America, we have a problem – fascism is on the rise in America, and our experts are flailing around too much to do anything about it.
Our so-called experts aren’t taking Donald seriously enough. Every day I read news articles and Tweets from journalists, activists, and political experts where Donald’s behavior is downplayed, normalized, or ignored. Donald kicked up his horrible behavior up a notch after the Mueller investigation wrapped up, but few of the people with the power to check his behavior seem to have noticed. Or if they have, they’re not giving the uptick in Donald’s fascism the importance it deserves.
First, NPR ran a story about, in part, Donald’s campaign rallies:
PETER OVERBY: Campaign experts in both parties say [campaign rallies are] the wrong way to go about campaign building. They say it’s inefficient, and rallies don’t do much to grow the donor base. Jim Messina was manager of former President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
JIM MESSINA: I think it’s, you know, at one point, a very good thing to build data and an infrastructure, but another point, a pretty expensive vanity project for the president.
Second, media from the NYTimes to National Public Radio to CNN to Fox News have been normalizing Donald’s behavior since he took office. For example, it took over 4000 lies before the Washington Post fact checker was willing to identify a “falsehood” as a verifiable lie, and both editorial director Michael Oreskes and the NYTimes’ Maggie Haberman have said it’s not their jobs to call a lie a lie. Many journalists feel their job is to always find a balance, even stooping so low as to try and find some balance between Donald’s lies and objective truth and between observed facts and Donald’s fictions. Instead of pointing out Donald’s repeated racist and white supremacist remarks (over 500 of them since July 1, 2017), the media notes them briefly and then moves on to the next item because Donald being a racist isn’t news anymore. And when something has become so common it no longer angers or disgusts people, it’s been normalized.
Finally, this short Twitter thread by Shaun King indicated that even some anti-Donald activists may not fully understand the gravity of our situation:
While I agree with much of what King says about Donald’s attacks on Representative Illhan Omar, I think he’s made a significant and important error. Donald is not “transitioning into campaign mode” – he never left campaign mode.
Donald filed to run in the 2020 election the day after his inauguration in January 2017. By doing so, he was able to immediately start raising money for his campaign, but it also gave him cover for his political rallies. As President of the United States, Donald would have to let the general public into his rallies, and that would give his critics an opportunity to confront him publicly. But a campaign is a private event, and so Donald can limit access to just his supporters.
The advantages of this approach are many. Donald gets to speak without having to face down critics. He can create the impression of massive popular support, again because his critics aren’t present. He can rile up his supporters into an angry mob that will remember the emotional release of his rallies long after they’ve forgotten what Donald actually said. He can define the terms of the public debate even more thoroughly than the President’s usual “bully pulpit.”But perhaps most importantly, Donald controls which media outlets are allowed to report on his rallies. He allows mostly friendly media to report, knowing that they’ll fawn over every little detail and that his supporters will credulously believe anything they report. But he also allows a few critical media outlets in as well – CNN, MSNBC, the NYTimes – because access effectively disarms them. The critical media outlets can’t claim that they didn’t get access, and when they report on the horrible things that Donald said, he can just attack them again. And given his base’s perceptions would already be biased by the friendly media coverage, his base will adore him for the attacks even if they’re based entirely on lies.
The purpose of the rallies isn’t campaigning as such. It’s propaganda. Donald gets to look and sound strong, without visible opposition, and that lets him build a cult of personality around himself. And that’s one of the same key tactics used by Mussolini and Hitler to gain and keep public support.
And therein lies the problem. Messina and traditional campaign experts like him, possibly including some of Donald’s own staff, have fundamentally misread Donald’s campaign. The rallies will never stop, because they’re how Donald feeds and maintains his base.
King is right that Donald will use Rep. Omar’s call to oppose Islamophobia (which included her 9/11 remarks that her critics are intentionally taking out of context). As a black Muslim refugee and Democratic congresswoman, she’s the ideal target for him. She represents everything that Donald and his racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and xenophobic supporters think is wrong with America.
But I think King is wrong that this about the campaign. Or rather, this is about a far greater campaign than merely the 2020 Presidential election. This is about Donald trying to become “President-for-life.” This is about Donald and his key supporters manipulating America’s liberal values to undercut and ultimately destroy those values. (Note :by liberal, I mean the freedoms of speech, assembly, and the guarantee of legal due process, which were radically liberal in 1789.) This is a campaign to turn back the clock to a time when America was supposedly pure, when its skin color was predominantly pale, when brown skinned people knew their place (and it wasn’t in Congress), and so on.
This is a campaign to use fear of the unknown, fear of the Other, fear of losing one’s privileges, fear of losing one’s job, fear of the pace of technological change, and fear of moral degradation (just to name a few) to stoke the fires of hatred and anger and to direct them against the presumed causes of those fears.
In the 1930s, the fear-stoked hatred was directed at Slavs, Poles, Jews, Roma, non-whites, and homosexuals. Today Donald is directing that same hatred at immigrants, Muslims, the transgendered, homosexuals, non-whites, and Jews.
Donald regularly ignores his oath to uphold the Constitution. He attacks the rule of law on an almost daily basis. He upholds American values only when they strengthen him, and he opposes those values that weaken him. Donald represents a very real threat to America and her values, and he may become unstoppable if he wins in 2020.
Donald is a Mussolini-style fascist, and his goals are not merely to win in 2020. Donald and his key supporters want to fundamentally remake America into a fascist state. And judging by his continued support, about a third of Americans either actively support that idea or aren’t disgusted by it enough (whether due to apathy or ignorance) to oppose him.
Too many people believe that fascism cannot happen in America. But it can. In fact, fascism can not only exist in America – it was arguably born here.
Since the Mueller report wrapped up, campaign “experts” like Messina, journalists of all stripes, and activists seem to be flailing around like the overly-caffinated NASA scientists in “Armageddon” – lots of movement, but none of it usefully focused on the asteroid coming to destroy the planet.
If we’re going to stop Donald from consolidating power in 2020, our experts as well as all of us need to stop flailing around right now.