Friday, June 09, 2017

Trump, the Republicans, and History

Even before Donald Trump took office, comparisons between him and the right wing totalitarian leaders of the 20th century were flying freely around the net and social media.  I have made comparisons of my own here before, but my comparisons incline me to reject any equivalence between Trump on the one hand and Hitler, Mussolini, or Franco on the other.  Trump and the Republican Party with which he is working are simply not totalitarians.  They want less government authority, not more. Their model is the United States before the Progressive era, not Italy or Germany during the last great Atlantic crisis.  Yet in another way, as the President's speech withdrawing from the Paris accords showed, there is a profound similarity between Trump and the Republicans on the one hand, and all the totalitarian movements of the last century on the other, including not only National Socialism and Fascism, but Communism in both the USSR and Mao's China. Like the Nazis, the Stalinists and the Maoists, the Republicans and Trump have sold themselves on a view of the world that has little or no relation to reality.  Having developed that worldview over several decades, they are now trying to implement it.  But because it is a fantasy, this attempt is bound to do enormous harm--whether the American people find the strength to reject it during the next 20 years or so or not.

President Trump in his speech last week did not warn that the United Nations was planning to land a force in black helicopters to take over teh USA, but he might as well have.  The Paris accord, he said, "is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production."  The Green Climate Fund, he claimed, "is costing the United States a vast fortune," although our commitment of $3 billion amounted to just $10 per US citizen.  Incredibly, Trump claimed that the fund would cost us tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, with no evidence whatever. This is the way that Hitler (with more justification, actually) talked about the Versailles Treaty and the reparations settlements that followed it during the 1920s, and the way the Bolsheviks talked about the huge prewar loans from France, Britain, and other nations, which had funded the development of the Russian railway system.  Continuing, Trump claimed that the Paris accord was going to cost us 2.7 million jobs by 2025, citing a discredited study from a conservative think tank.  Their report painted a picture of incredible economic devastation which the President of the United States treated as fact.  Rather than give in, the President promised a renaissance of American coal mining and jobs for miners--which no one believes can possibly happen in the current energy environment.  The President talked about the rest of the world the way Communist leaders talked about the capitalism world, painting it as a vast conspiracy designed to cripple the United States for their own benefit. "The rest of the world," the President said, "applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement. They went wild.  They were so happy. For the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage. . . .The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries."  Unspoken was the obvious conclusion, spread by Dinesh D'Souza and other conservative pundits, that President Obama signed it because he has always hated the United States.

The President specifically argued that China and India would take advantage of the agreement to increase coal production while the US had to cut it, but those countries are in fact moving away from it.  He said nothing, of course, about the rapidly falling price of clean energy and the jobs that could be gained by investing in it.  That is because the Republican Party is virtually a wholly owned subsidiary of the most conservative elements of the energy industry, led by the Koch brothers.  And that is a key difference between today's Republicanism on the one hand, and the National Socialists and Communists on the other. They were genuinely motivated by ideology; the Republicans are simply slaves to private interests.

The recurring theme of Trump's speech, that he is reasserting America's national sovereignty against illegitimate international authority, could be traced back to the 1950s and the founding of the John Birch Society--led, among others, by the Koch brothers' father. "It would once have been unthinkable that an international agreement could prevent the United States from conducting its own domestic economic affairs," he said. "But this is the new reality we face if we do not leave the agreement or if we do not negotiate a far better deal."  And the Paris agreement--which is based, in fact, entirely on voluntary compliance--will be, he warned, only the prelude to further attacks on our sovereignty. In the last 60 years, such fringe ideas have found their way to the summit of power.  That idea may also have led Trump to refuse to promise our NATO allies that he would defend them all against attack, and it will encourage him to take more and more unilateral steps in foreign affairs, just as Hitler boasted of freeing Germany from the shackles of the Versailles Treaty and the subsequent Locarno Pact before he unleashed the Second World War.

The situation with regard to health care is similar.  Committed to the belief that the free market will provide the most people with the best insurance, the Republicans have to ignore the unpleasant reality that insurance companies love writing policies for healthy people but would rather not insure sick ones.  Thus they are trying to eliminate the ACA, and insurance for at least 20 million Americans, while claiming that this will make things better.

Where will all this lead?  History is not especially encouraging.

National Socialism could not, as I pointed out in an earlier post, deliver on its promises to the German people, but totalitarian methods secured its hold on power .It destroyed itself because it was dedicated to a hopeless war of expansion that brought it into conflict with three superior industrial and military powers.  Fascism was not particularly successful, but it had survived for 18 years before Mussolini in 1940 made the fatal mistake of following Hitler into war.  Franco,. who carefully avoided that mistake, survived for the rest of his life, 36 years, after seizing power.  And the Soviet Union, with the help of totalitarian methods, survived for more than four decades after the Second World War despite its clear failure to meet the needs of its people.

Trump and the Republicans, it seems to me, will further enrich the fossil fuel industry, take away health care from millions of Americans, and roll back some of the regulations of the financial industry--which have never been severe enough as it is.  But given the entrenched power of the Republicans, the continuing movement of population to the Sunbelt, and the Democrats' inability to unite behind a compelling alternative set of policies, we cannot be sure that the Republican philosophy, which has been steadily gaining in power since the 1980s, will not remain dominant for some time to come.  The politics of the Gilded Age disgusted many educated and patriotic Americans from the time of the Grant Administration forward, but not until Theodore Roosevelt--30 years later--did any real reforms begin. 

The threat of climate change is, of course, very real.  In fact, serious students of the subject have argued for some time that the Paris accords were grossly inadequate to meet the threat and threatened to lull the public to sleep.  I have been convinced for some time that only a series of environmental catastrophes such as the flooding of Miami will mobilize the world to the necessary extent in any case.  Such a chain of events is, paradoxically, perhaps our best hope of recovering some civic spirit and mobilizing resources for good ends.   I can't see much else that would have that effect.


David Martin said...

Professor: another excellent post. Gloomy, but excellent. I would have only one caveat: I disagree that the current GOP wants "less government". What they want is a world in which working people, women--and of course non-whites--are put back in their places, and a more-or-less open kleptocracy and plutocracy established in the US. They will use "limited government" rhetoric if this will help them achieve some of their goals; and will use the power of the Federal government ruthlessly, if it helps them achieve others. Voting restrictions in black areas, for instance, are obviously achieved thru "big government". All this talk about the "size of government" is duckspeak.

ed boyle said...

Like Manchester capitalism and current chinese policy which allows 72 hour work week for 400 dollar a month and unlimited pollution with no unions, unemployment benefits, etc. the republicans are coming in line with reality. We cannot compete with chinese manufacturing except by rolling back all social, environmental progress made since Dickens. Lowest Common Denominator.What if all imports of manufactured goods had to be made under unionized conditions with low CO2 output? China would be a pariah. Instead they make it the gold standard. Wal Mart and China destroyed American middle class. Reagan destroyed union power. He was last old president with throwback ultra conservative nostalgic ideas. The good ole days of his childhood in 1920 or so. Now Trump envisions 1950s as something he experienced and can enact. North Korea for example is in his subconscious from childhood. Like with Bush jr. and Saddam Hussein. Papa should have won that war. He wants to replay 50s like an old video. Trump, like Reagan is no intellectual, rather a gut reaction personality. Climate change is a coastal, left wing boomer idea that he thinks is wrong as he is old enough to know these people. Lots of right wingers nowadays are making that mistake.Gore is a hypocrite and all other greens who are cultural marxists so climate change must be nonsense too. Unfortunately it is true. Hitler was a vegetarian so all leftwingers should be meat eaters out of spite as vegetarianism is nazism. That is nonsensical groupthink like the russophobic witch hunt of MSM. Your blog entry attempts to make sense of Trump by comparisons to totalitarian systems of the past which were ideological, rational but you admit that the current Caesar is a prisoner of the corrupt Neo Gilded Age Oligarchy. American isolationism in 19th century was supposedly broken through in 20th by participating abroad, policing the chaotic globe but actually the American mentality remains insulated against the world. We are arrogant or paranoid, ugly American or overly friendly. Physical isolation works to create strange culture like christian fundies(similar to salafists) and climate change denialism along with all sorts of left wing extreme gender ideas and similar, also spreading in Europe. Unfortunately one can't see one's problems without being outside of them, going native overseas. Few do this as time goes on so one gets very strange mass psychosis in crisis times as is now appearing in most countries. Why one can admire Putin is because the KGB picked psychologically stable people, he lived abroad, survived a severe national crisis in formative years, takes nothing for granted. American presidentts, diplomats, politicians are not highly trained multilingual multinatiolists with traumatic national survival trauma background(iraqi war vets perhaps like tulosi). Peace corps was an attempt to break through isolation without troops. Globalist trading is similar. Others have to be accepted as equals, culturally, economically, militarily and not dominated over. This is a sign of psychological inferiority complex of an adolescent culture.

Shelterdog said...

I agree with most of your excellent post. But I'm not sure I can agree with this assertion:"Trump and the Republican Party with which he is working are simply not totalitarians. They want less government authority, not more." In today's politics, it's overly simplistic to compare "less" and "more." A businessman on Wall Street would agree that Trump wants less government authority. But a young woman would view his policies on social issues, such as abortion and birth control, as asserting far more government control. said...

I'm also looking at this presidency and Congress with concern. What worries me the most right now, however, is that I don't see how we get back to democratic principles or moderatism. Powerful industry heavily influences the debate, and the outcome. By gerrymandering (and increasingly because the fundamental flaw in the electoral college), the Republicans have made it very hard for the Democrats to have a turn to govern in the future; we have a President who was elected by the minority; and a party in control that has fewer voters. The Republicans are becoming emboldened, and more dictatorial; they are changing the rules in ad hoc fashion: they did not allow the President to nominate a SC justice; then they did away with the filibuster to get their nominee through; they are trying to prevent the media from asking questions; they are hiding sweeping bills from the people; they are blocking legislation that the overwhelming majority of Americans support (e.g. moderate gun reform).

Backing them is a right wing media apparatus that has become a Lie Factory.

And underneath it all, and the part that does not get enough consideration, is a large group of consumers who believe the lies, which emerge from both parties.

-- Bookscrounger