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‘This president is no friend of democracy’: Bill Moyers on Trump and tyranny

A Bill Moyers column seems to strengthen the similarity between Trumpisim and fascism, but also stops a few inches short of stating a final verdict on the is-Trump-a-fascist question.

A few posts back, I did a little dance around the “f” word, “fascism,” and whether or how much it applies to Trumpism.

Like, perhaps, many of you, I don’t claim to understand the essential meaning of the term “fascism” except as it has been used to lump together some of the most hated right-wing dictators of the mid-20th century, like Hitler, Mussolini and perhaps Franco. I’ve relied on a scholar of fascism to define its meaning, and that guy, Federico Finchelstein, has also danced around the question of whether the word fascism precisely describes Trumpism, while seeming to lean in favor of an affirmative nod to that puzzle.

How much does it matter? Not that much. It’s just a word, and one without a very precise definition. If we have a true, fair election in November, even within the vagaries our not-all-that-democratic Electoral College system, and if Trump abides by the result, it will simply be American democracy in action, even if it leads to a second term for a man whose shall-we-say governing style has certain characteristics in common with several fascists. But I care about words, including the f-word.

Now comes the great Bill Moyers, certainly among the smartest and also most careful members of the American commentariat, who did a similar dance while, at the same time, seeming to strengthen the similarity between Trumpisim and fascism, but also stopping a few inches short of stating a final verdict on the is-Trump-a-fascist question, and still strengthening the argument for an affirmative answer, backed with a long list of Trumpian actions and characteristics that move our understanding of him in that direction.

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Here are few key paragraphs to give you flavor of what Moyers wrote, with a link to the whole thing at the bottom. He led into it with a reference to Cass Sunstein, another highly regarded observer of the American system, who had said something Moyers found reassuring about all this until … well, here’s the excerpt:

I had admired Sunstein’s work for years and found reassuring his judgment that the rule of law would check a would-be tyrant. But many found that assurance disquieting. One dissenter was Norman Ravitch, emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Riverside. Responding to Sunstein, he wrote: 

“The normal concern of people of all sorts with their daily lives, family, work, leisure, and so on indicates that only those in certain areas of work and life could possibly notice the slow but relentless advance of authoritarian and totalitarian policies by the government. The Nazis knew how to appeal to people who did not have the ideological concerns but only normal human concerns. They knew how to conceal their real goals and how to make passive individuals active supporters.”

So does Trump. He understands that most Americans are concerned with little more than the economy, health care and jobs. They respond positively to politicians who promise action on these priorities, whether or not they know if those promises will ever be fulfilled.

Ravitch pointed out that like Hitler and like Mussolini, Trump knows how to appeal to a variety of concerns with promises that can be both attractive and contradictory. Because no population is educated enough, sensitive enough, or ethical enough to see through the deception, “the danger is very great indeed. It may in fact be one of the chief weaknesses of democracy that democracy can lead to tyranny just as well or perhaps even more than other political systems.”

Two years have passed since that exchange between scholars, and in those two years Trump has doubled down. This president is no friend of democracy.

He has declared himself above the law, preached insurrection by encouraging armed supporters to “liberate” states from the governance of duly elected officials, told police not to be “too nice” while doing their job, and gloated over the ability of the Secret Service to turn “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” loose on demonstrators — to “come down on them hard” if they get too “risky.”

He has politicized the Department of Justice while remaking the judiciary in his image.

He has stifled investigations into his administration’s corruption, fired officials charged with holding federal agencies accountable to the public, and rewarded his donors and cronies with government contracts, subsidies, deregulations, and tax breaks. …

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He has relentlessly attacked mainstream media as purveyors of fake news and “enemies of the people” while collaborating with a sycophantic right-wing media – including the Murdoch family’s Fox News — to flood the country with lies and propaganda.

That’s just an excerpt. The full Moyers piece is here. It’s headlined: “We Hold This Truth to Be Self-Evident: It’s Happening Before Our Very Eyes.”