Donald Trump And The Dictator's Handbook

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue R
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

I went to the Women's March in Downtown Los Angeles with my entire family last Saturday. And I must say, it did for me what Lexapro, Xanax, Double-Stuffed Oreos, Single-Stuffed Oreos, talk therapy, punk rock and binge-watching Norwegian crime thrillers couldn't do: It made me feel good. Or at the very least, not "walk into the ocean with stones in my pockets" bad. Which is roughly how every day, post-election, has felt for me and many, many people like me.

The March was one of the greatest days of my life. It was even better than the previous day, Inauguration Day had been bad. It was a day filled with hope, energy, solidarity, kindness and the feeling that our collective voices could bring about meaningful change, regardless of the opposition.

And then I got home. I got to watch our president lie to the CIA about the size of his inauguration and demonize the media for his shoddy relationship with the intelligence community. Since then, we've got to witness a daily onslaught of draconian executive orders meant to make scapegoats of society's most vulnerable people. We've seen the president make up a voter fraud claim out of whole cloth to delegitimize his opposition. And wage war against the media to delegitimize anyone seeking to hold him accountable to an empirical truth.

Needless to say, my post-march glow has dissipated. And my fear and melancholy has returned in full-force. So I had the Double-Stuffed Oreos. And Peanut M & M's. And Cheddar Goldfish.

What's also returned is my need to speak out. Especially, when I saw a certain cabal on my Facebook feed denigrating millions of peaceful protesters as "babies throwing a tantrum." And castigating anyone who objects to Trump's policies or temperament as "not giving him a chance." You know what, it's been six days. I've seen more than enough.

So today at lunch, I jotted down these few short thoughts comparing the rise of Trumpism with the rise of totalitarianism. Mind you, I'm a comedy writer not a historian. Also mind you, I went to college nearly 300 years ago, so I did the best I could from memory. Still, there's no excuse for not having a single Beer Hall Putsch reference. Hey, there's one. And the rest is my post as it appeared in its original form on Facebook. I'd say, "enjoy." But I think the more apt greeting is "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

I'm not sure there's such a thing as an official dictator's handbook. But a hallmark of every tyrannical power grab tends to involve creating the illusion of a dire national emergency that only an autocratic strongman can rescue you from.

It invariably involves tapping into an often economically aggrieved citizenry and selling them a portrait a nation in decline, whose best days are in the rear-view mirror. It means convincing the populace that their nation is wounded and demoralized and under the oppressive thumb of foreign powers. And whose national security and national character is jeopardized by weak, cosmopolitan elites in power by the sudden appearance on their shores of the "others" with nefarious motives.

Hitler rose to power, in large part because of the emotional myth of the diktat. This was the sense that Germany's malaise and economic woes could all be traced to the bum deal that they got from the Treaty of Versailles. He sold the notion that regular real Germans had been sold out by the political elite and forced to accept both extensive and unjust blame and reparations for World War I.

So it's no surprise to me that Donald Trump has been diminishing America with his vituperative rhetoric for 30 years. That his convention and inaugural speeches describe a dystopian landscape akin to what President Snow usually talks about before declaring the next Hunger Games.

From the time he came into the public eye, Trump has never spoken to the virtues of our American experiment. In his view our economy is always in shambles and on the verge of collapse. Our military is always weak, demoralized and sold out by civilian oversight. We are the chumps on the wrong end of every trade agreement. Notice that every description of urban life is of a stereotypical war-torn wasteland beset by zero education and non-stop gun violence. It's why "Mexican immigrants are rapists" who come here to murder innocent "real Americans." It's why every Muslim immigrant or refugee is instantly suspect and a likely purveyor of global terrorism.

In Trump's mind and rhetoric, America must always be a nation in decline. Must always be on the verge of economic collapse. Must always be at risk of mass murder or terrorist attack. Because that's the only justification for a strongman to emerge and clean up the mess. By banning members of one religion and mass deportations of people on a path to citizenship. By curtailing civil liberties through the power of fiat and executive order.

The only rationale for a Donald Trump the savior is a nation that needs saving. Nothing he had done thus far is a surprise. He's been telegraphing his authoritarian tendencies for three decades. It's a story that only needs to go this way if we accept his story of America. The bleak counter-narrative to our nation's greatness as a beacon of equality and inclusion. Of forward thinking and the belief our better days are still ahead of us If not presently happening. We can stop him. We can resist. But first we have to finally acknowledge that he's every bit as dangerous as we feared. And that the give him a chance brigade has already been proven not just wrong but woefully naive. He's had a week to prove who he is. But he's also had 30 years of laying the groundwork for this moment. We must not let him.