Ever since the G.O.P. essentially became the Fox-Republican-TEA Party, its membership and voters have become almost exclusively reactionary, right-wing extremists. Its goal is to turn back the clock to the good old days when the plutocracy – those with great wealth – ruled the country ostensibly for the white majority of citizens.
Moderates were mostly purged from the party during the Reagan presidency and Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker of the House (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine may be the lone survivor). Conservatives have been a dying breed since the neo-conservative takeover during the Bush-Cheney Era and the arrival of the Koch brothers’ TEA Party (even pundit George Will recently resigned from the party).
Ever since World War II, demagogues like Sen. Joe McCarthy (Wis.), Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan have come and gone as the party’s leaders. They all appealed to the paranoid side of voters, but – other than McCarthy – they also addressed our better instincts and did some good things. Sadly, the movement of the party, step by step, has been farther to the dark side, and now a large number of their voters seem perfectly willing to support a fascist nominee for president.
Nixon’s southern strategy and Reagan’s “welfare queen” speeches gave a wink and a nod to racism and let voters know where they stood without being blatant about it. No more mealy mouthing around: the party’s recent nominee makes no doubt about who or what he is. Donald J. Trump has made no secret of his racism, bigotry, and misogyny (contempt for women – except for the beautiful women in his life) and made them staples of his campaign – you’ve heard him and read what he’s said ad nauseam.
Some insight on how we’ve come to this point and where it might lead can be found in the 1936 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis. The main character, Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor, warned some friends against a presidential nominee, “Wait till Buzz (Windrip) takes charge of us. A real fascist dictatorship!” “Nonsense! Nonsense!” snorted Tasbrough. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly. We’re a country of freemen!”
Jessup responded: “The answer to that…is ‘the hell it can’t!’ Why there’s no country in the world that can get more hysterical … than America. Look how Huey Long became absolute monarch over Louisiana…Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!” Hopefully, Lewis’s literary work is not prophetic because that’s precisely what happened in his book.
Il Duce Trump saw the fear that white Americans (workers and middle class) see in the continuous evolution of American society. He saw their fear of losing their jobs and losing their formerly privileged racial status.
He realized the rise of ISIS and the increase of seemingly routine mass murders added to their fears. He recognized that his own xenophobia (fear of foreigners), nativism, contempt for the rule of law, and anti-environmentalism jibed with the G.O.P.’s implied, and sometimes explicit, policies.
He was also aware that these issues were red meat to scared voters, so he played the role of their savior to the hilt. At the convention, as on the campaign trail, the Donald mugged his best Mussolini imitation, thrusting his jaw forward after his every lie or exaggeration to hear the roar of the crowd.
Trump’s frightening emphasis on “law and order” was reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon. His campaign even admitted his studying Nixon’s convention speech on “law and order.” The only way that he can attempt to accomplish his promises is to establish a police state, with him as the supreme dictator. Hitler used the Hitler Youth, the Gestapo, the S.S., and concentration camps to maintain order. Nixon had dirty tricksters, the Watergate burglars, the “Plumbers,” and attempted to use agencies of the government “to get his political enemies.”
Harry Truman said that even if Nixon could tell the truth, he would still lie just to stay in practice. Reagan’s administration, supposedly without his understanding, attempted to establish the Enterprise Corporation to secretly fund presidential wars without Congress’s authorization. Reagan’s people also sold missiles to Iran to get money to buy Soviet weapons to supply the Contra rebellion in Nicaragua. George W. Bush had Attorney General Alberto Gonzales turn the Department of Justice into a tool of the Republican Party, and his administration used a documented 950 lies to justify his invasion of Iraq. We can only imagine what Trump will do.
Vladimir Putin and ISIS will both benefit from a Trump victory. Putin and Trump are mutual admirers, and Trump’s opposition to NATO must be music to the Russian strong man’s ears. Trump’s anti-Muslim tirades certainly reinforce the ISIS propaganda that all Americans are enemies of all Muslims. Even if he doesn’t win, the more votes Trump gets, the more new recruits ISIS will get. If he does win, more Americans will accept the “temporary” necessity of a U.S. police state because they will fear that all American Muslims will join ISIS.
The Donald may be a bloviating clown, but it’s possible that we may elect him as our “entertainer-in-chief,” as Chris Christie said of him. The former wrestler, reality TV host, and real estate developer has been described by his own party members in many ways. Marco Rubio has called him “a con artist.” Lindsay Graham said he’s “a religious bigot. The one who summed him up the best was Tony Schwartz, who was the ghostwriter for Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” He said that he was terrified of Trump because he’s “a sociopath.”
Beware of Trump’s saying “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” That translates as a plan to make the voters, the Congress, the courts, and the Constitution irrelevant.
And whenever I hear the Donald say, “I’m smart,” or “I have a good brain,” I’m immediately reminded of what I call “Peck’s Law.” When the Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck was asked why he didn’t tell a maitre d’ who he was, he answered, “If you have to tell someone who you are, you aren’t.”
By David Offutt
A version of this essay was published July 27, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.