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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

What is Fascism, and Why Has It Become a Topic of Interest in This Election?

   As Americans, we have long held ourselves to be immune from the terrible trauma experienced in Italy under Mussolini and in Germany under Hitler.  Our free press and educated population would surely prevent the rise of a fascist government. It could never happen here. Or could it?

Well, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s best selling book, Fascism: A Warning, got America (and me) thinking about the topic.

So I ordered a second book on the topic, which I just finished reading and strongly recommend to those who want an understanding of how fascism can indeed take root in our free and democratic society.

The book is How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, by Jason Stanley, a scholar of philosophy and propaganda who had written a prior book with the title How Propaganda Works.


This book was written in September 2018 but has been reissued in paperback this year with a new preface, containing this comment:

   “I wrote this book as a warning about fascist politics, essentially the danger of rhetoric that encourages fear and anger as a means to foment ethnic and religious division, seeping into public discourse. Today, the effects of such talk seem clear, as that rhetoric now shapes the outcome of elections and makes its way into policies.”

    I find it hard to believe that our current president would knowingly choose to follow the path of fascism, but it’s definitely worth noting that his formula for success aligns perfectly with that pursued by European fascists.  Here are just a few of those elements that you’ll read about in this essential book:

Chapter One is titled “The Mythic Past.” Fascist politics begin with invoking a past that exists only in the minds of those who are frightened by changes in society. From the beginning, “Make American Great Again” triggered for me the question of when that was. Was America great in the era of slavery, civil war and failed reconstruction? Was it great before women won the right to vote? Was it great before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts? Was it great before the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act began to reverse the degradation of our environment.  (Remember Los Angeles' air pollution, our "brown cloud" and Love Canal?)  What America do the folks wearing MAGA hats want to return to?

The answer is made clear by what they fear. They fear the dilution of their white bloodline by black and brown populations. They have heard statisticians tell us that the United States is moving toward a “majority minority” population, and that frightens them.  This, you'll read, is central to the rise of fascism. In Germany it was the Jews; in American it's hispanic immigrants and blacks. 

People fear the unknown. Rural voters are most susceptible to fearing an “invasion” of black and brown men because they have only the experience of watching news reports of crime and rioting, which their favored news sources are happy to feed them, even using archival footage when no current footage is available.  (An African-American colleague of mine is the father of an infant daughter, and he's glad she's a girl instead of a boy because of how much worse and more dangerous is the experience of an African-American boy growing up in America.) 

Patriarchy is a key element. Fascist politics play on feminism as destructive of the mythic past which its proponents emphasize. And fear by men of their women and children being molested by those black and brown immigrants is most powerful. Echoes ring in our head of Trump’s announcement in 2015 choosing to focus on Mexican immigrants being rapists. The author calls this “the politics of sexual anxiety.”

The threat of communism/socialism is a common element in the growth of fascism.  Portraying progressive democratic programs as "socialist" or "communist" can suffice to fill people who already feel insecure financially with fear and anger.  Sound familiar?

Fascist politics always involves discrediting of media and scientists. At its heart, fascism is anti-intellectual. If the reality doesn’t serve your purpose, demean it as being elitist and fake.

As I read Stanley’s excellent text, I came to the realization that the fascist politics we are witnessing now, which found a useful idiot in our current president, is truly the result of the success of liberal democracy. Fascism wasn’t a threat in the 1950s of segregation and homophobia. Today, with same sex marriage legalized, the #MeToo movement supercharging feminism, the Black Lives Matter movement acquiring greater power due to its more popular white following, all this makes it quite easy for someone like Trump, a former pro-choice Democrat, to discover right-wing beliefs to be more effective for his personal advancement. And it should be noted that Qanon’s bizarre conspiracies feed right into that role.

Here's the table of contents of Stanley's book:



 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

By Supporting Donald Trump, You Indicate That You Believe the Following…

You believe character is not all that important in the President of the United States, although you thought it was super important with previous presidents.

You believe that Supreme Court justices should be “originalists.” Originalists believe the constitution should be interpreted based on the founding fathers’ original intent. If so, that means you support slavery and oppose all kinds of rights for women.

You believe that the 2nd Amendment was written not only to allow the arming of state militias but to allow anyone to purchase unlimited military grade weapons so they can take up arms against the state if, in their own mind, they consider the current elected government tyrannical.

You don’t allow yourself to believe there is systemic racism in America, dismissing any and all evidence of it.  You accept Trump's claim that he is "the least racist person" ever and has done more for African-Americans than any president, including Abraham Lincoln.

You believe it is okay for the Commander in Chief to disparage war heroes, to call Sen. John McCain a "loser," and to order the White House flag raised after it had been lowered to half staff upon the Senator’s death.  You don't believe that he refused to visit a WWI cemetery in France because it was "filled with losers and suckers," even though a Fox News reporter verified that statement. 

   You believe that it was okay for the President to tell Americans that Covid-19 was no more virulent than the flu, even after he was on tape telling Bob Woodward that it was five times more deadly.

   You accept that the free press is the “enemy of the people,” and that opposition to the president is treasonous, resulting in cases of police intentionally targeting reporters covering demonstrations with rubber bullets and Mace.

You believe the president’s Twitter feed, Fox News and radio talk shows are all you need to be fully informed.

You don’t believe any of the criticism of Donald Trump written or spoken by persons who worked closely with him, including the man he hired to write The Art of the Deal, or his longest-serving national security advisor, John Bolton. You think they’re all lying, and just out to make money telling lies.

You believe immigrants have no value to America and are taking jobs from Americans who truly want to pick your vegetables and replace your roofs. You think immigrants don’t pay taxes and are living off your money.

You agree that “dreamers” who have lived here since infancy and known only America should be deported to their parent’s country. You think it’s just fine to separate children from their immigrant parents and not track their location for eventual reunification.

You believe that black, Hispanic and Muslin members of Congress who are American citizens elected by their districts should be deported to the countries of their parents or ancestors.

You supported the banning of travel from majority Muslim countries even though Trump exempted Saudi Arabia, which was the home country of the 9/11 terrorists.  You dismiss the fact that Saudi Arabia is the one Muslim country where Trump has financial interests. 

You believe that mere accusation of wrongdoing, without hearing or trial, by the president is all that is required to “lock up” political opponents. Due process doesn’t apply to them. (Does this sound like authoritarianism yet?)

You think it’s okay for the President to insult our allies for almost anything but not criticize, much less accuse, Vladimir Putin of poisoning his political opponents, It’s also okay to withhold criticism of (and sell arms to) the Saudi Crown Prince, who ordered the killing and dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist he didn’t like.

You believe that climate change is a hoax, that we don’t need to worry about rising sea levels or more severe hurricanes and forest fires. You don’t ask why the Pentagon declared climate change a national security issue.

You believe that we need to keep subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and stop subsidizing clean energy.

You believe we don’t need environment protections. It’s okay to let our air and water be polluted by industry for profit. You support expanded oil drilling on public lands even though we are already self-sufficient in oil production. 

You believe, without evidence, that there is rampant killing at birth of full-term babies.

You believe that Joe Biden is a stalking horse for Communists who hate America and want to make the United States into a dictatorship like Venezuela. You don’t ask why anyone would want to destroy their own country. (I’m beginning to think you do!)

You believe the impeachment of the president was without any merit. Those hours of testimony about Ukraine were all made up by traitorous members of the Deep State conspiracy to undo the 2016 election.

You believe the Mueller probe found no involvement by Russia to assist the Trump campaign and that there was no obstruction of justice by the president. Ordering members of his administration to ignore subpoenas by Congress isn’t obstruction of Congress.

You believe that Donald Trump was a successful businessman who became a multi-billionaire through his amazing business acumen and high ethics. And that all the monies due to people who worked for him have been paid. It's "fake news" that he hired undocumented workers for his buildings and golf courses.

You believe that bullying is "presidential" and suitable for international relations.

You think it's just fine for the president to repeat all kinds of conspiracy theories which serve his interest, without making any effort to verify them.  (And you're happy to retweet or share them without verification too!) 

You believe that Donald Trump is a "stable genius" and that he knows more than the generals, more than CDC experts, more than anyone.  In fact, you believe he was chosen by God to lead the United States at this time.

You believe that Trump inherited an economy in shambles, and don't accept that Obama, who took over during an economic crisis rescued the economy and turned over a vibrant economy that did not need any stimulus.

In that regard, you believe that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 was a "middle class tax cut" despite documentation that over 80% of its benefits went to the ultra-rich.  You believe that giving tax cuts to multi-billionaires creates jobs!  (You sure are gullible!)

And above all else, he makes all the right decisions for the health and well-being of all Americans for the betterment of our future.

It doesn't bother you that the president is unable to admit any mistakes, but will always double down on assertions known to be false.  

Yes, if you support Trump for re-election, you believe all kinds of stupid shit!  What does this say about you?  Are you telling your children and grandchildren how they should grow up to be like you -- or, worse, to be like your idol, Donald Trump?  God save America. 

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Trump’s #1 ‘Accomplishment’: Getting Americans to Trust Putin and Russia

 Before I started this separate column on politics, I would occasionally get political in my page 3 real estate column. One such column was published on Nov. 15, 2018 with the headline, “Yes, the Russians Wanted Trump Over Hillary, But Their Real Goal Is to Divide America.”

Another column, published on Feb. 27, 2020, carried the headline, “Why Wouldn’t the Russians Want Trump Re-Elected? Look at His Accomplishments.”

Vladimir Putin found a willing co-conspirator in Donald Trump, and our country will keep paying the price up to and after this fall’s election. As John Bolton, Trump’s longest serving National Security Advisor, has said, Putin thinks he can “play Trump like a fiddle.” As Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, has explained, the president’s obvious-to-all narcissism is what made him such a willing and eager victim of any foreign despot who wanted his compliance. The key that unlocks the president — simple flattery.  “We fell in love,” Trump said of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator.

    While the President has demeaning nicknames for his opponents (like “Sleepy Joe” and “Lyin’ Ted Cruz”) and even for our European allies, he has no such nicknames for most dictators and has never, that I can recall, said anything negative about Putin.

Others in a position to speculate, if not know, believe that Putin “must have something on Trump.” It may be as simple as financial greed, because it has been revealed that Trump was working to secure a deal for Trump Tower Moscow right up until he was elected, and he probably doesn’t want to endanger that possibility when and if he leaves office by alienating Putin while still president. 

More sinister theories are that Putin has salacious video footage of Trump with two prostitutes (set up by Putin, of course) in the Moscow Ritz-Carlton presidential suite where Trump stayed during the Miss Universe event in Moscow. If true, you can understand that Trump would do anything not to have that video released.

Recently, I’ve gotten to know James Tolley, who is working hard to educate Americans about “Active Measures,” a Soviet-era technique used to destabilize a country from within. His website is www.peaceful.ly.

It spells out the methodology to which I was referring in my Nov. 15, 2018 column. To quote Tolley, “This process is also called “ideological subversion,” a decades-long process to use ideology, front groups, disinformation, social engineering, and psychological warfare in order to demoralize and split a society into competing factions. These factions are then brought into ever-increasing power struggle with each other… Political power struggles are escalated into physical power struggles, with the goal of destabilizing a country. After a country has been destabilized, a crisis is manufactured. This crisis allows for the reshaping of the institutions of society. The people, tired of crisis and chaos, demand that anyone, even a fascist government, create order at any cost, including the loss of freedoms, rights, surveillance, and the installation of an authoritarian regime. The savior is delivered, which the people are convinced to accept wholeheartedly. Finally, a new “norm-al” is installed, where the people have no real rights and are controlled through violence and intimidation.”


I am reading former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s best-selling book, Fascism: A Warning. I recommend it. As a Jew who fled Hitler’s Germany as a kid, Albright knows the topic.  Currently a professor at Georgetown University, the book is academic in its approach to the topic, describing how multiple Fascist leaders (Mussolini, Hitler, et al.) rose to power, and how Donald Trump is following in their tradition.  It's a very scary book which needs to be taken seriously.  Here's an excerpt from the review on eBay:

Albright outlines the warning signs of fascism and offers concrete actions for restoring America's values and reputation. There is priceless wisdom on every page. Albright [has] serious credibility on the subject. She witnessed the evils of Fascism firsthand, as her book movingly chronicles. And she effectively makes the case: pay more attention to the signals, subtle and strong. A lot more, Fascism [is] the work of a woman who knows authoritarianism when she sees it. And she sees the seeds of it not only in a slew of leaders hell bent on subverting democratic norms--Turkey's Erdogan, Venezuela's Maduro, Hungary's Orbán, and others--but also in Donald Trump, whom she calls in the book 'the first antidemocratic president in modern U.S. history.', Fascism: A Warning is dedicated to victims of fascism, but also to "all who fight fascism in others and in themselves". Mrs Albright has earned the right to that ambitious mission statement. At a moment when the question "Is this how it begins?" haunts Western democracies, she writes with rare authority.... [Yet] if her learning is to be expected, her way with words is a happy surprise, as is her wisdom about human nature. Free of geopolitical jargon, her deceptively simple prose is sprinkled with shrewd observations about the emotions that underpin bad or wicked political decisions."

 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

When Did Telling the Truth Stop Mattering in American Politics?


I was raised in a staunch Republican home. I don’t think my parents ever voted for a Democrat for president. Dad, like Richard Nixon, was born a Quaker, although he and Mom raised us as Episcopalians. Ethics and morality were important. When I found a dollar bill in the church parking lot, I was told to put it in the collection plate, and I did.
Integrity was paramount. I remember Dad telling me, “Just because other people steal apples doesn’t make it right for you to steal apples,” and similar teachings.
I attended the same boarding school Dad attended, and I remember having to write on every test paper, “I pledge upon my honor that I have neither given nor received help on this paper.”
Another truism Dad taught me was “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”  The French term for this is "noblesse oblige," literally "nobility obligates you."  In other words, be as charitable as I can, which in my case has taken the form of planned giving to the three private schools and one university which even today contribute to my success in life.
(By the way, Ivanka Trump attended the same boarding school as me -- Choate Rosemary Hall. A classmate in a position to know tells me that she has never donated to the school, which amazes me.)
Telling the truth and giving back is in my blood. That’s a big reason that I have been shocked, even stunned, by the affection with which a third of the American electorate holds our current president, even though none of those supporters can deny that he is a habitual, if not pathological, liar. How can that be sustainable for four years, much less eight?
Telling the truth is a core trait when it comes to assessing a person’s character. What we see with Donald Trump is that building fear about the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is key to having Trump supporters overlook the man’s character, and lying is just one part of that character, albeit a very important part. After all, who among those supporters would tolerate lying in a friend or colleague? I myself have fired broker associates for lying.
The question for Trump supporters to ask themselves (they won’t answer me, of course!) is, what is “a bridge too far” for them, and is the fear mongering about communism, socialism, gun confiscation, and you-name-it really justified, or will someone finally turn the tide against our president by playing the role Joseph Welch played when he struck back at Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Senator’s hearing into communist infiltration of the U.S. Army, saying to him, “Do you have no sense of decency?” It was the confrontation which finally brought down the Senator, ending his groundless communist fear mongering, which we see repeated now by the Trump campaign.
Of course, communism and socialism (the distinction is not offered or understood) is not the only fear mongering. There’s the blatant racism, such as saying that blacks and other minorities in “Democrat cities” will bring crime and violence to the suburbs, or that the 2nd Amendment will be abolished (as if that could be done simply by electing the Biden ticket and a Democratic congress, which it can’t), or that any of the absurd Qanon conspiracies theories are true.
But what about those other elements of Trump’s character? We know he evaded military service and that he said captured or killed soldiers aren’t heroes (“I like heroes who aren’t captured,” he said in denigrating Sen. John McCain, who he called a “loser” when he died.)
Trump’s authoritarian words and actions remind Americans, especially those who emigrated from Europe after WW II, of Mussolini or Hitler, and his calling the free press “the enemy of the people” is definitely a bridge too far for me and for countless Americans.
It’s becoming clearer day-by-day, especially with the increased investigation of the man triggered by November’s election, not only in television documentaries but by numerous books and articles by persons who have been in his inner circle, that he is not fit for the office he holds. Also, with the latest brouhaha over Trump’s alleged calling dead WWI soldiers “losers” and “suckers,” generals may now speak up, too.  Meanwhile, their silence speaks volumes. 




Wednesday, September 2, 2020

What Is Behind Trump’s Opposition to Immigration, Legal or Illegal?


All of us (especially Native Americans) know that this country was built by immigrants. In school I wrote a term paper on “Jacob Riis, and the Rise of Municipal Reform.” His story is that of a Danish immigrant who loved America but saw the suffering of fellow immigrants in the tenements of New York City and worked his whole life to improve conditions, winning the respect of, among others, New York Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt along the way. 

His 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives (Amazon link), is a textbook for how one man can make a difference, making him a role model for myself among, I’m sure, so many others who wish to leave the world a better place than they found it.

Journalism was his tool. He met TR when he was a police reporter for the New York Tribune, and the two of them would venture out together late at night in the slums to witness (and report on) the terrible conditions. Not only is Jacob Riis my role model in journalism, Teddy is my role model in politics. He actually cared about people and, despite being from a “blue blood” American family (like me), he appreciated immigrants.

Donald Trump is not in that tradition.  Have you noticed?

It’s not that Trump doesn’t value immigrants. He hired many of them to work in his father’s buildings, and to build his skyscrapers and casinos (link to Vanity Fair article). His often racist and certainly xenophobic tweets about immigrants are not rooted so much in a personal animus towards them, but he says those things because they appeal to a base which does feel that way. Fear is such a great tool for a politician, and the president is masterful at using fear to stimulate and mobilize his base.

What’s puzzling, though, is how his opposition to immigration has spanned the entire spectrum of races and nationalities. Although he spoke of welcoming blond-haired Norwegians as immigrants (link to Reuters article), even white Europeans (like Jacob Riis) are not welcome in Trump’s America. We should, I suppose, consider them “collateral damage” in the campaign to keep America from diversifying any more than it already has.

The five black and brown immigrants who were nationalized in the White House recently didn’t know that the footage of that event would be used as window dressing for the Republican convention (link to ABC News segment), masking the president’s actual attitude toward all immigrants. They probably feel used, but who among them is likely to complain? It’s just so sad to see them used that way.

The purpose of such tidbits is to give his fans the means to deny his (and their) true racism and xenophobia.

By now, Trump supporters probably realize that his actions and statements (which they love) aren’t rooted in core beliefs, but so what? Although he has been a pro-choice Democrat in the past (link to BBC report), what’s the problem? Trump has found his happy place as a pro-life, anti-immigrant politician. Those voters feed his ego more devoutly (guns drawn!) than progressive voters ever would.

Mr. President, Just Say These Three Words: “I Hear You.”


    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best: "In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”

    If President Trump wanted to stem the violence in the streets of America instead of fan the flames, he would let the demonstrators know that he hears and understands them. But, as with every decision made by this president, that does not serve his political interests, so he won’t say it.