Sunday, July 24, 2016

Donald Trump’s Caesar Moment

If one is a student of history, one recognizes that the worse despots - and mass murderers - of the 20th Century all shared a common traits: overweening ego, narcissism, and paranoia toward those who opposed them.  Think Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Josef Stalin.  There are others lesser known, but these traits defined them, as well as a ruthlessness directed at opponents, both real and imagined. Fast forward to 2016 and we see an individual with similar traits wrapped in the mantle of the presidential nominee of the Republican Party.  A column in Politico looks at this frightening moment in America's history.  Here are excerpts:
It was a speech perfectly suited to the nominee. It was a speech utterly unconnected to anything we have ever heard from any previous nominee.
Most American presidential nominees—indeed, most convention speakers—pay homage to outsized figures of the nation's past, even some from the other side of the spectrum.
And Donald Trump? In his speech, there was no thread of any kind linking him to past American greats, no sense that he is following any tradition. Indeed, in one of the best-received lines of the speech, he told us, of our “rigged” system: “I alone can fix it.” Fix it with his own party’s leadership in Congress, or with an aroused populace? No. “I alone can fix it.”
In so many other ways, Trump presented himself as a man alone, imbued with the power to do what no other person or institution can do.
In this declaration—repeated at the end of the speech—Trump defined himself as a bedrock figure in American culture: the figure who faces danger alone, who follows his own code of conduct.
Nor is there any room for a cautionary note about the limits of presidential power. John Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, for instance, ends by saying of his: “all this will not be finished in the 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1000 days, nor in the life of this Administration.”
What does Trump say?
“..the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end.”
“On the economy, I will outline reforms to add millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth that can be used to rebuild America.”
“On January 21st of 2017, the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced.” 
In this speech, we have finally seen the answer to the perplexing question of just what political philosophy Donald Trump embraces. It is Caesarism: belief in a leader of great strength who, by force of personality, imposes order on a land plagued by danger. If you want to know why Trump laid such emphasis on “law and order”—using Richard Nixon’s 1968 rhetoric in a country where violent crime is at a 40-year low—it is because nations fall under the sway of a Caesar only when they are engulfed by fear. And the subtext of this acceptance speech was: be afraid; be very afraid.
It is impossible to imagine anyone else giving an acceptance speech so disconnected from anything in the American political tradition. Whether voters see that departure as a cause for celebration or worry may help decide what happens in November.

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