“History is not Mr Trump’s strong point, it seems he is more addicted to watching Fox News.”
By taking a characteristically reductionist approach to the problem of Mr Trump’s first ten days in office, one startling announcement at a time, the media is missing the bigger picture.
Though both had psychologically damaging upbringings, Trump is not a ‘Nazi’, nor is he the new Adolf Hitler, as people are lazily suggesting. The son of an abusively patriarchal minor civil servant, the product of an era of defeat, hunger and disappointment, Hitler at least served in the army, being gassed on the Western Front. He had shared the pain and humiliation of the Weimar days, post-Versailles. And he had an ideology; also, eventually, a political party and a well-drilled private army in line with it.
The $200 million trustafarian Trump does not have an ideology beyond his own promotion; in many people’s judgement a spoiled child, a bully, a solipsist, he lives apparently in his own universe full of inconsistencies, self-sustaining myths and obsessive behaviours, surrounded by henchmen, preferring to do business directly without benefit of boring middle-managers; a non-politician with zero charisma and dismal diplomatic skills; while the real party that now probably regrets hiring him to represent them, the GOP, bewitched, bothered and bewildered by his nastiness, his hitherto unimagined incompetence, is paralysed with fright and yet to jump either way.
So there are significant differences between the two men, who both promised to make their countries ‘great again’ – and look what happened the last time! The one a fastidious vegetarian, punctilious to a fault – the other an intellectually incontinent creature of indulged excess.
But any minor historian must be able to note the disturbing parallels in the process by which, following their election, both men set about achieving powers beyond those normally accorded to their position.
What signs are we looking for?
A tendency to authoritarianism in the guise of ‘strong leadership’; a preference for rule by decree; a willingness to bend and ultimately change the rules; cronyism and the preferment of extreme ideologues; the beasting of opponents; the backing from the shadows of ultra rightwing industrialists; both feeding and feeding on the general discontent of the populace; weak and complicit opposition; corrupt and amoral henchmen; a willingness to disregard the normal checks and balances in the constitution; suppression of the press and distortion of inconvenient truths; scapegoating of foreigners and minorities; advocacy of militarism; bypassing and subverting or purging appointed officials; exigent brutality overcoming lack of competence and experience; the deployment of powerful lobbyists to sow confusion and doubt, attacking and undermining the democratic centre; disparagement of intellectuals and ‘experts’; appeals to fundamental nationalism, social division and religious intolerance ; sloganizing on themes of ‘freedom’ combined with a shutdown of civil discourse through the media; and the return of an undefined sense of national ‘greatness’; trading on fear; creating incidents intended to increase public fear and reliance on the dictator for ‘protection’ – a protection racket!
I suggest that all those elements were present in Germany after 1933, and have been clearly emerging from Trump’s campaign, iterated during his first ten days in the White House, during which he has sought to establish his regime and implement some of his more alarming ideas by executive diktat, bypassing the normal offices of democracy.
He successfully exploited the fact that people voted for him as a protest against the status quo, not really believing in his more extreme campaign utterances. Now they are seeing the truth.
Should we perhaps then not take fright at the idea that petty officials in America are claiming to take their orders to act in defiance of court rulings directly from the president’s office; that he has yet to appoint the directors of his federal agencies, from where staffers are resigning in droves; that he has issued orders suppressing the issuance of public information normally emanating from those agencies, and that his close-held nominees as secretaries of departments responsible for those agencies are in the main opposed to their very existence; getting in the way, as they do, of big business?
Should we not be concerned that he has as his chief policy advisor, Mr Bannon: a nihilistic ultra rightwing nationalist and avowed racialist; and that this Bannon, a hack journalist by trade since leaving the navy, where he served during the Iran hostage crisis, has been invited with no prior government experience to sit as a permanent member on the National Security Council while the chiefs-of-staff of the military and security agencies have been told they will henceforth be invited only on an as-and-when-needed basis?
Does this ring no alarm bells? Especially when it is reported that Trump ‘was not aware’ he was signing Bannon’s appointment to the NSC, he didn’t read it?
Nor that Mr Bannon recently told a meeting with journalists that the press was ‘the opposition’ and should ‘keep its mouth shut’ while they think carefully about whose side they are on? And that he is almost certainly responsible for a presidential order banning environmental scientists working for government agencies from publishing their research, on the very day Mr Trump signed an executive order authorising the construction of a controversial oil pipeline by a company in which, it was reported, he still owns shares?
And what of the summary dismissal of acting Attorney General Sally Yates?
Mr Trump has clearly been itching to find an opportunity to utter the famous catchphrase from his TV show, The Apprentice: “You’re fired!”
In this instance, Ms Yates – an Obama appointee filling-in prior to the inevitable appointment of Trump-pick and CV enhancer, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions 111 of Alabama – made the foolish mistake of issuing a legal ruling backing the decisions of four district courts that Mr Trump did not have the right to bar Green-card holders from re-entering the USA, merely because they originated from newly proscribed Muslim countries.
Mr Trump’s tweet described Ms Yates as ‘a traitor’, which shows his respect for the law in a certain light; although he was probably only following the line taken by the UK Daily Mail, which branded a number of High Court judges as ‘Enemies of the People’ when they made a ruling that no, Prime Minister May did not have the authority to issue an executive order taking Britain out of the EU without a vote in Parliament.
It seems the modern fancy is to bypass, abuse and denigrate the fuddy-duddy institutions. In a very similar vein, in fact, to Hitler’s modus operandi.
Are we not irked that Mr Trump has refused to divest himself of holdings, in defiance of the constitution, and has entrusted the running of his personal business entities to junior members of his own family in a derisory move to meet Congressional objections to the many potential conflicts of interest from which it seems he intends to continue to profit while in office, and has appointed his son-in-law, Mr Kushner, to the inner cabinet of the White House staff, and continues to take his daughter Ivanka along instead of his wife Melania as his official escort to meetings of State?
Should we simply laugh off the president’s view that climate change is ‘bullshit’ – a view supported by Mr Trump’s erstwhile advisor on the matter, one Myron Ebell, a powerful Washington swamp-lobbyist formerly funded by Exxon-Mobil, a non-scientist (but a highly educated man) whose own view (which he is far too smart to really hold) is that climate change is a conspiracy to boost sales of Chinese-made solar panels? Or not worry that Mr Trump’s Congressionally approved pick for Secretary of State is the former CEO of Exxon – one of the world’s largest oil companies – with dealings in Russia and a track record of ruthlesssly exploiting oil reserves without regard for the people of the region?
This, at a time when the average temperature over the North Pole is around 30 deg. C. above normal and methane released from warming of the Siberian tundra is five times what might be considered a ‘safe’ limit. When Southeastern Australia has enjoyed a record fifty consecutive days of 40 deg. C.-plus temperatures and wildfires are raging out of control over a million acres in Chile? When two thousand homes in Georgia and Mississippi were just destroyed last week by a megastorm producing more than fifty tornados, in which 21 Americans were killed – more than in all the ‘terrorist’ incidents on home ground since 9/11? And when more record flooding is occurring anywhere you look, and it’s been snowing in Saudi Arabia?
Are we supposed to feel secure, to normalise this insane denial as the actions of a President concerned for the wellbeing of his nation, when his every action is performed defiantly and with maximum cynicism and derision, giving the finger to decent American people?
Should we perhaps assume that even Mr Trump is not so stupid as to understand with help from Mr Bannon that his actions against Muslims will almost certainly result in further attacks on the US mainland, thus giving him cause to increase his powers? His next diktat confirms this as it is specifically directed against IS, giving the Pentagon “30 days” to come up with a plan to defeat them. The idiocy of the notion (the US is already fully engaged in global operations to defeat IS) gives us an approximate timeline for when he may hope they will oblige him by attacking a target on the US mainland.
As Ed Miliband has said, blocking entry to the country to a specific population of Muslim entrants regardless of their residency status and affiliations under the pretext of temporarily stemming the undocumented and unverified flow of ‘terrorists’ into the United States from countries that have not hitherto exported a single known terrorist to the United States, causing worldwide travel chaos, is not normal! Any more than is the seriously risk-laden baiting of the Chinese government over its redline policies on Taiwan, currency manipulation and ownership of the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea; or his batting his sandy eyelashes at his fellow kleptocrat in the Kremlin with promises to “remove sanctions”, turning a blind eye to new incursions into Ukraine, in exchange for what appears to have been Russian support for his election.
And more or less finally, there are the ludicrous claims back and forth about voter fraud. If there’s been voter fraud it’s the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of mostly Democrat-voting black and Latino and elderly white voters on spurious grounds, such as that individuals had namesakes in jail and must therefore be the same person; or they didn’t have a driver’s licence. The idea that ‘five million’ illegal immigrants voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, to explain how Trump didn’t get a popular majority? Unbelievable. Deliberately so – misinformation, confusion, misdirection. Divide and rule.
Clearly no alarm bells have been sounding in Congress, whose oversight committee has been happily rubber-stamping Mr Trump’s (or Mr Bannon’s, they are joined at the hip for now) appointments to senior positions of a procession of unqualified billionaire deplorables and party donors like the ed-ignoramus and wife of the ‘Scamway’ pyramid selling billionaire, Dick, Betsy DeVos as Schools secretary.
Of course, there are those who crave this kind of governance. There were in Germany too. They are the legions of the disappointed; borderline psychopaths and paranoiacs, the obsessive collectors of garage arsenals of lethal, legal weaponry – the survivalists and the white supremacists, the Dixielanders who fantasise that their kind will thrive on chaos and violence: warlordism.
In Germany they formed the core of a citizen militia that felt liberated to dehumanise and ultimately to murder Jews and minorities without sanction, against whom they had been turned by strident party propaganda such as is spewed out against Muslims and Jews daily by Mr Bannon’s racialist web site and many others. That same Mr Bannon, a rumpled dissolute who has emerged as the eminence grise behind an elderly, inept and out-of-depth President – the reality TV-show fantasist, uninterested in the minutiae and responsibilities of government, interested solely in the workings of power, whose mental health is increasingly in question even within his own party.
Hitler was able to enlist history on his side to reclaim the past for Germany; history is not Mr Trump’s strong point, it seems he is more addicted to watching Fox News than he is to reading texts containing more than 140 ill-assorted characters. Like Hitler, much of his own personal history exists in a nebula of grand achievements that don’t bear examination. But although he appears not yet to have identified any ancestral land he needs to grab (money will do just as well), Mr Trump’s foreign policy objectives are no less concerning: as well as his futile and grandiose project to “build a wall” between the USA and Mexico, a hugely expensive, wasteful and complicated undertaking that everyone understands will not achieve its objective of keeping out Latin-American migrants, he has purged the senior ranks of the State Department, America’s foreign office, ahead of the arrival of oilman Rex Tillerson as secretary of state – a mogul known to be close to Vladimir Putin and his cronies.
Trump has frequently stated too that he will commit US troops to seizing the oilfields of northern Iraq – “take the oil” – in order to pay for the occupation; whatever the resulting oversupply will do to world prices. It may be noted that among the agencies subject to Mr Trump’s ban on staff issuing ‘press releases’ or any other news, through any public media, is the Defense Department. Mr Trump has already stated that US military activity is in future to remain a secret at least until it is successful – as it always will be in his universe – and Mr Trump always gets what he wants.
That’s how you negotiate a deal in the Trump playbook; you crush the life out of your opponent until they have nowhere to go.
Trouble is, we’re the opponent.
Four stages in The Art of War
1 Steve Bannon: ‘We’re going to war in the South China Sea … no doubt’
“The United States and China will fight a war within the next 10 years over islands in the South China Sea, and “there’s no doubt about that”. At the same time, the US will be in another “major” war in the Middle East.
“Those are the views – nine months ago – of one of the most powerful men in Donald Trump’s administration, Steve Bannon, the former head of far-right news website Breitbart who is now chief strategist at the White House. – The Guardian Today website, 02 February 2017
2 The dangerous anger of Donald Trump
“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” – The Washington Post and widely quoted elsewhere
3 50 years later, disagreements over young Trump’s military academy record
“Although he received educational and medical deferments from the Vietnam War draft, he has said that the school provided him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military*. “I did very well under the military system,” Trump said in an interview. “I became one of the top guys at the whole school.”” – The Washington Post, January 2016
*Except possibly the 82.5 thousand US troops who died in Vietnam? This guy is a sick joke.
4 Questions mount over botched Yemen raid approved by Trump
“The mission was approved over dinner five days after the presidential inauguration by Trump and his closest advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his special adviser and former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon, as well as defence secretary General Jim Mattis.
“US military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.*” – The Guardian Today website, 02 February 2017
“Should be a good war, then.” – The Pumpkin, 02 February
*A US Navy Seal was killed, an aircraft downed, and 30 civilians – mostly women and children – lost their lives in the attack on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen, where US special forces have been covertly supporting the intervention by Saudi Arabia in what started as a minor civil insurrection following a coup against the Saudi-backed Sunni government by Shi’a Houthi tribesmen. Two million Yemenis are said to be on the verge of starvation.