By Trevor Busch
George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln. Woodrow Wilson. Theodore Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy. And last but not least, Donald Trump?
For anyone who is still passing through the looking glass to join us here in the alternate bizarro-world universe where a second-rate reality TV star and fabulously-wealthy real estate baron is now the most powerful nation in the world’s president elect, most shouldn’t probably be blamed for still swimming strongly in a pool of reticent disbelief.
Just how Trump managed to convince enough Americans to mark an ‘X’ for his cause will likely be grist for the political mill for decades to come, that is if all of us survive the coming Trumpocalypse and don’t end up needing a double dose of million-plus sunblock for those towering mushroom clouds that seem to be cropping up all around the horizon. On that day, should it come, as all those foam-front, mesh-back trucker caps bearing the slogan “Let’s make American great again” melt into radioactive sludge, it will be fair to say those individuals are having a pretty bad day.
And while this humble narrator has never been averse to exaggeration, there is very little doubt that should Trump choose to conduct himself in office as he has on the campaign trail, war — even the possibility of touching off a global conflict — is a very real possibility.
There are other, equally disturbing conclusions that must be reached following this most unfriendly of election campaigns, and in some cases we may already be seeing the unfortunate results. Right here in Alberta, death threats and other vitriol that came on the heels of former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen’s move to cross the floor to the ruling NDP would seem to be the tip of an iceberg that might see hate-dripping rhetoric and prejudice-filled politics find a new home in Alberta.
Perhaps the PCs should think about dropping the term ‘progressive’ from their title, because what Albertans have witnessed in recent days has nothing to do with progressive politics and everything to do with an exclusionary right wing agenda, people who view individuals that even flirt with left-leaning ideas as Satan’s cheerleaders. Next stop McCarthyism and the socialist witch hunt? It’s said that history often comes full circle. If we’re headed back to the 1950s, at least we’ll have Perry Como and atomic testing to look forward to. Cuba, however, won’t be able to roll out Castro for a new revolution.
America’s new Great White Hope has had disturbing endorsements from white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and whether or not one believes the election was a “white-lash” against the establishment, the results will mean open season for the so-called “alt right’ to maneuver themselves into a position of new-found respectability. If white power and extreme right movements take on an enhanced role in Trump’s America, or even an explosion of popularity, the consequences will no doubt be dire for religious and ethnic minorities, blacks, Hispanics, and even Jews.
Persecution and prejudice can take on many faces, but when it receives a state-sponsored stamp of approval — as Trump has as much as said he will implement — then it begins to drift into the arena of extreme right-wing politics and fascism, no matter what they would have you believe.
There are troubling correlations here for America in 2017. There are many societies throughout history that have attempted to create an internal enemy as a way to deflect all social and economic ills, rather than the intransigent public pointing the finger back at government or a tightly-controlled regime. The most famous example is the Jews of Nazi Germany, which were used by the regime as a convenient excuse for all the problems of the nation.
For America, their new internal enemy is taking shape in the form of Muslims or Muslim Americans, and the pronouncements and rhetoric employed by Trump show no sign that he is unwilling to take advantage of this “enemy” for his own selfish ends. And hatred in this instance has great potential advantages on the political front, if one is actually willing to stoop to these levels.
Taking the example of Nazi Germany, you can blame almost any problem on the internal enemy, and in many cases people will believe it.
The only problem is, once the populace begins to believe the propaganda and demands action, what do you do about it? Heightened discrimination, prejudice, even invocations to violence are one option. But when leadership begins to believe their own lies — as in the case of Hitler’s Germany — a more glaring option presents itself. The Nazis were being more than utilitarian when they referred to mass genocide as the “Final Solution” to the Jewish question. And while nobody is yet talking about a “Final Solution” to the Muslim question in America, few Germans were talking about genocide as a solution for the Jews — including inside the party itself — when Hitler seized power in 1933. When it all came crashing down in 1945 a scant dozen years later, more than six million Jews had been slaughtered. The seeds of genocide are more simple, unfortunately, than many of us are willing to believe. And often, tragically, it is that disbelief and tendency towards inaction in the face of moral injustice that creates the fertile ground where those seeds can grow.
Recent global events, such as the Brexit vote in Europe that has opened a crack in the cosmopolitan European Union, as well as Trump’s apparent anti-free trade stance, would seem to be signalling a new era where a move towards isolationism is the order of the day.
Not that Americans should be unfamiliar with the idea.
Following WWI, into which Woodrow Wilson lead the nation in an attempt to impress his ideas of national self-determination on bickering empires still steeped in 19th century imperialism, America embarked on a decades-long period of international isolationism that would only end decisively on Dec. 7, 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The consequences of this path are well known. Had the United States taken a more firm hand in international diplomacy with the challenges presented by the Axis powers — up to and including preventative military action — we might not have had to go down the dark road we did in WWII.
While there are aspects of isolationism that are attractive from a domestic political perspective, choosing to stick one’s head in the sand — especially as one of the world’s most powerful nations — has proven results on the world stage, and won’t do anything to enhance America’s image in foreign policy circles.
Ominously, Trump has also hinted at attempts to throttle the media establishment in America through opening up libel laws for review or reform, a signal that his contempt for the media during the election campaign will be morphed into a petty vendetta to control the message reaching the eyes and ears of Americans, an alarming suggestion which could kick the chair out from under one of the pillars of a functioning democracy — while making sure the media has their neck in the rope, of course.
All hail TrumpVision! The only source for news in America! Because who could possibly want another voice?
Actually it’s been attempted before, right here in Bonnie Old Alberta.
Following his election victory in 1935, William “Bible Bill” Aberhart attempted to throttle the media through his grossly unconstitutional Press Act which was promptly struck down by the federal government. One hopes something similar occurs in the United States should Trump try to shatter the media into a thousand pieces through a mixture of pseudo-state intimidation and quasi-fact based legislation.
The problem with employing hate and fear as political motivators — powerful as they might be for an unscrupulous populist like Trump — is that they tend to lead to unforeseen consequences, or can spin out of control when fanned to a white-hot pitch.
Just because America is America doesn’t mean it will be immune to fascism, race violence, persecution based on colour or creed, or even the drastic outcomes of ethnic cleansing or genocide.
People need to actively oppose hatred and intolerance, not embrace it with open arms as it appears so many are willing to do today in service of causes or ideals that undermine the freedoms of others.