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‘Fascist’ Trump Isn’t First Demagogue Laughed Off As A Buffoon

Although he is still a clown, nobody laughs at Donald Trump anymore — which may be the real purpose of his candidacy, at least as far as he is concerned. The casino mogul is pleased to instill fear among Republican elites, as he dominates their presidential nominating contest — and forces them to face a hard question about the man who is exciting such belligerent enthusiasm among Republican voters:

Is Trump a real live fire-breathing fascist?

From Newsweek to Salon to the Daily Caller, commentators of various colorations have found ample reason to apply that often-discredited label to him. While these observers hesitate to lump Trump in with totalitarian dictatorships and historic crimes against humanity, they are clearly worried by his strongman appeal, his populist rhetoric, and his rejection of GOP free-market orthodoxy. Matt Lewis complains that Trump is reviving Nietzschean notions that inspired fascist ideology; Jeffrey Tucker warns that Trump is hostile to individual freedom and sees himself as the embodiment of the state, like fascist leaders before him.

Such worried conservatives aren’t wrong, but they seem unwilling or unable to grasp the clearest evidence that Trump is channeling toxic currents from the past—namely, his appeals to racial bigotry, his xenophobic and truculent attitude toward other nations, and his extremist “solution” to the problem of illegal immigration. Others have observed that the Republicans have only themselves to blame for encouraging the crude prejudices that Trump now calls forth in his “un-P.C.” way, as Maureen Dowd so cutely phrased it.

Yet whether Trump may be accurately defined as a “fascist” or not, his political ascent increasingly resembles a Saturday Night Live version of the rise of Hitler or Mussolini. Both dictators were mocked as buffoons in their day, but when they suddenly came to power the joke was no longer quite so funny.

Meanwhile, obvious clues to the noxious nature of Trumpism keep cropping up across the political landscape like poison mushrooms. In Boston’s “Southie” neighborhood, once headquarters of the openly racist anti-busing movement known as ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights), two white males severely beat an older Hispanic man, breaking his nose and urinating on him. When arrested, one of the thugs told police, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

Rather than deplore this atrocity by criminal bigots, Trump’s initial impulse was to praise the zeal of his supporters. “It would be a shame,” he said when first told of the beating, then added: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” (Actually, the men who carried out the Boston beating were two career felons — with the kind of criminal record that Trump wrongly suggests is typical of immigrants.)

At a big rally in Mobile, Alabama, Trump called to the stage Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions (R-AL), the only prominent politician he has singled out for praise. Sessions is a dubious figure whose federal judicial nomination was once rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee over his record of racially inflammatory behavior and remarks — which included calling a white civil rights lawyer “a disgrace to his race” and opposing the Voting Rights Act. Today, of course, Sessions is a valued advisor to Trump and donned a “Make America Great Again” cap as the billionaire embraced him. More importantly, he is the chief Senate opponent of legal immigration to the United States.

Opposition to legal as well as illegal immigration is a foundation of the white nationalist movement in the United States (and was also a cornerstone of the program of the National Socialist German Workers Party). So perhaps nobody should have been too surprised when a loud voice in the Mobile audience greeted Sessions’ arrival by screaming “White Power!”

Again, the reaction of the Trump campaign was more telling than the incident itself. Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a former employee of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity front group, responded that he wasn’t aware of the “white power” shouter. “I don’t know about the individual you’re talking about in Alabama,” he insisted. “I know there were 30-plus thousand people in that stadium. They were very receptive to the message of ‘making America great again’ because they want to be proud to be Americans again.”

Asked about the Boston beating, Lewandowski acknowledged that violence is “unacceptable,” continuing: “However, we should not be ashamed to be Americans. We should be proud of our country, proud of our heritage, and continue to be the greatest country in the world.”

Like his boss, Lewandowski isn’t subtle – and the dogwhistle in his answers about “heritage” and being “proud” could be heard loud and clear. Certainly the country’s white supremacist underworld is hearing that message and rallying behind Trump, despite concerns about his long-standing connections with Jewish New Yorkers.

The troubling tone in Trump’s language can be detected when he talks about foreign affairs and national security too. As David Cay Johnston recently reported, the draft-dodging billionaire constantly emphasizes his unilateral and nationalist approach to other countries, from Mexico to China to the Middle East. He boasts that he is the “most militaristic” candidate, and has blatantly advocated attacking other countries to “take” their oil. Imperial warmongering against foreign nations is a classic hallmark of fascism – indeed, it was military aggression by Nazi Germany that led to World War II.

Finally there is Trump’s “solution” to illegal immigration, echoed by cowardly Republican candidates who quake in his shadow. He promises to deport all of the estimated 11-12 million immigrants who crossed the southern border without papers, a plan that would be ruinously expensive, impossible to complete, and grossly inhumane in its attempted execution. The only analogous projects on that scale were atrocities carried out by the Turks against the Armenians and, later, by the Nazis and their fascist allies against the European Jews.

Imagine a country that seeks to round up millions of brown-skinned people by force, transforming itself into a police state, while mobs of vigilantes in militias scourge the frightened families out of hiding. It is not hard to predict scenes of bloodshed and horror.

No, Donald, that isn’t the way to “make America great again.” For most of us – the majority of citizens who have no use for Trump and Trumpism — that isn’t America at all.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally held in Ladd-Peebles stadium in Mobile, Alabama, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Brantley

Lindsey Graham And ‘The Gay Conspiracy’

I’m going to mention briefly that the never-married senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), has been dogged for years by rumors that he’s gay, but that’s not the point of this article. It’s only the lede.

I don’t know if he’s gay; he has denied repeatedly that he is; and at this moment in American history, when gay marriage has entered new levels of normalcy, breathless inquiries into a senator’s sexuality ought to exceed everyone’s threshold for boredom.

My point is that there may be something more detrimental to his presidential aspirations (to be announced formally next month): the conspiracy theory based on the rumors.

Conspiracy theories aren’t like rumors. Rumors are based on ambiguities.

Conspiracy theories are much more.

As Arthur Goldwag, an authority on the politics of conspiracy theories, explained in The Washington Spectator, they are more like a religion. He wrote last year, “a kind of theology that turns on an absolute idea about the way things are — and on the immutable nature of the supposed enemy. … Paranoid conspiracism… proposes that some among us, whether Jewish bankers or heirs to ancient astronauts, owe their ultimate allegiance to Satan.”

That’s a key point — the enemy.

And you know who that is.

If Graham were gay — and we should take him at his word that he is not — that might offend some in the GOP’s evangelical wing, but a more serious problem is the suspicion that he’s in cahoots with “the enemy.” Why has he repeatedly joined the Democrats on immigration reform? Simple — “out of fear that the Democrats might otherwise expose his homosexuality,” according to 2010 a profile in The New York Times Magazine.

The Times’ profile echoed accusations by William Gheen, the head of the nativist PAC Americans for Legal Immigration, who had urged Graham to avoid being blackmailed into supporting immigration reform by outing himself. At a rally on April 17, 2010, he asked Graham to “tell people about your alternative lifestyle and your homosexuality.”

In an April 20, 2010 press release, Gheen elaborated: “I personally do not care about Graham’s private life, but in this situation his desire to keep this a secret may explain why he is doing a lot of political dirty work for others who have the power to reveal his secrets.” The entire episode might have been ignored but for Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. He said Graham could easily prove his heterosexuality by releasing a sex tape.

Moreover, Graham is seeking his party’s nomination, as other Republican contenders are going to the wall in connecting homosexuality with unseen, dark, and malevolent forces. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) this week told the Christian Broadcasting Network: “We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech, because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), meanwhile, rails against a liberal fascist plan to impose a new gay-world order. “Today’s Democratic Party has decided there is no room for Christians,” he said at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in April. “Today’s Democratic Party has become so radicalized for legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states that there is no longer any room for religious liberty.”

But conservatives need not fret.

Like John McCain, Graham might clash occasionally with Tea Party Republicans, but that’s style, not substance. Like every congressional Republican, Graham voted against the Affordable Care Act and virtually everything President Obama has asked for. Graham’s views on social issues are unfailingly partisan — he holds a hard line against abortion and opposes gay marriage and gays serving in the military. And his views on foreign affairs are uniformly doctrinaire, in keeping with the Republican Party’s orthodox view of American exceptionalism vis-à-vis military might.

Unlike Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who appear worried about being tied to the foreign policy failures of the George W. Bush administration, Graham is unrepentant about the Iraq War, telling CNN recently that the invasion was not mistake, that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, and that if there’s anyone to blame for the current mess in the Middle East, it’s Obama.

Consider also the “conservative scores” assigned by special interest groups. In 2014, Americans for Prosperity, a PAC that bankrolls the Tea Party, gave Graham a lifetime score of 84 percent. In 2013, the American Conservative Union gave him a lifetime score of 88 percent. The Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Christian Coalition, both having enormous sway over the GOP’s evangelical Christian faction, gave him a score of 91 percent in 2014 and 100 percent in 2011, respectively. On taxes, he got 97 percent in 2010 from the National Taxpayers Union. And on business matters, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave him a lifetime score of 84 percent in 2013. I could go on. And on.

I don’t think conservatives have to worry much about Graham with respect to immigration, either. True, he says he favors a pathway to citizenship, but the last major push for immigration reform in 2013 called for a pathway lasting some 10 years with numerous hurdles to overcome. Given the stringency of the provisions in that bipartisan Senate bill, I’m thinking Graham and his fellow neocons supported it because they knew few immigrants could finish the process. And if they never finish, they never vote. The result is a twofer for the GOP establishment: a decriminalized workforce that can provide cheap labor, but can’t support the Democrats.

As I said, Graham is a friend to the conservative base of the Republican Party. One need only set aside the ambiguities of gossip and paranoia to see him in his proper light. Of course, that’s not going to help. The people Graham needs are the people most hostile to evidence and fact. Indeed, given the role of gay conspiracies thus far in the 2016 cycle, the “confirmed bachelor” from South Carolina may embody the sum of all their fears.

John Stoehr (@johnastoehr) is a lecturer in political science at YaleFollow him on Twitter and Medium.

Photo: John Pemble via Flickr

Top Democrat Sounds Alarm On Right-Wing Spending: ‘We Can’t Keep Up With Them’

Republican-leaning outside groups are spending unprecedented amounts on the 2014 midterm elections, stoking Democratic fears that their candidates could be buried early on in the critical campaigns.

The 2014 elections are on track to be easily the most expensive in American history, and right-wing, 501(c)(4) “dark money” groups are leading the way. The Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity alone has already spent more than $20 million on ads attacking Democratic congressional candidates, vulnerable incumbent senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) being the primary target.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) sounded the alarm during an interview with the New York Times.

“We’re faced with a grim reality that more money is being spent earlier in some of these hot races than we’ve ever seen,” Senator Durbin said. “We’re spending some, but we can’t keep up with them.”

Outside groups won’t be the only Republicans to spend liberally in the 2014 campaigns. The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced Tuesday that it raised $4.62 million in January, making it the committee’s most productive month of the 2014 campaign cycle.

The big haul marks the second consecutive strong fundraising month for the Republicans’ Senate campaign arm. The committee raised $4.02 million in December, narrowly edging the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s total of $4 million. The DSCC has not yet released its January fundraising amount; the deadline for it to do so is Thursday.

Overall, the DSCC still holds a decisive fundraising advantage for the cycle; the Democratic committee has outraised its Republican counterpart by almost $16 million, and outspent it by more than $10 million. The DSCC currently has just over $12 million in cash on hand, with $3,750,000 in debts. The NRSC has just over $8 million to spend, but is debt-free.

UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, the DSCC revealed that it raised $6.6 million in January. It now has $15 million in cash on hand, and $2.5 million in debt.

Photo: Center for American Progress Action Fund via Flickr