Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Is America in the Process of Losing its Innocence?

It looks like Trump has won enough in yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries that he is the likely Republican candidate.  I think this is a sad day for the Republican Party, and an even sadder day for America and the world.  Trump’s rise is a sign that America is in danger of losing its status as an exceptional country, and is becoming just another country in a big world filled with problems.  It is in danger of electing an authoritarian despot, just like so many other countries have all too sadly done.

There are many reasons I am appalled by Trump.  He is remarkably wrong in many, many ways to be president of the United States.  But let me just write about one issue – authoritarianism.  Trump is, or is pretending to be, an authoritarian.  America has been very, very lucky so far.  We have not been guilty of electing monsters to be our leaders. There have been many presidents that have engendered a lot of opposition, but none have been actual monsters.

Other countries have to live with a past that includes monsters.  Italy had Mussolini (whom Trump consciously or unconsciously mimics in his face and body language); Italy also had Caesar; Russia had Stalin, (and Lenin, and Peter the Great, and now Putin), China has Mao Tse Tung (and a few thousand years of brutal rulers); Japan had crazed generals; and of course Germany had Hitler.  These countries all lost their innocence long ago.  They were seduced by authoritarian leaders who became monstrous despots and war mongers. 

I don’t know if Trump is capable of sinking to those depths, I certainly hope that he is all show and little reality, but this is a man who is overtly campaigning on the promise to be a war criminal, to end first amendment protection of a critical press, and who refuses to disavow the KKK with anything other than annoyance and impatience that he is being asked to do so.  If Donald Trump is real, he should be terrifying. 

Why?  Why are Republicans voting for Trump?  People say old white people are angry at government.  Sure, that’s true.  People say people who believe in conspiracy theories are drawn to Trump.  OK, that’s probably true.  But, is that what is happening?

I think that the explanation of Trump can be found in a brilliant book written after WWII by psychologist Erich Fromme “Escape from Freedom.”  Fromme’s thesis was that authoritarian people were drawn to Hitler and Stalin and empowered them.  They wanted an authoritarian personality like themselves to rule brutally, like they would if they had the power.  They got Hitler.  They got Stalin.  It was not good  - for anyone, not even for them.

I believe the one trait of Trump supporters is that they are authoritarian personalities, and have a will to dominate, and see brutal domination as what is needed in a dangerous world, and in a government that refuses to do exactly what they want.

Just a final thought – blacks and Native Americans are under no illusion about the brutal nature of America’s past, so maybe my analysis is flawed.  But America is perhaps best explained by English Historian Paul Johnson made the point in “A History of the American People” that the United States has always had two parallel energies in operation – idealism and greed.  The slaughter of the indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans should disabuse us all of the notion that brutality and domination are not part of the American character.  But, so far in our history our despotism has not gone beyond our own shores the way some of our older, sadder neighboring countries have done (early 20th century empire building as an exception).

I hope I paint too dark a picture of a reality show personality that has figured out how to get TV ratings and win votes.  I hope that when you scratch beneath the surface of Donald Trump all you find is a shallow, vain narcissist who only wants to be worshiped.  I just don’t know how far he will go to make people kiss his ring.  Looking at Chris Christie who was forced by Trump to stand behind him while he gave his acceptance speech, looking like he was a captured hostage with a knife to his throat, is not a good sign about what Trump will make people do to kiss his… ring.