When an extreme political philosophy--on the right or the left--takes power, one of the first reactions to those who do not believe in that philosophy is shock. We only have to look at the Democrats in the 2016 election to see the full expression of this shock and the personal toll it has taken on people. There was another group however, not too often mentioned, that also experienced a kind of shock: the traditional Republican conservative.
These people were shocked by the vulgarity and lack of an intellectual center in Donald Trump and his campaign. Mitt Romney said, for example:
"Let me put it plainly, if we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished ... He inherited his business, he didn't create it ... A business genius he is not ... What he said on '60 Minutes' about Syria and ISIS has to go down as the most ridiculous and dangerous idea of the campaign season: Let ISIS take out Assad, he said, and then we can pick up the remnants ... I'm afraid that when it comes to foreign policy he is very, very not smart ... Dishonesty is Donald Trump's hallmark ... His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader. His imagination must not be married to real power ... Think of Donald Trump's personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics. We have long referred to him as 'The Donald.' He is the only person in America to whom we have added an article before his name."
In the late twenties in Germany, post World War I and deep in the Weimar Republic's demise, German conservative intellectuals and writers began to think that National Socialism--the Nazi party--might just listen to reason and specifically their reason. So the intelligentsia which had rejected this fascist philosophy, gradually drifted back to this new center, hoping they would be able to influence the direction of the future. The Nazi party was only too happy to welcome them back. The outcome, as we all know, was worldwide disaster.
The earmarks of fascist tilt in the new American government are there and the outcome of this bias are still to be seen. But I am mainly interested in the reactions by traditional conservatives to this outcome. What I have seen, and I think all Americans can see, is the same "drift and hope" strategy taking root. Pictures of Paul Ryan standing and smiling next to Donald Trump and Mitt Romney's good-natured and expensive meal with Trump reveal the drift from the people who thought Trump was not fit for office to the same people who now believe that they can work with Trump to achieve traditional conservative aims, aims that have a sort of idealism at their core, in the same way that communists have a form of idealism at the core of their ideas. My deep fear is that Ryan, McConnell and their ilk simply do not know the nature of the beast they are cuddling up to. Let me quote from the German philosopher and opponent of National Socialism, Helmut Kuhn as he described the eventual acceptance of National Socialism by intellectuals who were at first against it:
"There is no more ardent champion of freedom than the speculative idealist. But since he believed he discerned in human history the footprints of God in his passage through time, and in the State the divine instrument for conferring on liberty a concrete form, his very concern for freedom could make him an advocate of unreserved submission. He believed in Christianity but he disbelieved in Christ's teaching."
Although I am not a Conservative and disagree deeply with many conservative positions, I can understand many of their philosophical and political disagreements with the liberal point of view, points of view that I sometimes disagree with myself on occasion.
But fascist thought is an entirely different animal. It combines a conservative viewpoint with an authoritarian foundation and uses a false populism to gain octane. Let us be clear: Trump's toxic tweeting is a display of power, aimed at whomever he does not like or whomever he feels has insulted him personally. For Trump l'etat c'est him.
Politicians were born to be insulted. It is part of being in public office. There will always be someone who thinks you are the devil, whether you are Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton, John Adams or James Madison. But for most politicians, this is a workable situation. Now the cards are in a different order. We have, as far as I can see, never had a Federal office holder of this level whose authoritarian streak was central to their political philosophy, whose entire chameleon-like philosophy was actually built around this singular emptiness. Other people have pointed out and written about this and I don't intend to go into obvious examples right now. Instead, I am appealing, strangely enough, to conservatives to get some backbone and get it quickly. Let me state this to conservatives clearly:
Though you may drift toward the Trump, you will never have power. What happened to German, conservative nationalists in the late 1920's will happen to you as well. What you do when you drift to Trumpism is confer a sense of legitimacy on a fundamentally illegitimate use of power to coerce, bully and intimidate. Though your belief may be that you can use Trump to institutionalize many of your own beliefs about governing, turning these beliefs into policy and law, actually history tells us that Trump will use you to gain stature and legitimacy, to give what is a purely bogus and self-centered approach to ruling the air of rigor and thoughtfulness. If you care about your philosophy of governance, you need to stand up now. Counter-intuitively, you need to work against your own desire for power and say this is not the way there. The authoritarian streak, this un-American odor, is simply not the way to govern. And further, you need to expose this one-way populist for the plutocrat he actually is, a man who sucks up power from the adulation of people he will undoubtedly betray when it suits him.
Do you think I'm being alarmist? Let me quote from Helmut Kuhn's article in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy in an entry on National Socialism:
"Under the pretext of quelling a rebellion of the SA (storm troops) allegedly engineered by Col. Rohm, Hitler ordered a massacre on June 30, 1934. Among the victims was Edgar J. Jung, one of the best-known exponents of the new conservatism. This act of lawless savagery was hailed as a saving deed not only by the intimidated and demoralized Reichstag but also by an eminent legal philosopher, Carl Schmitt (who maintained) that the murder of a large number of men without indictment or process of law signified the creation of a new order of law and justice."
When you stand smiling next to a devil (am I using too strong a word for you?), you have decided to trade something you have, in the belief you can get something else. There is an exchange of coin here, whether silver for lead, true conservatism for power.
We find ourselves in a situation that needs to be resisted by all, liberals and conservatives alike. It needs to be resisted because an authoritarian view, once it takes root, is the opposite of liberty and true populism, a real populism that Thomas Jefferson would have subscribed to. Trump is not a populist and he is not a conservative. Who this soon-to-be resident of the White House should be is someone honest people in both camps should say no to.
Just this morning I heard that a public library in Illinois found all its books on Islam defaced. Alt-right groups have decided that the swastika is perhaps, in their words, turning people off. So they are burying that symbol. But how far underground do you think it will be buried and when will it, lying there in the dark, germinating, rise up again?
Do you think it can't happen here? You're wrong.