Even before Donald Trump took office, comparisons between him and the right wing totalitarian leaders of the 20th century were flying freely around the net and social media. I have made comparisons of my own here before, but my comparisons incline me to reject any equivalence between Trump on the one hand and Hitler, Mussolini, or Franco on the other. Trump and the Republican Party with which he is working are simply not totalitarians. They want less government authority, not more. Their model is the United States before the Progressive era, not Italy or Germany during the last great Atlantic crisis. Yet in another way, as the President's speech withdrawing from the Paris accords showed, there is a profound similarity between Trump and the Republicans on the one hand, and all the totalitarian movements of the last century on the other, including not only National Socialism and Fascism, but Communism in both the USSR and Mao's China. Like the Nazis, the Stalinists and the Maoists, the Republicans and Trump have sold themselves on a view of the world that has little or no relation to reality. Having developed that worldview over several decades, they are now trying to implement it. But because it is a fantasy, this attempt is bound to do enormous harm--whether the American people find the strength to reject it during the next 20 years or so or not.
President Trump in his speech last week did not warn that the United Nations was planning to land a force in black helicopters to take over teh USA, but he might as well have. The Paris accord, he said, "is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production." The Green Climate Fund, he claimed, "is costing the United States a vast fortune," although our commitment of $3 billion amounted to just $10 per US citizen. Incredibly, Trump claimed that the fund would cost us tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, with no evidence whatever. This is the way that Hitler (with more justification, actually) talked about the Versailles Treaty and the reparations settlements that followed it during the 1920s, and the way the Bolsheviks talked about the huge prewar loans from France, Britain, and other nations, which had funded the development of the Russian railway system. Continuing, Trump claimed that the Paris accord was going to cost us 2.7 million jobs by 2025, citing a discredited study from a conservative think tank. Their report painted a picture of incredible economic devastation which the President of the United States treated as fact. Rather than give in, the President promised a renaissance of American coal mining and jobs for miners--which no one believes can possibly happen in the current energy environment. The President talked about the rest of the world the way Communist leaders talked about the capitalism world, painting it as a vast conspiracy designed to cripple the United States for their own benefit. "The rest of the world," the President said, "applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement. They went wild. They were so happy. For the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage. . . .The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries." Unspoken was the obvious conclusion, spread by Dinesh D'Souza and other conservative pundits, that President Obama signed it because he has always hated the United States.
The President specifically argued that China and India would take advantage of the agreement to increase coal production while the US had to cut it, but those countries are in fact moving away from it. He said nothing, of course, about the rapidly falling price of clean energy and the jobs that could be gained by investing in it. That is because the Republican Party is virtually a wholly owned subsidiary of the most conservative elements of the energy industry, led by the Koch brothers. And that is a key difference between today's Republicanism on the one hand, and the National Socialists and Communists on the other. They were genuinely motivated by ideology; the Republicans are simply slaves to private interests.
The recurring theme of Trump's speech, that he is reasserting America's national sovereignty against illegitimate international authority, could be traced back to the 1950s and the founding of the John Birch Society--led, among others, by the Koch brothers' father. "It would once have been unthinkable that an international agreement
could prevent the United States from conducting its own domestic
economic affairs," he said. "But this is the new reality we face if we do not leave
the agreement or if we do not negotiate a far better deal." And the Paris agreement--which is based, in fact, entirely on voluntary compliance--will be, he warned, only the prelude to further attacks on our sovereignty. In the last 60 years, such fringe ideas have found their way to the summit of power. That idea may also have led Trump to refuse to promise our NATO allies that he would defend them all against attack, and it will encourage him to take more and more unilateral steps in foreign affairs, just as Hitler boasted of freeing Germany from the shackles of the Versailles Treaty and the subsequent Locarno Pact before he unleashed the Second World War.
The situation with regard to health care is similar. Committed to the belief that the free market will provide the most people with the best insurance, the Republicans have to ignore the unpleasant reality that insurance companies love writing policies for healthy people but would rather not insure sick ones. Thus they are trying to eliminate the ACA, and insurance for at least 20 million Americans, while claiming that this will make things better.
Where will all this lead? History is not especially encouraging.
National Socialism could not, as I pointed out in an earlier post, deliver on its promises to the German people, but totalitarian methods secured its hold on power .It destroyed itself because it was dedicated to a hopeless war of expansion that brought it into conflict with three superior industrial and military powers. Fascism was not particularly successful, but it had survived for 18 years before Mussolini in 1940 made the fatal mistake of following Hitler into war. Franco,. who carefully avoided that mistake, survived for the rest of his life, 36 years, after seizing power. And the Soviet Union, with the help of totalitarian methods, survived for more than four decades after the Second World War despite its clear failure to meet the needs of its people.
Trump and the Republicans, it seems to me, will further enrich the fossil fuel industry, take away health care from millions of Americans, and roll back some of the regulations of the financial industry--which have never been severe enough as it is. But given the entrenched power of the Republicans, the continuing movement of population to the Sunbelt, and the Democrats' inability to unite behind a compelling alternative set of policies, we cannot be sure that the Republican philosophy, which has been steadily gaining in power since the 1980s, will not remain dominant for some time to come. The politics of the Gilded Age disgusted many educated and patriotic Americans from the time of the Grant Administration forward, but not until Theodore Roosevelt--30 years later--did any real reforms begin.
The threat of climate change is, of course, very real. In fact, serious students of the subject have argued for some time that the Paris accords were grossly inadequate to meet the threat and threatened to lull the public to sleep. I have been convinced for some time that only a series of environmental catastrophes such as the flooding of Miami will mobilize the world to the necessary extent in any case. Such a chain of events is, paradoxically, perhaps our best hope of recovering some civic spirit and mobilizing resources for good ends. I can't see much else that would have that effect.