016, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. She said she did not agree with the strategy of Republican senators to keep the post open until after the presidential election.

    In her letter Tuesday, O’Connor said that she hoped others would take the lead in promoting civics and that she would be watching from the sidelines.

    “I feel so strongly about the topic because I’ve seen first-hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution and unique system of government, and participate actively in their communities,” she wrote.

  10. Enheduanna says:

    And if you thought it couldn’t get even more whacko:


    So Bolton gets tRump to abruptly pull out of the INF and then floats nukes as part of his “Space Force” idea. Which obliterates an even older treaty from the late 1960s.

    Sometimes I wonder if tRump isn’t self-destructing on purpose.

    • quixote says:

      The interesting thing about the INF is it’s an agreement about *medium*-sized nukes. Russia’s do not threaten the US. That size threatens Europe.

      So as I read it, this is Dump telling Putin to go ahead and terrorize the Europeans all he wants.

      The nukes in space thing is just another side effect of watching too much television. Aside from being all “Nukes! Rah! Rah!” it doesn’t seem related to the INF thing, but who knows. It probably is since everything this crew does all works togehter for evil.

      • bostonboomer says:

        So basically, Trump is following orders and soon he’ll be meeting with Putin for his job review.

  11. Sara says:

    Please read link regarding parallels between Mussolini & where Trump is taking us.