Reliving the Thirties

When times are tough people look for someone who will make things all better, someone who will knock a few heads together and get things done, not like useless fools now in power, who got us into this mess – and there were no times tougher than the thirties. The Great Depression was a worldwide depression, and there weren’t a lot of strong leaders around – but there were a few. The word was that, say what you will about Mussolini, at least, over there, the trains ran on time. That wasn’t quite true – not that it mattered. The idea was that even if he was an awful man, Mussolini cut through the crap and got things done. Italy was recovering from the Great Depression. We were not. He was a strong leader.

Charles Lindbergh felt the same way about Hitler. After the kidnapping and murder of their son, he and his wife moved to Europe for a time, and Lindbergh attended a few Nazi rallies. These folks had their act together, and as one of the many isolationists here at the time, he saw no reason we should go fight them:

Upon Lindbergh’s return to the States, he agitated for neutrality with Germany, and testified before Congress in opposition to the Lend-Lease policy, which offered cash and military aid to countries friendly to the United States in their war effort against the Axis powers. His public denunciation of “the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt Administration” – as instigators of American intervention in the war – as well as comments that smacked of anti-Semitism – lost him the support of other isolationists. When, in 1941, President Roosevelt denounced Lindbergh publicly, the aviator resigned from the Air Corps Reserve.

We eventually forgave him. Jimmy Stewart played him in a movie – but the thirties had been like that. People were enamored with the idea of a strong leader who would cut through all the crap and get something done – anything – even if that leader was a murderous psychopath like Hitler or a buffoon like Mussolini. Times were tough. It took years, but mostly another World War, to straighten out all of this. Mussolini should have been laughed off the world stage. Many expected that, but Mussolini was impervious to his own buffoonery.

ThinkProgress reports that so is Donald Trump:

After his now-famous comments deriding the war record of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) last weekend, Donald Trump was supposed to be toast. NBC’s First Read asked if this was a “tipping point.” “Trump GOP Candidacy Blows Up” … a Weekly Standard headline. “DON VOYAGE: Trump is toast after insult,” proclaimed the front page of the New York Post. “Trump is toast,” the conservative magazine Commentary put it simply.

He’s “not running a real campaign,” according to Rick Wilson, and in fact, “the Donald Trump candidacy is almost over.” The Huffington Post re-categorized Trump news into their entertainment section.

“Trump will continue to be loud and defiant,” ABC’s Rick Klein said, “but he will cease being relevant long before votes are cast.” Mitt Romney tweeted, “The difference between Sen. John McCain and Donald Trump: Trump shot himself down.”

“It’s still a great question how this Republican nomination race will sort out once this Trump nonsense ends,” wrote National Journal’s Charlie Cook. The establishment reaction to Trump’s McCain comments “will probably mark the moment when Trump’s candidacy went from boom to bust,” according to the New York Times.

They were all wrong:

Trump continues to surge in the polls, with a CNN-ORC poll finding he continues to lead the field nationwide at 18 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 15 percent and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 10 percent. The rest of the field was in single digits. Beyond the 18 percent giving him their support, well over half of white evangelicals, conservatives, and Tea Party supporters want him to remain in the race. Trump has now led five out of the last five national polls.

One NBC News-Marist poll found that Trump led the GOP field in New Hampshire with 21 percent support – Bush followed with 14 percent and Walker at 12 percent. The other 14 candidates were in the single digits.

Another poll in Iowa showed Trump almost tied with Walker’s lead position there – 17 percent for Trump and 19 for Walker. Bush trailed at 12 percent and the rest of the field in single digits. The Iowa poll was conducted before and after Trump’s comments about McCain – in New Hampshire his support and favorability rating dropped after the comments while in Iowa they actually increased.

This item also mentions that a survey of early-state GOP “insiders” conducted by Politico found that three-quarters of respondents thought Trump had peaked – so everyone was wrong – and everyone made adjustments:

Some candidates have lashed out at Trump while others have taken a “well if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee recently said Trump was “fascinating” and “sort of unfiltered in a way that’s refreshing.” In fact, Huckabee said, perhaps Huckabee was Trump before Trump was Trump. “I’ll be honest with you, a lot of the things that he’s saying, those are things that, in many ways, I’ve been saying those for eight years.”

For his part, Trump explains his surge as being larger than himself.

“This is more than me,” he said on CNN. “This is a movement going on. People are tired of these incompetent politicians in Washington who can’t get anything done.”

That sounds familiar, but Amber Phillips in the Washington Post says this may not be a big deal:

Republicans are in the midst of a primary battle with an unprecedented number of candidates (16!) and no clear leader. In fact, the 2016 Republican field is the most fractured in recent memory. Nasty primary battles are never a great time for any party. On top of all that, Republicans are dealing with Trumpmania.

The real estate magnate’s improbable and inescapable presidential campaign has clearly tapped into a small but fervent anti-Washington sentiment (a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found about 14 percent of the population supports Trump’s run for president).

But for obvious reasons, Trump is incredibly divisive: That same poll found 61 percent of Americans would never, ever consider voting for Trump under any circumstances.

Trump is going nowhere, but David Atkins isn’t so sure:

Phillips’ argument strikes me as a case of wishful thinking with precious little evidence behind it. Yes, the Republican Party has become too extreme for the general public; yes, Donald Trump and Tea Party candidates only have the support of the angriest conservative voters in the country; yes, primary battles are difficult.

But none of those facts, singly or collectively, signals that Republicans are dismayed at their own party because it has gotten too extreme. Rather, the enormous burst of base support for Donald Trump is simply yet another piece in a long trail of evidence from the ouster of Eric Cantor to the formation of the Tea Party itself that the Republican base feels that its establishment wing isn’t nearly extreme enough.

That seems to be the situation:

Fervently nativist Republicans, having found in Trump a voice that actually speaks for them and represents their interests, have grown disgusted with the establishment Republicans whom they regard as in hock to what they call the “cheap labor” big business crowd. It may have escaped the notice of most pundits, but even before Trump’s candidacy many base Republicans were already seething at the party’s corporate-friendly, anti-American-jobs stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership…

As usual, there’s just no reason to believe the conventional wisdom here. Republicans probably aren’t upset with their own party because it has become too extreme and too much like Donald Trump. In all likelihood it’s the other way around.

Atkins also adds this:

Witness the spectacle of Mike Huckabee this morning claiming that the negotiated deal with Iran would constitute President Obama marching “Israelis to the door of the oven.” Even by modern Republican standards that sort of rhetoric is a bridge too far. But it’s the sort of thing a Republican presidential aspirant has to say these days to get attention and support from the Republican base.

Or consider Rick Perry today, whose brilliant solution to mass shootings is for us to all “take our guns to the movie theaters.” As if the proper response to suicidal mass murderers using guns as the easiest, deadliest and most readily available tool to inflict mayhem is to arm every man, woman and child in the hope that the shooter dies slightly more quickly in the crossfire of a dark auditorium. Even as other moviegoers settle their disputes over cell phone texting with deadly gun violence.

Under normal circumstances these sorts of statements would be a death knell for presidential candidates. But these are not normal times. The Republican Party is locked into an autocatalytic cycle of increasing and self-reinforcing extremism.

There’s a reason for that. Tough times, like the thirties:

The blue-collar white males who make up the GOP base are struggling more and more as business-friendly trickle-down economic policies continue to rob them of their economic security – but their inherent racism, sexism and distrust of government leads them to inherently reject reasonable liberal solutions in the fear that someone they don’t like might get a “handout” with their tax dollars. Hardcore political Republican partisans are slowly realizing that they no longer hold a silent majority in the country if they ever did, that every passing year demographic change makes their electoral prospects increasingly difficult, and that only a combination of gerrymandering, small-state-favoritism and accidental geographic political self-selection allows them to hold onto the House and Senate for now. And conservatives of all stripes can feel the ground shift underneath them irrevocably as liberals continue to win battles on social issues even as unfiltered left-leaning economic populism becomes increasingly mainstream.

Unwilling and unable to moderate their positions, the Republican base has assumed a pose of irredentist defiance, an insurgent war against perceived liberal orthodoxy in which the loudest, most aggressive warrior becomes their favorite son. It is this insurgent stance that informs their hardline views on guns: many of them see a day coming when their nativist, secessionist political insurgency may become an active military insurgency, and they intend to be armed to the teeth in the event that they deem it necessary. The GOP electorate isn’t choosing a potential president: they’re choosing a rebel leader. The Republican base doesn’t intend to go down compromising. They intend to go down fighting.

That’s why Donald Trump is so popular. That’s why the Republican Party’s brand is weak even among conservatives – because it’s too extreme for everyone else, but not extreme enough for them.

Jeffrey Tucker in Newsweek makes the obvious connection:

I just heard Trump speak live. The speech lasted an hour, and my jaw was on the floor most of the time. I’ve never before witnessed such a brazen display of nativist jingoism, along with a complete disregard for economic reality. It was an awesome experience, a perfect repudiation of all good sense and intellectual sobriety.

Yes, he is against the establishment, against existing conventions. It also serves as an important reminder: As bad as the status quo is, things could be worse. Trump is dedicated to taking us there.

His speech was like an interwar séance of once-powerful dictators who inspired multitudes, drove countries into the ground and died grim deaths.

All it takes is “failed economies, cultural upheaval and social instability” and someone “stoking the fires of bourgeois resentment” and you get Trump, and something else:

Since World War II, the ideology he represents has usually lived in dark corners, and we don’t even have a name for it anymore. The right name, the correct name, the historically accurate name, is fascism. I don’t use that word as an insult only. It is accurate.

Though hardly anyone talks about it today, we really should. It is still real. It exists. It is distinct. It is not going away. Trump has tapped into it, absorbing unto his own political ambitions every conceivable resentment (race, class, sex, religion, economic) and promising a new order of things under his mighty hand.

You would have to be hopelessly ignorant of modern history not to see the outlines and where they end up. I want to laugh about what he said, like reading a comic-book version of Franco, Mussolini or Hitler.

But this isn’t a comic book:

Of course, race baiting is essential to the ideology, and there was plenty of that. When a Hispanic man asked a question, Trump interrupted him and asked if he had been sent by the Mexican government. He took it a step further, dividing blacks from Hispanics by inviting a black man to the microphone to tell how his own son was killed by an illegal immigrant.

Because Trump is the only one who speaks this way, he can count on support from the darkest elements of American life. He doesn’t need to actually advocate racial homogeneity, call for whites-only signs to be hung at immigration control or push for expulsion or extermination of undesirables. Because such views are verboten, he has the field alone, and he can count on the support of those who think that way by making the right noises.

But he’s really about business. He’s rich – really rich. That settles matters:

What do capitalists on his level do? They beat the competition. What does he believe he should do as president? Beat the competition, which means other countries, which means wage a trade war. If you listen to him, you would suppose that the United States is in some sort of massive, epochal struggle for supremacy with China, India, Malaysia and pretty much everyone else in the world.

It takes a bit to figure out what this could mean. He speaks of the United States as if it were one thing, one single firm – a business. “We” are in competition with “them,” as if the country was IBM competing against Samsung, Apple or Dell. “We” are not 300 million people pursuing unique dreams and ideas, with special tastes or interests, cooperating with people around the world to build prosperity. “We” are doing one thing, and that is being part of one business.

In effect, he believes that he is running to be the CEO of the country – not just of the government… In this capacity, he believes that he will make deals with other countries that cause the United States to come out on top, whatever that could mean. He conjures up visions of himself or one of his associates sitting across the table from some Indian or Chinese leader and making wild demands that they will buy such and such amount of product, or else “we” won’t buy “their” product. He fantasizes about placing phone calls to “Saudi Arabia,” the country, and telling “it” what he thinks about oil prices.

Maybe it is a comic book after all, but not a funny one:

These people are all the same. They purport to be populists, while loathing the decisions people actually make in the marketplace (such as buying Chinese goods or hiring Mexican employees).

Oh, how they love the people, and how they hate the establishment. They defy all civic conventions. Their ideology is somehow organic to the nation, not a wacky import like socialism. They promise a new era based on pride, strength, heroism, triumph. They have an obsession with the problem of trade and mercantilist belligerence at the only solution. They have zero conception of the social order as a complex and extended ordering of individual plans, one that functions through freedom.

This is a dark history, and I seriously doubt that Trump himself is aware of it. Instead, he just makes it up as he goes along, speaking from his gut, just like Uncle Harry at Thanksgiving dinner, just like two guys at the bar during last call.

Still, Tucker is hopeful:

My own prediction is that the political exotica he represents will not last. It’s a moment in time. The thousands who attend his rallies and scream their heads off will head home and return to enjoying movies, smartphones and mobile apps from all over the world, partaking in the highest standard of living experienced in the whole of human history, granted courtesy of the global market economy in which no one rules. We will not go back.

Salon’s Conor Lynch isn’t so sure about that:

The thing is that his style – full of race baiting, xenophobia and belligerent nationalism – is not unique to Trump; he is simply the most blatant and vocal about it. There’s a reason he’s leading in the GOP polls: the party’s base likes what he’s saying. The people are angry about illegal immigrants murdering white women (anyone who has followed Bill O’Reilly over the past week knows what I’m talking about), homosexuals destroying the tradition of marriage, and so on. Much like fascism reacted to modernity and social progress in the early 20th century, right-wingers are reacting angrily to social progress of the new century. (Of course, there has been no economic progress, which is why the left is also angry.)

So is the GOP becoming the new fascist party? That might be an exaggeration, but it does share many similar features, and Trump, with his demagogic style, is simply exposing how very similar the passions of the GOP base are to the passions of fascism of the early 20th century.

That may seem farfetched, but here’s Lynch’s argument:

Overall, however, the GOP has a pretty straightforward idea of its platform. Like fascism, tradition is holy – the tradition of marriage, family values, Christian ideals. Controversy over the confederate flag has also been based largely on tradition – a tradition that the South cannot give up. Another similarity is its belligerence. After news of the Iran deal agreement came out last week, the GOP faithful were outraged that America would actually practice diplomacy with an Islamic country in the Middle East. … The GOP alternative would indeed be military force, as it has been many times before. …

Beyond these values, the GOP tends to preach and practice intolerance, xenophobia, nationalism and anti-democratic values (i.e., voter suppression). In many ways, the GOP is anti-enlightenment, and embraces passion over reason. The dangerous denial of climate change and other scientific facts seems to come out of the corrupt alliance of anti-intellectual traditionalism and corporate influence (i.e., oil and gas).

And that completes the argument:

Giovanni Gentile, the “philosopher of fascism” and ghostwriter for Mussolini, said of the definition of fascism in the Encyclopedia of Italiana: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” This definition may very well fit the GOP ideology: a kind of corporate fascism, where large corporations have the ultimate power; where the politicians spew a hateful, intolerant ideology based on “traditional” values, on a platform funded by corporate interests, elected by the people to serve those very corporate interests; and deny environmental degradation because it would be unprofitable for the funders to do anything about it, using the anti-intellectual hostility to convince the people that it is nothing more than a left-wing conspiracy.

Donald Trump is no doubt a wealthy buffoon – but he is a buffoon who understands the underlying passions of the GOP base. Fascist leaders also understood these passions, and knew how to exploit them for political gain. These passions may seem irrational, but they should not be underestimated.

This is serious stuff, but there is the buffoonery:

As Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign lurches from one controversy to another, the real estate mogul on Friday gained the support of a widely-recognized celebrity with experience in international diplomacy: NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman.

Rodman tweeted his support to his “great” friend’s campaign for the White House.

“@realDonaldTrump has been a great friend for many years. We don’t need another politician; we need a businessman like Mr. Trump! Trump 2016,” the tweet reads.

The context:

Rodman made his reality TV debut on Trump’s NBC show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” in 2013, but their friendship extended outside the boardroom after he famously played diplomat that year by visiting North Korea and meeting with dictator Kim Jong Un.

Back then, Trump praised Rodman’s trip, calling the basketball player “smart.”

“Dennis is not a stupid guy. He’s smart in many ways; he’s very street-wise,” he told Fox News.

“You look at the world – the world is blowing up around us. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have,” Trump added.

There were Rodman’s trips to North Korea – he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and later said Kim was “a friend for life” and suggested that President Obama “pick up the phone and call” Kim since the two leaders were basketball fans. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have?

One does think of the thirties, or actually the decade before, when a young Ernest Hemingway was a European stringer for The Toronto Daily Star. On January 27, 1923, the Star published his “Mussolini: Biggest Bluff in Europe” containing this:

The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press. Everybody came. We all crowded into the room. Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering dictator. Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to give. And he remained absorbed in his book. Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents. As we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up from the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration…

I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary – held upside down.

Things haven’t changed since then. The parallels are a bit unnerving.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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