Sunday, August 28, 2016

Trump and the Rise of Despotism and White Nationalism In America

Over the last few days I've been watching the talking heads on cable news to see what their reactions were going to be to Hillary Clinton's speech on Donald Trump and the Alt Right. Not surprisingly most of them thought that while she had a few good points, she overreached, which some of them viewed as bad politics. Some engaged in the time-honored tradition of false equivalency. Hillary calls Trump a racist, Trump calls Hillary a bigot. Both sides need to cool their jets.

I even went back over my piece to see if maybe I had in fact overreached. After all when you spend that much time eating junk food - which is what most cable news channels sadly are these days - your diet tends to suffer.

So, after careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that not only didn't Hillary Clinton overreach, she was, if anything, reserved. In fact, she was far more reserved than I was in my last piece or am about to be in this one. What she said needed to be said and the media in this country, if they have any interest in being journalists, need to start doing their jobs before this mockery of a campaign ends up becoming a national tragedy.

Let's start out by disposing of this false equivalency bullshit. Whatever else you may think about Clinton, she is no racist. Nor is the Democratic Party a racist party. No one with access to the facts could ever make that assertion. Trump and a good chunk of what's left of the Republican Party are. I say good chunk because there are many Republicans and conservatives alike who aren't and to a man and woman they have spoken out vehemently against their party's nominee. If there is any hope for the GOP it will rest with them.

It would be tempting to suggest, as some have foolishly done, that the ascendency of Donald Trump is some kind of aberration. Sadly, it isn't. His campaign is the culmination of years and years of fomenting hate and bigotry within the Republican base. The GOP, whether wittingly or unwittingly, made a deal with the devil in order to gain power at both the federal and state levels. And early on it worked. Frankenstein's monster at first proved a most useful tool in curtailing the perceived excesses of President Obama. The Party of No made quite a name for itself among the rank and file.

But then the rank and file grew restless at the lack of results and the monster became uncontrollable. When it realized it had been betrayed, it went on a rampage, took out its creator and burned down the village. It then found a new master, one who would fulfill the promise that had been made to it. And that new master is Donald Trump.

From the moment he descended down that escalator in his ivory tower, Trump has been a hero to a certain malevolent and vile segment of the population. Its critics often refer to it, mistakenly, as a fringe element. There is nothing fringe about it. If the last seven years have taught us anything, it's that this element is a lot larger than any of us would've dared imagined. And they have become emboldened of late, spurred on by Trump's willingness to go where others would fear going.

Mexicans are rapists and drug smugglers, Muslims should be banned, women are weak, Hispanics must be rounded up, blacks shoot whites, China is screwing us. Think about it. These are the sort of things one would expect to hear coming from a hate group. But the nominee of a major party? Who would've thought that in the last half of the second decade of the 21st century we would ever hear such blatant racism and sexism coming from someone seeking the Oval office?

But we hear it all the time from Trump. Like clockwork he spews his hate and his disciples lap it up like it was manna from Heaven.  His apologists and pundits alike would like us to think that only a small percentage of Trump's supporters are racists; that the majority of them are just frustrated people who are fed up with the system. They see Trump as someone who will fight for them in a way that neither political party has been willing to do.

I beg to differ. Oh I have no doubt that some of his supporters fall into this category. But it would do a grave disservice to Bernie Sanders to confuse his supporters with Trump's. With the exception of the brouhaha that took place in Nevada, most of Bernie's supporters comported themselves with class and dignity. True, they were somewhat unrealistic and naive on policy issues, and when it became apparent that Hillary was going to be the nominee, a number of them behaved like spoiled brats who didn't get everything they wanted under the Christmas tree. But compared to the mobs we saw and continue to see at Trump's rallies, they were practically Benedictine monks. I dare anyone to find me the soundbite of Bernie telling his audience to knock the crap out of someone. Go ahead, I dare you.

The fact is that the revolution Sanders was proposing was, as I described in my last piece, a bottom up revolution. A people's revolution. The kind we all read about from our college days. The oppressed rise up to depose their oppressors and divide the spoils up evenly. Egalitarianism in all its glory. Can you imagine a country with a President Sanders at the helm? Wall Street would've shit its pants.

That is not the revolution Donald Trump is proposing. Trump's revolution is a top down revolution. One in which one man rises up to take the reigns of power for the "good" of all to restore what was supposedly taken (i.e., stolen) from the people. This sort of revolution has happened before in places like Italy and Germany, where fascist dictators seized power under the auspices of a democratic uprising. Typically the first thing to go is the democracy, followed by years of brutal oppression.

But dictators do not simply seize power in a vacuum. Typically they are aided and abetted by a series of government scandals and corruption. The citizens of these countries lose faith in the institutions that are charged with the delegation of authority. When a government no longer has the respect of its people, it begins to lose credibility and then ultimately its authority. The collapse of the Weimar Republic is a prime example of this. Adolph Hitler's rise to power was a direct result of the German government's inability to effectively govern.

While it would be a stretch to make a direct correlation between the Washington of today and the Berlin of the 1930s, it would be equally wrong to not be gravely concerned with the current state of paralysis that has gripped the federal government. A majority of Americans are disgusted by what they see from their leaders. To assume all that is needed is a tweak here and there would be the height of arrogance.

When Donald Trump says he is going to fix things, implicit in his words is the idea that he and he alone will take care of it. Congress? No thanks. The courts? Not interested. Harry Truman used to say that the buck stopped with him. With Trump, it's the whole damn bank. Not only is he not interested in partners, he's making it clear they won't be needed. In the world of Trump, it's his way or the highway.

The scariest thing about all this is that his supporters don't seem to care. In fact, the more he rails against the government and the system, the more they love him. He isn't just a candidate for president, he's their champion; the deliverer. He can do no wrong in their eyes. Trump was right when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn't abandon him. These people have stuck with him since he got into the race and they will be by his side right up to the election, and perhaps beyond.

And who exactly are these people? The majority of them - mostly white males, though some are female - don't like the direction that the country is headed. They view an ever-inceasingy pluralistic and multi-cultural society as a threat to their way of life. The election of Barack Obama sent them right over the edge. His presidency has been a painful reminder that their hegemony is coming to an end. And they don't like it one bit.

Contrary to what some of their critics - including me - have said, they are not stupid, most of them that is. They can count. They know that within the next thirty to forty years they will cease to be a majority in this country. This makes them all the more resentful and desperate. Desperate people sometimes do incredibly stupid things, like vote for despots.

The parallels between Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler are unmistakable and hardly hyperbolic. Indeed, the two have a great deal in common. Both manipulated the facts to suit their agendas. Hitler scapegoated the Jews to rile up resentment among the German people; Trump scapegoated virtually every ethnic group in the country to galvanize support from the white community. And both depended on fear in their rise to power. The major difference is that Trump hasn't succeeded in his quest; not yet, at least.

We've read a great deal about the sudden rise of the Alt Right, a term I find offensive because alt stands for alternative. There is nothing alternative about these people. They are nothing more than white nationalists, posing as conservatives. Klansmen without the hoods. Yes, sadly, they have taken over the GOP, but that is the fault of the GOP. When you don't care who you bed down with, you lose the right to complain about what disease you end up catching.

They are unapologetic about their intentions. Indeed they brag about their bonafides. They taunt minorities at Trump rallies the way storm troopers in Nazi Germany used to taunt Jews. Go back where you came from you wetback, nigger, chink or whatever colorful metaphor they come up with to describe a racial or ethnic group they can't stand. When a Jewish journalist wrote a piece about Melania Trump that wasn't very flattering, she received hate mail and death threats from some of these fine upstanding citizens. One such threat said she'd make "a good lampshade." I've written many unflattering things about Bernie Sanders and his supporters over the last few months, and the worst thing that happened to me was I got called a sellout and a traitor.

Now of course the sixty-four thousand dollar question is what percentage of the white population falls into the category of white supremacist? We already know that Trump's rallies are loaded with them. But what percentage of the of the overall white population do they comprise? Probably not a very high percentage. If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 10 to 15 percent. But that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of racists out there. Racism takes on many forms, both overtly and covertly. One does not have to subscribe to a white pride publication or affiliate him or herself with a hate group to be considered a racist.

The sad truth is we all know people who would never call themselves racists who say racist things. Many times they don't even know they're saying it. Be honest, haven't we all been in the company of a group of people when news of another unarmed black man being shot broke and heard some genius say "unarmed my ass" or "maybe if they didn't commit so much crime they wouldn't get shot?" The sheer ignorance of such statements is enough to make your blood boil.

When I was in retail it was standard operating procedure to never let a black man roam around the store unattended. If a manager noticed that, he would make an announcement over the loudspeaker that went something like this: "salesperson needed in small electronics." That was code for nigger in aisle three.

And speaking of codes, even Trump's so-called outreach to the African American community was nothing more than a dog whistle. When he rhetorically asked at a recent rally, "What do you have to lose?" he was speaking not to blacks but to whites, particularly white women, as I wrote in an earlier piece. And his tasteless tweet following the shooting of the cousin of an NBA all-star - which I won't dignify by repeating here - was yet more red meat for his racist supporters. "See, I told you, they're animals. All they do is shoot each other."

Do not be deceived. While not all white people are racists, a good percentage of them are. And the farther south you go the higher that percentage gets. Want proof? Just take a look at all those confederate flags flying high in Dixie. Or for that matter the plethora of insults this president has had to withstand. Not even George Bush endured this much abuse. And the death threats against Obama rival those of any president in the history of the nation. I'll bet the ranch and my retirement savings that the overwhelming majority of these people will cast their votes for Trump in November.

It has been suggested that the reason Trump is doing so poorly in the polls is because a lot of people who intend on voting for him are afraid to admit it to a pollster. Afraid? These people? If anything they have been brazen in their support for Trump. Over the last 14 months he's been the closest thing to a rock star they will ever know. In fact, if anyone might be underperforming in the polls, it's more likely to be Clinton. Face it, it's hard getting excited about her. As one writer put it, she's the Judy Woodruff to Trump's Kim Kardashian.

The real test for the country will come November 9, assuming Trump loses. And pray God he does. What happens with all those white supremacists? Clearly they aren't all going to go away. Hatred that intense doesn't let go, not without a fight. And I fear we may have one on our hands. If the election ends up being close, you could well see riots in the streets. Trump himself has set the stage by inferring that the election is already rigged against him. So when he loses it'll be because the elites stole it from him, and, by extension, the people.

The fallout would cripple Washington even more so than it already is, thus making it even more vulnerable four years later. The Clinton Administration will get little if anything done. What's left of the Republican Party will crumble and melt under the searing heat of a base that no longer has any use for it. The Democrats will benefit in the short run but the gridlock will drag them down as well. Third-parties will spring up like so much cotton candy at a county fair, and the people will grow even more disillusioned than they already are.

Corruption will grow as more and more special interests vie for what's left of a functioning government. The United States could potentially descend into a period not unlike what happened to the Roman Empire in its twilight years.

Depressing? Yeah, it is. I wish I had some good news, but my gut tells me this isn't going to end well. This is what happens when governments break down and become corrupt. They invite despotism and anarchy. And the most damning indictment of all is that this Greek tragedy that appears to be unfolding before our very eyes was avoidable. Had we, the voters, simply done a better job of holding these elected officials accountable, and had these elected officials simply done a better job of governing instead of grandstanding for their bases, Donald Trump would still be on his reality TV show firing Gary Busey. Then again, maybe if the Fourth Estate had done its job earlier in this campaign, we wouldn't be in the predicament we find ourselves in now.

That might not seem like much of a consolation prize to hand down to our children and grandchildren, but in lieu of anything better, it'll have to do.

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