May 7, 2018: America could never become a totalitarian State… Right?

When I was a boy, our home was divided by a sibling in the US Marine Corps and another in marches against the Vietnam War. Significantly younger than both, differences were a mystery to me. But I wasn’t the only one confused. As pressures grew, my parents tried to adjust, though not always sure to what. To many it was a mystery how the Heartland could find itself centered in a firestorm ignited by National Guard murders at Kent State, our university closed by riots and burned buildings. [1] But what was clear even then, and persists to this day, was that our close nit family was a casualty of hostile ideologies that hardened with time. That core of community, where I felt a sense of family belonging with its attendant meaning for the only period in my life, never recovered.

When Ronald Reagan arrived on the scene during my high school years, I was inspired to hear a public figure with a positive message. Finally, I thought, I can stop feeling bad about Vietnam. Whatever Reagan’s policies, irrelevant to a kid, I felt pride in my country instead of disgust. This was Reagan’s talent, the opposite of Trump. Which is not to say Trump’s rhetoric is always wrong.

Stepwise since Reagan, his GOP mutated into neoconservatives powered by Vice President Cheney’s corruption, then the forgotten austerity of an obstructionist Tea Party, and finally absolutist populism with a fondness for America’s enemy and murderer, the Dictator of Russia. [2] All the while as what economists Autor, Dorn, and Hanson label The China Shock inflicted “underestimated adjustment costs and distributional consequences.” [3] Translation: mass unemployment, dislocated families, and “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” as Trump rightly put it. [4] After Reagan, Republicans ceased to think creatively. [5] Intellectuals who can argue for conservative ideals from the perspective of reason have been vilified by their own Right as not visceral enough. Conservatism is in ruins, but for much bigger reasons than mere incompetence.

Each of these steps was a signal that Arnold Toynbee’s diagnosis was correct: “Civilizations disintegrate when leaders stop responding creatively, [sinking into] nationalism, militarism, and tyranny of a despotic minority… death by suicide…” [6] Because all civilizations are self-destructive. The boon and bane of our species—innovation—is what humans do. But technical and social innovations hurl civilizations apart as they struggle to hold themselves together. Society is a giant machine that humans build. It then acquires a power of its own. A kind of artificial intelligence of invisible hands that will strangle its maker. It takes creative thinkers with counter-innovations to save us from it. To adjust, when most aren’t sure to what.

This devolution of leadership has left the Right with no inspiration beyond their constant revival of evils committed by the Left as sanction for their own. Hence the refrain of Barack Obama (not in office), Hillary Clinton (she lost), and Bill Clinton (gone 18 years). The litany of largely imaginary crimes are the daily fodder of our Joseph Goebbels imitators. As Eric Hoffer showed, true believers first and foremost must deny reality or reinvent it to protect their fragile dogmas, which is all the Right has now. [7]

I’d prefer to label our newsworthy Right and Left as “fringe,” but the fringe has come to dominate America. Thank our Joseph Goebbels imitators; self-reinforcing echo chambers; internet amplification of otherwise unheard cranks; simplistic application of motivated-reason accepting only evidence that makes us feel better, and motivated-morality applying morality only to the other tribe. Add to this, structural flaws like Gerrymandering and primaries, both inciting the least reasoned / most radical to lead the way, and it’s no wonder America is rotting in absolutism laced with its many pathogens. [8]

Absolutism nurtures ignorance, because truth lowers the fever. Our propagandists have fortunes to make by boiling the blood to rally the troops. Inhaling this infected atmosphere produces a kind of delirium that’s easily steered with false promises of salvation. Among the most powerful is something I once had: belonging and its attendant meaning. As a disconnected nation of strangers, more than anything we yearn for belonging. In this Clan Age, absolutism offers an emotionally charged lure: Swear to the creed and your emptiness is filled with a simple act of free will. Choose well the new God.

All this has people asking, could America become a totalitarian State? Like the failed democracy of Athens, the failed Republic of Rome, or today’s Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Egypt, and The Philippines. As Freedom House reports, “For the 12th consecutive year freedom has declined, with 71 countries suffering… This democratic recession is global.” [9] Or as one Latin American so familiar with their many despots put it, “We’ve seen this movie before, just never in English.” [10] The legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues American authoritarianism has commenced. [11] Consider the dictatorial nature of Trump’s actions, or antics, cover up, and institutional assaults by boot lickers in Congressman like Devin Nunes, Mike Conaway, Mark Meadows, and Jim Jordan. [12] Loyalists are in place. The propaganda arm well established.

Hannah Arendt recalled her own witness to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, when supporters of totalitarian regimes treated evidence “as non-facts…in line with the totalitarian contempt for facts and reality…” [13] This, and the rampant conspiracy theories she chronicles prepared the mental ground for action. Like Stalin’s Great Purge with millions of his own people murdered. “Post-factuality is pre-fascism,” writes Yale historian Timothy Snyder. [14] “When Mr. Trump calls journalists ‘enemies of the people,’ he’s quoting Joseph Stalin.” And trashing our Constitution his supporters pretend to love.

Absorbing the brunt of The China Shock and incompetent leadership, the Right’s anger is as understandable as the giddy thrill of Trump’s assault on political correctness. What’s not consistent is their moral conversion. The new God is not the old God.

Against Trump, one in four Christian evangelicals have been true to the moral teachings of Jesus, while 3 in 4 betray every major verse we know. [15] Trump’s supporters cheer at his pep rallies when he claims to hit back ten times harder, while Jesus counsels, “Turn the other cheek.” Trump and his sycophants blame everyone but himself for his own failings, rejecting “Pull the plank from your own eye first.” For Trump and his followers, only winning matters, no matter how shameful the means. But, “What good is it to win the world and lose your soul?” And while Trump and his propagandists share and defend his liar’s addiction, Jesus said, “Seek the truth to set you free.” [16] Such duplicity is all the more grotesque for the Right’s deception of their own Savior.

Does this make Trump’s Christian supporters, hypocrites? Not to them. For many, Trump is a “gift from God.” [17] Like Cyrus, King of Persia, who freed captured Jews from Babylon, Trump will free Christian conservatives from liberals. [18] King David was a beast too, but God used him as a tool for good. [19] (Recall, Paul condemned this notion as reprehensible. [20])

Similar excuses are given by the morally vacant Flight 93 Election, [21] and those many email viruses the Right bathes in, like the call to arms penned by Livermore, CA Mayor Dr. Marshall Kamena. [22] Except, of course, per usual, it was written by a Right-wing blogger with poor Kamena’s name attached. But never mind. It’s the ignition of emotions that matter, not truth. As Thomas Paine wrote, when a man so “prostitutes the chastity of his mind…he has prepared himself for commission of every other crime.” [23]

And yet, if a Trump supporting Christian could win a foot race and its million dollar prize for his church to feed the poor, would he cheat? Ride a horse, perhaps, drive a car? Isn’t winning for some greater good what matters? Do immoral means to moral ends pervert those ends? Is this why our Founders gave us the Constitution they did, because process is a moral matter?

So far, that Constitution has stopped Trump’s quest to cure his septic inferiority with dictatorial power. But can that document tame the passion of millions, called by their new Idol and his media lairs to destroy the Founder’s creation? Will it be that immoral fraction of once moral Christians who betrayed their God and our Constitution that lead us to tyranny if it happens? If we American’s ever so fancied ourselves to believe this Republic could never become a totalitarian State, we now see how wrong that is.

America is in the grip of hostile ideologies, hardened with time. As the Right continues its tailspin, their yearning for authoritarianism rises. [24] But eras like this are educational tools. For history, for political philosophy, human psychology, and that all-inclusive topic, the rise and fall of civilizations. Which will it be?

Until next time, Monday July 2, 2018.

[1] Student Protests of the 1970s , Library News, University Of Iowa, 5/4/2010
[2] James Kirchick, How the GOP became the party of Putin , Brookings Institute, July 27, 2017
[3] David H. Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, The China Shock: Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade , Annu. Rev. Econ. 2016.8:205-240
[4] The Inaugural Address , January 20, 2017
[5] One example of Reagan’s creative thinking came out of his response to MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Instead of the assurance of destroying both sides in a nuclear exchange as a deterrent to war, why not seek to eliminate the threat through a defensive shield: his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Even still, pundits claim this was a failure. And yet, the remarkably successful anti-missile missile PAC-3 (in production and fielded for 20 years), and its follow-on THAAD are products of SDI. The PAC-3 scenario was said to be impossible because “It’s like hitting a bullet with a bullet.” Except bullets don’t travel nearly so fast, nor are they self-guided with pinpoint precision onboard radars. Reagan then leveraged SDI with Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik, resulting in the successful Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 at Geneva.
[6] Wikipedia: Arnold Toynebee
[7] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, January 19, 2010
[8] JONATHAN RAUCH, How American Politics Went Insane , Atlantic Monthly, JULY/AUGUST 2016
[9] STEWART PATRICK, Global democracy retreats as authoritarianism marches forth , The Hill, 03/04/18
[10] Gideon Rose, Is Democracy Dying, Foreign Affairs, pg. 8, May/June 2018
[11] Cass Sunstein, Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America, Dey Street Books, 2018
[12] BRENT BUDOWSKY, Mueller marches on, while the House GOP covers up, The Hill, 3/13/18
[13] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Harcourt, pg. xxxii, 1985
[14] Timothy Snyder, Donald Trump and the New Dawn of Tyranny , TIME, March 3, 2017
[15] Not all Christian evangelicals support Trump. One in four do not. Some are vociferously opposed and practice the teachings they hold dear. Eric Sammons, Christians' Support For Trump Undermines Their Public Witness, The Federalist, October 12, 2016
Neil J. Young, Dear Evangelicals, A Begrudging” Vote for Trump Is Still a Vote for Trump, Religion Dispatches, October 4, 2016
Russell Mooresept, Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?, New York Times, September 17, 2015
[16] Mathew 5:39, Mathew 7:5, Mark 8:36, John 8:32,
[17] Wayne C. Anderson, Reader's view: Trump a temporary reprieve, gift from God , Duluth News Tribune, Jan 13, 2018
[18] Ed Kilgore, Bibi and the Christian Right Agree: Trump Is the New Cyrus the Great , New York Magazine, March 5, 2018
[19] DAVID FRENCH, Imagining Trump’s Evangelicals in King David’s Time , National Review, March 22, 2018
[20] Paul: Romans 3:8 , Bible Hub
[21] Publius Decius Mus, The Flight 93 Election , CRB, September 5, 2016
[22] Publius Decius Mus, Democratic Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena on Donald Trump, Snopes, November 22, 2017
[23] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, pg. 8, Prometheus Books, 1984 (1794)
[24] Charles Kaiser, Can it Happen Here? review: urgent studies in rise of authoritarian America , The Guardian, April 8, 2018
Thomas B. Edsall, The Contract With Authoritarianism , New York Times, April 5, 2018
Revised 2/12/19. Added the tasty description of "boot lickers" for the likes of Nunes, Jordan, Meadows, and Conaway. Individuals we should bronze for their exceptional talents.
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Published on May 07, 2018 07:54
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