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Friday, 03 August 2018 06:09

Trump and the Possibility of Authoritarian Rule in the US

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trumprallyTrump uses rallies to solidify an authoritarian base. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

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Since the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump has been determined to create a base of supporters who would support his authoritarian leadership without question. In this quest, he has largely succeeded. His tactics of identifying so-called enemies -- including non-white immigrants, people of color more generally, the alleged "deep state," Mueller and the Special Counsel's office as a whole, etc. -- are a means to consolidate cult-like control over the 35 to 42 percent of the voters who see him as a singular strongman to "Make America White Again." His tweets and rally statements serve to reinforce his stentorian leadership over a base of white voters who feel besieged by the changing demographics of the nation.

Although it is simplistic to make an analogy of Trumpism to Nazism, one can say with certainty that Trump -- knowingly or unknowingly -- follows some of the same propaganda techniques as Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. One glaring example is how Trump tenaciously utilizes Goebbels' promotion of the big lie, as quoted here by Goebbels:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

This strategy of Goebbels fits Trump like a glove. After all, this is the president who uses Twitter, in particular, along with his rallies to demonize the press. This inoculates his followers from believing reporting that reveals Trump is lying, or any critical coverage in general. The repetition of Trump's pronouncement that the press is "the enemy of the people," "disgusting" and dispensing "fake news" follows Goebbels' viewpoint. When the truth becomes "the greatest enemy of the State," Trump is threatened. So he makes, through endless repetition, the media out to be an evil force that creates stories that are "the enemy of the people." Trump is masterful at creating the big lie. On August 2, The Washington Post confirmed in a headline, "Sarah Sanders presents the official White House policy: The media is the enemy of the people."

The Washington Post has also been keeping track of Trump's factual inaccuracies in his pronouncements. The number of false claims is astonishing, and it is only increasing:

It turns out that’s when the president decided to turn on the spigots of false and misleading claims. As of day 558, he’s made 4,229 Trumpian claims — an increase of 978 in just two months.

That’s an overall average of nearly 7.6 claims a day.

When we first started this project for the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. But the average number of claims per day keeps climbing the longer Trump stays in office. In fact, in June and July, the president averaged 16 claims a day.

Put another way: In his first year as president, Trump made 2,140 false or misleading claims. Now, just six months later, he has almost doubled that total....

Trump has a proclivity to repeat, over and over, many of his false or misleading statements. We’ve counted nearly 150 claims that the president has repeated at least three times, some with breathtaking frequency.

That is a whole lot of dissemination of "the big lie," and it comes at the same time he is ratcheting up his attacks on the media. This is resulting in his base's contempt for non-Fox television, for instance, becoming increasingly vocal and threatening at rallies. This was most recently evidenced by rabid Trump supporters heckling and berating CNN's Jim Acosta while he was on air at a Trump appearance in Florida.

This employment of "the big lie" is laying the groundwork for a potential undermining of democracy and a shift to an authoritarian government, at least among the cauldron of Trump's core supporters. A groundbreaking research paper published last year by academicians Steven Miller and Nicholas Davis stated how Trump is making the political future in the US fertile for authoritarian rule by positioning himself as the upholder of white rule and denigrator of most non-whites. The report's academic abstract states:

Social intolerance embodies an unwillingness to associate or fraternize with individuals whose cultural, racial, or religious ideas or ways differ from one’s own group. Such prejudice is a particularly thorny problem in the context of democracy, which is predicated upon extending representational access to all citizens irrespective of race or creed.

To what extent, then, does this social intolerance affect individuals’ support for democratic institutions? Using World Values Surveys from 1995 to 2011, we find that intolerance toward cultural, ethnic, or racial ‘others’ reduces the value that white Americans assign to democracy. Perhaps more troubling, these attitudes also increase white individuals’ openness to undemocratic alternatives – white Americans who exhibit social intolerance are more likely to dismiss the value of separation of powers and to support army rule.

Hypothetically, the person heading military rule would be a triumphant authoritarian such as Trump.

A recent article in Salon states the findings more directly in relation to Trump's cynical corralling of his base:

Donald Trump's combination of racism and authoritarianism, made repeatedly clear through his words and deeds, has not been disqualifying for his voters and most Republicans. Indeed it is central to his appeal and has lured tens of millions of Americans into his movement.

In an increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan America, this combination is like a dagger pointed at the heart of the country’s democracy. Whether our republic can survive changing racial demographics and white racial paranoia … is very much in question. It seems clear that white identity politics has helped the Republican Party maintain control over its voters and that a large number of white Americans value the privilege conferred on them by skin color more than they value democracy.

In short, "the big lie" is used to energize a significant segment of the US white population that values a government that serves white supremacy even if it means the abandonment of democracy. Trump knows how use kindling wood to light the fire under this sentiment, and his skill at energizing the movement toward authoritarianism through the denigration of people of color -- and particularly of immigrants from Mexico and Central America -- should not be underestimated.