It’s been ten days since the election saga began and at times it seems that we’re worse off than we were when this all started on November 3rd, election day 2020. I’ve been away from this blog since the 6th. In fact, I’ve been physically away having been on a short road trip to Lake Tahoe and California’s Gold Country.
The original plan was to continue to write posts about this melodrama while away but I was compelled by my lazier and certainly wiser angels to take a break and enjoy family and the dogs in cushions of fresh mountain snow (A post about that trip may appear on this very page. Stay tuned).
Victory and celebration
Departure day was Saturday the 7th, and when I got up Biden was within a poorly shaved whisker of having the race called for him. At some point while I was packing the car and we were all going through time honored tradition of pre-departure confusion, last minute trips to the bathroom and “what are we forgetting” antics, the networks called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, giving him 20 electoral votes, 3 more than the required 270; game-set-match.
Cora and I alternately sighed in relief and revelled in joy. At times that morning I felt a welling of tears. Throughout the day Kool and the Gang’s anthem song Celebration washed away the troubles of the past four years. The Trump regime, a four year reign of terror, was finally nearing a visible end. News had it that the Donald himself was on the golf course when the results came in. Apparently his handlers realizing that the “Fuck Trump” grafitti was on the wall led him to the course where a few clubs likely lost their lives, drowned in lakes or wrapped around trees.
While Trump was communing with the nature that he never really appreciates except for what riches it’s desecration might bring him, an extraordinary thing happened across America. In cities and towns from coast to coast people spilled onto the streets, not to protest as has happened all too often since spring, but to rejoice; to bask in the release of four years of pent up tension, fear and uncertainty.
The scenes of Americans kicking up their heels, jumping for joy and dancing with people who moments before were strangers were all reminiscent of the day that World War II had come to an end. It was the same national joy that occurs when a dictator is shown the door, such as what happened in the Philippines when Ferdinand Marcos was deposed. It was a scene I never expected to see in my America. You have to be quite the shit heel when perfect strangers dance in the streets in the middle of a pandemic to celebrate your political demise.
On the way to Tahoe I bought some Champagne to celebrate the ending of the dark days. That night we toasted and celebrated as the Parisians and the Romans had done when the Nazi flags were toppled and trampled.
A separate reality
I never expected that Trump would go quietly and with dignity. To think that Trump would have an election day patriotic epiphany would be an illusion of prestorous proportions. And so six days after the election was called for Biden the tension remains, maybe more so than when it all began on January 21st 2016. Six days later Trump is still denying the results of the election. Six days of crying fraud. Six days of presidential pouting in the confines of the White House (if indeed there’s anything presidential about pouting). Six days of dereliction of duty as a sulking angry president ignores a pandemic that’s running rampant in unprecedented numbers. Six days of a president glued to the T.V., cursing the media and spreading blame and bile while ignoring national security, the plight of Americans suffering the effects of a pandemic and all of it’s related calamity.
When not moping the president has been bunker building. For six days since the victory was called for Biden, Trump, his crime family and inner circle have been floating ludicrous conspiracy theories and filing a series of wacky lawsuits that judges have been swatting down as quickly as the gang of Trump ambulance chasers can pitch them. It’s been six days of a scorched Earth campaign and Machiavellian scheming that have been wreaking destruction on American traditions, institutions and the very Constitution. It will take decades for the nation to recover from the damage brought on by a family that makes the Borgias look like the Brady Bunch by comparison. I doubt that restoration will be near completion during my own lifetime.
A drive through Trump country
For those not familiar with California’s geography, the drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lake Tahoe pierces the Central Valley, passes through the Sierra Foothills and rises into the majestic Sierra Nevada. With the exception of Sacramento it’s all rural and it’s largely Trump country. A look at a map showing the breakdown of election results shows a blue Bay Area that turns crimson at the eastern edge, remaining blood red all the way to the border with Nevada.
On our way to Tahoe we drove on the most direct route taking Highways 80 and 50. Along the way we saw Trump signs aplenty and the common sight of oversized pickup trucks sporting Trump bumper stickers and flags. On the way back, wanting to see the autumn California countryside I took the backroads. It’s here that Trumpism is on full display in the form of placards and signs in homes and businesses. MAGA flags and billboards are planted in fields, ranchlands and farms. It was for me an ominous sight; a foreshadowing that Trumpism will not easily wane come Biden’s inauguration and beyond.
As I’ve written before on this space I’m loath to compare Trump’s America with Germany’s Third Reich but as I reflect on the sights of the drive home and the events now taking place within Trump’s administration and the Republican Party the similarities are hard to deny. As we passed Trump 2020, Keep America Great signs I recalled passages of Albert Speer’s book, Inside the Third Reich and Speer’s description of the final days of Nazi Germany (Speer was Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production).
Authoritarians produce their own truths and surround themselves with sycophants and yes men who pander to the despot’s separate reality and woe to the poor soul who has the temerity to approach with actual truth. In times of crisis despots retreat intellectually into their own fantasies and physically into their safehouses. Ten days after election day and Trump has made one public appearance, a wreath laying at Arlington, commemorating Veterans Day. Other than that brief show, the president has been hunkered down in the White House alternating between dejected acceptance of the results and the defiant ordering of fruitless challenges, baseless accusations and ludicrous claims of victory. In his book, Speer describes the final days of the Reich as a time when Hitler retreated to his own bunker, rarely going to the upstairs rooms. Surrounded by sycophants Hitler waffled between melancholy and bravado. Speer describes Hitler shifting between a “dreamworld of providential miracles,” reveries of counterattacks and new miracle weapons, to talk of suicide.
Authoritarians eschew diplomacy and statesmanship, favoring instead to rule with fear and intimidation. Hitler insisted on strict obedience on the part of his administrators and generals and woe to the underling who didn’t toe the line. What we are seeing in America is a GOP frozen in fear. With talk of a Trump comeback in 2024 or a Trump T.V. gushing the perversions of Trumpism, Republicans are busy covering their cowardly asses instead of taking on the heavy lifting of repudiating Trump and reclaiming the party that Trump has hijacked and then remaking it into an actual American institution.
Speer describes the final days as a time when Hitler was “resolved on the utmost ruthlessness.” Those who failed to carry out Hitler’s orders to the letter, those who had fallen out of favor, were either sacked or, as in the case of four officers who failed to blow up the Remagen Bridge, executed. While Trump isn’t ordering executions he has asked for resignations from members of Homeland Security and has fired his Secretary of Defense, restructuring the Defense Department, by filling vacancies with racists, xenophobes, lackeys and forelock tuggers. A major shakeup of the Department of Defense is not something that goes unnoticed by America’s adversaries. One can only wonder, not if, but when more heads will roll, especially CIA Director Gina Haspel’s.
Maybe the most tragic aspect of Hitler’s “utmost ruthlessness” was his lack of regard for the lives of the German citizens and for the postwar future of Germany. Instead of surrendering, Hitler, in the relative security and comfort of his bunker, ordered a fight to the very end increasing the poverty, the starvation and the misery of the German people. In the face of a stratospheric rise of COVID cases, in a time of national turmoil Trump has secreted himself in the White House ordering a legal fight to the finish and ignoring the people he swore to serve and to protect. Tragically and shamefully the Republican Party leadership has indulged Trump’s petulance instead of showing a modicum of testicular fortitude and telling the president to grow up, face reality and to do his damn job.
Authoritarians rise to power through deception, populist appeal and by projecting a messianic aura. Hitler retained that appeal with many right up to the final days. In his book Speer describes Germans who he encountered in the Ruhr Valley during the final days who believed that Hitler was “still holding something in reserve that he (would) play at the last moment.”
As we drove home through the farmlands of a Central Valley draped in Trumpian signage and banners it occurred to me that this country has never experienced such a cultish devotion to a leader. It’s a gut driven reverence that subverts national mores, laws, history and the Constitution itself in favor of one man who has become for many a messiah. The big flags continue to fly and Trump’s followers continue to believe that Biden’s victory is a sham, that Trump will somehow overcome just as Germans in the Ruhr Valley believed that Hitler carried a miracle in his briefcase. Even today as I write this piece, Trump’s Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and ardent bootlicker, Peter Navarro stated “We are moving forward here at the White House under the assumption there will be a second Trump term.” He later added, “Any speculation about what Joe Biden might do, I think, is moot at this point.”
The perverted allure of Nazism died hard in Germany. The most zealous died with the Reich as was the case with Josef Goebbels and his wife Magda who poisoned their children before taking their own lives. As we’ve found all too often the cult of Nazism exists in America. Once a homeless, largely isolated drifter, Nazism and it’s xenophobic and racist cousins have found a home in the cult of Trumpism.
Trump’s autocracy is flailing in it’s death throes. The old saying goes, “It isn’t if but when.” In America, we know the “when,” January 20th On that day Trump will either walk out of the White House or be carried out. I have to wonder though, if Trumpism will raise it’s depraved head in 2022 and 2024. Hopefully it will fade away like the trashy Sarah Palin groupies and the self described tainted patriotism of the Tea Party. For that to happen the Republican Party will have to find the guts to reject Trumpism, repair a shattered moral compass and raise America and the people, We The People, all the people, over party.
Certainly Trump never sank to Hitler’s level of depravity. Hitler plunged the world into a cataclysmic war and with purpose brought about the deaths of millions of people simply because of their religions and heritage. But the truth remains that evil is evil and the ruthlessness of authoritarian power is not mitigated by some lower level of destruction and tragedy wrought by any given despot. That Trump is a sort of Hitler-lite does not delegitimize the comparison. Trump’s lower calorie version of despotism doesn’t make him any less evil than history’s most infamous strong men. Evil isn’t solely measured by actions. Actions are the manifestations of the evil that resides in the heart. Trump bears the responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans during this pandemic and the pain and suffering that he’s caused during his four year reign and in the midst of his current self indulgent pity party.
The argument might be made that Trump never reached Hitler’s level of infamy because the American system had enough working brakes to slow Trump down. Along with the firm system that Trump strained but (hopefully) didn’t break, is the fact that Hitler was more intellectually prepared to carry out his own monstrosities. It’s chilling to ponder what might have occurred if the brakes built into the American system had failed or if Trump actually had a political philosophy beyond his own narcissism.
If there is any positive to Trumpism it’s that it exposed the depth of malevolence that runs through American society. The question remains and will remain for some time to come, “What do we do about it?”