Preparing for President Trump
July 23, 2016 1 Comment
This week Donald J. Trump was formally declared to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. In his acceptance speech Trump capitalized on fear, presenting a dystopian view of America, and blaming blacks, Hispanic migrants, Muslims, and foreign actors for America’s woes.
Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Trump has promised to bring a grand solution to America’s problems without supplying any details and without providing any kind of roadmap for getting there. In his acceptance speech he presented himself as the “law and order” candidate, the strongman America needs in its hour of peril who will singlehandedly deliver America from its internal and external enemies.
His message was simple and direct: Trust me. I am the only one who can save America. “I am the only one who can do this.” Against the massive backdrop of the stage – changed overnight from RNC silver to Trump gold – and with his name emblazoned bigger than anyone could imagine, the message was clear that this event marked the coronation of “King Trump.”
To be quite honest, I genuinely fear for America’s future. The fact that 40% or more of Americans polled say they actually support Donald Trump for president scares me. I still believe that he will not win the election. He is far too divisive, polarizing, narcissistic, bombastic, nasty, and erratic to win the confidence of the majority of Americans. (At least I fervently hope this is the case.)
But Donald Trump has accomplished one very important thing. He has (likely permanently) changed ground rules of campaigning.
In making his statement that “we will not be politically correct” a near constant theme in his campaign (and in not being called out on it by a timid media),
Trump has succeeded in normalizing hate speech in American politics.
He has normalized lying and deception.
He has normalized scapegoating and personal attacks.
He has normalized demonizing one’s opponents.
He has normalized misogyny and xenophobia.
He has normalized fear mongering and physical attacks on other.
He has made all of these things “acceptable.”
We can expect to see these tactics employed again in future campaigns. I am not so much worried that Donald Trump will be able to use them to go all the way to the White House. I am worried about what a future, less abrasive and controversial candidate may do with these tools.
America has never been closer to embracing authoritarian fascist-like leadership than at this moment. I am not saying that Donald Trump is a fascist. I am not name-calling. I am merely pointing out, as others have before me [see here and here], that he has been using a standard set of tools from the fascist playbook from the very beginning. We have seen it played out before in the populist rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco two generations ago.
The great battle on the world stage at that time was to defeat this right-wing authoritarian autocratic form of government known as fascism. Now, under the banner of “Make America Strong,” Americans seem willing to embrace it on their own soil. As Alan Gopnik recently warned in the New Yorker,
If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate.
With the events of this last week, and the endorsement of Donald Trump for the presidency, I truly fear for America’s future. It has embarked on a very, very dark path from which it may be impossible to emerge.