Are Americans in Denial About The True Risks of Trumpism?

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Yesterday I listened to a tremendous but bone-chilling podcast from The Lincoln Project. Reed Galen was interviewing NYU History and Italian Studies Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat on her research about the origin of fascist movements and how they arise in unsuspecting democracies. You can listen to it here: In the Window with Ruth Ben-Ghiat (Interviewed by Reed Galen) She also writes a newsletter published on Substack: Lucid by Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Professor Ben-Ghiat wrote a book in 2021 called Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present. She is a leading expert on how fascist and authoritarian leaders rise and take the reins of power. For example, she draws very reasonable comparisons of Mussolini’s bodyguards to present-day Proud Boys. She mentions the “leader principle” which tends to be a “mechanism of identification” with the leader that embodies the values of the leader that followers see in themselves. She adds that the leader milks those things, like Trump says, “I love you, I care about you.” And once the leader calls them out by name like Trump did: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” it is like a lightning bolt for recruitment, as that resulted in a surge in the Proud Boys membership. She added the “history repeating itself” at play here is stunning.

One of the frightening aspects is that members of these groups are mainstreaming themselves and Republican leaders are meeting and welcoming them. For example, she mentioned Proud Boys getting into local government in Miami. Fascism in Italy started as decentralized militias and then started getting on local councils, and were supported by the established conservative elites, she asserts. That is happening in the United States, seemingly innocuous but very dangerous for the future.

Which brings me to the point of this article: Are Americans in denial about the true risks of Trumpism? I believe millions of people are! Professor Ben-Ghiat states that Trump has been and still uses his rallies as “radicalization sites.” He references the violence of the good old days. For example, he went to Waco, Texas to kick off his campaign. He did the rally in Waco on the anniversary of the Branch Davidian event, and Trump talked about being the retribution. Reed Galen added the quote from Mike Huckabee stating if Trump loses in 2024 it will be the last election decided by ballots and not bullets! What the hell?

Such praise of violence Professor Ben-Ghiat warns, is “extremely grave” for our democracy. She added the example of Matt Gaetz recently at the State Fair with Trump stating that “only force can bring change to Washington, DC.” She notes that is the language of a coup — at a state fair! She called this behavior, like Trump does at his rallies — emotional retraining — getting people to think that violence is not only necessary but just. She added this is what the fascists did. She states that Trump’s values are about manipulating, dominating, and taking. Followers, she states, get swept up in the aura or “charm circle” of the leader. She warns that leaders like Trump don’t have to be intellectuals because they can manipulate others who are.

Professor Ben-Ghiat further warns there is some kind of denial among American people as a broad collective that January 6th was actually a coup attempt. There is an unwillingness to come to terms with it. If you “memory hole” January 6th, people think well he wouldn’t really do bad things, would he? But, she points out, he already did! And the Republican brass is enabling it. She says they are sabotaging the country leading to a vacuum of power. This is the first step of purging the mechanism of government, as Viktor Orban has done in Hungary.

Reed Galen mentions the book The Collapse of the Third Republic by William Shirer and relates what was happening among the French people then to the denial of Americans today. “German panzers rolling over the frontier and they’re sitting in cafes drinking wine. . . didn’t work out. It never works out for the people drinking wine,” meaning, you may pretend evil isn’t taking over your country, and then suddenly it’s too late to do anything about it. In Italy, people were literally going to the opera while Mussolini had trucks rolling across Italy taking over the country. Wow. Wake the hell up America! We have to stand up and do something about it — now. Professor Ben-Ghiat said that authoritarians know how people react and are “diabolically efficient” in going after people.

Given this scary scenario, what can we do? Professor Ben-Ghiat says successful resistance to fascist authoritarian takeover is broad-based resistance, especially faith-based resistance. She said that we also have to involve the business community, stating that political violence and civil strife are not good for business.

Wow. Listen to that podcast folks. And share it. It will scare the hell out of you and wake you up if you’re not already there.


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