Friday, August 21, 2015

Trump as Radical Right agitator

Digby takes another pass at Donald Trump's demagoguery today in Donald Trump’s campaign of terror: How a billionaire channeled his authoritarian rage — and soared to the top of the polls Salon 08/21/2015

It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s ramblings as the words of a kook. But he’s tapping into the rage and frustration many Americans feel when our country is exposed as being imperfect. These Republicans were shamed by their exalted leadership’s debacle in Iraq and believe that American exceptionalism is no longer respected around the world — and they are no longer respected here at home. Trump is a winner and I think this is fundamentally what attracts them to him:

I will be fighting and I will win because I’m somebody that wins. We are in very sad shape as a country and you know why that is? We’re more concerned about political correctness than we are about victory, than we are about winning. We are not going to be so politically correct anymore, we are going to get things done.
But his dark, authoritarian message of intolerance and hate is likely making it difficult for him, or any Republican, to win a national election, particularly since all the other candidates feel compelled to follow his lead. (Those who challenged him, like Perry and Paul, are sinking like a stone in the polls.) And while Trump’s fans may want to blame foreigners for all their troubles, most Americans know that their troubles can be traced to some powerful people right here at home. Powerful people like Donald Trump.

Still, history is littered with strongmen nobody took seriously until it was too late. When someone like Trump captures the imagination of millions of people it’s important to pay attention to what he’s saying.
Back in 1945, Leo Lowenthal was working with Max Horkheimer's project on prejudice for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), that later became famous especially through the book by Theodor Adorno and other collaborators on the projects, The Authoritarian Personality (1951). Lowenthal co-authored with Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (1949). I posted on that book in six parts, beginning with Studies in Prejudice: Prophets of Deceit (1 of 6) 05/14/2011.

In a field report during his research, Lowenthal wrote a memo to Horkheimer dated 10/09/1945, on the topic "Christian Front Meeting in Queens Village, Oct. 8, 1945." (Available on the AJC Digital Archive as "Surveillance report on a Christian Front meeting in New York")

Devices: All speeches proved clearly our previously offered theory that fascist agitation rests on the handling of a relatively small number of stimuli devices which recur ever so often. I enumerate a few of them:

(a) the persecuted agitator (finds no printer; encounters travelling dif[ficulties?]
(b) the agitator as a little guy (wants to go to the movies, have his glass of beer)
(c) the agitator as messenger. "I have to speak because nobody else does it"
(d) the necessity of "awakening" America
(e) the enemies as wolves in sheep' [sic] clothes ("they cry persecution and are the persecutors; they ask for tolerance and are the most intolerant)
(f) indirect antisemitic devices (agitator and his people are "crucified"; the phrase of the Asiatic hordes; the phrase of "anti-something" and so on)
(g) the simple-mindedness of the agitator (difficulty in pronouncing high-falluting and foreign words)
(h) the secret machinations ("a lot of things are going on in this country" etc.)
(i) the veiled threat of violence ("I am strong, I can take it up with everybody", etc.)
(j) direct antisemitic references (Jewishness of the New Deal, Jewish monopoly of mass mediae [sic]: newspapers, radio, movies.
Trump, like all the Presidential candidates, poses as a victim of so-called "political correctness" imposed by the Mean Libruls. (In a crackpot far-right theory, it was actually the Frankfurt School of thinkers around the Institute for Social Research of which Horkheimer was head and Adorno and Lowenthal part of the core group that invented political correctness.)

I usually try to avoid use the "fascist" description for groups operating today. Polemical use of the terms over decades has resulting in its meaning in ordinary political conversation or analysis in the US being considerably more blurred than it was in 1945.

Trump hasn't made even indirect anti-Semitic appeals that I'm aware. But his "threat of violence" is hardly "veiled."

Lowenthal included an unflattering description of the Christian Front speakers in a section called "Physiogonmy of Speakers":

Almost every speaker represented an outspoken or nearly outspoken example of those psychopathic types which can be found in the American as well as the European camp of fascist agitators.

There was Kurtz, the stocky, brutal, pycnio [a rust fungi reference?], maniac [sic] depressive type switching from grinning, clowning, to somber threats and outbursts of yelling. His grin which is always in readiness has an almost psychotic note as can be observed in the facial expression of violent insane maniacs. His whole bodily appearance has a faint resemblance to Goering's body type.

There was Maertz who with his little mustache and the studied fierce looks imitates the Hitler pose. He was by far the most effectful [sic] speaker equipped with the intensive and fanatic voice of the schizoid demagogue. Of all the speakers he was the only one who probably would have the power to create an atmosphere of hate and fury.

There was Kister, a boyish-looking man, the type of thin-lipped fanatical followers of a fanatical leader, a watered-down miniature edition of people like Rudolf Hess.

There was Mrs. Brown and her secretary, homely women of the middle fifties' with nothing to boast but real or imaginary sons, symbols of frustration for corresponding female listeners.

Finally one general observation on the outward appearance of the speakers and their henchmen: almost everyone of them was so-to-say a biological stepchild. Kurtz and his chief aide obese; Kister somehow crippled; the women speakers and their female audience were ugly, most of them wearing glasses; among the male followers a one-armed old man, several short-sighted younger people. It was a "racial elite" in reverse.

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