In September 2015, two months after Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy, I asked in these pages if he could accurately be described as a fascist. I decided against the designation. The true fascist states, I concluded—Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile—“suffered weakness in their institutions that are just about unimaginable in the United States. For instance, it is hard to imagine a President Trump turning America into a one-party state.”
So if you’re trying to figure out what makes Jeff Sessions tick, it is worth digging deep. It is Sessions who’ll likely be the one left standing once Bannon, Spicer, Kushner, and all the rest of this Friends and Family administration are gone—probably even after Trump himself oozes into irrelevance.
Four days after Donald Trump’s inauguration, a community member on a moderate firearms law site, PAGunBlog, a civil redoubt welcoming “active participation by both firearms enthusiasts and people who hate them,” described his shock from that morning’s web-surf when “a long-time commenter who I recognized as right-leaning but mostly moderate commented that ‘The Jews own and control everything in America…’
After the White House blocked the New York Times, CNN, and Politico from a press gaggle in Sean Spicer’s office, but allowed in Breitbart News, she publicly posted everything Spicer had said in the closed-door briefing.
Our media gatekeepers act like they’re unaware that our president has chosen as his chief strategist a fellow who’s made disinformation his political vocation. Donald Trump is Lord, and Steve Bannon is his prophet—with the U.S. Treasury at his disposal to tell fairy tales like this about anyone who dares cross him.
Why do great civilizations fall? Is it political corruption, overextended militaries, or even public health crises? For future historians’, the most convincing explanation for America’s fall, should Donald Trump end up her author and finisher: bad journalism.
Trump made scores of promises he could not possibly fulfill. The biggest was the same one fascist strongmen always offer: transcendent national renewal, built upon the cleansing of dangerous untermenschen from the body politic.
“Highly placed New York kingmakers,” she wrote, “work toward ‘convergence’ between the Republican and Democratic parties so as to preserve their America Last foreign policy.” Yes, Phyllis Schlafly knew how these things worked. She was, therefore, well prepared when, in 1967, the kingmakers went after her.
On August 25, Clinton’s strategy came to the fore. In a speech in Nevada, she officially anointed Ryan as the exemplar of the Republican Party’s sensible, “normal” wing, sidelining Trump as the dangerous (“alt-right”) exception. All this, of course, was intended to expedite the defection of Republicans offended by their party’s nominee.
“You begin to take all kinds of ways of changing people’s perception: who the Other is. And as soon as you can lower the Other—which, you know, Trump has done wonderfully. He’s used the word rapist. That’s a horrible word. Murderer . . . One group has been lowered; a different group has been raised. And the difference is that the one group can tell the other group to leave. Put on buses and taken away.”
It would take more pages than there are minutes in the day, of course, to document fully the ways Paul Ryan Republicanism—“regular” Republicanism—should not in any way, shape, or form be considered “normal.”
Ah, those craven fiends atop the Republican Party, whoring before power and calling it “unity.” Consider Chris Christie: We haven’t seen political hypocrisy this flagrant since Richard Nixon savaged Harry Truman in 1960 for uttering the word “damn.”
This spring, Donald Trump added a new phrase to the stock of improvised riffs he throws out at his rallies: “I love my protesters.” And if my Twitter mentions are any indication, there are a lot of people who think they know why: disruptions inside or outside Trump’s events just might help elect him president. But the people using my historical work to make this particular argument need to read it less selectively and more attentively.
The theory that California’s water shortage is all the fault of the Environmental Protection Agency is, like most conspiracy theories, grounded in an actual fact. The EPA has, in fact, caused 800,000 acre-feet of water annually to be flushed into San Francisco Bay to maintain its marine ecosystem.
Our wise founders were radical impersonalists. When they wrote arguments for publication in newspapers, they preferred to do so anonymously, using pseudonyms like “Publius”—lest the attachment of a distinguished name distract the reader from the content and quality of the argument. Trump’s personalism, on the other hand, is how he pushes away the protection of constitutional principle with every fiber of his being.
How to explain Donald Trump? It has nothing to do with polls, political rhetoric, tactics, strategy, or history. It has everything to do with reality TV — which the chattering classes don’t know jack about. Some of us might even be proud of that. Yuuuuge problem.
Republican governors and presidential candidates are tripping over each other to pronounce their horror at the prospect of accepting Syrian refugees, lest some terrorist slips through. Which is, of course, insane. Meanwhile, people are beginning to draw useful historical parallels with other chapters in America’s past.
You really are going to have to pay attention in these Republican debates. Zone out, and you’ll spend the rest of the night worrying that you missed something good.