Trump Trauma

The Definition of a Fascist? Trump thinks any attack on him is an attack on America

Democracy is a buzzkill for tyrants

Christian leaders praying over Donald Trump in the Oval Office
Photo Credit: Screengrab

Does any real doubt remain that Donald Trump is a fascist cut from an American mold?

To this point in the story that is the decline of American democracy under Donald Trump and the Republican Party, we have seen many things. Among them are threats of violence against political rivals, an upsurge in racism and nativism, militant nationalism and careless warmongering, efforts to limit the freedom of the press, assaults on the rule of law, blatant disregard for democratic traditions and norms, shameless apparent corruption and abuse of the public trust, idol worship of despots and dictators, and the creation of a malignant reality in which Trump's followers are wedded to him in a political cult based upon collective narcissism and shared authoritarian values.

On Monday, a new chapter in what feels like a never-ending American tragedy began.

Acting on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, FBI agents under the direction of the U.S. attorney in New York raided the offices, home and hotel room of Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, confidant and fixer. It has since been reported that agents seized electronic and other records connected to payments made by Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels, apparently on Trump's behalf. Given Cohen's long history as a Trump associate and employee, documents related to Russian real estate and other transactions were likely also among the targets.

In response to Monday's events, Trump lashed out with claims that the FBI's Cohen raid was a "disgraceful situation" and "an attack on our country." He lambasted both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for failing to stop the Russia investigation.

Trump also spoke openly about the possibility that he might fire Mueller -- an action that might well require firing Rosenstein first, and perhaps others in the Justice Department. Reportedly, Trump nearly did so last summer and was talked out of it by White House Counsel Don McGahn. He is clearly close to that fateful decision once again.

On Tuesday, Trump continued his temper tantrum via Twitter, claiming that "Attorney-client privilege is dead!" and that he is a victim of "A Total Witch Hunt," one of his favorite terms of art.

As they should be, the president's threats against an independent legal system -- one of the bedrocks of a democracy -- have (again) been met with much public criticism and concern.

But Trump also signaled toward something even more ominous and worrisome in his tirades this week.

When the president claimed that Mueller and the FBI's investigation into his affairs was "an attack on our country," he christened himself a fascist leader in all but name.

Trump believes that he is the state, as did the absolute monarchs of earlier centuries, and as did totalitarian despots like Hitler and Stalin. He believes that he is above the law and that all legal power and authority flows from him. For Trump, instead of being embraced as the hallmarks of a healthy and functioning democracy, checks and balances are a threat to his authoritarian agenda.

Trump's claims are dangerous in another way as well.

If Donald Trump was an ordinary citizen who happened to have a great deal of money, his anti-democratic impulses and pronouncements would be "merely" troublesome. But Trump is not just the drunk at the bar who happens to be rich. He is president of the United States and official leader of one of the country's two main political parties. He has his own propaganda machine and leads a movement comprised of tens of millions of desperate, angry people.

As such, Trump's followers and enablers perceive any attack on him as an attack on themselves. Trump knows this all too well. Late on Tuesday afternoon, his re-election campaign sent the following email to his supporters:

Friend,

Let me be clear. Since Day One, this witch hunt has never been about me.

Their target is you.

The swamp doesn’t want you to take your country back, and they will fight to the bitter end to stop you.

That’s why I need you now more than ever before to sustain our movement. The only thing that keeps our movement alive is our members. We CAN’T afford to lose a single one.

Encouraged and socialized by the right-wing media and other opinion leaders who traffic in stochastic terrorism, eliminationist rhetoric and conspiracies about a "deep state" conspiracy to overthrow Trump's presidency, political violence becomes not a question of "if" but more a matter of "when, how much and to what extreme?"

Matters are already dire; they are likely to get worse.

In a much-discussed essay in last Sunday's edition of The New York Times, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned the American people and the world about the threat of fascism embodied by Donald Trump and other emergent right-wing leaders and movements around the world.

That a former senior foreign-policy official of Albright's experience would issue such a warning about an American president is both chilling and ominous. Several days later there was another warning issued about Trumpism and his movement that also deserves to be reflected upon.

Stephen Jacobs designed the memorial at the Buchenwald concentration camp. He himself survived the camp as a small child; most of his family died in the Nazi Holocaust. In a recent Newsweek article, Jacobs also sounded the alarm about fascism and the Age of Trump:

At 79 years old he is among the youngest of the living Holocaust survivors and was born six years after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. But Jacobs can remember life in the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald; what the Nazis did to him, his family, his friends.

He worries about what’s happening right now in America, where he has lived and prospered since arriving a couple of years after Buchenwald’s liberation on April 11, 1945. . . . So much so that Jacobs thinks there’s a “direct parallel” with Germany between the two world wars.

Perhaps more alarming than the far-right getting braver is the seep into mainstream politics of their hate, their talking points, their rhetoric. “It feels like 1929 or 1930 Berlin,” Jacobs speculated, ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018 on Thursday.

“Things that couldn’t be said five years ago, four years ago, three years ago — couldn’t be said in public — are now normal discourse. It’s totally unacceptable. . . ."

Jacobs calls New York, where he lives, an “island of resistance.” But he says Washington will soon realize too that “fascism has to be resisted.”

The American people ignore Albright and Jacobs' warnings at their own peril.

Donald Trump's presidency is a keg of political dynamite. The fuse has been lit. The explosion is imminent and inevitable. The only question which remains is how many Americans -- and how many others around the world -- will be hurt by the blast.

 

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Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Follow him on Twitter.