EXPERTS: Normalizing Leaders Like Trump Blows Open Floodgates Of Fascism
‘The Problem…Was Not What Our Enemies Did, But What Our Friends Did’
Writer and filmmaker Shawn Hamilton provided a brilliant, yet chilling analysis about the dangers of “normalizing” the results of November’s election for The Huffington Post on Monday, with a refreshingly candid reliance on academic reasoning as opposed to the opinionated conjecture that has dominated both sides of the debate since Donald Trump was elected president. The facts lead to an uncomfortable truth for both the right and left wings of American politics. Conservatives, it could be argued, are already comfortable with what a Trump presidency brings forth. Progressives, on the other hand, may be unaware of their possible abatement to fascism.
Hamilton examines the findings of scholars and historians who studied the rise of Nazism in Germany. In some cases, they lived through it. Consider the thoughts of German-born Jewish political analyst Hannah Arendt:
“The problem, the personal problem, was not what our enemies did, but what our friends did. Friends ‘coordinated’ or got in line.” And this coordination was not necessarily due to the “pressure of terror,” said Arendt, who escaped Germany in 1933. Intellectuals were particularly vulnerable to this wave of coordination. “The essence of being an intellectual is that one fabricates ideas about everything,” and many intellectuals of her time were “trapped by their own ideas.”
People rejected the uglier aspects of Nazism but gave ground in ways that ultimately made it successful. They conceded premises to faulty arguments. They rejected the “facts” of propaganda, but not the impressions of it. The new paradigm of authoritarianism was so disorienting that they simply could not see it for what it was, let alone confront it.
The Propaganda Of Fascism Only Seems Strange On The Outside
The piece goes on to explain how normalizing propaganda is fueled from inside the regime. The 1940 book Germany: Jekyll and Hyde by Sebastian Haffner points out that:
“Outside of Germany people often wonder at the palpable fraudulence of Nazi propaganda, the stupid incredible exaggerations, the ludicrous reticences concerning what is generally known. Who can be convinced by it? They ask. The answer is that it is not meant to convince but to impress. It addresses emotion and fantasy. Nazi propaganda seeks to create in our minds tenacious ideas and fantasies.”
According to Hamilton, while “many Germans rejected the ‘facts’ of this propaganda”, the seeds it would sow eventually flourished into the belief that nations like Poland and Czechoslovakia were inherent threats to the German way of life. Furthermore, he draws the all-too-familiar correlation to Trump’s rhetoric:
Trump’s propaganda about Mexican rapists and Muslim terrorists operates in a similar way. The informed listener knows that most rapes are committed by perpetrators that are known to the victim. They know that most terrorist attacks in the United States are committed by non-Muslims, but the impression that those groups are not to be trusted ― that to trust them is taking an unnecessary risk ― remains.
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Perhaps the most damning parallel between the two time periods would be the President-Elect’s brand of patriotism. Hamilton’s analysis cites the work of German Jewish philologist Victor Klemperer, and in his memoir The Language of the Third Reich:
Klemperer wrote of a Jewish neighbor, Frau K, who continued to speak with pride about Germany and the “Fuhrer,” despite having been deemed subhuman by the regime. Patriotism and deference to leadership ― respect for the office of the president, as we call it ― might have elevated Frau K in the old paradigm, but in the new one it worsened her condition.
Is The American Left Normalizing Trump?
You may read these warnings and think to yourself “what’s the big deal, I don’t trust Trump or his voters” and that may be true. Yet we have to examine the response to the election by both the political and academic establishment to find the underlying complicity. The Atlantic dissected a multitude of reasons why the Clinton campaign had failed. Nowhere did it mention the plethora of dog whistles and hate speech that fueled Trump’s rise. In deep-blue New Jersey, The Asbury Park Press irresponsibly dismissed the notion that African-Americans share similar concerns as working class whites, arguing:
The defeat has the Democratic Party nationally rethinking how to reach the white, rural and suburban blue-collar voters two sided with Trump, a change in emphasis what would necessarily de-emphasize the socio-economic concerns of urban blacks.
And as Hamilton was right to mention, the Gray Lady herself wasn’t immune to normalization:
In a New York Times op-ed, “The End of Identity Liberalism,” Mark Lilla argued that “moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity” had “distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” Trump’s popularity, Lilla argued, was not a consequence of a white backlash (whitelash) but rather a reaction to “the omnipresent rhetoric of identity or ‘political correctness.’”
There is danger in belittling Trump’s victory as the result of 2016 being “a change election“. One shouldn’t accept the results of the vote without examining the words of the candidate. The motivations of voters should not be swept under the rug, or conveniently blamed on James Comey.
But journalists, politicians and historians must not neglect the results of the popular vote either. Almost 3 million more Americans prefered Secretary Clinton. The billions of people across the globe with a vested interest in America’s direction know little about the Electoral College. They do know, however, that Donald Trump will be the 45th President. He ran an unconventional — and frankly, frightening — campaign full of inciteful language. Normalizing his victory as if it were like any other sends the signal to worried people at home and abroad that Trump’s brand of leadership is perfectly acceptable.
The ghosts of last century would say otherwise.
Featured photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images News
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