We all know that Donald Trump has consistently acted like a ‘wanna be’ tin-pot dictator and no one was surprised. He frequently made it clear that he admires authoritarians such Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Kim Jong-un of North Korea, among others. Trump likes dictators. Democratic leaders not so much. He has tried to twist the arms of Ukrainian political leaders to dig up dirt on his political rival (at the time) Joe Biden. He has used the Department of Justice as his personal law firm against all protocols, and has done much else to make it clear to most that he is an authoritarian at heart.
More recently Trump has painted himself as a “law and order president” read to urge on the police to smash all resistance and get tough will all protesters that he characterized as supporters of “toe-tally-terry-tism” as he called them while encouraging authorities to treat them harshly. Trump called rebels opposed to him “domestic terrorists” while asking his racist thug supporters to “stand back and stand by.”
Trump frequently characterized the members of the press that are a bulwark against tyranny as “enemies of the state.” As Allan Levine a University of Winnipeg Political Scientist said,
“Moreover, like a classic dictator, he and his attorney general William Barr, who sees almost no limits on executive power, have manipulated the justice department to do Trump’s bidding. On the pretext of defending federal property, Trump, in a transparent ploy to boost his faltering re-election campaign, has dispatched — without being asked to do so by state or city officials — heavily armed federal Department of Homeland Security agents to Portland, Ore.”
At the same time Trump dismisses any media criticism of him as “fake news” thus doing everything he can to convince his supporters that the press, a vital cornerstone of democracy, is actually their enemy. At the same time, he has invented stories about a “radical left mob” that are bent on scaring people off the streets of America while also being engaged, as Levine said, in a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
Perhaps the clearest evidence of his authoritarian wishes was his promulgation of bizarre and obviously false conspiracy theories to back his war on truth. The death of truth is the foundation of authoritarianism and on which Trump has built a massive edifice designed to cow his opponents and bolster his supporters, all to his own eternal glory. As Levine said, “And he has lied nearly every day of his presidency, adhering to the well-known fascist dictum that the bigger the lie and the more you repeat it, the greater the likelihood that it will be believed as the truth.”
Novelist Phillip Roth was amazingly prescient in his novel, the Plot Against America, written 15 years ago before most of us heard of Donald Trump. In the book on which the television series was based a foreign power, Germany in that case interfered in the American presidential election like Russia did to help Trump. Journalists were the target of violence as anti-Semitism rose sharply. Exactly what has been happening. In the TV series right wing mobs on the streets looked exactly like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville who marched with torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” The president campaigned in the TV series, with the slogan of “America First,” echoing that of Trump.
Less than 2 days before the play based on the book opened in New York, a real domestic terrorist with an AR-15 and three handguns murdered 11 people during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Later he told a police officer “all these Jews need to die.” The parallels were to the TV series were stunning. And disturbing.
we have all seen the tendency of the many of the Trump supporters to take comfort from his racist tropes. This is dangerous and Trump did nothing to stop or even deflect that support. Instead, he bathed in it.
In the drama Herman Levin explains that with Lindbergh as president and his sly comments about Jews, “Anti-Semites have permission because Charles Lindbergh is a heroic leader.” After hearing an election speech by Lindbergh his friend says, “the goyim are sharpening their knives.” Another character remarks, “win or lose there is a lot of hate out there and he knows how to tap into it.”
Like Trump, Lindbergh runs on a campaign of fear mongering. His campaign motto is, “The choice is simple, ‘Lindbergh or war’.” In the drama, Herman criticizes his friend Monty who supports Lindbergh because he thinks he is good for the economy. He is willing to look the other way: “Not long ago you couldn’t bear our Nazi loving president, but now profits are up, stock market is up, business is booming, everything else about Lindbergh, what he stands for is forgotten? What else matters to you business man?” Does this remind anyone of current Trump supporters?
Just like Trump, Lindbergh is able to unleash hate without actually calling for it. Both are sly. But their supporters know better. They “know” the Jews are not real Americans and they “know” their president agrees with them. On the streets, the America Firsters demonstrate against the Jews. They are empowered and energized by their leader.
When the rioting starts the hate catches fire. As Herman says, “I can’t believe how fast it spreads to other cities. When the hate is there it’s like dry leaves waiting on a spark.” Some how the America Firsters are on the wrong side. Herman says, “They call us “others.” They’re the others. Lindbergh is the other. That man is unfit. He should not be the president. It’s as simple as that.” Yes it’s as simple as that, but that’s not simple at all.
In the series, there is second term election, just like the US experienced recently, and similarly, the second election results are not very clear. Lindbergh seems to lose. But does he? The results are conflicting. Wow is that familiar.
Then eerily there is trepidation. Where does this leave the American people? On shaky ground I submit. That is the real problem. Even if Trump leaves the White House, he will leave behind more than 70 million supporters who voted for him even after they saw him on TV every day for 4 years. They know what they voted for. These issues have not died. America needs to transform itself. Can it do that? It won’t be easy.