Category Archives: Populism

A Covid Booster for Extremism


Ware and Hoffman continued their very interesting talk talk to us via Arizona State University in a talk entitled “Guns God and Sedition.”

They pointed out, that then  in the 2020s there was not just a booster for Covid, there was a Covid Booster for radical right-wing violent extremism. As Hoffman and Ware say in their book, and Ware repeated to us in his lecture, “pandemics are basically tailor-made for conspiracy theorists.” A pandemic provides fertile soil for crazies to plant the wildest conspiracy theories. Such as a theory that a presidential election was stolen, even no evidence has been provided for that theory.


Pandemics, like conspiracy theories are bred and hatched in secret and then explode into public view catching nearly everyone by surprise. It is almost natural to look for secretive causes for such disturbing events.


As Ware said, “2020 ends up becoming this tremendously tumultuous year with covid pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and this very contentious political moment leading up to an election in which we have 2 candidates both claiming victory in that election which leads up to January 6th which is the most important moment in our book.”   Ware says that the riot on January 6th 2021is the most serious threat to American democracy that he and Hoffman catalogued in their book. It is the first breach of the capitol since 1814 when the British and their rough and tough Canadian allies stormed the Capitol.


Of all the incidents described in their book and the many they mentioned to us in their talk the event on January 6th 2021 was the most significant. It was an American game changer, though now in the US only one side recognizes that. On that day American democracy nearly died. And many now many fear in 2024 we are headed for another such momentous event. Many in America believe that if Donald Trump loses the election in 2024, though that does not yet seem likely but certainly is conceivable, Trump will raise his forces of rebellion and this time it will be worse. Much worse.


Strongman Government


Recently, I watched the Rachel Maddow show on television. She is an unrelenting liberal so I don’t watch the show very often, figuring I get enough of that already. After watching the show, I might change my mind. I just watched a small part of the show and it was very interesting.

First, she showed brief interviews with Trumpsters who had each been asked one simple question:  “If you had a choice of 4 more years of Joe Biden or 4 more years of Donald Trump as a dictator what would you choose?”

The answers were shocking. Each one chose Trump!  One said, “This country needs a dictator. I hate to say it, but it’s true.” He looked sheepish but he said it.  Another said, “Sometimes in life we need a good paddling from the principal to set our life on the right path. And this country needs a little of that.”  A young woman said, “I’d pick Trump all the way.” She also had a sheepish grin, but again, said it.  A number of them said “Trump” with enthusiasm.  They seemed to want a dictator.

Is it really true that Americans want a dictator? Dictatorship seems to have a lot of appeal in the US. Why is that?  Rachel Maddow said, many Americans want a strong man government and think that is what Trump will give them.

Yearning for a Strongman Government


Recently, I watched the Rachel Maddow show on television. She is an unrelenting liberal so I don’t watch the show very often, figuring I get enough of that already. After watching the show though, I might change my mind. I just watched a small part of the show and it was very interesting.

First, she showed brief interviews with Trumpsters who had each been asked one simple question:  “If you had a choice of 4 more years of Joe Biden or 4 more years of Donald Trump as a dictator what would you choose?”

The answers were shocking. Each one chose Trump!  One said, “This country needs a dictator. I hate to say it, but it’s true.” He looked sheepish but he said it.  Another said, “Sometimes in life we need a good paddling from the principal to set our life on the right path. And this country needs a little of that.”  A young woman said, “I’d pick Trump all the way.” She also had a sheepish grin, but again, said it.  A number of them said “Trump” with enthusiasm.  They seemed to want a dictator.

Is it really true that Americans want a dictator? Dictatorship seems to have a lot of appeal in the US. Why is that?  Rachel Maddow said, many Americans want a strong man government and think that is what Trump will give them.

American on the Edge of Fascism


I posted about a judge in Colorado evaluating all of the evidence, hearing arguments from both sides and concluding that Donald Trump was engaged in insurrection.  As a result I submitted that it was astonishing to think that Trump supporters  still don’t believe that he was engaged insurrection. To me it seems obvious.

The judge however said she was not sure that this section applied to the presidency so refused to ban Trump from the upcoming presidential ballot in 2024.

The American Constitution, unlike the American people,  takes insurrection very seriously. In s. 3 to the 14th amendment to that constitution it says:

“Section 3

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability”


What does this section mean? Donald Trump’s lawyers argued that this meant the section did not apply to the president. It only applies to every other officer of the United States, the lawyers argue.

In effect if Trump wins this argument then he has absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. Think about that, a former president is arguing in court that he cannot suffer any legal consequence for participating in an insurrection!

Laurence Tribe a well known Harvard Professor of law and constitutional expert said this decision by the Colorado Judge was “bizarre.” I am not that bold because I find the wording in s. 3 perplexing, but Professor Tribe had no such doubt. This is what he said when interviewed by PBS Newshour about this decision:

“it would turn the presidency into a dictatorship. It would basically mean that the revolution that we fought against King George failed, and that the American experiment in constitutional democracy, with no one being above the law, lasted 225 years, and then ended. I don’t want that to happen.”


Now I have to agree with Professor Tribe that this would be bizarre, but frankly I find many aspects of the American Constitution, which so many in America consider Holy Text, to be bizarre. Remember that according to constitution the president  has the authority to pardon anyone from a a criminal offence without giving any reasons or justification. Trump used this last time he was in office to pardon a slew of his corrupt cronies. Some have even argued that the Constitution would allow Trump to pardon himself if he was convicted. What could be more bizarre than that? Sometimes I really wonder if the US can be said to have the rule of law at all. Like so much holy writ, the American Constitution is far from perfect.

We have already heard that Trump will make it his job to destroy all of his enemies if elected. How could he be stopped?

This is what Professor Tribe says about the possibility that Trump’s argument succeeds:

“I think it would be a disaster for the freedom of every one of us to have anybody completely above the law. We have in this case someone who said he would terminate the Constitution. He will make his presidency about vengeance. It’s what fascists do.


That is precisely what fascists do all right, and America seems to be headed in that direction thanks to the undying support of millions of Americans for Donald Trump. No matter what he does they will continue to support him. It doesn’t matter if he engages in insurrection. It doesn’t matter if he shoots someone in Times Square. It doesn’t matter if he sexually abuses a woman in department store, his true believers will continue to believe.

Can 40 million listeners be wrong?


In 1929 America and the rest of the world experienced a crash. The 1920s, called the Roaring Twenties, when wealthy people leaped enthusiastically in to popular endeavors such as Speak Easys and led the country into financial disaster and common people were desperately unhappy about it.

Father Coughlin stepped out of the fiery preacher role on radio and became the “conduit for a real and very understandable anger.” He rode a populist wave of anger. He became the voice of outrage and had spectacular success on the perfect medium for anger—the radio.  Anger has been the bed rock of talk radio ever since, particularly right-wing talk radio.

In the language of today, Father Coughlin was a populist—he was anti-communist but also anti-capitalist. He supported some unions, but not the more radical unions. He started out left, though not extreme left. As Justin Ling the host and writer of the CBC podcast Flame Throwers said, “Coughlin’s audience was estimated at 40 million listeners. At that time that was a third of America. Limbaugh at his height would have only about 1/20th of America.” This is much more than Fox News obtains today. These were huge numbers! And all this from a Canadian priest!

Meanwhile money poured into the church he was restoring and he arranged for it to build a huge iron cross, one the KKK could not burn.Coughlin turned to a politician he could support. It was someone who distrusted the political class like he did. So, he turned instead to someone who distrusted the bankers and big business. This was a champion of everyman. Not a far right politician.  This political leader was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the author of the new deal.

Coughlin was clear, “It is either Roosevelt or ruin,” he said. FDR was a shrewd politician and “he saw in the radio priest, a new way of meeting the masses.” Coughlin saw in FDR a vehicle for his new social justice calling.  Justin Ling pointed out “As President, FDR recognized the visceral yet intimate power of radio. Through his fireside chats he entered into America’s living rooms as a trusted guest.” Coughlin inspired the President who followed suit. As Ling said, “Coughlin is no longer that small town Catholic  fighting anti-Catholic bias.” Later Coughlin abandoned FDR when he started making deals with the bankers rather than throwing them out as he done earlier. Later, when FDR made a deal with Stalin (and Churchill) Coughlin was furious. “Coughlin was vehemently anti-Communist.” He changed his slogan to “Roosevelt and ruin.”

Coughlin started his own political party and then turned to the dark side–the far right. He blamed Jews for their own persecution. He also adopted various conspiracy theories such as the one that Jewish bankers were part of an international cabal. He also cited the conspiracy theory of the elders of Zion which falsely claimed that Jews were part of a international Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. He claimed that Jews and Communists together were determined to take over America. Coughlin gave up on left wing causes and turned instead to supporting Hitler and the Nazis. He went about as far right as he could go.

He came to be called “the father of Hate radio.” Though someone else grabbed that crown from him about 100 years later.  We will get to him. Coughlin began to be abandoned by his erst while supporters. Many called out his mistaken litany of facts that were not facts at all. Federal regulators warned him that they would not allow the airwaves to abused in that manner. As Ling said, “In today’s world he was cancelled and de-platformed.” The radio star was done, but his influence lived on to be used by other pundits from other political persuasions.

As Ling said, “Coughlin was radio’s first real celebrity. He weaponized bombast but met his listeners where they were at. He sat in their living rooms and echoed their concerns. He helped to propel presidents to power. He tried to have a say in running the country from behind a microphone.”  He did all this by unleashing the power of hate. He was soon followed by many others.

The genie of political radio was out of the bottle and would never get back in. as Ling said, “Coughlin fell into conspiracy theories and hate as a way to energize and galvanize his support, and he would not be the last.” Once politicians, pundits, and frauds saw the power of hate, others followed as surely as night follows day. He proved how powerful the toxic combination of racism, hatred, and conspiracy theories could be.




The Brazilian Trump



We were in Arizona on the anniversary of the Trump insurrection on January 6th.  Watching the news of the election in Brazil it really seemed like deja vu all over again.

Rumours were spreading not just faster than the truth but even faster than lies. In Brazil, on January 8, 2023 there were furious, and in some cases, violent protests after Lula defeated Bolsonaro, aptly called “the Brazilian Trump.” Like Donald Trump’s supporters, Bolsonaro’s supporters believed that the election was stolen from their boy and they were “as mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore,” to copy what was said in the movie Network.

As Mac Margolis, Washington Post commentator said, “this was carbon copy and paste Donald Trump.” This is the same thing Anne Applebaum, a columnist for The Atlantic said when she pointed out how populist political leaders around the world were learning a lot from each other. Populist leaders around the world are being encouraged by each other and the rest of us had better taken notice. As Margolis pointed out, in Brazil rumours spread quickly on social media and since they were lies, they spread at the speed of light. Truth is much slower. Margolis called it “anti-incumbent fury.” This is now happening across South America. Actually, it is happening around the world.


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?


 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.