Tuesday Reads: Can Trump Succeed at Smothering Democracy?Posted: October 23, 2018
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.
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?