Trying to put my finger on the rise of Donald Trump has been difficult. He's not Hitler. He's not Mussolini. He's a lot like Silvio Berlusconi. But, not quite. He is something of an American original.
I find two quotes come to mind when I think of Mr. Trump and his campaign. The first from Sinclair Lewis, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." The other from old Karl Marx, not someone I usually cite, but, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." Again, neither quite works. But both suggest.
Robert Kagen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute writing at the Washington Post observes significantly, "What (Mr. Trump) offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence."
Mr. Kagen continues,
His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of "others" -- Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees -- whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.
Mr. Trump throws a suit on it, but the threat hangs in the air. This is a message of brutalism. And, me, I feel a frisson of fear when I watch him - and the crowds he draws.
Now, not everyone is quite so worried. Joshua Holland cautions us all to get a grip. Mr. Holland, a fellow at the Nation Institute writing at the Nation acknowledges Mr. Turmp's ascension "has certainly revealed a dark current in American politics" and cites the troubling list of far-right figures who have been endorsing the real estate developer and reality television star's campaign. He goes on to point out that Mr. Trump's negatives are extremely high, and blandly suggests the magnate has no real chance of winning the presidency.
Mr. Holland also notes in our contemporary polarized politics anyone who captures a major party nomination is pretty much guaranteed forty percent of the national vote. That reality can be read a couple of ways. He suggests in that light it's wise not to derive too much specificity as regards to the actual person running for office. As I understand him, Mr. Holland sees Mr. Trump as a manifestation of a rear-guard reaction to the rush of history. And that he more represents a spasm of fear on the part of those caught up in our changing culture than a forward movement carrying us to totalitarianism. The wave is washing over, and soon Mr. Trump will be left high and dry.
Maybe. There's a good chance he's right. But.
And. Mr. Trump is flat out selling a form of fascism, hard on fear of the other and a promise of putting it all right. What he is asking for is not actually election as president, but as strongman. And the part that makes me sick is people are buying it. Large numbers. Enough so that he has captured the nomination of one of the two parties in a two-party system. And with that as we got from Mr. Holland, he is pretty much guaranteed that forty percent of the national vote.
Forty percent is a landslide loss of historic proportions. But. With a couple of bad things happening in the right moments in the run-up to the general election, maybe he can garner just enough additional votes in the right states that he, in fact, does get elected. He doesn't actually have to get the most votes, just the most votes in the right places.
All this said, I find myself deeply concerned about the people who are supporting him. Whether people are supporting Mr. Trump for their own reasons while not actually believing in his platform, such as it is, hardly matters. You vote for the fascist, it doesn't matter that you figure you can control him, you're voting for the fascist. Their "motives" are overtaken by their actions. What they're doing is supporting someone running on, well, call it what you like, fascist platform isn't quite right, neo-fascist, perhaps. More fascist as farce. It's easy to see Mr. Trump as a buffoon, an orange clown. But people are supporting his run. Whether because they buy the message or for other reasons. People are supporting Mr. Trump. Lots of them.
And, you know, clowns have grabbed the throne before.
So, beyond getting serious quickly about supporting Secretary Clinton's campaign, what else?
Me, I'm deeply concerned for the Republic. I'm worried about the people who have put him where he is today. And, I'm worried about the conditions we find ourselves in that have become the seedbed of such poisonous things. As a religious leader, I see a soul sickness. And, I am worried.
We have firmly landed in the midst of that old Chinese curse. These are interesting times.
A bit too interesting, if you ask me.