Witnessing History: When People Tell You Who They Are, Believe Them

It’s difficult to keep a perspective on the news, which may well be history happening in front of our eyes, or may simply consist of passing trends. There are always passing trends. In the long term, history shows that most people at the time don’t notice long-term historical shifts, like the rise of fascism, in this country or that. So are all the news articles and opinion pieces about the possible resurgence of Donald Trump a passing trend, or the foreboding of a dark future for American democracy? First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out…. Is it worth my spending an hour a day compiling stories like these? (The subtitle of this post paraphrases Maya Angelou.) Or if I did not, would future generations accuse me of being unaware of history growing around me? Similar questions could be raised about climate change. That too is a real problem, but I try not to overload my blog with the latest warning from scientists about that every-increasing danger. It’s obvious, to anyone paying attention, and not blinkered by right-wing propaganda.

CNN, 14 Nov 2023: Trump’s extreme rhetoric conjures the prospect of a presidency like no other

Take Trump’s speech in New Hampshire on Saturday, when he chose to rip at national divides rather than foster unity on Veterans Day.

“We will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” Trump said, using the demagogic technique of dehumanizing his opponents. He warned that “the real threat is not from the radical right. The real threat is from the radical left, and it’s growing every day.”


NY Times, Jamelle Bouie, 14 Nov 2023: Trump Wants Us to Know He Will Stop at Nothing in 2025

Trump would purge the federal government of as many civil servants as possible. In their place, he would install an army of political and ideological loyalists whose fealty to Trump’s interests would stand far and above their commitment to either the rule of law or the Constitution.


LA Times, 13 Nov 2023: Editorial: Trump’s dangerous ‘vermin’ speech would have been at home in Nazi Germany

It is a full-time job to call out every one of Donald Trump’s lies and efforts to divide this nation, but his “vermin” address on Saturday deserves special attention.

His words are repugnant for their historical connections to acts of racism, slaughter and populist dictatorship. The word “vermin” describes harmful rodents and insects. When turned on human beings, it implies the same response — extermination.

In response to criticism that Trump was calling for violence against his enemies, his campaign doubled down. Spokesman Steven Cheung told the Washington Post that “those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”

That response confirms Trump’s call for violence. “Their entire existence will be crushed.”


Vox, Zack Beauchamp, 14 Nov 2023: When Trump tells you he’s an authoritarian, believe him, subtitled “He’s talking like a fascist. He’s planning fascist policies. He’s staffing up with fascists.”

Historically, the erosion of American democracy has happened subtly. In a country where democracy is basically a civic religion, politicians generally don’t announce their intention to attack it when running for office. The past decade of voter suppression laws, state-level rules explicitly designed to limit access to the ballot box, have been sold as tools for combating voter fraud. Many proponents of Jim Crow-era voting regulations — a nakedly racist attempt to ensure white political dominance — described them as a restoration of Southern democracy after the alleged Northern tyranny of Reconstruction.

Donald Trump is currently testing the limits of that unwritten rule by all but openly campaigning on a platform of tearing democracy down.

Perhaps the clearest sign came in a speech on Veterans Day where he vowed to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections.” Calling one’s opponents subhuman and vowing aggressive action against them is a hallmark of classical fascist rhetoric, so much so that the Washington Post’s headline — on a news article, not an opinion piece — described it as “echoing dictators Hitler [and] Mussolini.

They’re not wrong: Anyone familiar with Nazi propaganda can tell you that it commonly dehumanized Jews by describing us as rats or diseases. Trump has used such language more than once: Just last month, he claimed immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”

Comment: Don’t forget that Ronald Reagan got elected president and immediately proclaimed that “government” was the problem. Far from venerating the Constitution as they proclaim, conservatives seem to resent the government.


Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder, 13 Nov 2023: Trump’s Veterans Day speech mirrors Hitler’s statements almost word for word

Hitler: I will get rid of the “communist” “vermin”
Trump: I will get rid of the “communist” “vermin”

Hitler: I will take care of the “enemy within”
Trump: I will take care of the “threat from within”

Hitler: Jews and migrants are poisoning Aryan blood
Trump: Migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country”

Hitler: “One people, one realm, one leader”
Trump: “One people, one family, one glorious nation”


Another take on the eternal question.

AlterNet, Thom Hartmann, 11 Nov 2023: Opinion | Trump is a confidence man, charlatan and liar — so why is America so vulnerable?

Along the way, Hartmann lists the many promises Trump made that he did not keep. Why do Republicans still embrace him?

One theory is that people are basically trusting, and we tend to measure somebody’s truthfulness by the certainty with which they make their assertions. Pathological liars like Trump can be shockingly convincing: it’s the con man’s stock in trade.

They prey on the fact that most people conflate or confuse confidence with competence. In fact, most truly competent people rarely act arrogantly confident: instead, they’re constantly testing their understandings and skills against reality to keep sharp and accurate.

Another theory is that the people who support him know he’s a liar and a fraud and don’t care, so long as he promises to hurt those they mutually hate: Black people, Hispanics, Muslims, the queer community, uppity women, academics, and liberals.

It’s a variation on the old saying, “He may be an SOB, but at least he’s my SOB.” People who are motivated by fear and hate — like much of the Republican base — aren’t usually all that concerned with what they consider the nuances of honesty and integrity.

Which brings us to the final reason why so many people still trust and follow a known liar and con man like Donald Trump: they’ve bought into what’s essentially a cult.

The first imperative of all cult leaders is to cut their followers off from contrasting information that may shatter the cult’s hold over them. While Jim Jones and Osho had to forbid their followers from reading or watching the news to accomplish this, Trump has three television networks, hundreds of websites, and fifteen hundred radio stations all echoing his lies to keep his cult intact.


Robert Reich, 10 Nov 2023: What is Trump planning if he gets a second term? Chaos and consolidation., subtitled “Be worried. Be really worried.”

When I read a few days ago in The Washington Post that Trump and his allies have specific plans in a second Trump term to use the Justice Department to target Trump’s enemies, I was doubtful. Trump doesn’t plan. He reacts. He condemns. He lashes out. But he does not carefully think through anything in advance.

Then I checked in with my circle of Washington political operatives, several of whom are familiar with the people who are doing the “planning” for Trump’s second term — a group of bottom-feeding, power-hungry, right-wing opportunists who know that the way to build influence with Trump is to give him and tell him exactly what he wants to hear.

With examples. Ending,

As I said, I’m skeptical of any “planning” going on inside Trump’s head. But I’ve become convinced that a small band of Trump sycophants (likely including the lapdog authoritarian trio of Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, and Steve Bannon) is right now clearing the runway for an even more neofascist regime than was Trump 1.

As I said, I don’t believe he’ll be reelected. But if he is, there’s reason to be worried. Very worried.


Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 9 Nov 2023: The secret to Trump’s revenge plot: He’s making his plans for vengeance public, subtitled “The mainstream news media is continuing to miss an obvious and critically important aspect of Trump’s plans”

If he wins the 2024 election, Donald Trump will be America’s first dictator.

As an institution, the mainstream American news media is not built for this moment. They have had more than seven years to adapt. They have mostly chosen not to. In that way, the American news media in the Age of Trump is like a sports team that is continuing to run the same plays even though the game has radically changed and, in many ways, has passed them by. As a result, they (and the American people) keep losing.

From the bothsidesism to access journalism to confusing neutrality with objectivity and an emphasis on the horserace instead of the consequences, the media’s obsession with gossip and personalities has provided an undue platform for Trump and other malign right-wing actors to rehabilitate their reputations and circulate their propaganda and lies. Careerism, a lack of intellectual curiosity, and emphasizing profits over bold truth-telling allow the cycle to continue as our democracy languishes.

With examples (quoted from other sites) about rewriting headlines from Washington Post and New York Times to be blunt and more accurate.

The article by Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage and Maggie Haberman was eventually headlined: “If Trump Wins, His Allies Want Lawyers Who Will Bless a More Radical Agenda”.

That’s way better than the original headline: “Trump’s Allies Want a New Style of Lawyer if He Returns to Power.” I guess we should be grateful for that.

But neither comes close to telegraphing the truth. Let me rewrite that headline for you: “If Trump Wins, His Allies Want No Obstacles to Dictatorship”.

My take is this: WaPo and NYT are part of the “mainstream media” that evolved in the 20th century to play fairly by the journalistic standards that arose as part of what Jonathan Rauch calls “the constitution of knowledge.” But with social media enabling disinformation merchants, the old journalistic standards are easily undermined. The enemies of democracy are undermining the “constitution of knowledge,” and appealing to humans’ base instincts of tribalism and xenophobia.


Paul Krugman responds:

Paul Krugman, NY Times, 13 Nov 2023: No, Immigrants Aren’t ‘Poisoning the Blood of Our Country’

Given all this anti-democratic rhetoric, it seems almost crass to point out that a Trumpian war on immigrants would also be an economic disaster. But it would.

That’s apparently not what the Trumpists believe. That Times article quotes Stephen Miller, who headed anti-immigrant operations when Trump was in the White House, as claiming that mass deportations will be “celebrated by American workers, who will now be offered higher wages with better benefits to fill these jobs.”

Very few economists would agree.

To the extent that there’s anything beyond raw xenophobia behind Trumpist hostility to foreign workers, it seems to be the view that America has a limited number of jobs to offer and that immigrants take those jobs away from the native-born. In reality, however, except during recessions, the number of jobs, and hence the economy’s growth, is limited by the available work force rather than the other way around.

And the contribution of immigrants to America’s long-term growth is startlingly large. Since 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. labor force has increased by 14.6 million. Of these additional workers, 7.8 million — more than half — were foreign born.

Oh, and if these immigrants are taking away American jobs, how can the unemployment rate be near a 50-year low? In fact, we desperately need these workers, among other things because they will help us cope with the needs of an aging population.


America doesn’t need to be made great again, because it’s already great. But if you wanted to destroy that greatness, the two most important things you would do would be to reject its commitment to freedom and close its doors to people seeking a better life. Unfortunately, if Trump returns to office, he seems determined to do both of these things.

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