Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Godwin's Law is obsolete: Roger Cohen sounds the fascist alarm

Like most people with any pretense to argumentative discipline, I've long subjected myself to a broad version of Godwin's Law -- that any comparison of a current situation to Hitler's rise is likely to be fatuous, sloppy, alarmist.  A more general stricture: you don't let loose with the ultimate f-bomb, fascist -- so often a catch-all for any alleged impingement on liberty.

No more. As Trump's promises of mass violence and discrimination against Mexicans and Muslims sprouted this fall, and his hold on a growing chunk of the electorate grew, the question of whether he's a fascist got some serious media scrutiny. Robert Paxton, one of the foremost scholars of fascism, essentially answered yes and no a few weeks ago. In brief, while Trump is too purely narcissistic to put forward a developed mystical vision of tribalized national glory -- his "vision" of America is basically "follow me and win win win like me" -- he has all the other core elements: a narrative of national decline, scapegoating of marginalized groups, theatrical deployment of violence and promise of more violence, intimidation of media, refusal to accept losses, grandiose self-display.

As Trump has established a near-lock on the Republican nomination, his support swelling and solidifying, it's become clear that Godwin's Law is obsolete, as I tweeted a few days ago. Today an establishment stalwart, the New York Times's Roger Cohen, ventriloquizing all of Europe  sounds the alarm, full-blast:

LONDON — Europe, the soil on which Fascism took root, is watching the rise of Donald Trump with dismay. Contempt for the excesses of America is a European reflex, but when the United States seems tempted by a latter-day Mussolini, smugness in London, Paris and Berlin gives way to alarm. Europe knows that democracies can collapse.

It’s not just that Trump retweets to his six million followers a quote attributed to Mussolini: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” It’s not just that Trump refuses to condemn David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who has expressed support for him. It’s not just that violence is woven into Trump’s language as indelibly as the snarl woven into his features — the talk of shooting somebody or punching a protester in the face, the insulting of the disabled, the macho mockery of women, the anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican tirades. It’s not just that he could become Silvio Berlusconi with nukes.

It’s the echoes, now unmistakable, of times when the skies darkened. Europe knows how democracies collapse, after lost wars, in times of fear and anger and economic hardship, when the pouting demagogue appears with his pageantry and promises. America’s Weimar-lite democratic dysfunction is plain to see. A corrupted polity tends toward collapse.

Trump is telling people something is rotten in the state of America. The message resonates because the rot is there.
That's it. We're there, though our society is under far less stress than those of Italy and Germany when they fell under spells cast by strongmen. It should prove true that our antibodies are stronger, too. One good sign is that the Clinton camp is taking Trump very, very seriously -- although sounding the fascist alarm struck me as a missing element in this Times account of their strategizing (along with emphasizing his business incompetence, as in the 2006 founding of Trump Mortgage).

More immediately, it will be fascinating to watch Republican leadership react as Trump's hold on the nomination becomes a lock. While there are encouraging #NeverTrump murmurs out there, I suspect that most will jump with First Fellow Traveler Christie onto the not-yet-sinking airship.

It would be very strange if a country in its sixth year of economic recovery, however tenuous, and prudently governed on the highest level in spite of itself, proves to hold enough "rot" to put a megalomaniacal hyperaggressive incompetent over the top. It would be a cruel irony -- and astounding reaction -- if a country that elected an uber-cerebral black president twice whipped round an elected a champion of white supremacists. But mass psychosis runs strange courses. Our fascist acid test is upon us.

an all too satisfying fricative explosion, 

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