Saturday, July 16, 2016

"a uniquely frightening moment in American life"

"Those who think that the underlying institutions of American government are immunized against [Trump's fascism] fail to understand history. In every historical situation where a leader of Trump’s kind comes to power, normal safeguards collapse."

Here are selected snippets from Adam Gopnik's take on Trump's brand of fascism in the New Yorker.

The best show in New York right now may be the Guggenheim’s retrospective of the work of László Moholy-Nagy (pronounced “nadge,” not “nadgy,” a lesson hard learned). ... then emigrated ... eventually and happily to Chicago, where he became one of the key figures in implementing the lessons of modern design that made Chicago a city of such architectural excitement in the mid-century. (Though how much pain and anxiety and sheer disrupted existence are covered over in the words “then emigrated”!)

We walk out of the beautiful museum and find ourselves back in a uniquely frightening moment in American life. A candidate for President who is the announced enemy of the openness that America has traditionally stood for and that drew persecuted émigrés like Moholy-Nagy to America as to a golden land, a candidate who embraces the mottos and rhetoric of the pro-fascist groups of that same wretched time, has taken over one of our most venerable political parties, and he seems still in the ascendancy. His language remains not merely sloppy or incendiary but openly hostile to the simplest standards of truth and decency that have governed American politics. Most recently, just this week, he has repeated the lie that there has been a call for “a moment of silence” in honor of the murderer of five policemen in Dallas.

A certain number of the disengaged insist that Trump isn’t really as bad as all that. And there may indeed be another universe in which Donald Trump is one more blowhard billionaire with mixed-up politics but a basically benevolent heart, a Ross Perot type, or perhaps more like Arnold Schwarzenegger, preaching some confused combination of populism and self-help and doomed to flounder when he comes to power. This would not be the worst thing imaginable. Unfortunately, that universe is not this one. Trump is unstable, a liar, narcissistic, contemptuous of the basic norms of political life, and deeply embedded among the most paranoid and irrational of conspiracy theorists. There may indeed be a pathos to his followers’ dreams of some populist rescue for their plights. But he did not come to political attention as a “populist”; he came to politics as a racist, a proponent of birtherism.

... to call him a fascist of some variety is simply to use a historical label that fits ...

What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history. It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners. That it can appeal to those who do not understand its consequences is doubtless true. But the first job of those who do understand is to state what those consequences invariably are. Those who think that the underlying institutions of American government are immunized against it fail to understand history. In every historical situation where a leader of Trump’s kind comes to power, normal safeguards collapse. Ours are older and therefore stronger? Watching the rapid collapse of the Republican Party is not an encouraging rehearsal. Donald Trump has a chance to seize power.

Hillary Clinton is an ordinary liberal politician. She has her faults, easily described, often documented—though, for the most part, the worst accusations against her have turned out to be fiction. No reasonable person, no matter how opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton’s accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump’s accession to power would not be. And, this time, would there be a second America, a new Chicago, waiting to receive the once-cosmopolitan citizens ejected by the triumph of this warped will?

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