Donald J. Trump, an authoritarian bully figure in the manner of a Mussolini, Stalin, Hirohito or Hitler, is on America’s doorstep. He may soon, in only a week, come through the door. And even if he does not enter this time, precedent has been set: he–or much worse– may, at some future time, make it through. It is, as the Polish Shakespeare scholar Jan Kott once wrote:
“In such places and years history is –as my teacher used to say–‘let off the leash’. It is then that individual destiny seems as if shaped directly by History, becoming only a chapter in it.”
In the Age of the Selfie, each and every American stands to lose something which all had taken for granted: the delicious illusion of ones absolute right to shape his or her own Destiny.
In a very real sense, Americans already had, years ago, foresworn that privilege when they surrendered to the advent of internet technology and its appropriation of privacy as a right, a given and a necessity.
In a frenzied, addictive embrace of technology as God, Americans not only watched the landscape altered into one of unaffordable urban gilded palaces ringed by vast wastelands of unemployment, increasing illiteracy, and shattering poverty but went on to preach the gospel of perpetual digital interconnectedness as some kind of new religion and this gospel soon spread all over the world, creating the informational media-driven tower of Babel in which everyone now finds themselves, bewildered and alone.
In past years, American’s have mutely borne everything from NSA monitoring of their emails and the spontaneous deletion of titles like Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from their Kindles, to Facebook and Google’s continuous funneing of their users’ most personal data into purposes unknowable to the billions who are affected.
Americans have even endured the shutting down of their most trusted websites by random terrorist attacks and even the probable long-term digital manipulation of their own presidential election by a foreign power, Russia.
All this has contributed to the rise of Donald Trump.
Also, while there was a tremendous shift in cultural values and dramatic social initiatives –Gay Marriage, Women’s Rights, the ascendency of African Americans in the political and cultural sphere– all salutary, all launched under the first internet-elected president, Barack Obama–nonethless, those advances occurred against a backdrop of the increased social and economic marginalization of vast swathes of America’s population.
So that it seemed to the disenfranchised that while the nation’s first Black president doled out social uplift with one hand to outspoken minorities, with the other he pandered to the corporate interests and forces of globalization that were economically decimating the voiceless lives of those unable to live in places like New York City or San Francisco, where the culture wars rage fiercest.
Certainly all these fed the kind of bitterness that fuels Trump’s rise.
And one cannot simply overlook other important factors bolstering the ascent of Trump, such as the decline of the American education system, from the universities on down– the intellectual dumbing down of our youth by academia’s shameful and bullying institutional cant and political correctness– as well as less obvious factors like the ominous gradual disappearance of the bookstore from local communities, and even the panicked stampede of publishers away from their own most sacred tenets, leading to an overall decline in the literary culture and the further dumbing down of America.
The media, which might have served as antidote, instead embraced tabloidization, a policy of trumpeting the absolute worst in human affairs, as exploitable for ratings and profit.
All this too gave rise to Trump.
America was rocked by waves of shattering economic scandal from which it never truly recovered.
America endured unprecedented terrorist attacks from elements of Radical Islam, in response to which President Obama extended prayers and hugs but little by way of protection or concrete response. The less he did the more emboldened the terrorists became. Instead, he struck a deal with Iran, the world’s chief supporter of terrorism, and incredibly, sent actual shipments of money in cargo cases to Tehran.
A variety of wrongheaded and mismanaged military actions by both Republican and Democratic administrations, from full-scale war to ineffectual limited-scale aerial sorties and pinpoint drone attacks, made little to no impression on the problem of Islamic Fundamentalist terror as a whole. President Obama refused even to call the problem by name, even as ever-more horrifying attacks against the West, in both Europe and America, continued to escalate.
The sense of defenselessness bred by such misguided policies and a growing perception of Western military ineptness lead to a disproportionate fear of Radical Islam and which, in turn, certainly lead to the rise of Donald J. Trump and his proposed racist policies.
A significant erosion of the fabric and essence of American values, security and well-being had occurred years before Trump entered the scene. America was not reinventing itself. It was being torn to shreds.
And as we know from countless examples throughout History, given sufficiently devolving dystopic changes, given the privileging of the few over the many, given the fostering of fear and of military defeatism, then demagogues, dictators, Fuhrers, IL Duces, Hirohitos, Stalins and the like will arise.
But if Donald J. Trump is a prototype whose predecessors darken the landscape of History with horrors beyond imagining, then certainly, the Holocaust should have sufficed as an example to prevent forever the ascent of such a demagogue. But it did not.
Because rather then to occupy a central place in the consciousness and decision-making of Mankind, the Holocaust has instead been enshrined in kitsch: movies, museums, monuments, comic books, tedious scholarly panel discussions; all rendering mass murder palatable, its real meanings to be avoided, with little or no impact whatever on the average population, let alone on governmental decision-makers.
The murder of six million Jews, and countless non-Jews as well, has become, in effect, reduced to a theater ticket’s worth of meaning.
This too has paved the way, in some sense, to the rise of Donald Trump.
The obsessive preoccupation with Israel, from Obama on down to the BDS fanatics who harass everyone from university professors to rock stars with their unpardonably antisemitic agenda have somehow contributed too to the rise of Donald Trump.
For these have been for too long tolerated, normalized. So that although Trump has come out as neither friend nor foe of the Jews and made much of his daughters’ marriage to Jews and of one daughter’s conversion to Judaism, yet, on the whole, he has remained intentionally vague about things Jewish and Israeli, while at the same time accepting the presence of the sinister Alt-Right movements and some of its most egregious offenders, from the KKK to David Dukes, into his political camp.
In his speeches again and again he has used the coded words that directly echo classic anti-Semitic libels. If Trump talks like an antisemite and allows for antisemites and is beloved of antisemites, who campaign for his vote,chances are good that son-in-laws or not, Trump is an antisemite.
Look closely enough and it might seem that Donald J. Trump has emerged under conditions that strongly resemble Germany’s Wiemar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler and that Trump is himself Hitler-like. This is no doubt because he is exactly that.
But now that this power-crazed fascistic bigot stands on the doorstep, knocking, and has brought the nation to the threshold of dictatorship, why is America so surprised?
The preparation for his coming has been going on for years.
Alan Kaufman’s memoir JEW BOY will be reissued by Cornell University Press. His latest book is The Outlaw Bible of American Art.