March didn’t come in like a lion – there were no late blizzards anywhere. The heavy weather was political. The month opened with Super Tuesday – in November the choice for who gets to run things will come down to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The South settled things – they both won big – and Trump gave Hillary Clinton the turnkey campaign message she never had before – basically just the Trump message turned upside-down. Trump’s message was, as always, so nasty and cartoonish – hate those Muslims, hate those Mexicans, hate all reporters, hate anyone now in government, and stay tuned for who’s next on the list – that all Hillary had to say was no, let’s do something useful. Animosity isn’t policy – ranting about who you hate only makes you look like a jerk and really does make things worse – but Trump is still walking away with the Republican nomination. He’s winning because he understands that nationalism is more important to the Republican base than free-market dogma about taxes and entitlements and the debt and the EPA and Dodd-Frank and all that stuff. What do they care about that? They want to chant – USA! USA! USA! He’s betting that’s true for more than the Republican base.
That was Tuesday. Thursday opened with fifty conservative foreign policy experts, Republicans all, saying Donald Trump could get us all killed – he must be stopped. A few hours later Mitt Romney addressed the nation and said the same thing – “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics” had to stop. Trump then said that four years earlier Mitt wanted Trump’s endorsement so much he could have told Mitt to get on his knees in front of him and… everyone understood the implication. It was pure male dominance – suck on this, bitch – and then, in the evening, there was the debate, with Trump bragging about the size of his… well, whatever. It went downhill from there, if that’s possible – but America was still going to face the same choice in November.
The debate had been a clown show at the end of a very bad day – and the next day Our Principles PAC announced a seven-figure ad buy to stop Trump. These are the Wall Street folks who lost their political party to the guy. William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, suggested that the “real” Republicans should run their own candidate, just this one time. Panic and despair were in the air.
That was premature. All they had to do was wait for Super Saturday:
Trump, who leads the Republican presidential pack in states won, lost Kansas and Maine to Ted Cruz on Super Saturday. The billionaire did, however, win in Louisiana and Kentucky. Trump had earlier enraged attendees of CPAC, a conservative conference, by abandoning a promised speakership to campaign in Kansas, where he was decimated by Cruz, who held a 25-point lead over him.
Trump’s Saturday losses do not dramatically hinder his path to the nomination, as he still leads Cruz by more than 100 delegates. Cruz can, however, now make the case that he is the Republican with the best chance to beat Trump: overall, he has won six primary races, while Marco Rubio, formerly the establishment Republicans’ big hope, won only one. Cruz campaign quickly began making that argument within minutes of his victory. …
Rubio’s quest to become the palatable, common-sense Republican candidate was further crippled with his third- and fourth-place finishes across the board, prompting Trump, his enemy in hand-to-hand combat, to demand that Rubio drop out of the race. So far, the sunny Rubio has only won Minnesota outright, one primary race out of the 19 so far, casting doubts on not just whether he should be the establishment-lane candidate, but whether an establishment-lane candidate even existed anymore.
In short, Trump isn’t inevitable. Rubio is toast now and Ted Cruz could win this, for what that’s worth. Every major Republican hates the guy – which may be why the base loves him – so things don’t get better for the party – but then Hillary isn’t inevitable either:
On the Democratic side, Clinton’s “minority firewall” held as she won Louisiana, adding the state’s majority African-American voters to the collection of seven she won during Super Tuesday. Sanders, however, picked off Nebraska and Kansas, declaring, in effect, that they were not quite dead yet. “We’ve got the momentum, the energy and the excitement that will take us all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia,” he said in a statement.
Nothing is settled, but Donald Trump was definitely unsettled. He always wins, all the time, doesn’t he? That’s what he’s selling – he always wins – elect him and America will always win – but he lost a few here. The big Florida primary comes up in the middle of the month. Something must be done, and that’s when things got strange:
On Saturday, Donald Trump led a rally of supporters to raise their right hands and take a pledge that they would vote for him. “Let’s do a pledge. Who likes me in this room?” Trump asked the crowd at a rally in Orlando, Florida, which was frequently interrupted by protesters. “I’ve never done this before. Can I have a pledge? A swearing? Raise your right hand.”
The Republican presidential front-runner then proceeded to get the audience to repeat after him. “I do solemnly swear that I, no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there are hurricanes or whatever, will vote on or before the 12th for Donald J. Trump for president.”
The video of that went viral – thousands at attention with their right arm straight out, pledging allegiance to a nationalist politician who promises to get rid of certain kinds of people, followed by this:
“Thank you. Now I know. Don’t forget you all raised your hands. You swore. Bad things happen if you don’t live up to what you just did.”
What bad things? Remember the Brownshirts? No, that was the other guy, long ago, but not Friday night:
After learning that Donald Trump apparently kept a volume of Adolf Hitler’s speeches at his bedside, Bill Maher made a scary comparison between the GOP frontrunner at the German dictator on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday.
Maher aired a clip of Hitler speaking with Trump-sounding quotes as subtitles.
“Thank you, thank you. We’re going to make Germany great again, that I can tell you, believe me,” the subtitles read in the mock translation. “Germany doesn’t win anymore. England, France America – they’re laughing at us.”
Yeah, he went there, as did others:
On Saturday, Louis C. K. made the comparison in an email newsletter for his web series “Horace and Pete.” “It was funny for a little while,” he said. “But the guy is Hitler. And by that I mean that we are being Germany in the ’30s. Do you think they saw the shit coming? Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all.”
The Huffington Post also joined in with a story Saturday headlined “This Donald Trump Rally Looks like a Scene from Nazi Germany.”
Hours later, Saturday Night Live joined in with two sketches: One in which Darrell Hammond as Trump compared himself to Hitler, and another called “Racists for Trump,” which featured a Trump supporter wearing a swastika armband.
And then there was this:
Conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler during an interview Sunday with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week. Beck said the GOP is “stirring things up because they are more afraid of Ted Cruz than they are of Donald Trump.”
Beck argued, “The GOP has one last chance to listen to the people. And the people that, and I understand it, they’re very, very angry because the GOP did not listen the first time around. They didn’t listen to the Ron Paul people who are way ahead of the curve. Then the Tea Party people and they rubbed our nose in it. And they are tired. And they have created Donald Trump.”
“The people are speaking clearly. And there’s two ways to go: anger and nationalism, which has been done before in history,” Beck said. “And you can go for nationalism – you can go for anger – as has been done before in history.”
Noting that Beck held up a sign with German writing on it, Stephanopoulos interjected, “Whoa – Donald Trump is Adolf Hitler?”
“If you look at what’s happening with Donald Trump and his playing to the lowest common denominator and to the anger in us,” Beck said. “We look at Adolf Hitler in 1940. We should look at him in 1929. He was a kind of funny, kind of character that said the things people were thinking. Where Donald Trump takes it, I have absolutely no idea. But, Donald Trump is a dangerous man with the things he’s been saying.”
Beck is a Ted Cruz guy so a lot of this is political positioning – Glenn Beck saying something outrageous that no one else will say, as usual – but everyone seems to saying this now. Trump is Hitler, sort of. In the first year of the Obama administration, Beck, on Fox News at the time, said, definitively, that “Obama hates white people” – and Fox News dumped him a week or two later. Wild accusations require at least an attempt at some sort of verifiable evidence. Obama had surrounded himself with white folks he respected and liked, like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. What was Beck’s problem? But here there’s no problem – the evidence is there for everyone to see. Poor Glenn Beck – now he’s not even shocking. He’s just another guy. That must drive him crazy. It’s a branding problem for him.
As for Trump, Matt Taibbi doesn’t see a Hitler:
At the Verizon Giganto-Center in Manchester the night before the New Hampshire primary, Trump bounds onstage to raucous applause and the booming riffs of the Lennon-McCartney anthem “Revolution.” The song is, hilariously, a cautionary tale about the perils of false prophets peddling mindless revolts, but Trump floats in on its grooves like it means the opposite. When you win as much as he does, who the hell cares what anything means?
He steps to the lectern and does his Mussolini routine, which he’s perfected over the past months. It’s a nodding wave, a grin, a half-sneer, and a little U.S. Open-style applause back in the direction of the audience, his face the whole time a mask of pure self-satisfaction.
“This is unbelievable, unbelievable!” he says, staring out at a crowd of about 4,000 whooping New Englanders with snow hats, fleece and beer guts. There’s a snowstorm outside and cars are flying off the road, but it’s a packed house.
He flashes a thumbs-up. “So everybody’s talking about the cover of Time magazine last week. They have a picture of me from behind, I was extremely careful with my hair…”
He strokes his famous flying fuzz-mane. It looks gorgeous, like it’s been recently fed. The crowd goes wild. Whoooo! Trump!
It’s pure camp, a variety show. He singles out a Trump impersonator in the crowd, tells him he hopes the guy is making a lot of money. “Melania, would you marry that guy?” he says. The future first lady is a Slovenian model who, apart from Trump, was most famous for a TV ad in which she engaged in a Frankenstein-style body transfer with the Aflac duck, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.
It’s just show-biz:
Before the speech, the PA announcer had told us not to “touch or harm” any protesters, but to instead just surround them and chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” – until security can arrive (and presumably do the touching and/or harming).
I’d seen this ritual several times, and the crowd always loves it. At one event, a dead ringer for John Oliver ripped off his shirt in the middle of a Trump speech to reveal body paint that read “Eminent Domain This!” on his thorax. The man shouted, “Trump is a racist!” and was immediately set upon by Trump supporters, who yelled “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at him until security arrived and dragged him out the door to cheers. The whole Trump run is like a Jerry Springer episode, where even the losers seem in on the gags.
The man is not Hitler:
Reporters have focused quite a lot on the crazy/race-baiting/nativist themes in Trump’s campaign. These comprise a very small part of his usual presentation. His speeches increasingly are strikingly populist in their content… He’s rich, he won’t owe anyone anything upon election, and therefore he won’t do what both Democratic and Republican politicians unfailingly do upon taking office, i.e. approve rotten/regressive policies that screw ordinary people.
Ryan Lizza agrees – he quotes Henry Olsen to suggest that Trump is thriving because he “is posing a new question: To what extent should the GOP be the advocates for those struggling in the modern economy?” Why mention Hitler?
Rick Perlstein cites those two and doesn’t agree:
I attended the same Trump rally in Plymouth, N.H., as Taibbi. Matt should clean the wax from his ears: I heard the crazy and the race-baiting and the nativist themes raining down like dirty dollar bills at a strip joint.
But leave aside that Mexicans and Syrians are also “ordinary people” who struggle in the modern economy. And that you can’t trust anything Donald Trump says.
No, the core inanity here cuts much deeper. It’s an ignorance of a simple historical fact: Every fascist achieves and cements his power by pledging to rescue ordinary people from the depredations of economic elites. That’s how fascism works.
Perlstein then cites a Nazi-friendly website on “How Hitler Defied the Bankers” back in the day:
When Hitler came to power, Germany was hopelessly broke … Germany had no choice but to succumb to debt slavery under international (mainly Jewish) bankers until 1933, when the National Socialists came to power. Hitler began a national credit program by devising a plan of public works that included flood control, repair of public buildings and private residences, and construction of new roads, bridges, canals, and port facilities … Within two years, the unemployment problem had been solved. … Germany’s economic freedom was short-lived; but it left several monuments, including the famous Autobahn, the world’s first extensive superhighway…
And, for what it’s worth, it’s true! Hitler built the Autobahn! He conquered inflation! (It’s not hard, if you can shoot people who raise prices.) Unemployment plummeted!
You might even say that for “ordinary Germans” struggling in the modern economy, things got pretty good.
But guess what? Under fascism, economic protection for the goose accompanies dispossession of the gander. White people prosper in part because minorities suffer – whether, under Hitler, by taking away property from Jews, or as Herr Trump expects, by taking back “our” jobs from “them,” whether the “them” is immigrants or our supposedly duplicitous trading partners.
And of course we’ve seen this before:
George Wallace said to William F. Buckley Jr. in 1968 that the state of Alabama “had five generations of people who didn’t go to school because there were no schools for black or white.” Then he became governor and -he claimed – turned Alabama into an educational paradise. Like all authoritarians, he lied: Education stayed plenty awful, especially for blacks in segregated schools.
And, like all authoritarians, the bedrock of his appeal was his hate. As one voter in Massachusetts asked Wallace’s aide Tom Turnipseed in 1968, “When Wallace is elected president he’s going to round up all the niggers and shoot them, isn’t he?” Turnipseed assured him, “We’re not going to shoot anybody.” At which the voter responded, “Well, I don’t know whether I’m for him or not” – which sounds a whole lot like what Trump fans told The Nation’s Sasha Abramsky. “I’d give ’em a choice,” said one un-cherry-picked voter, concerning Muslims in America – “A trench on one side or a ticket out of here.”
Populism and fascism are hard to untangle:
Build infrastructure, jail banksters: Hell, I’m for all that, too. It shouldn’t take electing thugs to do it. There’s a reason the saying “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools” made so much sense in Weimar Germany: Socialism and barbarism can look very similar in their surface appeals. The real fools are the media sophisticates who don’t bother to look a bare inch underneath.
Cory Doctorow looks underneath:
As part of his PhD research for UMass Amherst, Matthew McWilliams surveyed the psychological characteristics of authoritarians — not the people who lead authoritarian movements, but the followers, those who defer to them.
His work echoed the independent research of Vanderbilt’s Marc Hetherington and UNC’s Jonathan Weiler, whose 2009 book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics concluded that a sizable fraction of the US voting public were authoritarian: people who wanted to be controlled, and wanted their neighbors to be controlled, because they were afraid the status quo was slipping away and they didn’t believe that anything better would replace it.
They all posit that there are really three American parties, not two: the Democrats, the Republicans, and the authoritarian Republicans, who aren’t conservatives in the sense of wanting tax cuts for the rich or caring about specific religious or moral questions. Rather, they want strong leaders who’ll fight change, preserve hierarchies, and talk tough.
What, we have three American parties, not two? Who knew? But Amanda Taub examined Trump’s emergence in The Rise of American Authoritarianism – a long article at Vox, full of data but including this:
The first thing that jumped out from the data on authoritarians is just how many there are. Our results found that 44 percent of white respondents nationwide scored as “high” or “very high” authoritarians, with 19 percent as “very high.” That’s actually not unusual, and lines up with previous national surveys that found that the authoritarian disposition is far from rare.
The key thing to understand is that authoritarianism is often latent; people in this 44 percent only vote or otherwise act as authoritarians once triggered by some perceived threat, physical or social. But that latency is part of how, over the past few decades, authoritarians have quietly become a powerful political constituency without anyone realizing it.
Okay, fine – we have the pro-business, pro-Jesus, pro-war Republicans. We have the tame-big-business, all-are-welcome, antiwar Democrats. And we have Donald Trump and those Nazi salutes, to him, down in Orlando, not far from Disneyworld, but that fits:
The German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl whose documentaries in the mid-30s had helped to glorify the Nazis claimed that after Kristallnacht , she approached every studio in Hollywood looking for work. No studio head would even screen her movies except Walt Disney. He told her he admired her work but if it became known that he was considering hiring her, it would damage his reputation.
For the most part Disney doesn’t appear to have had strong political views – his politics seemed to turn on whatever it took to keep his studio going. It’s likely his interest in the German American Bund sprang from a desire to forge relationships with Germany for possible film distribution there. On the other hand, there was a lot of anti-Semitic feeling in the Disney studio. While no one can specifically attribute bias to Disney himself, Jewish people were ready fodder for the animators’ gags and Disney approved every scene in every short the studio made. In one scene in the original version of “The Three Little Pigs,” the Big Bad Wolf comes to the door dressed as a stereotypical Jewish peddler. Disney changed the scene after complaints from Jewish groups. They didn’t catch them all, though. In the short “The Opry House” Mickey Mouse is seen dressed and dancing as a Hasidic Jew.
Yeah, Walt Disney, and Charles Lindberg too – that forty-four percent of all white voters doesn’t seem that farfetched. They’re authoritarians. They’ve been around forever and were waiting for Donald Trump – and he’s stuck trying to win the nomination in a two-party system, when we have three. We do need to sort this out. We probably can’t.