Category Archives: American Fascism

We are Doomed

 

Not every one likes Bill Maher.  I know he is the worst interviewer on television.  Often he does not let his guests speak, but speaks up for them instead.  As well, when he lets them speak, he has some very interesting guests from all ends of the political spectrum from Steve Bannon to Nancy Pelosi.  And he sometimes makes some very interesting points.

For example, he was the first one to predict that Trump would never resign after he was elected president. He said that almost immediately after the election in 2016!  Now every one knows that. But not many said that in 2016. But Maher has also appreciated, as few others do, that this refusal now has important consequences.  Americans seem to be tolerating, if not encouraging,  this refusal even though the peaceful transfer of power has for long been considered the most important characteristic of democracy. It is what distinguishes democracy from autocracy.

And now millions of Americans have demonstrated clearly that they don’t think this element of democracy is important. They don’t care! I have found this astonishing. Many have not. Many shrug their shoulders as if it didn’t matter.

Maher said “Well we had a good run.”  On November 8, 2022 Americans had a chance to vote for democracy. As Joe Biden and many Democrats said, “Democracy is on the ballot.”  And they were right. And it didn’t matter to millions Americans. Inflation was more important than democracy. Bill Maher predicted this 4 days before the election as if it was a foregone conclusion. This is what he said,

“Tuesday is the election and I know I should tell you to vote in the most important election ever. So, O.K., yes. You should vote.  And it should be for the one party that still stands for democracy preservation. But it’s also a waste of breath because anyone who believes that is already voting and anybody who needs to learn that isn’t watching and no one in America can be persuaded about anything anymore anyway.”

On this point Maher is right.  No one will change their mind. Trump was right when he said he could stand in Times Square, murder someone and it wouldn’t make any difference to his supporters. They are that determined to vote for him no matter what he says or does. that gives him a lot of rope.  Look at the mountains of evidence revealing his nefarious deeds. Yet, his supporters are filled with religious devotion that cannot be altered. No one can be convinced out of a theological devotion. That in itself is enough to kill democracy.

Maher gave another pertinent example—the January 6th hearings. Those hearings provided Americans with an overwhelmingly convincing narrative that Donald Trump had no respect for democracy as he led the charge against democracy and his devoted followers followed. As Maher said,

“The January 6th hearings it turned out changed nobody’s mind. Democrat Jamie Raskin said the hearings “will tell a story that will really blow the roof off the House.”  No that was Hurricane Ian. Hearings roof not blown. The Committee did a masterful job laying out the case but we live in Partisan American now. So it’s a little like doing stand-up when half the crowd only speaks Mandarin. No matter how good the material is it’s not going to go over. After all the hearings the percentage of Americans who thought Trump did nothing wrong. Went up 3 points! That’s America now.”

 

Again, Maher is right. The truth did not matter! All that mattered was that millions of people are devoted to Trump and nothing—absolutely nothing—will turn them away from their religious leader. The overwhelming narrative is irrelevant.

I am a Canadian; I have no dog in this hunt. But I do. America is the leader of the modern world. Maybe not for much longer, but for now that is true. If America coughs the rest of the world catches a cold.

 I am posting this as the election is drawing to a close. I don’t know any results. I hope Maher is wrong; if fear he is right.

Are we doomed?  Let’s see what happens tonight.

Is Civil War in the US possible?

One of the two respected jurists William S. Cohen who wrote about the disappointing actions of Republicans complaining about the Justice Department warrants at Donald Trump’s home, is a former secretary of defense and former Republican senator from Maine who was such a moderate Republican that he served as Secretary of Defence in the Democrat Clinton administration. The other, William H. Webster is a former director of the FBI and the CIA and a retired judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. He served under both Democrat and Republican administrations, including that of Donald Trump.  These are not partisans.

 

These men have pointed out that the Republican leaders, disrespect for maintaining law and order is serious, and can have very serious consequences.  They even suggested those actions might lead to Civil War! Remember these are not fringe leftists clamouring about the possibility of Civil War. These are respected lawyers who served both Democrat and Republican administrations in national security matters and they are not alarmists. They remind us that fears and warnings of Civil War are not outlandish, given the conduct of Republican leaders and the former president. They are real possibilities.

 

The opinion of Cohen and Webster was based on their personal experience and also their reading of respecting historian Barbara F. Walter who in her book “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,

 

“Walter raises valid concerns about the United States slipping into a place where civil war is possible. She writes about a netherworld of anocracy — between democracy and autocracy — a breeding ground for political violence, where the grievances and resentments of a large white underclass have greatly increased the potential for civil war.

 

These predictions once sounded like the fever dreams of far-right lunatics who would welcome such a bloody conflict; today, such predictions are coming from responsible voices such as Walter and others who have carefully studied this phenomenon around the world.”

 

 

Please note how Cohen and Webster refer to “these valid concerns” and that such opinions are not “the fever dreams of far-right lunatics.”  These concerns are brought forward by the upper echelons of American jurists and public servants. Again, this is serious stuff and should be taken seriously.

Some people have suggested Merrick and Wray should not have issued and executed the warrants at Mar-a-Lago, because the risk of causing civil unrest, which Trump in fact has been encouraging, again, but these two jurists rightly point out that, “our nation’s senior law enforcer, a man who has an impeccable record of fairness and impartiality as a distinguished jurist, cannot tailor his judgment to accommodate the rage of the lawless.

Genuine believers in the rule of law, like Merrick and Wray, must do their duty, rather than bowing to the reckless cries of lawless insurrectionists and their Republican enablers. There was a time when conservatives were dedicated to law and order. This is not one of those times. If there are no longer many conservatives, the radical left or the radical right will the vacuum.

The Rage of the Lawless

 

 

Did you read the article in the Washington Post by two outstanding lawyers and public servants, namely William S. Cohen and William H. Webster? the y commented on the right wing hysteria that followed the Department of Justice issuing warrants to enter and seize government documents from Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago Florida.

William S. Cohen is a former secretary of defense and former Republican senator from Maine. He was a moderate Republican who served as Secretary of Defence in the Democrat Clinton administration.

William H. Webster is a former director of the FBI and the CIA and a retired judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. He served under both Democrat and Republican administrations, including that of Donald Trump.

Neither is a left-wing radical. These are respected lawyers and public servants.

These two hard-headed experienced lawyers with deep knowledge of the law and national security issues have jointly issued a severe warning in the Washington Post. They commented how unusual it was for an Attorney General like Merrick Garland together with FBI director Christopher Wray to have  authorized the execution of search warrants of the home of the former president Donald Trump. Wray was a Trump appointee after Trump dismissed former director James Comey. Webster and Cohen said they both had full confidence that the warrants by these men who were “both honest and honorable men,” were justified.

.Even though it is clear to them that the warrants were rightfully issued, and executed, Cohen and Webster were highly critical of the actions of leading Republican leaders who together with the former president did their best to inflame the Trump supporters. As Cohen and Webster said,

Prominent Republicans reacted with predictable fury and heated threats of retaliation against the attorney general — unprecedented acts of vitriol based on the belief the FBI’s conduct was politically motivated rather than legally necessary. In doing so, they recklessly and knowingly undermined respect for a “law and order” institution and the men and women who risk their lives to protect us.”

 

And that is the real problem. Republicans claim to be the party of law and order, but repeatedly, in service of their former leader and president, Donald Trump, they do all they can to “reckless and knowingly” undermine “respect for law and order.” Every who saw what happened in Washington D.C. at the Capitol on January 6th knows what the effect of disrespecting law and order can lead to—violence, chaos, and insurrection. This is serious stuff, but Republican leaders seem to have forgotten it in their rush to pay obeisance to Donald Trump at the expense of the country.

As important as this issue is because it could lead to violent insurrection, Cohen and Webster think it is even more important to consider what they called “the far larger issues surrounding the conduct of the former president.” These two respected jurists acknowledged that the House Select Committee investigating the Jan.6 2021 incident, which I call an insurrection and others call a riot, acknowledged that this committee

“…has produced compelling evidence that Trump and his supporters engaged in an orchestrated six-step plan to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, culminating with the assault on the Capitol.

We share disgust and deep disappointment that the Republican Party’s decency and respect for the rule of law has been defined down to a cultish devotion to a demonstrably unprincipled man of greed and blind ambition.”

 

As a society we must learn how to contain the rage of the lawless. If we can’t do that, everything else is pretty futile. Is that not what conservatism is all about?

Trump Calls for Insurrection (Again)

 

Did you hear what Trump said? Just a couple of days ago, on September 15, 2022 Donald Trump was interviewed by a Mr. Hewitt on the radio and was asked what would happen if he was indicted. This is what Trump said said,

I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before. I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.

 

Then he was asked by Mr. Hewitt what kind of troubles, Mr. President? Trump responded this way:

“I think they’d have big problems, I just don’t think they’d stand for it.”

It was chilling. I thought of January 6th 2021. Don Lemon asked Phillip Mudd, a CNN analyst and former counterterrorism analyst if that was a threat.  Mr. Mudd’s answer was about as direct as you can get.  This was his answer:

Yes! I don’t know if that is a subtle enough answer Don. That’s a yes, Don. Let me be clear about what this is.  In the world of extremism which I followed for decades, that is what I would refer to as validation. So we saw on January 6th there were a lot of people who watch leadership. Whether it’s Lindsay Graham or other members of the White House, or the president of lawyers, who watch leadership and determine whether that leadership is validating the citizen’s belief that they were robbed. You don’t have to tell someone to go out there and commit an act of violence for them to say, ‘Well if we were robbed then it is my constitutional right and responsibility to go to the Congress and storm it.’ That is the president of the United States having witnessed January 6th saying, ‘Well let me have a redo of that. That redo will happen if I ever get indicted.’  To me as an extremist follower that is not a political statement, that is a statement that anybody who follows extremists can understand. That is validation…”

 

Juliette Kayyem, a CNN National Security Analyst agreed completely. She said,

“It is not even hinting anymore. We used to use the word “dog whistle” when we talk about Trump. This is now directing. Don’t just listen to Trump’s words. Imagine what his supporters are hearing. They are hearing the call to action…We need to call it what it is that we have a former president who is inciting violence as an extension of his political defeat. That’s what it is now.”

 

I know Trump’s supporters don’t believe anything CNN says, but I think they got this right from Trump’s own words. I listened to his words and I agree with the CNN interpretation. This was the only logical interpretation of what Trump said. This was a call to violent action if he was charge with a criminal offence  without mentioning the word. The message was absolutely clear, just as his words were absolutely clear to his supporters on January 6th. They knew what to do. And Trump was threatening to do it all over again if he was charged! This was doing what Donald Trump always does when he is cornered. He does not back down. He doubles down.

Americans must realize what Trump is doing. He is doing the same thing Hitler did after the German Reichstag burned down. The German people knew what to do and they did it.

Now the question is what will the American people do? Will they acquiesce with this dangerous slide into fascism?  I know many of his supporters will do that. They will accept that with the enthusiasm they showed on January 6, 2021.

I am not sure of what the majority of Americans will do, but I am uneasy.

Thoughtlessness

 Hannah Arendt also wrote a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She used that famous expression “the banality of evil” to describe him and his kind.  He was a man who facilitated horrid acts of violence against the Jews.  But Arendt said what set him apart was his “thoughtlessness.” To her he looked and acted like a boring accountant.

She had been shocked by how glib he was in court. He talked about exterminating millions of Jews as if it was nothing. What was there for him to admit to, he asked. He suggested, as did Himmler, that they could be reconciled with the Jews.  They had a sense of elation when they considered this possibility. But the feelings were not real. It was, in Arendt’s phrase, “an outrageous cliché.”  She said, “it was a self-fabricated stock phrase, as devoid of reality as those clichés by which people had lived for twelve years.”  As Carol Brightman said, “Clichés and conventional sentiments functioned as armor blocking the consciousness of the accused at just those painful junctures where painful intrusions of reality threatened.” These are some of the enemies of thought. In fact, during the trial Arendt had noticed how Eichmann was not perturbed by his starling contradictions. He was certainly not engaged in thinking. He was not stupid. He was just completely thoughtless.

Arendt was stunned that such horrific crimes could be committed without consciousness. She said she disagreed with Kant, who, according to her believed that stupidity was caused by a wicked heart. She contended instead that “absence of thought is not stupidity, it can be found in highly intelligent people, and a wicked heart is not its cause, it is probably the other way around, that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought.”

According to her teaching assistant Kohn, Arendt believed, as I believe, that “thinking conditions people to resist evildoing.”  Most ethicists do not accept this, but I find it profoundly compelling. I believe, like the American novelist Henry James, that ethics is high reason. Where there is no reason there is no ethics. this is what the sleep of reason is all about.

Arendt was clear when she said that everyone could think. Of course, that does not mean that everyone will think. You didn’t have to have an education to think. She was not elitist.

Arendt got mad when Jews accused her of being self-hating and anti-Jewish as a result of her book on Eichmann. She said that all she wanted to do was to think about what he had done. She wanted to understand him and that was not the same as forgiving him or being soft on the Nazis. It was her job as a philosopher to think about these things. And she thought that was very important. In the film about her, Arendt summed up her thinking this way,

“Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness. It is my responsibility to try to understand. It is the responsibility of anyone who tries to put pen to paper on this subject. Since Socrates and Plato we have understood thinking to be a silent dialogue between me and myself. In refusing to be a person Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think. And consequently he was no longer capable of making moral judgments. This inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which one had never seen before. It is true I have considered these questions in a philosophical way. The manifestation of the mind of thought is not knowledge, but the ability to tell right from wrong; beautiful from ugly. And I hope that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.  ”

 

For Hannah Arendt, what thinking meant was to train the mind to go wandering.  I love that concept. It brings me back to my concept of meandering.  I love to meander–physically and mentally. That is the essence of free thinking (and there is really no other kind) to meander through thoughts without regard to preconceived ideas, ideologies, or prejudices. Only the free mind can think. I said that. But that is a concept directly inspired by Arendt.

Arendt’s first major book was On the Origins of Totalitarianism. She thought there was something new or modern about totalitarianism. It was not like anything we had seen before. It presented profound change from everything that preceded it. It was much more than tyranny or dictatorship. It cut at individual will. It cut at our individual identity. In fact, according to one of Arendt’s most profound insights, totalitarianism cuts at our capacity to think.

As always, I ask myself how this is relevant to our times. There are not many totalitarian regimes around right now, but there are movements—various forms of populist movements—that tend in the same direction. I think often of the American near fascists—i.e. the Trumpsters, the insurrectionists on Capitol Hill that were looking to hang Mike Pence only because their leader told them that he had been betrayed by Pence.  That was enough to set off ordinary people looking to hang the vice-president of their country! Had they lost the capacity to think? To me it seemed that way.

Mutual Respect of Tyrants

 

 

To many it seems strange that Stalin and Hitler respected each other. One was a left-wing Communist, and the other supposedly a right wing fascist. They were mortal enemies weren’t they? Well yes, but also no. According to Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism,  the only man for whom Hitler had unqualified respect was ‘Stalin the genius.” She also pointed out, “Hitler recognized in the early twenties the affinity between the Nazi and the Communist movements: ‘In our movement the two extremes come together, the Communists from the left and the officers and students from the right.” Khrushchev in his speech before the twentieth Party Congress said  Stalin trusted only one man, Hitler.

Trump made it clear that the politicians he loved the most were the dictators around the world. He had little use for democratically elected leaders. Like likes like.

 

It is interesting that all 3, Stalin, Hitler, and Trump, found their supporters growing in the same fertile soil. Arendt described this as follows,

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

 

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their numbers from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.”

 

Isn’t this a perfect description of Trump’s supporters whom Hillary Clinton most unwisely dismissively called a “basket of deplorables” 60 years later? Dismissing these people is outlandishly unwise. It is from such soil that fanatical followers can be found, precisely what political leaders with totalitarian tendencies need. These were “people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”  They particularly despise elites like Hillary Clinton as we saw in the 2016 US presidential election. These are people who are ripe for a “strong man,” to whom they can give undying, fanatical and absolute, loyalty.

And therein lies the danger. Dismissing them is a big mistake.

 

The Attraction of Evil

 

The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” Arendt here quoted Franz Borkenau, who said the Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” It seemed to me I saw this attraction in the rioters on Capitol Hill.  They seemed to relish the evil.

One of the interesting facts about supporters that Trump has ditched is that they still usually remain loyal. The same thing happened in Russia in the time of Stalin. Few Trump supporters have turned against him even when they were dumped. The most famous case is Mike Pence, but there are many others. For example, the abject loyalty of Jeff Sessions after he was dismissed from Trump’s cabinet was shocking. Their loyalty is often astounding. This is not unusual for tyrannical leaders. This happened glaringly in Stalinist Russia when the Stalinists turned against their own comrades. Again, as Hannah Arendt said,

“The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is rather the true selflessness of its adherents: it may be understandable that a Nazi or a Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed himself and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor camp. On the contrary, to the wonder of the whole civilized world, he may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched.”

 

Membership in the group can be more important than life itself. At the insurrection in the Capitol on January 6, 2021 there were Trump supporters who carried signs saying they would die for him. I believe them.

The loyalty of the true believer is an impossible loyalty. No less real for that. There are other parallels between Trump and Stalin and Hitler that suggest he is a totalitarian or at least a ‘wanna be’ totalitarian.  Fortunately, he was not smart enough to achieve his nefarious goals. Or at least most of them.

What we really must fear is a new authoritarian leader who is a smarter Trump.

 

Evil can be attractive. Authoritarian leaders understand that. And that is a problem.

 

 

Absolute Loyalty

 

As Hannah Arendt said in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism totalitarian movements required and received absolute loyalty. A member might have to let himself be tried, found guilty of any crime, cooperate with the authorities, without objection—all in the name of the movement.

Of course, not everyone is able to give such loyalty. As Arendt said,

“Such loyalty can be expected only from the completely isolated human being who, without any other social ties to family, friends, comrades, or even mere acquaintances, derives his sense of having a place in the world only from his belonging to a movement, his membership in the party.”

Notably, that was also the kind of loyalty Trump demanded of the Trumpsters, and usually got. That’s what he told James Comey who refused to give it. It did not take long and Coney was out of his job as Director of the FBI. That happened to countless others.

Arendt found it interesting who was able to give such loyalty. It was surprising. As she said,

“What is more disturbing to our peace of mind than the unconditional loyalty of members of totalitarian movements, and the popular support of totalitarian regimes, is the unquestionable attraction these movements exert on the elite, and not only on the mob elements in society. It would be rash indeed to discount, because of artistic vagaries or scholarly naiveté, the terrifying roster of distinguished men whom totalitarianism can count among its sympathizers, fellow-travelers, and inscribed party members.”

 

Again Trumpism found similar support among elite conservatives. Trump and Trumpsters expected Mike Pence to overthrow the votes of states despite the fact that courts had refused to do this, and despite the fact that there was no way this could be done and when he refused Trump immediately turned on him even though he had received 4 years of abject loyalty from Pence. And with only the vaguest of suggestions, the Trumpian mob marched to the White House with chants “Hang Mike Pence.” Later. even though his life had been endangered by Trump and his followers at his behest, Pence did not overturn the election results because he thought he could not do that, but after this devotion to the leader was stubbornly persistent

Loyalty is an astonishing thing. Absolute loyalty is incomprehensible. But it is real. It can persist long past what reason would suggest.

 

Zealotry

 

Hannah Arendt looked closely at the supporters of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and 1940s and many of the things she learned are applicable to the current authoritarian movements. She found that the enthusiasm of the true believers was stunning. This is what she said about the totalitarians of the 1930s and following decades:

“They shared with Lawrence of Arabia the yearning for “losing their selves in violent disgust with all existing standards, with every power that be. They all remembered the “golden age of security,” they also remembered how they had hated it and how real their enthusiasm had been at the outbreak of the first World War. Not only Hitler and not only the failures, thanked God on their knees when mobilization swept Europe in 1914. They did not even have to reproach themselves with having been an easy prey for chauvinist propaganda or lying explanations about the purely defensive character of the war. The elite went to war with an exultant hope that everything they knew, the whole culture and texture of life, might go down in its “storms of steel” (Ernst Jünger) In the carefully chosen words of Thomas Mann, war was “chastisement” and “purification”; “war in itself,” rather than victories, inspired the poet.” Or in the words of a student of the time, “what counts is always the readiness to make a sacrifice, not the object for which the sacrifice is made”; or in the words of a young worker, “it doesn’t matter whether one lives a few years longer or not. One would like to have something to show for one’s life.”

 

The true believers were truly zealots. And note the religious significance here. Sacrifice is of course a fundamental religious concept in virtually every religion. It is no accident that the words “sacred” and “sacrifice” come from the same root. You only have to look at that wonderful series, A History of Religious Ideas, in 3 volumes by the Master Mircea Eliade to see the similarities.

 

Arendt also pointed out how

“the “front generation” in marked contrast to their own chosen spiritual fathers, were completely absorbed by their desire to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life. This desire was so great it outweighed in impact and articulateness all earlier attempts of a “transformation of values,” such as Nietzsche had attempted…Destruction without mitigation, chaos and ruin, as such assumed the dignity of supreme values.”

 

Arendt also pointed out in her book The Origins of Totalitariainism that willingness to go to war for the cause was in itself insufficient. This attitude had to survive the war, no matter how horrific it was:

“The genuineness of these feelings can be seen in the fact that very few of this generation were cured of their war enthusiasm by actual experience of its horrors. The survivors of the trenches did not become pacifists. They cherished an experience which, they thought, might serve to separate the definitively from the hated surroundings of respectability. They clung to their memories of four years of life in the trenches as though they constituted an objective criterion for the establishment of a new elite.”

 

So it is hardly surprising that Trumpsters were not done after the storming of the Capitol. They wanted more. I believe it is likely that. They want to follow their leader into the next battle.

Hannah Arendt said this about the totalitarian believers of Europe:

“This generation remembered the war as the great prelude to the breakdown of classes and their transformation into masses. War, with its constant murderous arbitrariness, became the symbol for death, the “great equalizer” and therefore the true father of a new world order. The passion for equality and justice, the longing to transcend narrow and meaningless class lines, to abandon stupid privileges and prejudices, seemed to find in war a way out of the old condescending attitudes of pity for the oppressed and disinherited. In times of growing misery and individual helplessness, it seems as difficult to resist pity when it grows into an all-devouring passion as it is not to resent its very boundlessness, which seems to kill human dignity with more deadly certainty than misery itself.”

 

Will the same be true of Trumpsters? We have no way of knowing. None of this is pre-ordained. I am not suggesting Arendt was a prophet. I am just saying her remarks about true believers of the totalitarians makes one look at the modern variants with deep trepidation. At the very least we have little justification for easy optimism or over confidence. We should not be quick to believe the troubles are over. It is more likely that they are just beginning. That is not a comforting thought.

Hannah Arendt on Mass Society

 

Hannah Arendt may be the most important political philosopher of the 21st century. She wrote about some of the most important political issues of the times. She wrote about violence, the Holocaust, and the rise of totalitarianism. She lived through totalitarianism in Nazi Germany before she fled to the United States. She knows whereof she speaks. I read her again after about 40 years away and was shocked at how relevant her books were to the current times.

John Wiens an educator from the University of Manitoba and Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Education described Arendt’s concern about mass society this way in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press:

 

“Mass society, according to Arendt, appears in some rather familiar forms: anti-government rhetoric and resistance couched in perverted claims to personal freedom and/or nationalism; mob mentality laced with racism and fabricated enemies; conspiracy theories and anti-intellectualism; and tyranny and violence fuelled by tyrannical ambitions.”

 

That sounds like a perfect description of Trumpism 60 years before it happened. It also describes fascist supporters around the world. Arendt analyzed these ideas in her magisterial book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. While totalitarianism is not the same as Nazism, or Communism, or fascism, I think her analysis is applicable to all forms of tyranny. She described groups of deeply disenchanted and resentful individuals that were highly susceptible to authoritarians. She also described how modern people 60 years after she wrote the book would be attracted to authoritarians like Viktor of Hungary, Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the Philippines and Donald Trump in the United States.

People attracted to such authoritarians can even be found in Manitoba. Members of the so-called Truckers Convoy in Ottawa have many of these characteristics including deep resentment, an exaggerated sense of entitlement to unrestricted personal freedoms for themselves but which they deny to those who disagree with them. Interestingly, modern evangelical Christians provide strong support for authoritarians in the US and Canada. 60% of them still support Trump, long after his character is well understood.

As if she was talking about Trumpsters, rather than Nazis and Communists, Arendt pointed out,

“The fall of protecting class walls transformed the slumbering majorities behind all parties into one great unorganized, structureless mass of furious individuals who had nothing in common except their vague apprehension that the hopes of party members were doomed, that consequently, the most respected, the most articulate and representative members of the community were fools and that all the powers that be were not so much evil as they were equally stupid and fraudulent.”

 

These people who supported the Nazis and Communists were filled with “self-centered bitterness.” Once more a masterful description of Trumpsters and Canadian Convoy truckers, among others. Those Europeans, Arendt wrote, had a

“Radical loss of self-interest, the cynical or bored indifference in the face of death or other personal catastrophes, the passionate inclination toward the most abstract notions as guides for life, and the general contempt for even the most obvious rules of common sense.”

 

Arendt, along with others, calls these supporters of totalitarian movements mass men. They were mainly men. Trump would call on women too. Women for Trump. I can see them now in with their blonde hair and red MAGA hats often cheering wildly behind him at MAGA rallies. Supporters of tyrants, German, Russian, or American grew out of alienated western societies. As Arendt described them,

“The truth is that the masses grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class. The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal relationships. Coming from the class-ridden society of the nation-state, whose cracks had been cemented with nationalistic sentiment, it is only natural that these masses, in the first helplessness of their new experience, have tended toward an especially violent nationalism, to which mass leaders have yielded against their own instincts and purposes, for purely demagogic reasons.”

 

The Russian Communist Party had to create the atomized society that Germany, and later the United States, found ready at hand.

As Arendt said, “Totalitarian movements are mass organization of atomized, isolated individuals.” The reason for that is that they demand absolute loyalty. Total loyalty. It is often difficult for married men and women to give such undivided loyalty. Their families distract them from their cause—from their duty.

The key ingredient of mass men (or women) is their total disgruntlement about government and their readiness to jump to support perceived “strong men” even when they are so strong that they are authoritarians.

They claim to want freedom but are quick to give up their freedom to support their strong leaders wherever they may lead.