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Columnists

The Road Map to Dictatorship

September 26, 2020

This current election campaign has taken a darker path well known to students of early 20th century Europe. Unfortunately, almost every reader of this article was yet unborn when “populist” dictators took over and then devastated Europe. The script was written in the 1920’s from a Bavarian jail after its author attempted and failed to overthrow the German Government from a Munich beer hall. The same script is now that of the Trump campaign. The formula is simple. Scapegoat a distinct and already feared or hated minority and raise every demon and prejudice associated with them. Then conflate that group with an already demonized ideology. Finally, declare foreign enemies everywhere.

Trump and his partisans have constructed a narrative that the Black Lives Matter movement is the vanguard for a Marxist plot to enslave America, suck our blood, destroy our suburbs, and corrupt the genetic purity of the white race. Substitute Jew for Black, Communist for Marxist, and Aryan for White in that sentence and read it again. You will read the rhetoric of the Nazi Party in the early 1930’s. European leaders had demonized Jews since the early Middle Ages. Jews were the moneybags, the usurers and the Christ killers. Hitler mobilized the new science of eugenics to prevent the corruption of Aryan blood by mixture with Jews. Shylock was the European Jewish stereotype. To further frighten people, the Nazis tagged the Jews as Communists.

Southern slave-owners exploited slave rebellions. Trumpists exaggerate the violence of black protest. Anti-welfare politicians have always used black women to illustrate “welfare queens,” never mind that the overwhelming majority of welfare recipients are white. Racist politicians conflate being black with being criminal. Remember the Central Park Five? The slogans “ruining the suburbs” and “bringing in cheap housing” (Trumpist campaign slogans) rekindle the 1960s fears that black kids in your schools or neighborhoods might mix with white kids. Those fears provoked the white flight to the suburbs. Now the Trumpists tag the blacks as Marxists, a dirty word that most of Trump’s constituents could not define correctly on a good day.

The Nazis rallied Germans against Britain and France for having humiliated and impoverished Germany and “stolen” its land. Trump has mobilized his supporters against China for having “made fools of us” and stealing our wealth. Trump has modeled his campaign rallies on Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, decorated with patriotic symbols and calling for the punishment of his enemies.

Trumpists argue that our institutions are too strong to allow an authoritarian take over. In the next breath, however, they proclaim that those same institutions are helpless in the face of a few black rioters and a small minority of young leftist legislators.

They can’t have it both ways.

The Trumpists would have you forget that they have systematically undermined all three pillars of American democracy. Trump’s Attorney General has converted the Justice Department into Trump’s personal law office. Barr claims that anything Trump does, he does in his official capacity, putting him above the law. Some Trumpists even argue that the Army will intervene to overthrow a right-wing authoritarian but would stay powerless in its barracks while "the BLM Marxist anarchists" take over.

Trump has filled government leadership positions with appointees whose only qualification is personal loyalty. He sidesteps constitutionally mandated Senate approval for these appointees to shield them from any questions about their qualifications. He has fired every Inspector General from every government agency who found something illegal, corrupt, or damaging to Trump. He uses federal law enforcement to advance his political agenda. He has set about undermining the senior leadership of the U.S. Armed Forces implicitly accusing the generals of corruption and war mongering. He encourages dissension within the ranks claiming the “troops love him” even if the generals don’t. Trump has emasculated the legislative branch by turning what used to be the Republican Party into the Trump Party. GOP senators and representatives do his bidding out of fear that he will kill them (not literally, but at the primaries). The arch-Trumpist, Senator ’Mitch’ McConnell has tried to pack the courts at all levels with Trump loyalists and coreligionists in their sacred struggle to impose their views on abortion, sexual differences, health care, education and, not least, civil rights on the majority of the country. The tragic death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg now gives McConnell another chance to stack the Supreme Court with so-called originalists’. His hypocrisy on proceeding with the nomination a month before the elections curdles the blood. One can reasonably argue that the only ‘original intent’ McConnell’s men revere is the Article in the Constitution that classified blacks as three-fifths human.

Another parallel should concern any American who values freedom. A coalition of revenge-seeking nationalists and new industrialists led by Franz von Papen (look him up) supported Hitler’s rise to power believing that they could control him. Trump has assumed the leadership of a coalition embracing the worst of Wall Street, religious zealots, and White Supremacists who hope to use him to secure permanent power. Mitch McConnell comes to mind in the role of Franz von Papen. Unlike the Hitler enablers, whom Hitler crushed a year after he came to power, they believe that, given Trump’s age and manic behavior, they will control him and stay in power long after his departure from the scene.

This is indeed the most important election of our lifetime.

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