In Illinois, Obama Hits the Midterm Campaign Trail—and Trump

Fascist politics bear particular and notably contradictory hallmarks:

  • ideas of equality are used to cloak discrimination;
  • demands for “law and order” camouflage growing corruption and official lawlessness.

Those descriptions are increasingly applicable to the current state of affairs in the United States, and, more extraordinarily, they mirror Obama’s comments at Urbana-Champaign. “Demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems,” he said.

  • “They promise to fight for the little guy even as they cater to the wealthiest and the most powerful.
  • They promise to clean up corruption, then plunder away.
  • They start undermining the norms that insure accountability, try to change the rules to entrench their power further.
  • And they appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all.”

How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.

Donald Trump Presents: ‘Celebrity Impunity’

conservative author and activist Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book, “Obama’s America,” full of gross speculations about the sex life of the president’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who was a pioneering anthropologist. “Ann’s sexual adventuring may seem a little surprising in view of the fact that she was a large woman who kept getting larger,” wrote D’Souza. He described her as a “playgirl” who used “her American background and economic and social power to purchase the romantic attention of third-world men.”

D’Souza’s insinuations had little to do with his ostensible thesis, which was that Obama sought to undermine America. It was simply a timeworn insult — calling someone’s mom fat and promiscuous — that tells us nothing about Obama’s family, but a lot about D’Souza’s character.

.. D’Souza is a felon who, in 2014, pleaded guilty to routing illegal campaign donations through a woman he was having an affair with, and the woman’s husband.

.. At the time, D’Souza was married and serving as president of the evangelical King’s College. His ex-wife would later accuse him of physical abuse.

.. D’Souza pardon, like those of the former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and the former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, is a message to Trump confederates facing legal trouble.

.. D’Souza was convicted of one of the same crimes, a campaign finance violation, that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen is now being investigated for.

  • .. the study estimating that around 4,600 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria
  • outrage over migrant children ripped from their parents’ arms at the border;
  • and an incipient trade war with our allies.

.. D’Souza, who made his name in the 1990s fighting campus political correctness, once had a reputation as a middlebrow conservative provocateur, but he’s really more gutter-dwelling troll.

.. In the Trump era, he’s become even worse. He mocked survivors of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting who cried after the Florida Legislature voted down an assault weapons ban, tweeting, “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”

.. even if Trump was acting out of instinct rather than calculation, he has an intuitive ability to speak to his supporters’ dark impulses,

and an insatiable need to smash boundaries that constrained his predecessors.

.. Fascism, Ilyin wrote approvingly, is “a redemptive excess of patriotic arbitrariness.” Trump has almost certainly never read this line, but he understands it.

Madeleine Albright Is Worried. We Should Be, Too.

“If we think of fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab,”

.. Albright has long been an optimistic exponent of American exceptionalism, a consummate establishment figure not given to alarmist diatribes. It should be shocking that she feels the need to warn us not just about fascism abroad, but also at home.

.. Albright is not accusing Trump of being a full-blown fascist. He has yet to resort to extrajudicial violence — except, of course, for encouraging his acolytes to beat up protesters at rallies — and his efforts to undermine the rule of law have had only mixed success, in part due to his own fecklessness.

.. “The herd mentality is powerful in international affairs. Leaders around the globe observe, learn from, and mimic one another.”

.. “What they do have in common,” she said, “is this assumption, or decision, that they embody the spirit of the nation and that they have the answers and that their instincts are good, that they are smarter than everybody else and can do things by themselves.”

.. I hadn’t realized that Mussolini had promised to “drenare la palude,” or “drain the swamp,” and that his crowds jeered and booed clusters of reporters at his rallies.

.. Mussolini, like Trump, thought it unsanitary to shake hands.

.. Of Chávez, Albright writes, his “communications strategy was to light rhetorical fireworks and toss them in all directions.” He gloried in dominating the media, “boasting about his accomplishments and deriding — in the crudest terms — real and suspected foes.

.. Albright is well known for her collection of brooches, which she uses like shiny emojis to send subtle diplomatic messages and make wry jokes.

.. she found out that Russia had bugged a conference room near her State Department office; at her next meeting with Russian diplomats, she wore an insect pin. When I spoke to her, she was wearing a silver brooch of a winged figure. I asked her what it was. “It is Mercury,” she said. “The messenger.”