In 2016, we self-absorbed, righteous, liberal Democrats laughed when Donald Trump, the failed businessman turned entertainer, staged a theatrical made-for-TV moment on the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for president. It was jokish; Melania, the beautiful accessory trailing dutifully behind. He told us he was running because Mexican rapists and criminal elements were invading “our” country and that he could return America to greatness.
Today, on the 5th of July four years later, it seems appropriate to put that event in some kind of historical context. No one imagined a Trump victory in 2016 but it happened, and here we are in 2020 faced with an emboldened, delusional Donald Trump asserting that left wing, liberal, socialist elites are relentlessly campaigning to undermine his legitimacy and the democracy of “our” founding fathers.
His bombastic message delivered at the foot of Mt. Rushmore on Friday night claimed “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children, with angry mobs trying to tear down statues of our founders, defacing our most sacred memorials, and unleashing a wave of violent crime in our cities.”
We know the “founding fathers” were flawed men – all men, all white men – but men of good will who envisioned a new kind of government. Jefferson and Madison, both slave holders, declared “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Their statement may have been hypocritical, but it was aspirational. After deep study they were determined to form “a more perfect union,” with citizens choosing their leaders and ruling by consensus. Aspiration is key to understanding their hope for the new nation.
This time we can’t be smug or complacent. Trump needs to be taken seriously. This time it’s not a joke. He occupies the most powerful office on earth and wields the power of that office. In four short years, this ignorant, inarticulate, uninformed, xenophobic, white supremacist has taken control of the American government and, through his mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis, killed more than 130,000 Americans. Yes, make no mistake about it, he has killed 130,000 Americans. In those four short years he has become the tin pot dictator many of us knew he aspired to be.
It’s still hard, given all he has done, to take him seriously. He’s a bully who has difficulty with his native tongue. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t understand the American system and structure of government but that doesn’t matter to him either. He has the power of the chief executive and isn’t afraid to use it. He’s inspired a cult of followers that are zealous in their devotion to their Dear Leader. I struggle to find a reason or corollary. There are still legal constraints on his power, but Attorney General Barr is working tirelessly to remove them.
Unlike Stalin and Hitler who were guided by perverse political philosophies and diabolical world views, Trump is guided only by his own sociopathic ego. He is neither as vicious as Stalin nor as malevolent as Hitler. He is more like Mussolini – a braggard and a fool – dumb but dangerous. Mussolini was an avowed patriot and coward, who like Trump with his bone spurs, escaped to Switzerland to avoid military service and returned only when deserters were given amnesty.
Mussolini became the Prime Minister but by enacting a series of laws, removing his political opposition and outlawing labor strikes he and his followers consolidated government power and transformed Italy into a one-party dictatorship – much like what Orban has done in Hungary in the 21st century.
Mussolini stayed in power for 20 years, but when Italians could no longer put up with his mismanagement of the government, former colleagues in his own Fascist government overthrew and imprisoned him. He was then rescued by German commandos but was eventually recaptured and shot by Italian partisans in 1945.
I don’t want to see Trump shot by partisans, though I wouldn’t mind seeing him overthrown and imprisoned by the Republicans who have knelt before him as he dismantled our government. Maybe, him like Mussolini’s fascist supporters, they will come to their senses and realize the threat he poses to our democratic system.
On the other hand, it might be more appropriate if he contracted the Covid-19 virus he calls a hoax and had to ride out the kind of long-suffering painful illness he’s been responsible for inflicting on so many other Americans. I doubt it would result in a come to Jesus moment, but it might be cold comfort to the rest of us who have been living sequestered lives according to the guidelines his task force has stipulated but he continues to ignore.
Mask up until it’s over!
Photos courtesy of Time and Vanity Fair magazines.