Fascism is Real (Essay #3): We Don't Need a Strongman

I haven’t lost hope on having a constructive debate with today’s Republican, but I’ve run out of patience with anyone putting forth simplistic characterizations of the left and liberals. Trump has taken it up a notch with uncivil (“Trump the bitch” and “lock her up”), and cartoonish (“Mexico is sending over its rapists”), perceptions of the "other" so as to betray any real understanding of the people they are deriding. Trump’s supporters are generally grossly misinformed when they speak about the left and liberals. And they will seemingly be the last to realize it. The modern Right, as if by mandate, favors a melodramatic and cheap marginalization of concepts they don't find agreeable. One should look to the Left for a better understanding of what the Left is actually doing wrong. The Right – and Trump voters in particular – are living in an alternative reality that is far removed from the conscious sussing of facts. 

If these were kinder political times, I would almost feel sorry for the Right. The Left tends to get in its own way, sure, but at least they move forward with principals resembling liberty and justice for all. In 2017, it is the Left that petitions our government to be more of the people/ by the people. The Left are calling for greater legislative transparency. The Left is more likely to have a vigorous and cerebral discussion about the future of the United States. The Right, by enlarge, has settled for rote exercises of flag waving and reactionary jingoism, actions that are quickly maturing into something resembling an intellectual all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of hot-air paranoia. President Trump insults his constituency on a regular basis; at this point one cannot expect the modern Right to have the courage to admit their embarrassment with such a man. The Right’s blind faith in Trump’s odd mischaracterizations of democracy nullifies any credible sense of decency they’ve built up over the years. Make no mistake: it is the Left that is rising to fight against tyranny in the United States. The Right can apparently only cower to a so-called strongman. 

In the tactile world, a strong man would be defined by actions and accomplishments in terms of aspirational leadership qualities - achieving feats of strength, doing the right thing even when unpopular or risky, overcoming significant obstacles, etc. In politics, a strongman means something quite the opposite: someone who intends to rule by force and run an authoritarian regime. The political strongman is someone who generally lacks the attributes and integrity found in real strength, so they project an overly aggrandized image of themselves as overcompensation for deep insecurities. They are cartoonish figures, impulsive and dangerous. The image in their mind – ahem – trumps reality. The end game is to silence critics and ramrod an agenda forward without giving the people a say. 

Does this sound like someone we know? Let's examine how the Trump regime matches up to the checklist of a political strongman: hostile to intellectualism – check; disinterest in historical precedent – check; in constant need of flattery – check; decrying the free press as the enemy – check; threatening ominous retribution for critics – check; lack of transparency in governance – check... and on down the list of what would point to the makings of an authoritarian government. Dictators, in particular, have a tendency to set themselves up as a strong man and the ambitions of President Donald Trump do indeed run parallel with that of a dictator. 

Fear will define you if you give into it. President Trump is the answer for people who have given into fear, be it fear of immigrants coming to steal jobs, or fear becoming culturally disempowered, or a general fear of the frightful violence occurring all over the world. Or, it could just be fear of snakes and sharks, fear of the principals of evolution, fear of the unknown, fear of having some culpability with climate change, or fear of being exposed as not having actually done the self-work to live up an obnoxious moral disposition (evangelicals in pursuit of the Prosperity Gospel – I’m talking to you). President Trump is all too willing to indulge in fear-based rhetoric to fire up his constituency, on the political premise that he is the only man to alleviate these fears. The world is a mess and Trump is the only person who can fix it. And this is a subject that is not, and has never been, up for debate with Trump the politician. If you buy that premise, then Trump is your man – unequivocal belief is all that is required. 

But for the rest of us, President Trump just resembles a nincompoop. By Trump’s own words, there is no room for even partial disagreement with his agency; every challenge is interpreted as undermining of his strongman persona. He is basically at a point where he’s saying his critics are the enemy. This would be comical if the situation weren’t so serious. Free people don’t need a strongman for a leader, and even if we did, President Trump would hardly qualify for the role. As evidenced through the decades, Donald Trump’s accomplishments are rooted in extraordinary privilege. His art of the deal lacks actual accomplishment. I’m not sure anyone really knows exactly why Trump is rich and famous. But here he is: POTUS. And every day brings another example of how unprepared he is to handle the massive responsibilities of this job. As a strongman, President Trump is left with few options other than trying to outrun the big lies by limiting your ability to stand in his way.

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