Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Waiting for the Reichstag Fire

Back in November of 2015, I wrote a post that got a lot of pshaw-ing by people who ordinarily would be fairly close to me in political outlook.  In it, I compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler -- and the lead-up to the 2016 election to the situation in Weimar Republic Germany in the mid-1930s.

Some of the naysayers thought I was being an alarmist -- that okay, Trump had some pretty reactionary ideas, but (1) they weren't really so far out of the mainstream of conservative ideology, and (2) if he did go off the beam too badly, we have a system of checks-and-balances set up that will rein him in.  Others admitted that Trump was an amoral sociopath who was interested in nothing but self-aggrandizement and stroking his over-inflated ego, but they argued that he wasn't going to get very far.  I had one person say to me, "There's no way that man could ever get the Republican nomination, much less win the presidency.  Calm the hell down."

I don't like being wrong any more than the next guy, but believe me when I say that this is one time I'd have been delighted to be completely off-base.

And every time I think we've reached the absolute nadir, that surely someone is going to step in and stop our slide into a true fascist dictatorship, something worse happens.  Witness the poll by the Washington Post that found that over half of the Republicans surveyed would be in favor of Trump suspending the 2020 presidential election "as long as necessary," and more specifically until he could see to it that we'd "weeded out illegal voters."

If Congress got behind the move, the support rises to 56%.

First, let's just put out there that Trump's repeated claim of "millions of fraudulent voters" has not a shred of evidence behind it.  An exhaustive study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that the incidence of voter fraud in the United States was right around 0.0003%, regardless of whether you looked at local, state, or federal elections.

Put bluntly, the president is lying for the sole purpose of whipping up fear of evil "illegals" rigging elections in order to manipulate his followers into supporting his becoming Dictator-for-Life.

And just as with Hitler, a lot of effort is going into making Trump seem superhuman.  Instead of the racial purity ideologues (although there's a measure of that, too), here what we have is the Christian evangelicals treating Trump as inviolable, God's representative on Earth.  Don't believe me?  Just two days ago, Leigh Valentine, host of Faith and Freedom on Bill Mitchell's "Your Voice America" network, said the following:
Let me tell you, whether you believe it or not, [Trump] is speaking words of life over our country and over this nation, and every word he speaks, I see the hand of God upon it.  He is a very, very smart man and he knows what he is doing.  He knows the art of the deal and a lot of this is God’s deal, let me tell you.
Then there's the story in The Atlantic this week wherein we read some pretty alarming stuff.  Back in January 2016 Thomas Wright, a Brookings Institute scholar, warned that Trump had a "fondness for authoritarian strongmen."  More chillingly, a senior White House official who (unsurprisingly) declined to be named described Trump's policy in three words: "We're America, Bitch."

If someone can explain to me how that's different from Deutschland über alles, I'm listening.

No wonder Trump is disdainful of an articulate negotiator like Justin Trudeau, and as I write this is overflowing with praise for a bloodthirsty, ruthless dictator like Kim Jong Un.

So what we have here is a president who is a wannabe autocrat and has no intention of turning over the reins of power when his term is up, and a Congress that seems to think its job is kissing Trump's ass and rubberstamping whatever he proposes.  The whole time, the state-supported propaganda mill over at Fox News is convincing the masses that as long as we do what Der Führer says (and salute at the right time, and don't do anything outright treasonous like kneeling during the National Anthem), everything will be fine.  America will be great again.

Still doubtful about the parallels between where we are and Weimar Germany?

All we need is the final ingredient -- this era's Reichstag Fire.  Something calamitous that ignites a frenzy in his supporters, and allows Trump himself to say, "See, I told you so."  And at that point, the slide into catastrophe might well be unstoppable.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a classic: the late Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.  It's required reading for anyone who is interested in the inner workings of the human mind, and highlights how fragile our perceptual apparatus is -- and how even minor changes in our nervous systems can result in our interacting with the world in what appear from the outside to be completely bizarre ways.  Broken up into short vignettes about actual patients Sacks worked with, it's a quick and completely fascinating read.

1 comment:

  1. Well written and spot on. I am not so sure anymore that we will get out of this with our Republic intact.