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Why Donald Trump is So Scary

In Mobile, Alabama Friday night Donald Trump gave his first substantial presentation (it’s hard to call it a “speech”) at what his campaign described as a “pep rally” in a football stadium before 30,000 adoring fans. I cannot find a transcript yet but have looked at the youtube video, pausing it occasionally while taking notes—just to get a sense of its structure and the flow of content. I will summarize it below.

As I watched and re-watched, I grew in the conviction that The Donald has gone from being mildly amusing (and occasionally refreshing, as when he exposes politicians for the bought-and-paid-for crowd they really are) to being positively dangerous. To the thinking person, the presentation was truly frightening. The rapturous response of the stupefied crowd made it more so.

I’ve long thought that fascist trends are on the rise in this country. The surveillance regime. The huge incarceration rate. Police impunity. Ongoing war and threats of more war. The country remains a bourgeois democracy; the very fact that surprise candidates like Bernie Sanders and Trump can emerge underscores that fact. But then, on the eve of Hitler’s triumph in the German election of 1933, the Socialist and Communist parties were popular and got respectively 18% and 12% of the popular vote.

On balance, progressive developments like the recognition of gay marriage and the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in some states in this country does not outweigh the negative trends. At the top of the list of these is the ever-growing concentration of economic power within the One Percent.

Hitler’s Italian ally Benito Mussolini once observed, “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” The deference of U.S. Internet servers to the National Security Agency, in the latter’s surveillance of all of our lives, can perhaps be seen as one contemporary example of state-corporate merger. So is the marriage of the State Department and the news industry, which is essentially controlled by only six corporations. Every report on “the crisis in Ukraine,” for example, employs State Department talking points without question. Thus a coup spearheaded by neo-fascists toppling a democratically elected president becomes a popular movement toppling a corrupt dictator.

Donald Trump is the first businessman with no experience in political office to run for the presidency in living memory. (That isn’t so bad in itself, and as he says, career politicians are all in bed with big business donors. So the gap between business and politics, like the gap between the state and corporate power Mussolini mentioned, isn’t wide.) Trump himself emphasizes that he’s not tainted by such a background. Bragging incessantly about his $10 billion fortune, he is the very embodiment of corporate power. He boasts that he will employ his honed business skills to “make deals” with adversaries in order to fix problems. He makes it sound so easy.

Hitler exploited the German’s sense of national humiliation and victimization after defeat in World War I and the Versailles indemnity. Many Germans thought that the whole world was against them. Hitler told them that they needed a strong leader and that he was born to be that leader. His oratory transfixed his fans.

Trump tells his audiences that the whole world “thinks we’re stupid” and is laughing at Americans while profiting at our expense. (Have you noticed, by the way, that “stupid” is Trump’s favorite word?) He tells them that he’s the only leader who can “make America great again.” His speeches (if such they can be called), have been, however ineloquent, effective in mobilizing a mass base. Their very bombastic quality attracts admiration in some quarters.

A couple of commentators have used the literary expression “stream of consciousness” to describe Trump’s presentations. They appear to be spontaneous and unrehearsed. “He says whatever he thinks,” say some admirers, including lots of women completely comfortable with his remarks insulting their sex.

So let us review Friday’s performance.

***

The rally begins with Trump arriving to the strains of “Sweet Home Alabama” (which some of you older people might recall was composed in 1974 by Lynard Skynard in response to Canadian rocker Neil Young’s songs alluding to slavery and segregation in the U.S. South). Trump appears behind the podium to joyous applause and immediately declares that now he knows “how the great Billy Graham felt,” invoking the name of the original mega-televangelist revered among his audience, who had preached in the same Ladd-Peebles Stadium. “We love him,” Trump declares, as if to allay any doubts about his own sincere religiosity. (Trump’s a thrice-married man who has spoken of the Eucharist rite in terms that would strike many serious Christians as flippant and dismissive.)

Trump then pays tribute to Himself, boasting of the bigness of the venue and crowd numbers. See observes that the stock market is “not doing well,” and the country similarly “not well.” He declares that “politicians have no clue,” and “what’s happening is disgraceful.” He mentions that he’s taken “a lot of heat” for the comments he made when he declared his candidacy regarding immigration. (Recall that he had, at the top of his announcement of his candidacy, alleged that Mexico is sending drug traffickers and rapists to the U.S.)

But he claims that everyone who’d initially criticized him about that issue is now apologizing to him. He points to an instance of a U.S. military veteran being “raped, sodomized, and killed by an illegal immigrant” as validation of his claim.

Trump announces that “we’re gonna have a lot of fun this evening,” even if it rains, and praises his audience as “people who built this country.” Following the rambling warm-up, he states “We’re gonna start with a little talk about illegal immigration.” But he doesn’t say much on the topic, really, other than that “We’re gonna build a wall.” He digresses on Hillary Clinton’s war chest, and Jeb Bush’s weakness on immigration, then returns to Hillary, suggesting she’s “not gonna make it” through the primaries because of her cell phone issue. He mentions Gen. Petraeus and his emails with his biographer-paramour containing classified information (for which, you recall, he lost his job as CIA head). He declares that Petraeus “was destroyed” over much less than Hillary’s guilty of.

Then he swings back seamlessly to the illegal immigration issue, claiming “we have to take care of“ 300,000 babies born in the U.S. every year to illegal immigrants with Social Security, Medicare etc. He says that while few other countries allow birthright citizenship, “we’re stupid enough to do it!” He meets with loud applause. Smiling broadly, he says that it’s this kind of reception that made him run in the first place and interrupts his disjointed remarks to introduce Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to the podium. Sessions is there to laud him and thank him for his “work on the immigration issue.”

Resuming the soapbox, Trump praises himself some more, noting how well he’s been treated, and how he leads in every state including Florida (“a great place” where Trump is “killing the governor and sitting senator”). He says he wishes that in this country there could be an “expedited election” in which he could take power tomorrow. “I don’t want to wait!” he bellows, adding that the reason for the masses “receptivity” is the fact that “I know the game better than anybody.”

Losing his train of thought on illegal immigration—on which he’s so far spoken in the vaguest terms—-Trump takes aim at lobbyists, boasting about he unlike his competitors is not bribable. He mentions one lobbyist (whom he “likes” actually) offering him money that he as a billionaire doesn’t need, and asks the crowd “What if I take his money but in the end I screw him?” The cause of the lobbyist is unstated. The whole point is really unclear. But the stadium assembly roars in approval of a billionaire screwing a lobbyist.

Trump suggests that he could take lobbyists’ money and give it to charity. He notices a woman in the crowd holding up his book, The Art of the Deal, praises her for her excellent taste, and has her come up so he can sign it. He abruptly transitions to issues of trade with China, Vietnam and South Korea, noting that he’d ordered lots of TV sets from South Korea because they’re cheaper than Japanese ones. He makes an incomprehensible allusion to North Korea as a reason to buy Samsung goods.

Then switching to military alliances and relationships, he notes that “we get nothing” from the relationship with South Korea and implies that Saudi Arabia is taking the U.S. for a ride. “We get nothing, but where would they be without our protection?” he asks. (But “I get along great with all of them,” he says, emphasizing his deal-making skills.) The Germans “give us nothing,” he continues. U.S. troops in South Korea are in harm’s way but we get nothing.

Trump states that “our agreement” with Japan (the “security treaty”) forces “us” to “defend them” but doesn’t force them to defend “us.” “Is that a good deal?” he asks, receiving the predictable, passionate NO! (He may not know that the Japanese taxpayer pays for the entirety of the U.S. military presence in Japan, which is itself unpopular, or that the Japanese constitution formally stipulating pacifism was imposed on the Japanese during the U.S. Occupation.)

The Donald continues to meander, berating Obama for trading Sgt. Bergdahl for Guantanamo prisoners. It’s a disgrace. Then he praises the networks for broadcasting his statements live “because I do know what I’m doing, not saying it in a braggadocio’s way.” He pauses to sign the above-mentioned woman’s copy of his book, praising it but announcing that it’s not his favorite book. The first is of course the Bible! Rapturous cheers from the largely Baptist crowd.

Trump appears to resume wherever he’d left off. “So I was saying….” But he actually launches into a new topic: how “they said I wasn’t going to run.” But he’s actually doing it, and look at this crowd! He spends more minutes trumpeting himself, and how he dealt with companies trying to punish him after he’d made his statements about Mexicans in his announcement of candidacy.

He boasts that Nascar’s dissociation of itself from him was limited to the cancellation of an agreement to rent a ballroom. He boasts about keeping the deposit and renting the space to someone else. Roars of admiring approval. More boasting of his wealth level: “Over 10 billion, that’s good, right? Would anyone else want to make that kind of money?” Ecstatic cheers.

Trump shifts to the local: a U.S. Steel plant in Alabama closed because of Chinese competition. “It’s like they (the Chinese) just want us to die. They have no respect for us.” Asian leaders are “really smart and we have dummies! Dummies!” The Chinese have devaluated their currency to “suck out of us” jobs and money—while we owe them $ 1.2 trillion.

Turning to Japan suddenly, in his unpredictable unorganized homily, Trump repeatedly mispronounces the Japanese prime minister’s name while trashing the U.S. ambassador to the country, Caroline Kennedy. He says that what “we” need in Japan (in trade negotiations) is “a smart person—a killer,” then complains that Kennedy is being wined and dined by “Abi [sic] and all these killers.” (Since he had earlier referred to himself “killing the governor and sitting senator” in Florida, we must assume Trump used that word in an unusual way.).

But Trump says he can negotiate with anyone anywhere in the world, and proposes that his billionaire friend Carl Icahn handle Japan and China. Anyway Mexico is the “new China” as we see by the relocation of Nabisco there and the establishment of a new Ford factory in the country.

And back to himself, as central theme: Trump reminds everyone that he went to Wharton, “a great business school, and I’m really good at this stuff.” Trump asks what if someone other than himself—some “low-energy person who puts you to sleep” were to become president. Would Jeb Bush be able to prevent the flight of jobs to Mexico? Who would you rather have negotiating with Japan, China and Mexico—-Trump or Bush?

Riotous applause. The affection is mutual. “Oh, what a group!” exudes Trump, who reiterates that polls show him ahead, pronounces himself “the toughest guy,” and pontificates that he will build the U.S. military to “be so strong and so powerful and great that no one will mess with us!” (In the background: “USA! USA! USA!”) Polls show military veterans like him best, announces Trump. He will win on jobs, the economy, and leadership! “Why do we need an election?” he asks.

Again denouncing the media, Trump pronounces the media less popular than Congress. But it’s starting to show him more respect, he adds. His uncle was a professor at MIT, so you know he has “good genes.” NBC wanted him to continue on “The Apprentice” but he refused. Generals Patton and MacArthur are turning over in their graves because the U.S. hasn’t confronted ISIS. Trump loves Israel!

Random thought after thought from the Donald’s brain and mouth.

Bottom line for Ford Motors: if you build in Mexico, face a 35% tax. So many countries are against us. “We don’t have anything left; we’re running on fumes.” Other governments are so much smarter. “We don’t have a country left.”

A man in the crowd shouts “Israel!” Trump avers his love for the country and tells him the Iran deal is “so bad” and that the only good part of it was John Kerry falling off his bike and breaking his leg. Trump himself will never ride a bicycle! Jumbled semi-thoughts and unconsumed talking points follow about the Iran deal before Trump addresses Obama-care and how it benefits the insurance companies, and how Trump can better negotiate with those companies.

Trump will fix everything easily. “Trade: we’re gonna fix it. Health care: we’re gonna fix it. Women’s health issues: we’re gonna fix it.” Trump loves women so much more than Jeb does. We’re gonna end up making our country so strong and loved once again.

Trump concludes by stating that he thought Obama would be a great cheerleader for the U.S.A. But instead he’s been a great divider. There’s a “tremendous lack of spirit.” Events in Baltimore and Ferguson show how we need jobs. Trump will do it!

“I’m gonna make America bigger and stronger and better than ever before. You’re gonna be so proud.” He exits the stage to riotous applause.

 

***

Why do I find all this frightening?

1. Approximately half of the talk was devoted to narcissistic bluster. Whatever issue he addressed in passing, Trump would interrupt himself to talk about himself. (Surely the pompadour hairstyle is the appropriate one for so pompous a figure.) His solipsism would not be problematic were he just your drunken uncle at Thanksgiving, who entertains and amuses you. But Trump is making messianic claims that resonate among at least a quarter of registered Republicans, who comprise maybe one-third of the electorate. Among registered independents, another one-third, he gets even more support, according to polls. They love his hot air and are possibly gravitating towards a real personality cult. Those are usually bad.

2. The lack of content, too, is troubling. Not that I personally like the content of any of the rival candidates’ speeches; they are all, to me—including Sanders—representatives of a bankrupt system heading towards a crisis more severe than that of 2008 and the prospects of genuine upheaval and change. But at least the others are supplying details about their programs and to some extent appealing to reason. Trump appeals purely to emotion, to faith (in him), to barely disguised racism and mindless nationalism. This too is bad, reminiscent of fascism.

3. Exhibiting a complete lack of knowledge of the Middle East, Trump has declared that as president he would “put boots on the ground” again in Iraq (and maybe Syria), encircle and seize the oil fields funding ISIL, and “take the oil for the United States.” In the Republican presidential candidates’ debate August 6 Trump boasted that he was “the most militaristic person there is.” While some note that at some point he came to oppose the Iraq War (as “stupid”) he is the opposite of an antiwar candidate. (Not that there are any I’m aware of with any prospect of getting elected.) His bravado about nobody messing with the U.S. under his leadership, and making the U.S. military juggernaut even “stronger” is scary.

4. Initially dismissed by pundits as a blowhard sideshow, Trump’s poll showings are resulting in greater media deference. The long CNN interview on August 19 with Chris Cuomo—himself a bloviating fool—was remarkably polite, and seemed designed to confer new added respectability to the candidate. He could actually win.

5. Trump, unlike some Republican candidates, has not vowed to attack Iran. But the author of The Art of the Deal—whose identity revolves around successful deal-making (and “making a kill”)—has said the Iran Nuclear Deal (that will be rejected by Congress but become law when Obama’s veto is upheld) is the “worst deal ever” and that he will do better when in office. He seems confused about the nature of the deal, as one already accepted by Iran, Russia, China, Germany and France, who are not going to abrogate it to stoke The Donald’s ego. If Trump abrogates U.S. agreement, he will head a regime allied only with his beloved Israel against the world. That too is scary.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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