Malacandra.me

What do we call this political atrocity?

What do we call this political atrocity?

by digby


This piece by James Fallows in the Atlantic is as characteristically insightful as his work always is. But I'm struck by the fact that this calm, thoughtful, common sense writer has come to some of the same conclusions as this hyperbolic blogger.


We all know that Trump is unusual is just about every way. But Fallows notes a specifically unique characteristic:

Donald Trump’s first official State of the Union address—which seems as if it happened back in the 19th century, but in reality is five days in the past—highlighted something that was implicit in his campaign and increasingly significant through his time in office: Trump virtually never praises or speaks about, and gives no evidence of respecting or even comprehending, the strengths of the United States as a system, or as an idea.

The United States occupies a particular (very favorable) geographic location, and it has a particular demographic mixture (which has continually changed through its history), and has other traits that make Americans identifiable as a people. For Americans who have lived overseas, one of the most obvious of these tribal traits is the impulse to gather on Thanksgiving Day, which for everyone else is just another Thursday. Another is the sporting festival that some 160 million people, mostly Americans, watched last night.

But from its Founders’ era onward, the country’s leaders have stressed that America the nation is also America the idea. This was an invented nation, in the late 1700s the first of its type the world had seen. And for all of its evident injustices and failings and hypocrisies, in principle it was based on the open-ended quest to become a more “perfect union.”

At the level of high theory, this meant learning about the checks and balances of the Constitution, and the discussions in the Federalist Papers about the intricate machinery of a lasting democracy. In practice it meant respecting the rules of American interaction at least as much as the results, and understanding that those rules included both written strictures and long-established norms. Respecting the process of trial by jury, despite disagreement with a particular verdict. Respecting the followup process of judicial review and appeal. Respecting open elections, even when they go against you. Respecting the obligations of long-term treaties and compacts, even when it would be more convenient to shirk them. Respecting the importance of unfettered debate and criticism, even when you feel—as most politicians do when being criticized—that the people doing the complaining have got it all wrong.


My assumption has been that he's simply uneducated about any of this. But it's clear that it's uninteresting to him as well. Everything in life is about him, not anything else.

Fallows wonders what to call this phenomenon and mentions four different possibilities:

… Trumpocracy? This is the name of an excellent new book by The Atlantic’s David Frum, related to—but much broader than—his “How to Build an Autocracy” cover story, published just after Trump was sworn in. David describes the interlocking brands of corruption that together keep an autocrat in power, from straight-out financial payoffs (like Trump real-estate deals linked to Trump-administration policies) to the corrosion of law-enforcement standards to the abasement of an entire political party. What I observed when living in China is what the book says is becoming true of this era’s America: “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.” ...

… A “dying” of democracy? That is the implication of the new book How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard. Like Frum’s book, this one works against an “it can’t happen here” complacency about the durability of American institutions...

… Perhaps this is “tribalism,” a term I’ve discussed in a series of posts last year, especially for the current Republican pattern of converting any judgment about “right” or “wrong” into whether it helps or hurts Trump...

… Or it is time to call this era flat-out a return to fascism. This is the argument of another brand-new book, by the Dutch writer (and friend of mine ) Rob Riemen. Its title is To Fight Against This Age; it’s a combination of two long essays that received wide attention in Europe; and for American readers its central importance will be Riemen’s contention that it matters to call today’s political disorders by their real name. For him that is not “populism” (or the U.S. version, “economic anxiety,”) nor garden-variety corruption nor even longer-term democratic distress. Instead it is the reawakening of the force that began destroying Europe a century ago, outright fascism:

The term populism, being the preferred description for a modern-day revolt of the masses, will not provide any meaningful understanding concerning that phenomenon … The use of the term populist is only one more way to cultivate the denial that the ghost of fascism is haunting our societies again and to deny the fact that liberal democracies have turned into their opposite: mass democracies deprived of the spirit of democracy.
Fallows notes in the piece:

I don’t know whether Trump has encountered the phrase l’etat, c’est moi, but he is showing us just what it means. Except for that odd passage in his inaugural address, there’s no evidence I can think of that he recognizes the claims, validity, or importance of a set of rules beyond his personal interests or aggrandizement.
Well:


He literally suggests that failing to applaud him is un-American, treasonous and shows that the Democrats "don't love their country." His adoring subjects agree.

Louis the IV would be proud.

So would someone else:

The salute is performed by extending the right arm from the neck into the air with a straightened hand. Usually, the person offering the salute would say "Heil Hitler!" (Hail Hitler!), "Heil, mein Führer!" (Hail, my leader!), or "Sieg Heil!" (Hail victory!). It was adopted in the 1930s by the Nazi Party to signal obedience to the party's leader, Adolf Hitler, and to glorify the German nation (and later the German war effort). The salute was mandatory for civilians.

Fallows concludes:

In the latest New York Times Book Review, Damon Linker explained why he respected the book but disagreed with Riemen about “fascism.” Linker argues that it is a distracting and inflammatory rather than clarifying term. Judge for yourself; the argument, again, has parallels to criticism of Ta-Nehisi Coates for insisting on terms like “white supremacy.” Linker also has a deeper difference with Riemen, over “universal” versus particularistic values in politics. (“Politics is about more existential issues: this bounded community in this place with this history and heritage, determining its own character for itself, deciding who is and who is not a citizen, who will rule and in the name of which vision of the good life.”) Again, consider it for yourself. I am on Riemen’s side of that argument, and I find that his case for considering today’s developments “fascist” is, in fact, useful in thinking about responses.

Me too.

I urge you to read the whole thing. This is just a small part of the argument.