“When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis supposedly warned in the 1930’s when Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were consolidating their power in Europe.
Liberals often apply the evidently apocryphal quote to Donald Trump. But according to a retired Murray State University historian and author, the comparison is off the mark and misses the most insidious point of Trumpism when put in an American context.
“Mussolini and Hitler destroyed the democratic process and eliminated all opposition to them,” said Ken Wolf, a professor emeritus. “Trump is exploiting the democratic process to promote authoritarianism. This is what we need to be paying more attention to.”
Mussolini and Hitler ruled absolutely. They tortured, murdered, and imprisoned their opponents. They muzzled the press and banished all political parties except their own. Hitler’s genocidal hatred of Jews resulted in the Holocaust.
Pre-Mussolini and Hitler, neither Italy nor Germany had long traditions of stable democratic government. We do.
But Trump and the Ever-Trumpers are, as somebody put it, knocking down “the guardrails of democracy.” Trumpism, according to Wolf, means exploiting democracy to promote authoritarianism.
He cited Republican voter suppression, Trump’s attacks on the media, and the president’s racist and xenophobic demagoguery, some of it frighteningly similar to Hitler rants.
The First Amendment keeps Trump from silencing the press. Nonetheless, he assails the Fourth Estate as the “enemy of the people.” He accuses journalists of disseminating “fake news.”
At his rallies, he sics crowds on working reporters. The Trumpians eagerly respond with boos, jeers, taunts and threats. “CNN sucks!” is a favorite with the faithful.
Before he became Germany’s dictator, Hitler smeared anti-Nazi newspapers as the Lugenpresse. It means “lying press.” At Trump-for-president campaign rallies, some in the crowds shouted “Lugenpresse” at journalists.
After shutting down the free press, Hitler and Mussolini cranked up propaganda ministries, including party papers. (Right-wing TV and radio operate as the Trump-GOP’s unofficial propaganda arm.)
Not to belabor a point: Mussolini and his Italian followers were “Fascists;” Hitler and his German backers were “Nazis.” “The term ‘Fascist’ has been applied to almost all right-wing authoritarians since,” Wolf said.
He added that while 21st-century Trumpism is structurally different from 20th-century Fascism-Nazism, both were pro-business and anti-worker ideologies.
Mussolini and Hitler catered to wealthy industrialists and landowners. Plutocrats warmed to the two dictators because Fascism and Nazism rejected free trade unions and workers’ rights. Big industrialists—especially arms makers—made big profits under the regimes.
After wiping out German unions, Hitler forced workers under a Labor Front whose head promised “to restore absolute leadership to the natural leader of a factory – that is, the employer,” William L. Shirer wrote in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
Trump’s record is plainly pro-business and anti-union. In a Labor Day weekend speech, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the president “has used his office to actively hurt working people.”
On the other hand, said Wolf, “Mussolini had a program, and Hitler had a program; but Trump is just about Trump.”
Thus, the media should devote less coverage to Trump’s vapid narcissism and concentrate more on the venal: “the phenomenon of authoritarianism capturing the democratic process.”
Explained Wolf: “It’s a mistake to focus on what a jerk he is, how stupid he is, how ignorant and immoral, though this lack of character intrigues the news media.
“MSNBC talks about ‘Oh, what a horrible thing he said yesterday’ and ‘Even Nixon wouldn’t have said that’ and so on and so on.”
Meanwhile, the president and the Ever-Trumpers in Congress and the Trump administration are shredding the American social safety net, while the billionaire president portrays himself as a blue-collar guy.
Wolf conceded that it’s difficult to counter Trump’s skillful use of the Big Lie, which, most importantly, carries “a certain force of credibility,” according to the creator of the propaganda technique.
He added, “…it would never come into [people’s]…heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”
So wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf.
With a free press, exposing the Big Lie is easy; time and again the media refutes Trump’s serial dissembling, often using his own words. “But his base would believe it if he said the moon is made out of blue cheese,” Wolf said.
Wolf cited Trump’s shameless mischaracterization of the refugee caravan heading north –thousands of desperate men, women, and children fleeing poverty and oppression in Central America. Many are seeking asylum in the U.S.
In his speeches, tweets, and interviews with reporters, Trump continues to describe the refugees as invaders, carriers of deadly disease, “very tough criminal elements,” “unknown Middle Easterners” and “MS-13” gang members.
“Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras and search,” Trump challenged reporters.
Some American journalists have gone; more are on the way. All reports have proved Trump’s claims are false.
But Trump is banking on the truth not sinking in among the American electorate at least until after Tuesday. “The true value of the big lie is its immediate value,” Wolf warned.
“Vote as if the future of the country depends on it. Because it does,” warns a recent New York Times editorial.
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