Monday, May 23, 2016

May 23--Fear On the Left

Again we're being inundated with nuanced columns as well as rantings all claiming that if Donald Trump figures out how to get elected president, this assures that fascism is coming to America.

This concern is mainly from pundits on the left but not exclusively. For example, neo-con Robert Kagan, one of George W. Bush flacks who contributed significantly to bringing preemptive war to Iraq, in a recent column in the Washington Post, summed it up in his title--"This Is How Fascism Comes to America."

In addition to worthwhile insights, Kagan's speculation is that Trump's supporters are so riddled with fear and rage that they do not care about traditional policies or politics (they have no interest, for example, in reforming the Republican Party) and in their fear-stoked blindness are wanting to turn the government of the United States over to a crypto-fascisit who has no policies to present but only the promise that as a classic fascist strongman he will eliminate the deepest threats to America--immigrants, Islamic terrorists, economic stagnation, and the like. Just as Mussolini did in Italy in the 1920s.

Kagan goes even further, comparing a potential Trump presidency to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution and with a whiff of innuendo suggests that Trump's supporters seem apocalyptically like those attracted to Stalin--
They [their followers] praise the leader's incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won't let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims of Stalin's show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway.
With Trump we're apparently so far along the road to fascism that we should already be worrying about show trials. What a fevered imagination Kagan has.

Not to be outdone, former governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, running for vice president on the Libertarian ticket, is so worried about Trump's immigration policy that he crossed a big line during his first interview last Thursday. According to the New York Times he worried that "I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna."

Godwin's Law in full flower.

Here's what I do not understand--

Why do many progressives feel it is permissible for critics to label Trump supporters as so paralyzed by fear that they are willing to turn their lives over to a potential autocrat while at the same time not acknowledging their own fears?

It is true that many Americas are fearful. Understandably. A glance at hot spots and threats around the world validate that as do economic dislocation and uncertainty in the homeland. But then the Kagans and Welds of the world are just as fear-plagued. About different things of course, but they are fear-driven nonetheless.

And much of this fear, both on the right and left, is not objectified, but speculation-based. Which is fine, but it should be labeled as such. Again, on all sides.

We do not in fact know what a Trump presidency would be like nor for that matter Hillary Clinton's. Presidents and Supreme Court justices once in office have a long history of surprising us.

Take Dwight Eisenhower as one example. He was represented in the liberal media as a bumbler uninterested in the presidency, more interested in playing golf with his chums than leading or governing. But, among other things, at the height of the Cold War, at least eight times his cabinet and the Joint Chiefs pushed for a preemptive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Thankfully, eight times Eisenhower demurred. And at the end of his eight years in office, this former Allied Supreme Commander warned about the growing power of the "military-industrial complex." A warning still well-worth heeding.

Ronald Reagan was also thought to be a lightweight. Showing no interest in policy much less specifics,  whatever one otherwise thinks of him, he was a transformative president. Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign said that and was roundly criticized by fellow Democrats, with Hillary Clinton leading the charge.

Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, two vice presidents who assumed the presidency, also were misunderstood and underestimated. Who thought at the time that the haberdasher from Independence, Missouri would turn out to be a forceful and effective leader and who knew that LBJ, a political operative from South Texas (and a corrupt one at that) would transcend his background and public record to become the most progressive president of his or perhaps any era.

Before rushing to judgement this time, it might make sense to defuse the rhetoric and take Donald Trump on on the issues where he is severely deficient and vulnerable. It is hardly necessary to give into one's own fears, and out of that, make up fantasies about "the road to fascism." Things are bad enough as it is.

Robert Kagan

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