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We need more citizens, and fewer cultists

I cannot stand Keith Olbermann.  He has many characteristics in common with Donald Trump. He foams at the mouth a lot. Even when he has a valid point, he's over the top.  He has a nasty streak in him a mile wide. He raves. He sputters. He is, at the end of the day, a merchant of fear and hate.

I don't agree with Olbermann very often. The man is a poster child for fanaticism. When I do agree with him, it makes me rethink my position.

But I just heard an Olbermann commentary which I- by and large- agree with. Ok, he overplayed his hand on a couple of points and raved and sputtered more than was good for his small store of credibility. But he had a point.

It seems that the son of a retired teacher from Tennessee- I won't repeat her admittedly ironic and somewhat fitting name because I don't like humiliating even people who deserve it- recently lost his job. His insurance premiums promptly dropped by nearly $500 a month. And she thanks God for President Trump and his tax credits that made it possible.

She apparently doesn't understand that Obamacare is still in effect and that the Republican replacement plan not only hasn't even been passed yet but is facing massive resistance even from within the Republican party. It's Obamacare she has to thank. Say what you will about the plan and the administration which gave it birth, there are an awful lot of Americans who voted for Trump who wouldn't have health insurance at all if it hadn't been adopted.

Olbermann's overarching theme is four words from Mr. Trump's acceptance speech at the Cleveland convention: "I alone can fix it." And that leads us to Olbermann's concern- and mine.

Eight-odd years ago, Barack Obama became president amid a flood of over-the-top adulation and as the subject of a cult of personality that defied belief. The word "messiah" was used- granted, more than not often by Republicans poking well-deserved fun at the idol worship. Even on the day that Mr. Obama left office, there remained a cadre of supporters for whom he literally could do no wrong, was incapable of error, deserved credit for everything good that happened when he was in the White House and blame for nothing bad, no matter how directly the latter might have resulted from his policies.

Republicans quite rightly pointed out back then that such a cult of personality is unhealthy in a democracy. But Presidents Obama and Trump have that in common. That, and a core of low-information supporters incapable of actually discussing the nuances of policy, but committed to the proposition that the God-King was not only incapable of error or fault but Our Only Hope. Both are creatures of the Cult of Personality. I had a conversation with a Democratic acquaintance a couple of weeks ago which exhibited the same phenomenon displayed by that retired teacher from Tennessee- a degree of personal adulation and hero-worship so all-pervading that discussion of the actual merits of individual Obama policies simply wasn't possible. Everything was binary: it an argument was pro-Obama, it was valid. It if was anti-Obama, it was wrong. The actual facts were beside the point.

In fairness to President Obama, I don't think he encouraged the cult of personality that sprung up around him. He was a charismatic and eloquent figure who belonged to an oppressed minority which identified with him so a degree that was not only understandable but inevitable. So was the temptation for African-Americans to see the man who embodied their aspirations as a kind of Moses come to lead them to the Promised Land. At a time of historic hopelessness, Barack Obama offered hope.  He was eloquent and inspiring. He didn't have to encourage the cult of personality; the stars in their courses conspired to create and sustain it.

But Donald Trump is another matter. Our new president is a narcissist to the core. Barack Obama never would have told the Los Angeles convention in 2008 that "I alone can fix it." With all his faults, Mr. Obama would have recognized the arrogance such a sentiment expressed, and the negative impression it would inevitably have made on anyone not already a devout worshipper.

Barack Obama's cult of personality might have been inevitable, given who he is and year in which he ran. But there was more to him than that. I did not agree with much of his agenda, but there was an agenda. It was a wrong-headed agenda in some respects, but a thoughtful and serious one many intelligent people got behind.

Donald Trump's agenda, on the other hand, in the last analysis is nothing more or less than Donald Trump. His proposals- the silly border wall, for example, or the religious discrimination against Muslims- were not serious proposals of policy, but self-serving exercises in demagoguery which were no more and no less than window-dressing for the person of Trump. One of the great ironies of the 2016 election is that Trump scorned the kind of nuts-and-bolts "ground game" by which elections are nearly always won, openly proclaiming that he didn't need organization because his own sheer awesomeness would carry the day. Donald Trump was his own platform, and he played to the fears and hates of enough uninformed and unthoughtful folks who generally didn't bother to vote to somehow actually win.

Technically. The saving grace of last year's election is that more people rejected him on Election Day than supported him. America barely kept its grounds for self-respect.

"Hope and Change" were Barack Obama's by-words in 2008. Donald Trump's were "I alone can fix it." And that is what is so profoundly worrying about Trump and the people like that retired teacher from Tennessee who support him.  Mr. Trump is not a charismatic figure embodying a program. He is a God-King whose persona is his program!

"Godwin's Law-" that any argument about policy or politics which lasts long enough will inevitably involve one side or the other invoking Hitler- is an amusing reality that has a not-so-amusing implication. The more aware we are of Godwin's Law, the apter we are to dismiss such comparisons even when they have some degree of validity. It is no accident that Hitler has been invoked where Donald Trump is concerned more often than is the case with most candidates. The authoritarian bent of his supporters is one of their most noticeable characteristics, along with their tendency (and his) to threaten those who disagree with him and advocate the curtailment of their First Amendment rights. But it's highly unlikely that President Trump will try to cancel the 2020 election and rule by decree, or that he would get away with it if he tried. Nor will he set up concentration camps for his opponents (however this might please some of his supporters). He's talking about rounding up illegal immigrants and excluding Muslim refugees, not killing them, and it would be reprehensible to suggest that he would even be willing for that to happen.

Stephen King compared him to Cthulhu. But President Trump probably won't swallow our souls, either.

But there is a sense in which it is as unavoidable that Mr. Trump is quite validly compared to Hitler and Mussolini and Saddam Hussein and Kim Jung-un and his hero Vladimir Putin and every despot there is or ever has been. It all comes down to those four words: "I alone can do it." It all comes down to the center of the leader's program being nothing more than that cult of personality.

I said during the primary campaign that in the last analysis Donald Trump's platform boiled down to the Fuherprinzip, and it still does. Trump's argument is that he, personally- the Leader, the Genius- yes, the Messiah- is the cure for every problem. There has never been anything more to Mr. Trump's program than that. And nothing could be more fatal to freedom or even rationality. And that's why Olbermann, for a change, is right. It is simply not true that "only" Donald Trump can fix anything, and certainly not without a great deal of help. His program is a lie. What Donald Trump is asking us to do is to turn off our minds and believe in him personally. Many supporters of Barack Obama were willing to do that, but to his credit, he never asked it of them.

In the most literal possible sense, Donald Trump's entire program really is the Fuhrerprinzip. And among participants in the Trumpist hivemind, it's working. How many times have we already seen Trump given credit for the marginally better employment numbers we've had since he took office, for example, despite the fact that he hasn't been in office long enough for any aspect of his policies to have the slightest impact on employment? Count on it: if they'd gone down, it would have been the fault of the press, or of his critics.

And given a core of supporters not only uninformed about just about everything but who eagerly buy into the Fuhrerprinzip,  that retired Tennessee teacher is hardly alone. Anything good that happens will be ascribed to Trump. Anything bad that happens will be the fault of Democrats, the "deep state," the "fake news," the lugenpresse, the  "counterrevolutionary elements,"  the"Jewish influences," the "wreckers,"  the "subversives," the"bourgeoisie," and whoever else realizes that the God-Emporer wears no clothes. Great way to stifle dissent. Historically proven, too.

And that, in a movement as profoundly authoritarian and hostile to the Bill of Rights and the rule of law as the Trump movement, is what makes Donald Trump such a frightening figure. A hivemind cannot be persuaded by rational argument. It can only demonize and scapegoat dissent. And it's happening right and left.

Remember this post the next time you come across a Trumpist echoing The Leader in observing how "difficult" things are going to get in this country for those who aren't with the program. The hivemind constitutes a goodly percentage of the country, perhaps close to half and certainly more than a third. And when any leader is automatically exonerated of anything that goes wrong and his critics automatically blamed, that is the death rattle in the throat of dissent.

Democracy is put in serious danger by the cult of personality carried to the point where Trump and his supporters carry it. Beware, as your freedom is dear to you.

The Orange One isn't  Dread Cthulhu, either. Given the dedication of his cultists, the comparison is understandable. But probably won't devour our souls.

Just the minds of some of us. 

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