Here we go. Whether we are ready or not, it’s only hours until Donald John Trump becomes our 45th president. Contrary to a remarkable amount of commentary seemingly unaware of it, he hasn’t been in that office yet – all the stock market gyrations and real or imagined business and world-leader reactions have been based on speculation, not policy. And nobody, not even his wife, knows what he will actually do. We know by now the kind of thing he will say, but will he turn into a thoroughly uncompassionate conservative? Will he be as unprincipled as his statements, outside of immigration and protectionism, indicate? Will he leave policymaking to his cabinet and become sort of a King Farouk-like satyr-in-chief? Or will he become something not only bad but much worse than any of those?
That last possibility has gathered cogent press from a variety of sources. These five articles are worthy of your attention.
The first one, “What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna” by Liel Leibovitz, appeared in Tablet on November 14th. This ancestor of Leibovitz’s was “a promising young violinist and composer” who, when “spooked by the goosesteps of Hitler’s goons,” surprised people he knew, who told him “he was hysterical, that he was getting it all wrong, that it couldn’t possibly be that bad,” by leaving Europe for much less affluent Palestine. He decided to do that, as well as the author could tell, when “his simple heart advised him to take the thugs at their word.” Leibovitz named three principles to follow: to “treat every poisoned word as a promise,” to assume adults are adults responsible for knowing the consequences of what they do, and to “refuse to accept what’s going on as the new normal” and not condone otherwise good things resulting from abuse of our fellow citizens.
The second, “The moral foundations of fascism: Warring psychological theories struggle to make sense of Hitler, Mussolini, and you-know-who” (Paul Rosenberg in Salon, December 4th) explained the social psychological theory of “moral foundations theory,” which, good or bad, explains the underpinnings of both conservative and liberal ideology. Rosenberg showed how the need for social order from either the left or the right can lead to authoritarianism, and how a rising leader can cater to the worst of one side or the other to move his organization in that direction. If you have any inclination toward sociology or psychology, this piece has a lot to offer you.
The third article, also in Salon, Robert Reich’s “4 syndromes of passivity in the face of pending Trump tyranny,” appeared on December 16th. He named four destructive reactions common to people who did not vote for our president-elect. They are “normalizer syndrome,” or believing Trump “will make rational decisions once in office”; “outrage numbness syndrome,” or disregarding his offensive statements and actions from sheer overexposure to them; “cynical syndrome,” determining that Democrats, Republicans, and the media are as complicit and as bad as Trump; and “helpless syndrome,” or feeling too powerless to take any action. Instead of maintaining any of these views, he recommends “demonstrating, resisting, objecting, demanding, speaking truth, joining with others, making a ruckus and never ceasing to fight Trump’s pending tyranny” instead.
Fourth, by Jeffrey C. Isaac on December 17th in The Washington Post, “How Hannah Arendt’s classic work on totalitarianism illuminates today’s America” demonstrates just that. That 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, was written toward understanding what was put together by both Hitler and Stalin. Conclusions Arendt made that could apply to the years now to come include “freedom is fragile, and when demagogues speak, and others start following them, it is wise to pay attention” (Isaac’s words), “the mob always will shout for ‘the strong man,’ the ‘great leader.’ For the mob hates the society from which it is excluded” (Arendt’s words), “what convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part” (likewise), and that “peoples made superfluous… were rendered superfluous in a legal and political sense” (Isaac). This last idea, which led to Nazi concentration camps, suggests that the masses of displaced, formerly working people consuming social services, despite their November support for him, may prove to be surplus and therefore expendable or even undesirable to Trump.
The fifth piece is the best of all. From Dallas News on November 21, Timothy Snyder’s “What you – yes, you – can do to save America from tyranny,” named no fewer than 20 such things. They are “do not obey in advance,” “defend an institution,” “recall professional ethics,” “when listening to politicians, distinguish certain words,” “be calm when the unthinkable arrives,” “be kind to our language,” “stand out,” “believe in truth,” “investigate,” “practice corporeal politics,” “make eye contact and small talk,” “take responsibility for the face of the world,” “hinder the one-party state,” “give regularly to good causes, if you can,” “establish a private life,” “learn from others in other countries,” “watch out for the paramilitaries,” “be reflective if you must be armed,” “be as courageous as you can,” and “be a patriot.” For more on what the author meant by these, see the article at http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2016/11/21/learning-history-can-save-america-tyranny.
To Snyder’s fine list, I add two. First, know your constitution, so you can see if and when it is being violated. If Trump arranges for flag-burning to become illegal that would be one clear sign of that, as, as reprehensible as that activity is, it is plainly protected by the First Amendment. Second, learn more about Nazi German history, which will tell you how a free society devolved so totally and quickly, and heed George Friedman’s 2015 words on that topic, published before Trump arrived on the presidential political scene: “This was a seductive work of art that was judged not by its logic or justification but by the way it resonated. And it resonated so well that it did not require proof or logical consistency. It simply had to be a stunningly seductive and effective work of art.”
Expect more from this blog. As well as writing more, as usual, on jobs in America, I will publish information on to what extent true American authoritarianism is or is not taking shape. All you will get from me is, as I see it, the truth. Stay in touch.