Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Election

We have elected a person who is incompetent to perform the duties of the presidency.

It is not a matter of partisan politics to observe that Hillary Clinton was probably the most qualified person ever to have run for the presidency. In contrast, it is probably true that Donald Trump was most probably the least qualified person ever to run for the presidency. The American people (albeit through the Electoral College) selected incompetency over competency.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the Trump transition team is in a state of chaos, and does not know the first thing about how to proceed with the transition. The worldwide disruption of the Trump presidency is already underway even though he is not yet in the White House. This does not auger well for things to come. Trump’s sheer ignorance of how the government functions is clear for everyone to see.

One of the many dangers in all this is the fact that his supporters (presumably millions of American voters) refuse to see anything amiss in all this. It would appear from the preliminary “talking points” thrown together hastily by his “surrogates,” that, in essence, none of this really matters. Nevertheless, the Trump organization does not have the foggiest notion of how to fill the hundreds of jobs the president’s transition team must decide to hire.   Ironically, the failure of the Trump organization to be prepared to execute a smooth transition places the actual conduct of the day-to-day governance of the government in the hands of the unelected civil service bureaucracy. “To drain the swamp” was one of Trump’s primary talking points during his campaign. Yet it would appear that his incompetence will prevent that from ever happening.

 

Trump’s fascism is manifest in his efforts to form a transition team.

The outrage that has greeted Trump’s announcement that Steve Bannon will be one of his chief White House advisors, reflects a growing awareness that Trump’s basic political instincts are of a textbook fascist character. Bannon will be advising Trump on the substance of his policies.  And Bannon’s fascist credentials are beyond dispute. They need not be recited here because they are documented every night (it would appear) on the TV news of every major network (Fox, of course, excluded).

Perceptive commentators, even many conservative commentators, have been trying to call attention to Trump’s fascism since he began his campaign in the primaries. Those seeking to assume a “balanced” posture on the issue have criticized such commentary as hyperbole. This later position is reminiscent of the mainstream German intelligentsia’s response to Hitler’s rhetoric in the 1930s. They were wrong, of course. Hitler meant exactly what he said. While Trump tends to waffle a bit here and there about some of the things he says he intends to do, it would be very dangerous not to take him seriously. Many of Germany’s intellectual leaders failed to take Hitler seriously, and the world paid a dear price for their refusal to do so.

According to the oft-repeated reassuring myth, “It can’t happen here.” Sadly, the fascist turn in American politics has been with us since the 1930s, if not before. It can happen here and has happened here in a variety of forms over the last several generations. We had the Martin Dies Committee in the 1930s, which became the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1940s. The Senate had its Internal Security Subcommittee, which launched Richard Nixon’s rise to fame. The John Birch Society emerged to provide the myths that nurtured right-wing propaganda during the Cold War.

Germans sent other Germans (primarily Jews) to the death camps. At the same time, after December 7, Americans sent other Americans (Japanese- Americans) to concentration camps.  And while the so-called “relocation camps” in the US during WW II were not the same (or as horrendous) as the Holocaust, they were based on the same kind of fear and loathing (anti-Semitism in Germany, racism in the US).  [The Supreme Court’s Korematsu decision, which validated the legality of the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese-Americans, has not yet been overturned.  [Several legal scholars argue that it is, nevertheless, inoperable.]  Be that as it may, Trump has cited it as the Supreme Court’s legal justification for the creation of “camps” into which suspected “Muslim terrorists” can be put until they are proven innocent.

The McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, which sought to suppress political diversity; Jim Crow in the South; and the systemic racism in almost all of our major institutions add to the list. Homophobia, anti-Semitism, religious bigotry, and misogyny are likewise staples of our political system, rivaling the list of the untermensch set forth by the Nazis. Indeed, our “Nuremberg” Laws lasted until 1967, when the Supreme Court in Loving versus Virginia belatedly struck down as unconstitutional the anti-miscegenation laws. The Nazi Nuremberg laws (which included anti-miscegenation) were, of course, struck down in 1945 with the defeat of Germany in WW II.

Trump’s scapegoating has put Muslim-American and Mexican-Americans on notice. Their civil rights are in jeopardy. As the Germans discovered under the Nazis, the denial of civil rights to the Jews was just the beginning. The civil rights of all Americans are in jeopardy as Trump forges forward to implement his immigration policies.

 

The fascist attack on the processes of inquiry. 

Perhaps the most diagnostic feature of Trump’s fascism is his utter disregard for the truth or any reasonable effort to get at the truth. He was described by his critics as a “serial liar.” It is probably a sad fact that most politicians tell lies, or at least, “misspeak.” But Donald Trump probably has set some sort of record in telling easily disprovable lies, and he has gotten away with it. But more often than not, his critics miss the point. Donald Trump tells the lies he does because they are the lies his supporters are willing to believe. The facts make no difference either to him or his supporters. Efforts made by journalists and others to “fact check” his utterances are beside the point. They are dismissed as nothing more than efforts to impugn his integrity.

How is it that the millions of Americans who voted for Trump were willing to digest his lies? The answer is to be found in the fact that he was telling them a story (actually offering a myth) they were desperately willing to believe. But in being willing to believe his lies, they had to be willing to deny the validity of the processes of inquiry by which human knowledge is acquired.  Fascists have always understood the necessity of doing this. Denying the validity of the processes inquiry pursued in the arts and sciences is the first goal of any fascist movement.  It was true of the Nazis; it was true of Mussolini’s Fascists; and it was true, to a lesser extent, of Generalissimo Franco’s Falangists.

I taught economics at the university level for almost fifty years. Among other topics, I lectured on capitalism, socialism, communism, and fascism. I often made the ironic comment that Joseph Goebbels was the most influential man of the Twentieth Century. My argument was (and still is) that he taught the world how to lie for specific political (and, by inference, commercial) ends. His “big lie” technique has been discussed ad nauseam, but a few amplifying comments are relevant to this discussion of Trump’s election.

First, Goebbels taught us that if a lie is repeated often enough, people are inclined to believe it. Second, he demonstrated how the mass media could be manipulated to validate strategically placed lies to targeted audiences. Third, and this was a stroke of genius, he taught a winning strategy for dealing with established science that refuted the lies. The strategy was two-fold: 1) exploit the genuine scientific willingness to keep all questions open by trotting out “scientific experts” to question the science that ran contrary to one’s ideological preconceptions, and 2) create an ersatz science to formulate the kind of “scientific” theories that supported one’s preconceptions.

In other words, don’t challenge science as such; embrace the general faith in science by creating an alternative science. Properly constructed, the ersatz science would imitate the form and substance of legitimate science. Thus the Nazi Primer was presumably based on Mendelian biological principles to prove the racial inferiority of the Jews. It should be noted in passing that the Nazi purge of the arts was part and parcel of the same propaganda machine. “Degenerate” art was replaced by the “wholesome” Nazi-sponsored Nationalsocialist realism, which glorified the heroic nature of German culture. Similarly, all aspects of the humanities (e.g., literature and music) came under Nazi scrutiny. Obviously, anything produced by the Jews was, by ideological definition, corrupt and impure. The time-tested, evolutionary, nature of the arts and sciences were challenged, and most importantly, replaced, by Nazi-sanctioned alternative versions.

What the Nazi ideology substituted for the processes of inquiry was power. This fascist idea was inadvertently given lip-service by the Bush Administration’s Karl Rove, who stated boldly that, “When we act, we create our own reality.” This idea was powerfully conveyed in Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda movie, The Triumph of the Will, which Goebbels financed and lauded to the high heavens. It is the strength of the will, not the strength of inquiry and reasoned discourse that shapes the future. The game is won by those who can force their will on others.

Was Joseph Goebbels the most influential man of the Twentieth Century? Judging by the fact that his attack on the processes of inquiry has been adopted by Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and, from time to time, by both Republicans and Democrats, he is. Why did so many Americans willingly abandon our modern confidence in the processes of inquiry and vote for Donald Trump? The answer is to be found in the fascist turn in American politics. It has become endemic to our culture. It lies behind not only Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, it is also the foundation for the attacks on cultural diversity and so-called “politically correct speech,” the belief in the presumed  dominance of liberals on university faculties, the political strength of the NRA, the creationist challenge to the theory of evolution, the denial of climate change, and the decades-long creation of “think tanks” committed to designing ersatz science to challenge legitimate science (e.g., creationist science to attack the theory of evolution).

The Obama administration offered a brief respite from all this, but it was inadequate to stem the tide. The Republican backlash to having that black man in the White House was clearly announced before he had even taken up residence there. The disrespect with which Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives showered upon him was the overt enforcement of Jim Crow principles to ensure that “one of those people” never again dare run for president. Bringing the legislative process to a virtual halt was not too high a price to pay to achieve this end. But in pursuing these regressive tactics, the Republican party inadvertently laid bare the fascist turn in American politics and created the conditions that produced the Trump presidency.  The Republican party, as well as the American people, are now destined to reap what they have sown.

*****

Dr. Paul Dale Bush is Professor Emeritus of Economics at CSU Fresno. He lives in Fresno and can be contacted at (559) 439-810 or paulbu@mail.fresnostate.edu.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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