I digressed from my three-part series on Trump’s relationship with Fascism to make a few comments about the recent US missile attack on Syria – today I finish that series. Some of the notes I had made in preparing this essay were made prior to Trump’s military actions there, and now seem unbelievably timely.
I previously interrupted a five- or six- part essay on the Protestant Work Ethic and its influence on American economic policy, in order to discuss what seemed like the more pressing issue of a new American fascism. I’m still planning to eventually complete that series. And at some point, I’ll get back to blogging the Bible. So many issues, so little time for this poor, sometimes neglected blog. If any of this ever makes it into a book, I promise to be more linear.
I’ve stated in prior posts that Donald Trump is no Nazi. Yes, as I’m writing this, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, is busy apologizing for remarks that could be construed to be revisionist Nazi rhetoric – incorrectly stating that Hitler didn’t use chemical gas on his own people. Believe it or not, I don’t think Secretary Spicer is a Nazi sympathizer – I think he’s just actually that stupid. Notice how, when trying to defend his remarks, he stumbles at the point where he’s about to say ‘gas chambers’ – and says ‘Holocaust centers’ instead – only at that moment dawning on him that, ‘doh, gas chambers used chemical gas’. I don’t believe he was trying to deny the atrocities of the Nazis, or to insinuate that German Jews were somehow less than German, making them ‘not his own people’. It’s just that Spicer, like so many of the people Trump surrounds himself with, isn’t a very thoughtful or well-read person.
However, I think that it’s unclear thus far as to whether Trump could be called a fascist. He certainly whips up his base with a kind rhetoric that can be disturbing at times, with apparently no intention of changing his dangerous ‘tweeting’ habits. Part of the problem lies in the fact that his words and actions indicate nothing more than the President’s current whim, leaving the disturbing impression that, beyond vanity, there is no ‘core’ of convictions that might indicate who Donald Trump really is. As the acclaimed British journalist Max Hastings writes, “As ever with this President, it is impossible to judge whether he means what he says, or even understands the significance of his words.”
Much like the Bible or the Koran, Trump’s words and actions are enigma, upon which his followers are able to superimpose any meaning they desire. Just as the prophet Ezekiel or the apostle Paul made pronouncements with little thought of what effect they might have on the world in the 21st century, so too does Donald Trump. Yet true believers receive them as gospel, full of hidden meaning that will be revealed in the fullness of time.
To the liberal or progressive, he epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the political system, specifically as it applies to the GOP misinformation machine. To the Trumpite he is – – I don’t think we have a word in English to describe the concept. He’s like a scapegoat, except in a positive and opposite way. Instead of placing all of your admitted sins upon him, letting him suffer the consequences of your evil deeds, he instead wears all of your impure – but much-beloved – impulses without shame. His incredibly wide shoulders (but small hands) bear them all, as he is led, not down the Via Dolorosa to certain death, but down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
(There are, by the way, many concepts we find hard to put into words, for which there is foreign vocabulary to assist. Schadenfreude, for example, is a German word for which we have no equivalent, but it is something we experience nonetheless. My current favorite is kalsarikännit, the Finnish word for sitting around at home in your underwear getting drunk. If you know a word for a kind of positive scapegoat – in any language – drop me a line.)
Trump’s exoneration is a vindication of all the terrible ideas of his followers. There is no repentance or absolution – there is instead an ascension to political paradise with all sins intact. To the Richard Spencers of the world, he’s a führer. To David Duke, he’s a kinsman KKK. To those equate being white and owning a gun to patriotism, he’s a modern-day Andrew Jackson.
So, if Trump isn’t the next Adolf Hitler, who is he? The incredible thing is, if you’re American, the picture above might not even tip you off. You’d have heard little or nothing about him in history class, and have little understanding of how he helped make a bad political environment, at home and abroad, even worse. His actions helped to precipitate World War I.
British and Continental European commentators, however, sharing a more intimate experience with his bombastic incompetence, have been making comparisons for months. – Donald Trump as 21st-century Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Here are some of the other things Hastings – knighted, by the way, for his contribution to the understanding of history – has written about Trump:
(He is)…carelessly dropping matches beside a powder keg, with the same mingling of ignorance, vainglory and recklessness that the German emperor displayed in 1914. Trump needs a war to fulfill his constant quest for enemies, at home and abroad, and because he is a risk-taker, with little understanding of the cages he is rattling or the world order he threatens to undo….Trump’s record suggests a man who calls for High Noon, then suggests lunch at one of his golf courses instead.
That last sentence was actually meant to be hopeful – perhaps Trump is all bluster and no bite. I don’t think a few missiles lobbed at Syria discredit this observation. The next statement is in quotes because it comes from Hasting’s article, and is meant to describe both the Kaiser and Trump. But it is the opinion of so many policy experts that I feel quotes are superfluous:
But the only way to make an effective foreign policy is to say what you mean, mean what you say….Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm did not seriously want a war in 1914. But he got one anyway, because he postured once too often, drew his sword and waved it aloft. Thus, others drew their swords, too, and soon all Europe was using them.
Trump rained missiles upon a Syrian air base because he saw a video on television. He did not do extensive study into the Syrian conflict, nor did he base his decision on intelligence reports. It was – no better word for it – a whim.
European comparisons of Donald Trump to Kaiser Wilhelm (or William II of Prussia – he was Queen Victoria’s oldest grandchild) prompted me to learn a bit more about the Kaiser’s personality. I could only remember the cartoon caricature of the man from high school history classes. What I found sounds alarmingly familiar:
(He was)…gifted, with a quick understanding, sometimes brilliant, with a taste for the modern,—technology, industry, science—but at the same time superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success….he wanted every day to be his birthday—romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off, a juvenile cadet, who never took the tone of the officers’ mess out of his voice, and brashly wanted to play the part of the supreme warlord, full of panicky fear of a monotonous life without any diversions…(Wikipedia)
Wow. Nail on the head. Bigly. Or big league. Or whatever the hell it is Trump says.
He believed in force, and the ‘survival of the fittest’ in domestic as well as foreign politics….William was not lacking in intelligence, but he did lack stability, disguising his deep insecurities by swagger and tough talk. He frequently fell into depressions and hysterics… William’s personal instability was reflected in vacillations of policy. His actions, at home as well as abroad, lacked guidance, and therefore often bewildered or infuriated public opinion. He was not so much concerned with gaining specific objectives…as with asserting his will. This trait in the ruler of the leading Continental power was one of the main causes of the uneasiness prevailing in Europe at the turn-of-the-century. (Wikipedia)
This trait in the ruler of the leading power today is also one of the main causes of uneasiness prevailing in the world now.
The Kaiser was in power before Fascism swept Germany – but his sentiments, misadventures, and bluster allowed that disease to grow. And his erratic policies increased international tensions, creating an environment ripe for war. While history illustrates that fighting right-wing fascism in the US is an important fight, it doesn’t take a Hitler to start another world war.
A Kaiser will do as well.