by Jordan Green
Our country is hurtling towards fascism. There can be only one imperative for people of decency and goodwill in this presidential election, and that is to defeat Donald Trump.
There’s no turning back once we allow a megalomaniac whose platform is built around his overblown personality to take power as the chief executive of the most powerful nation on earth. Trump’s magical promises to “make America great again” by building a giant wall along the Mexican border, defeating ISIS, striking a better trade deal and with the Chinese, and being “the greatest jobs president that God ever created” cannot be fulfilled. He will have no choice but to deflect attention from his failings by scapegoating domestic enemies — already identified as undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists and Syrian refugees — and embarking on foreign military misadventures. For anyone who is seriously considering voting for Trump, you need to reflect hard on your decision and recognize you’re putting our country on a ruinous path.
Trump is a demagogue who skillfully exploits the deep divisions in our country to consolidate power while taking advantage of the fact that a wide swath of the electorate has given up on the conventional politics of persuasion and compromise to solve problems. Blocking his path to the presidency must at least temporarily supersede all the enduring divisions between progressivism and conservatism, secularism and the evangelical movement, and business and labor.
The parallels between Europe in the 1920s and ’30s, and this American moment are eerie.
The connection between economic anxiety and the appeal of fascism in Germany and Italy after the First World War is well understood. Today, in the United States, the fact that the economic recovery has been well underway for five years while huge segments of the population have experienced deterioration in their personal finances creates an opening for a strongman who promises to get the job done without heed to political process or legal restraints. As HR Trevor-Roper wrote in a 1968 essay, “The Phenomenon of Fascism,” “The dynamism of fascism depends directly on the existence of a strong industrial middle class — and on the malaise of that class.”
Trump’s giddy pledges to use ruthless torture and indiscriminate killing as a cudgel against foreign foes resonates with euphoric crowds in New Hampshire and South Carolina, not because jihadists pose a significant threat to civilians in the United States, but because our national prestige has been diminished with the decline of our superpower status in the wake of President George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. There is a faint echo here of Germany’s military humiliation after the First World War and conservative reaction to the liberal Weimar Republic.
There’s another striking parallel that doesn’t get as much attention. Christian evangelicals, since the 1920s, have felt that their traditional values are under siege — from scientific reason, women’s control over their own bodies and, very recently, the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the Constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church in Europe, similarly, had been reeling from loss of authority since the mid-19th Century when laissez-faire capitalism upended the old feudal order.
Many political observers are scratching their heads over the fact that white evangelicals appear to be flocking to Trump instead of Ted Cruz.
“I think evangelicals are tired of being betrayed,” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. recently told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, explaining his choice to support Trump over Cruz. “I think tea-party conservatives are tired of being betrayed by politicians who promise the world over the past few decades.”
There’s a hint of desperation in Falwell’s endorsement of Trump and willingness to give precedent to issues of “the security of the country, the economy” over abortion and same-sex marriage, while overlooking the flaws of a man who has been twice divorced and peppers his speeches with vulgarity and personal insults.
“I heard a very prominent pastor who is a friend of yours, by the way, Greta, tell me just this week that if we don’t save the country then abortion, traditional marriage, all those social issues are gonna be a moot point,” Falwell continued. “We’ve gotta save the country first. And I believe and many evangelicals believe that Donald Trump is best equipped to save the country in those areas.”
The Catholic Church struck similar deals with Mussolini, an avowed atheist, and Hitler, who was decidedly unmoved by religion, while withholding support from Christian democratic parties.
The Catholic Church, writes Trevor-Roper, “intervened” to allow Mussolini and Hitler to rise to power, reasoning that parliamentary democracy was not equipped to halt the spread of socialism and that the new, authoritarian regimes would help preserve Catholicism. The church and the conservative classes believed that they could use Mussolini and Hitler to destroy “socialism” in the streets and then they could be discarded.
“In fact, the reverse happened,” Trevor-Roper writes. “It was the conservative patrons and their ideas that were discarded, the vulgar demagogues that survived.”
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