Previous right-wing leaders had a healthy fear of the rage they unleashed from their base. Not this one
By Rick Perlstein
Oct 7, 2015 – Donald Trump is not a fascist––probably.
His ex-wife Ivana once claimed he kept a volume of Hitler’s collected speeches in a cabinet by his bed, and read from time to time the fuhrer’s vision of human life as a pitiless war of all against all. “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them,” he told Vanity Fair in 1990. But consider something the architect of Trump Tower, Der Scutt, once said on how to evaluate the truth value of Donald Trump claims: “divide by two, then divide by four, and you’re closer to the answer.”
Trump worships armed force, pronouncing at a rally in August in Derry, New Hampshire: “I believe in the military and military strength more strongly than anybody running by a factor of a billion.” (Applying Scutt’s formula, that means Trump believes in military strength 125,000,000 times more than Lindsey Graham, who opened his presidential campaign with a promise to go to war with Iran.)
When Trump speaks in the subjunctive mood, he can certainly sound like an aspiring dictator. Regarding a $2.5 billion plant Ford intends to build in Mexico, he announced that “every car, every truck, and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35 percent tax—O.K.?” The Constitution, of course, grants Congress, not a president, the power to tax. Maybe it’s just ignorance on his part. Or maybe, by “we” he’s referring to the Congressional coalition he’s building in his spare time between stadium rallies. But if Trump has ever made reference to any understanding of the three coequal branches that govern the United States, I haven’t noticed it.
He refers lustily to his passion to destroy the malcontents stabbing America in the back, longing for the days when they received summary executions: “So we get a traitor like Bergdahl, a dirty rotten traitor [pause for applause], who by the way when he deserted, six young beautiful people were killed trying to find him, right? . . . You know, in the old days:bing, bong.” (Trump pantomimed cocking a rifle.) “When we were strong, when we were strong.”
Too much to expect procedural niceties—innocent until proven guilty?—from the guy who in 1989 took out full-page ads in four New York newspapers, headlined: “Bring Back the Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!” There followed a 600-word essay: “What has happened is the complete breakdown of life as we know it. . . . How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS.” It went on to relate a tale from some mystically perfect past, where he witnessed “two young bullies cursing and threatening a very frightened waitress. Two cops rushed in, lifted up the thugs and threw them out the door, warning them never to cause trouble again. I miss the feeling of security New York’s finest once gave the citizens of this City.”
The ad was Trump’s response to the arrest of five kids for the vicious rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park. The kids were coerced into confessions, later proven to be false, by the same police force Donald Trump insisted had been intimidated into politically correct timorousness. Last year, after the five families settled for $41 million in compensation for the years the accused youths spent in prison, Trump published an op-ed calling the settlement “ridiculous.”
“These men do not exactly have the pasts of angels,” he claimed. At the time of the event, one of “these men” was 14 years old.
A demagoguery so pure
Trump has now provided more “specifics” about his immigration plan: a forced population transfer greater than any attempted in history, greater than the French and Spanish expulsions of the Jews in 1308 and 1492; greater than the Nabka of approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from British-mandate Palestine; greater than the 1.5 million Stalin consigned to Siberia and the Central Asian republics; greater than Pol Pot’s exile of 2.5 million city-dwellers to the Cambodian countryside, or the scattering of Turkey’s Assyrian Christians, which the scholar Mordechai Zaken says numbers in the millions and required 180 years to complete. Trump has promised to move 12 million Mexicans in under two years––“so fast your head will spin.”
Only then will he start building the wall.
But all Republican politicians say stuff like this, right? They all want a wall, they all want to bury criminals under the jail, they all crave war, even if they’re not quite so explicit about it.
Not quite, actually. Previous Republican leaders were sufficiently frightened by the daemonic anger that energized their constituencies that they avoided surrendering to it completely, even for political advantage. Think of Barry Goldwater, who was so frightened of the racists supporting him that he told Lyndon Johnson he’d drop out of the race if they started making race riots a campaign issue. And Ronald Reagan refusing to back a 1978 ballot initiative to fire gay schoolteachers in California, at a time vigilantes were hunting down gays in the street. Think of George W. Bush guiding Congress toward a comprehensive immigration bill (akin to that proposed by President Obama) until the onslaught of vitriol that talk-radio hosts directed at Republican members of Congress forced him to quit. Think of George W. Bush’s repeated references to Islam as a “religion of peace.”
Trumpism is different. Donald Trump is the first Republican presidential front-runner to venture a demagogy so pure. (Continued)