The Banal Belligerence of Donald Trump

Roundup
tags: election 2016, Trump



Roger Cohen joined The New York Times in 1990. He was a foreign correspondent for more than a decade before becoming acting foreign editor on Sept. 11, 2001, and foreign editor six months later. Mr. Cohen has written “Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo,” an account of the wars of Yugoslavia’s destruction, and “Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis’ Final Gamble.” 

The soldiers, millions of them, came home from the war. They dispersed across the country, in big towns and small. It was not easy to recount what had happened to them, and for the dead it was impossible....

Democracy, the great diluter, slow and compromised, was inadequate for the expression of the soldiers’ emotions. Reasonable leaders with rational arguments could not assuage the loss. They seemed to belittle it with their parsing of every question and their half-decisions.

No, what was needed was a leader with answers, somebody to marshal a popular movement and cut through hesitations, a strongman who would put the nation first and mythologize its greatness, a figure ready to scapegoat without mercy, a unifier giving voice to the trampled masses, a man who could use democracy without being its slave.

Over 15 years national embitterment festered and yearning intensified. But which 15 years? Anyone these days may be forgiven for moments of disorientation. The 15 years from the devastating German defeat of 1918 to the electoral victory (with 43.9 percent of the vote) of Adolf Hitler in 1933? Or the 15 years from the devastating 9/11 attack on the United States to the electoral victory (with 46.1 percent of the vote) of Donald Trump in 2016?

National humiliation is long in gestation and violent in resolution....

I have tried to tread carefully with analogies between the Fascist ideologies of 1930s Europe and Trump. American democracy is resilient. But the first days of the Trump presidency — whose roots of course lie in far more than the American military debacles since 9/11 — pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire.

To say, as he did, that the elected representatives of American democracy are worthless and that the people are everything is to lay the foundations of totalitarianism. It is to say that democratic institutions are irrelevant and all that counts is the great leader and the masses he arouses. To speak of “American carnage” is to deploy the dangerous lexicon of blood, soil and nation. To boast of “a historic movement, the likes of the which the world has never seen before” is to demonstrate consuming megalomania. To declaim “America first” and again, “America first,” is to recall the darkest clarion calls of nationalist dictators. To exalt protectionism is to risk a return to a world of barriers and confrontation. To utter falsehood after falsehood, directly or through a spokesman, is to foster the disorientation that makes crowds susceptible to the delusions of strongmen....





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