SASHA ABRAMSKY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
For the past several months, I have written about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and listened, in horror, as his positions have become evermore extreme and evermore publicly violent. Trump’s extraordinary comments come so fast and thick these days that they end up something of a blur. But they’re worth paying attention to, each and every one.
Trump has repeatedly advocated that he would change American law so as to make torture permissible and widely usable. He has repeated, gleefully, the much-disputed story of General Pershing ordering his soldiers to dip bullets in pigs’ blood and then summarily shooting dozens of Philippino terrorists, making it clear he favors similar measures against America’s enemies today. He has urged the collective, and violent, punishment of the families of terrorists. And, at one rally after another, especially in southern states where many in his audience remember the Jim Crow years with nostalgia, he has said he longs for “the good old days” when protestors could be beaten and when police would remove them from events “on a stretcher.” He has, repeatedly, said that he, personally, longs to smash in the faces of his enemies.
He speaks the language of the Iron Fist with absolute fluency.
Some dismiss all of this as harmless, if uncouth, banter. I disagree. A demagogue who publicly fetishizes violence in the way that Trump does, does so for a reason: violence, in totalitarian systems, becomes a glue holding the society together. And criminal violence, sanctioned by top officials, and implemented by state institutions such as the military and the courts, becomes the method by which dictators consolidate their power: for if all institutions become complicit in crime, then all institutions have a stake in its perpetuation. The more the violence becomes embedded in the institutions of the state, the more it all serves as an insurance policy protecting the people at the top from resistance and non-cooperation. After a while, as was seen in Fascist Italy, in Nazi Germany, or in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the violence becomes self-perpetuating, the mission of the state fundamentally defined by the sadism of the leadership.
In 1898, the French author Emile Zola published an open letter to the President of France, titled J’accuse!, accusing a number of top army personnel of having framed a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, for passing military secrets to the Germans. Dreyfus was, argued Zola, the victim of “the ‘dirty Jew’ obsession that is the scourge of our time.”
Dreyfus had been found guilty of treason, and Zola believed that political and military demagogues and a frenzied media environment were responsible. “It is a crime to lie to the public, to twist public opinion to insane lengths in the service of the vilest death-dealing machination. It is a crime to poison the minds of the meek and the humble, to stoke the passions of reactionism and intolerance, by appealing to that odious anti-Semitism that, unchecked, will destroy the freedom-loving France of the Rights of Man. It is a crime to exploit patriotism in the service of hatred, and it is, finally, a crime to ensconce the sword as the modern god.”
Having followed the evolution of Trump’s rhetoric over the past several months, and having extensively studied the ways in which Fascists leaders in decades past worked to make anyone and everyone complicit in their monstrous actions, I now make a similar accusation.
I accuse you, Donald Trump, of riding waves of fear, not to make the country greater or safer, but to further your own narcissistic longing for the spotlight and for power. I accuse you, Donald Trump, of pandering to odious Islamophobia and broader anti-immigrant sentiments, with your vile proposal to ban an entire religion from the country, with your suggestion that American Muslims ought to be listed on a registry, and your similarly foul determination to build a massive wall along the country’s southern border. I accuse you, Donald Trump, of stoking the most dangerous racial hatreds – hatreds that could shred the cohesion of this multicultural and multiracial land -- and of currying the favor of a who’s who of noxious organizations, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the French fascist party.
I accuse you, Donald Trump, of seeking to morally compromise the military by stating that you will make them implement your Gestapo-like plans to collectively punish, even to kill, the families of terrorists. I accuse you, Donald Trump, of the hideous moral crime of seeking to make your followers buy into your crazed vision of torturing your enemies simply for the sake of inflicting pain.
I accuse you, Donald Trump, of the morally cretinous sin of repeatedly telling your supporters that you long to smash in the faces of people you disagree with – language that every elementary school pupil is told is unacceptable. I accuse you, Donald Trump, of a lust for violence for violence’s sake, for your arguing that lethal injection is too gentle a punishment for convicted killers. I accuse you, Donald Trump, of the crime against democracy of building a personality cult around your candidacy, as witnessed by your enforcing a personal loyalty oath at your mass gatherings – binding people to follow you no matter what dark road you take them down.
In sum, I accuse you, Donald Trump, of being a purveyor of the sorts of perverted sadism that became the public face of Chile under Pinochet or of Germany during the dark years of the Third Reich.
I accuse you, Donald Trump, demagogue, stoker of mob passions, of moral treason.
Sasha Abramsky is the author of seven books, including, most recently, The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives, and The House of Twenty Thousand Books. His works has appeared in the Nation, American Prospect, New Yorker online and many other publications. He is a senior fellow for Democracy at the Demos think tank.