Quantcast
Connect with us

Can it happen here? Bill Moyers says it’s happening right before our very eyes

Published

on

- Commentary

At 98, historian Bernard Weisberger has seen it all. Born in 1922, he grew up watching newsreels of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler as they rose to power in Europe. He vividly remembers Mussolini posturing to crowds from his balcony in Rome, chin outthrust, right arm extended. Nor has he forgotten Der Fuehrer’s raspy voice on radio, interrupted by cheers of “Heil Hitler,” full of menace even without pictures.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fascist bullies and threats anger Bernie, and when America went to war to confront them, he interrupted his study of history to help make history by joining the army. He yearned to be an aviator but his eyesight was too poor. So he took a special course in Japanese at Columbia University and was sent as a translator to the China-Burma-India theater where Japanese warlords were out to conquer Asia. Bernie remembers them, too.

In time, we became colleagues on a series of broadcasts about the 20th century. As we compared the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler in an episode titled The President and the Dictator, Bernie kept reminding the team that the most cunning demagogues “are never more than a few steps from becoming dictators.” Not surprisingly, the subject came up again when Trump was elected. No, we didn’t think he was Hitler, or the Republicans Nazis, but both of us acknowledged a deep unease over the vulnerabilities of democracy, which had led to Trump’s election in the first place. Inspired by Bernie and unnerved by Trump, I decided to take a deeper look at democracy under stress and began reading what is now more than a dozen books on Europe in the 1930s. The most recent is a compelling and chilling account of Hitler’s First Hundred Days, by the historian Peter Fritzsche – a familiar story revisited by the author with fresh verve and insight.

Hitler was a master of manipulation, using propaganda, violence, intimidation, showmanship, and spectacle — and above all, fear. By demonizing “the other” – Jews, social democrats and communists – Hitler won the hearts and minds of the masses, consolidating his power, and turning Germany into a one-party Nazi state.

I had just finished the book when I received a short email from Bernie, who had been watching on television the events following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. He wrote, “All this open talk by Trump of dominance is pretty undisguised fascism. He’s inciting chaos to set the stage for the strong man to ‘rescue’ the nation.”

There was no doubt who would be Superman riding to America’s rescue. When Trump promised to end what he called “American carnage” – a crisis of “poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, crime and gangs and drugs” — he did not ask for our help. He did not ask that we put our faith in each other or in our democratic values or even in God. Donald J. Trump would be our savior, the new Messiah — because “I alone can fix it.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Bernie’s note triggered a recollection, sending me across the room to retrieve from a file drawer an essay written two years ago in The New York Review of Books by the American legal scholar Cass Sunstein. Reviewing three new books about ordinary Germans and the Nazi regime, he concluded: “With our system of checks and balances, full-blown authoritarianism is unlikely to happen here.”

I had admired Sunstein’s work for years and found reassuring his judgment that the rule of law would check a would-be tyrant. But many found that assurance disquieting. One dissenter was Norman Ravitch, emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Riverside. Responding to Sunstein, he wrote: “The normal concern of people of all sorts with their daily lives, family, work, leisure, and so on indicates that only those in certain areas of work and life could possibly notice the slow but relentless advance of authoritarian and totalitarian policies by the government. The Nazis knew how to appeal to people who did not have the ideological concerns but only normal human concerns. They knew how to conceal their real goals and how to make passive individuals active supporters.”

So does Trump. He understands that most Americans are concerned with little more than the economy, health care and jobs. They respond positively to politicians who promise action on these priorities, whether or not they know if those promises will ever be fulfilled. Ravitch pointed out that like Hitler and like Mussolini, Trump knows how to appeal to a variety of concerns with promises that can be both attractive and contradictory. Because no population is educated enough, sensitive enough, or ethical enough to see through the deception, “the danger is very great indeed. It may in fact be one of the chief weaknesses of democracy that democracy can lead to tyranny just as well or perhaps even more than other political systems.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Two years have passed since that exchange between scholars, and in those two years Trump has doubled down. This president is no friend of democracy.

He has declared himself above the law, preached insurrection by encouraging armed supporters to “liberate” states from the governance of duly elected officials, told police not to be “too nice” while doing their job, and gloated over the ability of the Secret Service to turn “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” loose on demonstrators — to “come down on them hard” if they get too “frisky.

ADVERTISEMENT

He has politicized the Department of Justice while remaking the judiciary in his image.

He has stifled investigations into his administration’s corruption, fired officials charged with holding federal agencies accountable to the public, and rewarded his donors and cronies with government contracts, subsidies, deregulations, and tax breaks.

He has maligned and mocked the disadvantaged, the disabled, and people of color.

ADVERTISEMENT

He has sought to politicize the military, including in his entourage the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs (dressed in combat fatigues), as his orderlies unleashed chemical fumes on peaceful protesters – all so that the president could use them as stage props in a photo op, holding up a Bible in front of a historic church, just to make a dandy ad for his re-election campaign.

He has purged his own party of independent thinkers and turned it into a spineless, mindless cult while demonizing the opposition.

He has purloined religion for state and political ends.

He has desecrated the most revered symbols of Christian faith by converting them to partisan brands.

ADVERTISEMENT

He has recruited religious zealots for jobs in his administration, rewarding with government favors the electoral loyalty of their followers.

He has relentlessly attacked mainstream media as purveyors of “fake news” and “enemies of the people” while collaborating with a sycophantic right- wing media – including the Murdoch family’s Fox News — to flood the country with lies and propaganda.

He has maneuvered the morally hollow founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, into compromising the integrity of the most powerful media giant in the country by infusing it with partisan bias.

And because truth is the foe he most fears, he has banned it from his administration and his lips.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yes, Bernie, you are right: the man in the White House has taken all the necessary steps toward achieving the despot’s dream of dominance.

Can it happen here?

It is happening here.

Democracy in America has been a series of narrow escapes. We may be running out of luck, and no one is coming to save us. For that, we have only  ourselves.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

England pubs reopen on US Independence Day — after first nationwide closure since 1665’s Great Plague

Published

on

The streets of Soho filled with merry drinkers in London on Saturday and the pubs of Manchester were packed as England's hospitality sector returned from a three-month coronavirus hiatus.

"It feels amazing," said Leo Richard Bill, a soldier, after getting through the door of one of London's buzziest restaurants on the Thames River's popular south bank.

"It’s been what, like three months since... me and everyone else haven’t been able to get outside and have a good time. So yeah, it feels good to get amongst it," he said.

Parts of London and other cities, deserted during lockdown, sprang to life as people dressed up and came out for "Super Saturday" -- the day England's hospitality sector reopened for the first time since March.

Continue Reading

2020 Election

Trump’s angry words and Coronavirus surge darken Independence Day weekend in America

Published

on

The United States marked an unusually somber Independence Day on Saturday, with President Donald Trump bashing domestic opponents and China -- but praising the country's coronavirus response, despite a record surge in cases.

Across the country, virus fears dampened or nixed Main Street parades, backyard barbecues and family reunions on a day when Americans typically celebrate their 1776 declaration of independence from Britain.

Instead of adopting a unifying tone, Trump -- facing a tough re-election and eager to mobilize his political base -- railed against protesters demanding racial justice after unarmed African American George Floyd was killed by a white police officer.

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

‘Spoiler’ Kanye West mocked for running for president against his pal Trump: ‘2020 never fails to disappoint’

Published

on

President Donald Trump appears to have lost the support of one of his most well-known Black supporters as Kanye West announced on Saturday that he is running for president.

“We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States,” West posted on Twitter, with the hashtag #2020VISION.

The musician was mocked for his presidential bid, here's some of what people were saying:

Continue Reading
 
 
You need honest news coverage. Help us deliver it. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image