“Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others will join you. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone. You speak privately to your colleagues…but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist’. And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and can’t prove it. Your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic.” –From chapter 13 of They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer
Milton Mayer wrote his seminal work after World War Two, responding to questions about how Hitler came to power and got away so long with his maniacal agenda in a modern, civilized, cultured twentieth-century Germany. Mayer studied ten men, “not men of distinction”, who discussed how incrementally their nation slipped into fascism. They just wanted to live their lives, and they did best they could, realizing too late freedoms they once enjoyed eroded right under them. But because it happened gradually, few noticed, or, if they noticed, few said anything because it would have made them seem paranoid. Slight disturbances did not appear to many to be that dire.
We all know how that turned out.
I’m extremely concerned. This is too important to skirt around anymore. If it makes me an “alarmist”, so be it.
Milton Mayer’s book is a study in the rise of totalitarianism. We would do well paying heed to its chilling warnings, because January 20th Donald Trump, a man who has demonstrated disdain for our international reputation, decency, compassion, decorum, and democratic institutions, who is threatening to use the White House as his corporate boardroom, is going to be sworn in as our nation’s forty-fifth president. Now, while I’m not going to invoke Godwin’s Law, I am going to sound the alarm, because if we do not acknowledge the totalitarian trend creeping into the American melting pot, we risk being the next ignominious chapter in history. Like Milton Mayer, sometime in the not-so-distant future is going to write a study about how we came to such an embarrassing conclusion.
In the streets…
Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported 867 hate crimes committed all over the country. That is only within ten days. New York City alone has seen a 115-percent increase in bias crimes, reports the Observer. According to an online SPLC Teaching Tolerance Project survey conducted five days after the election, ninety percent of over 10,000 educators reported school climate has been “negatively affected”. Most believe it will have a lingering impact on school environment. The nature of some of these hate crimes range from “verbal harassment, the use of slurs, derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags.”
White nationalists, David Duke being the most prominent, are hailing (no pun intended) Trump’s victory as permission for overt racism. On Saturday, the Ku Klux Klan marched in North Carolina in “klavalkade” honoring Trump. November 19th, approximately 250 white nationalists, a.k.a., the “alt-right”, descended on the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. to celebrate “the year of Donald Trump”. “The alt-right is here, the alt-right is not going anywhere, and the alt-right is going to change the world. And you all need to pay attention to this,” said Richard Spencer to reporters during the day-long conference his group, the National Policy Institute, hosted. Spencer praised Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, the same man who in July bragged to Mother Jones his website, Breitbart News, had become the “platform for the alt-right.” Spencer also approved of Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, the same Jeff Sessions, who, in 1986, was determined to be too racist to be appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. General Michael Flynn, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the man who deemed Islam a “political ideology” that has “metastasized into a malignant cancer”, is Trump’s choice for National Security Adviser.
Any other President-elect would publicly address these incidents in an attempt to quell them. Not this one. Instead of speaking up, Trump is threatening to revoke citizenship of anyone accused of flag burning.
Give him a chance?…
A week ago, Trump “made a deal” with Carrier to prevent 1,100 jobs from fleeing to Mexico. Carrier was all set to ship its operations from Indiana until Trump apparently swooped in with Indiana governor and VP-elect Mike Pence to threaten Carrier with a “damn tax” as Trump promised on the campaign trail. The corporate media, of course, is touting this as proof Trump fights for American workers because he supposedly saved 1,000 jobs, which is exactly the image Trump was trying to create. But as journalist Joe Madison says, “read with the third eye”. He didn’t actually save 1,000 jobs. It was 800. Carrier is still shipping 1,300 jobs to Mexico. Moreover, Carrier’s parent company is United Technologies, which, as it turns out, earned $6 billion in defense contracts. Hmmm. How did Trump “save” those jobs? By offering Carrier a tax-payer-funded bailout to the tune of $7,000,000. So the people of Indiana, the very people whose jobs Trump supposedly saved, now have to foot the bill for a company that made $7.6 billion last year. Instead of attempting to address the broken trade policies responsible for outsourcing millions of jobs for cheaper labor and higher profits, Trump capitulated to Carrier’s threat to leave the country, exactly the way Carrier intended him to. As Bernie Sanders wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post December 1st, “Carrier just showed corporations how to beat Donald Trump.” And, I’ll add, not just Carrier. There are corporations gearing up to leave the U.S. that now have a precedent to use Trump’s bailout as leverage to increase their corporate welfare.
Chuck Jones, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, is one person not taken in by Trump’s smoke and mirrors over Carrier. Jones told the Washington Post Trump “lied his ass off. I think he ought to make sure he gets all the facts straight before he starts talking about what he’s done.” True to form, Trump took to Twitter to blast Jones. “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”
Now Trump supporters are threatening Jones.
Very mature. Trump has a history of opposing union efforts in his hotels, and as President of Trump International, that isn’t surprising. As President of the United States, assailing union bosses is nothing short of disgusting, base, petty, and disturbing. Who’s next, teachers’ unions? Nurses’ unions? Electrical workers, auto workers, communication workers? How would he have handled the Verizon strike last spring? Better yet, how would he have handled the automotive industry’s near collapse eight years ago? As a new president, President Obama had two weeks–two weeks–to foment a substantial bailout for the auto industry, which came back and totally repaid its loan. Would a Trump administration let it fail, and with it, all the contracts depending on it? This is authoritarian behavior. It’s something a leader in a banana republic does, not the man poised to take the oath of office in forty-two days.
And here comes the cabinet (billionaires et al)…
- Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary choice, is a billionaire school voucher “philanthropist” with no teaching experience, sent her own children to private schools, and is bent on dismantling public education. So the woman Trump put in charge of public education wants to destroy public education by de-funding it and siphoning public money to charter schools.
- Wilbur Ross, pick for Commerce Secretary, “king of bankruptcy”, creates new companies from assets of defaulted ones.
- Elaine Chao (wife of G.O.P. senator Mitch McConnell) sits on $37 million and several corporate boards.
- Steve Mnuchin, former Goldman Sachs banker, the same man who once foreclosed on a 90-year-old woman’s home over a $.27 payment error, is worth $40 million dollars and tapped to be Trump’s Treasury Secretary.
- Congressman Tom Price, worth $13.6 million, is Trump’s selection for health secretary, which is perfect for when Republicans get around to robbing 20,000,000 Affordable Care Act recipients of their health benefits since he has been one of the ACA’s most vocal opponents.
- Former pediatric neurosurgeon worth $26 million, Dr. Ben Carson, who had endured Trump’s beleaguering during the presidential primaries, is Trump’s pick for Housing and Urban Development–despite not having one iota of experience.
- Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, architect of law suits challenging President Obama’s climate change policies, who has advocated for the dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency, profits significantly from the fossil fuel industry, is Trump’s pick for EPA Chair.
- Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, in 1986 was determined to be too racist to be appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.
- General Michael Flynn, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who once deemed Islam a “political ideology” that has “metastasized into a malignant cancer”, is Trump’s choice for National Security Adviser.
So, they have money. What they don’t have is experience; or, if they do have experience, it’s experience working against the very agencies Trump wants them to lead. Trump talked about “draining the swamp” of Washington insiders, considers himself the common man’s savior, yet names billionaires and generally unqualified insiders to his cabinet. This is classic “starve the beast” strategy that began under President Reagan. Basically, if they get behind a government program they want to eliminate, they control the funding, cut it off–“starve it”–then stand back and say, “I told you it was a failure”.
Sure, there are still confirmation hearings democrats will attend, and we should urge them to really stand up to these nominees. Some positions, though,–321, to be exact–do not require the Senate’s simple-majority vote. That means Trump has the authority to appoint low (and so not-so-low)-level positions with the ability to make our daily lives very challenging. We rarely hear of positions like “Treasurer of the United States”, “Director of the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement”, “Commissioner, Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation”, or “Director, Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement”, to name few. These are all positions possessing great influence over policies affecting millions and do not require Congressional approval. Based on whom he has named thus far, imagine the others Trump will appoint when they’re not under scrutiny. Consider also how the middle class has been shrinking the past four decades due to Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics and globalization. Trump’s cast of glitterati should not make us feel well provided for. They do not and will not have our common interests in mind. They will be protecting their assets and the assets of the donor class like the Koch brothers and myriad republican front groups pumping obscene amounts of wealth into our political process, that same process Trump admitted benefiting from during the primaries. If these characters get in, it is not going to be business as usual–it’s going to be worse. We are going to see a return of a medieval-style class system from which we always considered ourselves immune. What do we expect from someone without any governing experience himself?
Then there’s the media…
The press is the only industry mentioned in the Constitution. The “Father of the Constitution“, James Madison, and its framers, believed the press should be government’s “fourth estate”. They understood a free and open press is vital to democracy.
The entire campaign, Trump trashed the media as being “unfair” to him, when in fact, one of the reasons Trump was elected is because the mainstream press afforded him thousands of hours of free coverage over anything he said or did. No matter what it was, he could always count on the cable news networks and newspapers to pander to him. Trump equals ratings; ratings equal money; naturally, Trump is the one to provide audiences with the bombast, controversy, and drama they craved. Hillary Clinton was just too clinical. All the corporate news disseminated about her were discredited red herrings about emails and the Clinton Foundation. There was hardly a word, though, about the Trump Foundation that actually broke the law, nor about Trump University, which bilked students of their life savings, for which Trump settled for $25,000,000. Still, this did not stop our illustrious President-elect from summoning the “dishonest” media executives to Trump Tower on November 21 to lecture in Trump University-style journalistic ethics. He reportedly labeled CNN the “Clinton News Network”, and told CNN President Jeff Zucker, “I hate your network. Everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed.” He repeatedly attacked the “failing” New York Times via his favorite mode of expression–Twitter.
Why is this a problem? Throughout history, a primary tool of authoritarian regimes has been the de-legitimization of an open media so it becomes a personal propaganda machine for the state. Control information, control the people. We have the President-elect of the United States accusing the only industry mentioned in the Constitution of fraud. Having problems with how issues are covered–or not covered–is one thing. Trump has previously threatened to “open up our libel laws” (that don’t exist) so he can find an avenue to prosecute any news organization that negatively criticizes him, and has threatened to jail journalists he feels are not being “honest”; i.e., disseminating propaganda supporting him no matter what he does and says. In another case of broken protocol, Trump even ditched the traditional traveling press pool. Spokespeople for his team state it’s just “temporary”, but given his track record and disdain for the media, can we believe this time he is sincere?
On Twitter (of course), Trump assailed the cast of Hamilton for urging Mike Pence to “uphold American values” after a performance Pence attended, and Alec Baldwin for his impersonation of Trump on Saturday Night Live. He’s attacked 289 people on Twitter since declaring his candidacy for POTUS. Mature, right? This assault on anyone with negative criticism of him is more than just evidence of someone unable to take a joke; it is the quality of a unhinged narcissist with the emotional age of a middle schooler. Just think of what he might tweet when a world leader doesn’t deign to stroke his ego. He has already pissed off the Chinese by speaking to the President of Taiwan, something no president has done for four decades because of our precarious trade relationship with China. The impulsivity Trump demonstrates on Twitter is disturbing, and it really raises questions about whether or not some day soon we will have to redefine “Twitter war”.
Now Trump is flying around the country on a self-congratulatory tour to bask in the adoration of supporters who gave him a “mandate”. The problem is, he doesn’t exactly have a mandate since Hillary Clinton received over 2.5 million more votes. This doesn’t make any difference to him since he is convinced he would have won the popular vote had millions of people not voted “illegally” despite not producing any tangible evidence of voter fraud. In other words, Trump thinks he would have won the popular vote if fewer people had voted. One would assume, as President-elect of the United States, Trump would want to rule out any discrepancies in the system he has labeled “rigged”. His obsessing over Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s recount efforts, then, makes no sense. If he knows he won the hearts and minds of America, and truly wants to represent an America where all voices are given equal deference, wouldn’t he logically welcome a recount to confirm that? Apparently not. Just like releasing his tax returns would expose the fraudulent activity he has gotten away with for decades, re-counting votes might actually expose the voter suppression tactics he and the republican party perpetrated to con America into believing it was electing a savior to assuage all that plagues us.
Trump is a grave threat to our democracy. Mike Pence is a threat to our democracy. The prospective cabinet is a threat to our democracy. They are perpetrating a scam on the American people. Under them, we face threats to our freedom of speech, employment, collective bargaining, religion, education, politics, environment, and national security. Trump is a vain, ignorant man with an ax to grind, and he unfortunately will grind that ax against whatever freedoms we currently for granted. Who knows? A year from now, I may not be able to be contributing to this blog; we may not be able to say what we do on social media or mainstream media for fear of intimidation or reprisal.
Oddly enough, though, what frightens me most is not the danger Trump puts us in. It’s the ways in which people will defend that danger whether they are Trump supporters or not because history shows dictatorships do not manifest overnight. As those sad, sorry Germans Milton Mayer wrote about attested to, everything happens gradually. Few notice, and most who notice adjust and keep silent lest they be singled out as paranoids. There are already those in the “acclimatization” process, telling themselves and others this is completely normal, that we’ve survived the Alien & Sedition Acts, Espionage Act during World War I, the administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush; we can certainly survive Trump. They’re right, we’ll survive, but we will also pay a tremendous cost. Many people who voted for Donald J. Trump believed they were electing a savior. Authoritarians throughout history have seen themselves as saviors destined to single handedly rescue humanity from the government apparatus and all that ails them. He said so himself at the Republican Convention in July–“I will fix it.” Most voters who helped get him in will regret their decision. They will see, hopefully, he will not represent them. Unfortunately, they are going to take all of us with them.
So, what do we do? PUSH BACK. DO NOT ACCEPT THIS AS NORMAL. Pay attention. Speak out. Stand up. Activate. Organize. Contact your lawmakers at the first sign of any potentially hurtful legislation. If you can, donate money to some non-profit organizations likely to be under attack the next four years, like Planned Parenthood, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Free Speech TV.
Do not ignore this as an anomaly that will disappear on its own. It won’t. Ignoring it will only exacerbate it, and then we’re in for more Trumps. As Elie Wiesel famously said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
It’s happening. This is not a drill.