Then along comes a man who transcends ideology. He is, quite frankly, a con man, a demagogue. His program is a self-contradictory mess, an ideological hodge-podge. The details may change over and over again. But they don't matter. Ideas don't matter. What matters is The Leader. He believes himself to be a man of destiny, a history-making, messianic figure who is able to solve all the nation's problems, not with policy or practical solutions, but through the force of his own leadership and personality. And his followers agree. No matter what he says, no matter what he does, they believe that he can do no wrong.
He, personally, is The Cause. His fanatical disciples don't care about his program or lack of it, nor his past, however shady, or the illogical and self-contradictory nature of his statements and will simply dismiss out of hand any evidence that they're being conned. They will believe anything he tells them, no matter how obviously false or illogical- because, having abandoned hope in policy and conventional solutions, they are putting their confidence in him personally.They have surrendered their judgment to him. If the Leader were to, say, commit murder in public on Fifth Avenue in New York in broad daylight, his followers would still stand by him. He knows that. He may even brag about it.
The Leader is a bully. He threatens and encourages violence against those who oppose him. But most of all, he sets himself up as the champion of the average man and woman against not only the plutocrats on the Right and the radicals on the Left but against The Other- against an unpopular minority or minorities perceived as alien and somehow threatening who can be made a scapegoat for the problems of the nation and of the average citizen. And he feeds on and enables and nurtures the bully and the bigot in the average citizen. He gives them scapegoats. He sanctions darker impulses of people who are angry at their own powerlessness and hungry for somebody to blame.
There is a name or this ideology of the Leader. It was originated by one of its most prominent advocates, a gentleman by the name of Adolf Hitler. It's called the Führerprinzip, and it is the sum and substance of the candidacy of Donald Trump.
"Make America Great Again" differs not at all from Mussolini's evocation of the glories of ancient Rome, or Hitler's harping on the greatness of the German past. Stirring a nation unsure of itself with memories of past glories now departed because it has been "betrayed" by weak leaders and diabolical enemies is a classic ingredient of the fascist appeal. And heaven forfend that anybody should point out that, with all its problems, America is still great!
Some may think I'm "jumping the shark," as the saying goes. "It can't happen here," they will insist. That was even the title of Sinclair Lewis's novel of the rise of Buzz Windrip, his fictional American dictator.Well, it is happening here, right before our very eyes.
As Robert Kagan points out in this piece in the Washington Post, the world has seen it before. It should be quite a familiar pattern by now:
The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well.
But of course, the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone.
And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up....
This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called “fascism.” Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society. “National socialism” was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, anti-capitalist and anti-clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Fuhrer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation.
Yes, the world has seen this before. And this is the thing which Republicans and conservatives obsessed with the idea that nothing could possibly be worse than Hillary Clinton fail to see: There is something worse, and it's playing out right before them. In order to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president, they are prepared to vote for classic fascism- naked, frank, honest, unadorned, and not hiding what it is.
There is a great German play in which a mysterious traveler checks in at an inn. He begins making requests of the landlord- and first, seemingly innocent requests, like permission to store a large number of barrels in the basement. The landlord agrees.
As the play goes on, the identity of the guest becomes clearer and clearer. He is Satan himself. And the reason for his presence becomes clearer and clearer. He intends to blow up not only the inn but the entire town. The barrels contain gunpowder.
The accommodating landlord helps his guest move the barrels downstairs. Moment by moment, the direction events are taking becomes clearer and clearer. Yet the landlord still remains the gracious host and accedes to the visitor's every request.
And then, at the end of the play, the visitor asks the landlord for a match. And he gives it to him.
We have ample warning. The world has seen this before.
The Trump phenomenon is a textbook reprise of the familiar story which has played out over and over again, from Germany and Italy in the 1930's to various South American nations ever since they gained their independence. The rise of Donald Trump is a classic example of the rise of Fascism.
There will be those who will dismiss this as an overreaction. They are wrong. It may well be that our institutions would stop President Trump from taking his inherently fascist movement to the lengths to which the movement has been taken by other Fuhrers and Duces and Caudillos. Or maybe not. But that's hardly the point, is it?
In America, we don't do things that way.
Yes, there is something worse than Hillary Clinton. And Republicans who plan to vote for Donald Trump in order to stop her from becoming president are planning, whether they want to admit this to themselves or not, to vote for it.
To vote for Donald Trump is to vote against everything American has ever stood for.
It is, simply and plainly, to vote for fascism- for the Fuhrerprinzip.
That and only that is what Donald Trump has to offer.