Archive for November, 2018

Fascism and Trump

mussolini

Trump and Mussolini – birds of a feather?

Fascism is hard to explain as a political ideology.  Since it disavows reason and rationalism in favor of emotion, power and will, it has clear ideological framework.  It’s main traits are extreme nationalism, love of war, rejection of rationality, anti-intellectualism, and hero worship – of the leader, and of military heroes.   So does Trump fit the description?

For Fascists, truth is a product of will and power.   They operate with the belief there are only competing narratives – different interpretations of reality.  Whoever has the power to get people to believe their narrative is thus able to shape truth.

This can be done with force – in class I stand by a student and demonstrating fascism say “the sky is green.   What color is the sky?”   The first inevitably says “blue,” and I make a pistol out of my finger and shoot her in the head.  “It’s green.”   The next student meekly says “green” when asked the same question.

But if they relied completely on force they’d be ineffective.   By the end of the Soviet Union their totalitarian system relied on force and bureaucratic routine – it collapsed.   Fascists succeed when people want to believe their narrative.

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Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci

Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci was arrested by Mussolini’s fascists and died in prison.  But before his health deteriorated he penned his Prison Notebooks which laid out his theory of why the working class had followed Il Duce – the leader, Benito Mussolini.

Marx was wrong, Gramsci said, when he put economics as the only causal factor in historical development.   The Fascists, he noted, did not only take power, but created a narrative that told the workers that they were part of a great movement, and had an entire belief system which permeated the culture – what he called cultural hegemony.  Once people became believers they were uncritical about the narrative – like religious converts who do not question their new faith, the workers embraced fascism.  Moreover, Fascism overtly appeals to emotion – fear, anger, resentment – and that often gets a more visceral response than trying to make a logical argument.

Trump’s rhetoric mirrors this trait of fascism.  When Kellyanne Conway talks about “alternative facts,” people laugh.   But Gramsci described it as an “alternative narrative” – which is precisely what a fascist version of facts represents.  President Trump persistent antipathy to the truth a trait he shares with Fascists.

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For Mussolini the spectacle was what mattered.

Another commonality is that fascism puts spectacle over substance – the show and the feelings it generates are what motivate people.  Again, emotion moves the masses, not reason.   President Trump’s desire for a large military parade, his raucous and rowdy rallies with him at the center would look familiar to Italians and Germans in the 1930s.

Finally, fascism is by definition hyper-nationalist.  It puts nation first, and has a clear set of criteria for whether someone is really a part of that nation.  Even if you were ethnically Germany, if you were gay, communist, pacifist or Jewish you were not truly German, and hence an internal threat to society.   Foreigners are always mistrusted by fascists.  Trump’s rhetoric on nationalism and immigration take darkly fascistic tones.

Traits that are contrary to fascism

Fascism traditionally embraces war as an ultimate good – a way to test one’s manhood.  So far, President Trump, despite some rash reactions, has not seemed to want to create a war.   Moreover, for all his complaints about the press and Democrats, he hasn’t done anything really undermining the system.  Taking Acosta’s press pass and wanting strict “decorum” in White House briefings seems to have an authoritarian tone to them, but aren’t fundamental attempts to disrupt the Republic.

President Trump also seems driven more by his own psychological demons – insecurity and narcissism – that a desire for domination.  I think he lacks the kind of twisted vision Mussolini and Hitler had, and simply enjoys attention and wants to bolster his ego.  This was certainly true about Mussolini too, but Trump lacks any clear political agenda other than promoting himself.

So is Trump a fascist?   He certainly shows some disturbing traits and practices, especially in his rhetoric and efforts to create false narratives that his supporters will latch on to due to the emotion they arouse.    Things like the “caravan” coming to “invade the US” is an example of how effective this can be.

For some, that’s enough to label him Fascist.   I disagree.   Fascists create well organized movements to push for change that undermines the system.   While spectacle is important to Trump, he doesn’t seem to have a clear agenda.   He’s an insecure man, bolstering his self-esteem and using Fascistic methods.  But while he loves the spectacle, he’s not doing the work to create a true movement.

mccarthysmith

Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith (center) would turn on fellow Republican Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy (left), and help mount a resistance that would undermine his witchhunt.

Moreover, as the election of 2018 proves, the US has a system designed to prevent Fascism.  At times something like it can raise it’s ugly head – McCarthyism in the 1950s was an example – but Americans usually respond and reject such ideas.

Nonetheless, the propensity for people see reality as being nothing but whatever narrative the people can be led to believe, leading to fundamentally different world views on the left and the right (and within each group) is a concern.   Trump may not be a true Fascist threat, but the emotions and reactions he invokes suggest that the US cannot consider itself immune from such poison.

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The US is a better country after Tuesday

native

Sharice Davids in Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico became the first Native Americans to win House seats. Davids is also a lesbian, and defeated incumbent Kevin Yoder in deep red Kansas.

My election forecast was far too optimistic for the Democrats, but hey – I’ve been predicting a Vikings Super Bowl win every year for the last forty years.  This year is the first time I’ll be right!

My rose colored glasses aside, and despite gut wrenching close defeats in Florida, Texas, South Dakota and (it appears) Georgia, Democrats overall can be happy with Tuesday’s results.  In the House the Democrats got 12 million more votes than Republicans, and their failure to take the Senate is no cause for dismay.

Indeed, going into this election the GOP was looking for big gains in the Senate.  The Democrats were defending 24 seats due to a big year in 2012 – the GOP was defending only ten.   As late as last year analysts were saying that Brown (OH), Menendez (NJ), Baldwin (WI), Kaine (VA) and Casey (PE) were prime targets.   Some even thought the GOP could achieve a “filibuster proof Senate” with sixty seats.

As it was, the Democrats only lost in the most vulnerable places – red states like North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana.   Florida might be a loss, and that is a Democratic disappointment, but they held Montana, gained Nevada, and still could gain Arizona.  In Texas it was close – something that would have seemed impossible a few years ago – and many Republican holds were competitive.  The Democrats flipped eight governorships and it appears a number of states (including Maine) flipped to Democratic dominated state legislatures.

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After eight years of enduring tea party favorite Paul Le Page, Janet Mills won back the governorship for the Democrats in Maine.

But for Democrats, the news gets better.  In 2020 the Republicans are on defense in the Senate, defending 20 seats, almost twice as many as Democrats.  At this point only Doug Jones of Alabama appears to be in danger – so the Democrats should have happy hunting in their Senate quest of 2020.

All of this depends on the environment of 2020, of course.  If President Trump recovers and is strong in his re-election bid, then Republicans will probably defend most of their seats.  If there is a strong, vibrant Democratic candidate, 2020 could be as big for the Democrats as 2008 was.  Then the Republicans will hope 2022 would be like 2010.

That future, of course, is still quite uncertain.  But for Democrats, winning at least 32 seats (and possibly as many as 40 once the dust settles) and regaining control of the House is a really big deal.  The diversity of the candidates winning those seats – lots of women, gays and minorities – is an even bigger deal, and bodes well for the future.

Colorado Democratic Party

In Colorado, the state with the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, Jared Polis became the first openly gay US Governor. To his left is his partner Marlon Reis

Flipping a lot of governorships and winning state legislatures are very consequential wins.   Losing only a couple Senate seats in very “red” states but holding on to most when defending 24 is really a win too.   It was less than many hoped for, it allowed the President to save face,  but as a friend put it:  The country is a better on November 7th than it was on November 6th.

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2018 Election Predictions

andrewgillum

Andrew Gillum, Democratic nominee for Governor in Florida, could signal a shift in that state’s politics towards the Democrats.

On the day before the 2018 midterm elections, I believe we’re on the verge of an historic night for the Democrats, as they ride a blue wave larger than most analysts current expect.  While one might say that’s wishful thinking on my part, I explain my reasoning below and am putting this prediction out there – if I’m wrong, I’ll be wrong for the world to see!   I’ll own it either way.

What makes a “blue wave?”   That will happen tomorrow if undecideds break heavily for the Democrats on election day, meaning that races that are close will overwhelmingly end up Democratic.  That’s how waves work – the GOP did that in 2010 and 2014.    The Democrats last did that in 2006 (the Democrats won in 2008 and 2012, but without a wave).

If that prediction is wrong, then I’m completely off base.   It’s thus important to explain my thinking.

1. The Democrats have help – President Trump.  In the last week President Trump has enjoyed himself, giving red meat speeches to fire up his base.  He’s been in his element.   Moreover, he’s purposefully focused on the Senate.   Most people expect the GOP to maintain control of the Senate due to the map – the Democrats are defending 24 seats, the GOP only 10.   Moreover, many more Democrats are in close, difficult battles than are Republicans.  President Trump figures that when the Senate stays GOP, he can claim victory, washing his hands of defeat in the House.

And it might have worked.   If the President had touted the economy and worked to re-assure moderates and undecideds, the Republicans would be in much better shape.  But that’s not Donald Trump’s nature.  He attacked immigrants, said he was sending troops to the border with orders to shoot in response to even stone throwing.  He said to imagine him on the ballot, saying that the election was about his Presidency.  The raucous crowds ate it up, and the President believes the energy suggests a possible red wave of support for him.

In reality, all of this after the shooting at a synagogue and the failed mail bomb attacks on Democrats deepens the message to moderates that Trump is a divider whose slash and burn tactics harm the country.  Indeed, Trump says Republicans will protect America while Democrats will lead it into a dark dangerous socialism – yes, the base wants to see the “other side” as evil; most independents and moderates of both parties understand that despite different views, both parties represent American values.

This rhetoric not only pushes independents towards the Democrats, but helps generate enthusiasm among minorities.   The fact a Trump ad was pulled from major networks (including Fox) because it was too racist adds to this.   With turnout likely near the 2016 Presidential numbers in states with hotly contested races, electrifying the base is not enough.   I believe this will backfire on the President and the Republican party.  We’ll see tomorrow.

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In South Dakota Billie Sutton – the cowboy candidate in a wheel chair – has used anti-corruption to put together a shot at a Democratic victory for Governor of a very Republican state.

2.  Polls are leaning increasingly towards the Democrats in major races.   People say the polls can’t be trusted, but in most cases they can be – at least to say what they claim to say.  95% of the time the real state of the race is within the margin of error from their result.  The margin of error can be four points, so that means even polls with conflicting results could each be “accurate” – their result could be within the margin of error.  But one in twenty times the poll result is outside margin of error.   So once one accepts the limit of polls, watching them for trends is best.  After the Kavanaugh hearings there was a marked trend toward the GOP.  Now that seems to have reversed itself.

And then there’s the poll that gives all Republicans hope – Rasmussen.  While most have President Trump well over -10% on disapproval over approval, Rasmussen shows more people approving of the President’s job.   The generic ballot in most polls is 7 to 15% in favor of the Democrats; Rasmussen has it as 1% in favor of the GOP.   Why?  Simple – they weight their raw data for political party.   But in wave years many people who might have been Republican if asked during another election now will claim to be independent, maybe Democrat.  That’s why most pollsters don’t use past elections to weight for political party.  It stacks the deck in favor of Republicans at this point.   Some years that wouldn’t be an issue, but if it is a wave year, then weighting for party will make the poll unreliable.

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Almost no one gives Heidi Heitkamp a chance at winning re-election in very Republican North Dakota. My “long shot” prediction is that she defies the odds.

3.  This is still the country which voted for Barack Obama.  Twice.  And if anything, the demographics are more favorable to the Democrats now.   Face it, one reason Trump won was that he had a weak opponent.  Not that Hillary Clinton is a weak person, but that as a candidate she wasn’t inspiring, and had too much baggage (too 20th Century, to harmed by false smears).   So the idea that the country is as behind Trump as much as he claims seems false.   I believe the violence and racism that’s been overt in the last two years is pushing people to vote against Trump by voting Democratic.

So based on that, predictions:

Senate:  Democrats 51 Republicans 49

House:  Democrats pick up 53 seats to have a clear majority

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Beto O’Rourke has proven very likable while even Republicans find it hard to “like” Ted Cruz. But is it enough to move Texas from red to purple?

Surprises:  Heidi Heitkamp shocks politicos by winning.  She’s been declared essentially DOA, and one poll had her down 14%.  But that was right after the Kavanaugh fiasco, and a small state like North Dakota can pull of surprises.     In Texas, spurred on strong Latino turnout Beto O’Rourke will surprise Ted Cruz, ending Cruz’s political career.   Finally, in South Dakota (where I grew up) Billie Sutton – a cowboy in a wheel chair (he was a top class rodeo performer before an injury paralyzed him from the waste down) – will surprise Kristi Noem and become the first Democratic governor in that state since Dick Kneip (1970-78).

Most important Governor’s Race:  Andrew Gillum wins handily in Florida, helping Bill Nelson win re-election.  This is big in part because Barack Obama and Donald Trump both campaigned heavily in Florida this week – Trump will see this as an embarrassing loss to Obama.

Maine:  Janet Mills wins the governorship, while Jared Golden defeats Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s second district (where I live).  My district gave Trump it’s electoral vote in 2016 (Maine splits up their electoral votes).

If my predictions are right, we are on the eve of an historic election, one that will buoy Democratic spirits and send the GOP a warning that Trump maybe doing them more harm than good.  If I’m wrong, well, then I’m wrong.  We’ll know soon!

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The Fight for the American Soul

gerogia

Early voting in Georgia draws long lines and record numbers for a midterm

On November 6th Americans will vote in a midterm election in what could be record numbers.  In the last midterm election, 2014, 36.6% of the population voted, about 82 million.  The modern record is 49% turnout in 1966 – by comparison the Presidential turnout in 2016 was 58%.   Early voting is hinting at a turnout that far exceeds that of 2014, and this year’s vote could bypass the 1966 total.  Turnout is high among both parties, independents, and in all demographic groups.   In fact, there are indications that young people and “infrequent” voters are going to the polls more than they have in the past.  Americans are engaged in this election.

This election will tell us a lot about our country.   Are we a country afraid of immigrants, willing to support angry and even violent rhetoric out of fear that our national identity is under threat?  Are we a country willing to embrace diversity and welcome both change and people fleeing poverty and strife?   It is literally a battle between fear and hope, between hate and love.

Most people, of course, fall in the middle.  Yes, accept change, legal immigration is fine, but there are legitimate concerns.   Most people recognize that national identity is not monolithic.   And yet this election forces them to make a choice – support President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda by voting for Republicans, or send a message of resistance by voting Democratic.

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In a sign of desperation the GOP is attacking Iraq war vet and Democratic House candidate Jared Golden with over the top claims about how much he’ll raise taxes. Golden accuses Representative Bruce Poloquin of being in bed with special interests, but also has positive ads, including one with him sharing a beer with a prominent Republican who endorses Golden as able to compromise and work across the aisle.

For many, this is not an easy decision.   Many Republicans and Independents who are pro-life, fear higher taxes, and hate government regulations will find it anathema to vote Democratic.  Indeed, the ads in the House race here is full of rhetoric saying that the Democratic candidate Jared Golden will massively increase taxes and that he’s “too liberal for Maine.”   Republicans skeptical of Trump hope to hold a majority in the Senate and House by pounding on those themes.

Yet on the campaign trail, the President is pounding the immigration theme, saying he’ll send 15,000 troops to the border to protect against a “caravan” of Honduran immigrants now deep in southern Mexico.  It’s unlikely many will make it to the US border, but that’s irrelevant – the President wants to stoke fear of foreigners, betting that will help his party keep control of Congress.  He doubled down yesterday, saying that if any immigrants throw stones, the military will open fire – he’s betting that Americans love the idea of shooting unarmed brown people.

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President Trump doubling down and saying that stones are thrown at American soldiers at the border, he’ll order the troops to fire.

That’s why this election is so important.  With all due respect to principled Republicans who don’t want Democrats in the majority, this midterm is really a referendum on President Trump – including his rhetoric, style and tactics.   His bravado, numerous false claims (the media has documented thousands), and embrace of hyper-partisan politics is unique in recent political history.   Presidents once elected usually strive to show themselves to be President to all Americans, and don’t engage in slash and burn partisan rhetoric.  Trump makes it clear he’s President for his base, and the goal is to win – to defeat the other side, labeling the media and Democrats as “enemies of the people.”

If Americans vote on November 6th to keep the Republicans in power, it’ll be a sign that our country is willing to tolerate rhetoric that borders on (and sometimes cross the line into) racism and xenophobia.  His threat to “erase” the category of “transgender” is an open appeal to bigotry and fear of the other.   In history this has parallels to the tactics of the National Socialists in Germany when they came to power, or the KKK here.

It will be a sign that America is giving up on its long tradition of tolerance, compromise, and unity – it’s not ‘united we stand,’ but ‘divided we fight.’   That will put us on a path to weakness and decline.  Who knows what atrocities might down the line come from such a decision.

If Americans vote to give both the House and the Senate to Democrats, it won’t be a victory for “liberal principles” or Democratic party ideals.  It will be a rejection of the hate and fear being propagated by the President.  It will show Republicans that they have to reject nationalism and bigotry as being symbolic of their party, and re-establish their traditional focus on freedom and concern about government becoming too powerful.  While a Democratic Congress can thwart Trump, it can’t implement new policies thanks to the power of the Presidential veto.  The GOP can win it all back if it corrects course and chooses a competent leader to run for President in 2020.

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Past Republican leaders – the last two GOP Presidents and two candidates for the Presidency – have publicly condemned Trump. The GOP needs to listen to these leaders and reject what Trump is doing to their party – and the country.

If Americans reject Trumpism, it will be a victory for decency, a sense that we are above the anger and hatred that can arouse emotions, but also drive people to send pipe bombs or shoot up a synagogue.   It will send a message that we are still a country that believes we are better off when we work together, compromise, and recognize our common ideals, then when we demonize, attack and lie.

I don’t know what the state of the country is in 2018.   The news has been surreal, even absurd.   Rhetoric I never thought I’d here in this country is now common place.  On November 6th, we’ll know more about this country and its future.  A victory of the Democrats in the House but not the Senate will push the issue off until 2020, indicating that the fight for the American soul continues.

But know this: this isn’t a fight to see if the American soul is liberal or conservative – both reflect the best of American values.  The fight is whether we want to demonize each other or if we want to embrace our common belief in freedom and individual rights, and build a future together, compromising and respecting each other.

 

 

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