Part 3: The Donald Trump Phenomenon: Where’s It All Going?

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”—Mark Twain

You get the government you deserve (that’s the way of it some say). In my honest opinion, I think the government we end up with reflects, more or less, the spirit of the time we happen to occupy. Just consider how in 2001 the 9/11 attacks compelled otherwise liberal societies, not dictatorships, but democracies, to construct the most robust surveillance states the world has ever seen; and then consider the further irony of these same societies placing greater importance upon restricting the rights of citizens to achieve the appearance of security over the defense of the personal privacy (and related freedoms) which, fundamentally-speaking, make one actually secure. Time will tell whether or not we were wise or over-hasty.

These restrictions on privacy—the Anti-terrorism Act (2015) in the Canadian context and the Patriot Act (2001) in the American—created in terrorism’s wake, if not entirely reasonable, are understandable responses given the circumstances.[1] Thus, the central issue of the 2004 American presidential election wasn’t healthcare or climate change; it was security, crime and terrorism. By 2008 the tone of the presidential conversation changed markedly. Less concerned with either terrorism or an unpopular war in Iraq, the American public became worried more about a worsening economic situation at home brought on by a handful of people working in the nation’s financial services industry, e.g. the Great Recession.

In 2008 the presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney was largely perceived as a contest between hope and fear. Regardless of how one feels towards President Obama, or his apparent shortcomings (and they are many), when he won the election hope and change were on the ascendant: he offered peace to a country tired of war; harmony where division and factionalism prevailed; and he promised to govern as though the Constitution mattered. In my honest opinion, Obama’s importance consists less with anything he either said or did and reflects mainly what he represented: change.

During the 2008 presidential election 26% of voters were non-white. This number increased to 28% in 2012 (and was expected to climb to 30-31% in the 2016 election).[2] This trend is worrisome to some because voices of color do not always agree with white voices simply because their relative experience with power is so different, i.e. people of color, historically-speaking, have made gains since the 1960s but they remained largely on the outside looking in. So, if the current election cycle feels different than previous ones, it’s largely because the tension filled atmosphere is the culmination of decades of sea-changes: changes to demographics; shifts in political affiliation around issues like minority rights; challenges to core values related to thinking around justice, power, and the role of government; it is at its root a struggle between what America was and what it is becoming.

America is undeniably becoming a more diverse society which, for certain segments of the population like the Tea Party or the rank and file of the Trump Movement, is a scary prospect indeed. Brian Patterson, a machinist living in North Carolina who voted Obama in 2012, observed in 2016 he supported the Republican candidate, Donald Trump:

I’m not afraid to say that I’m in fear for the white man. I’m in fear. What I’m afraid of seeing is the reverse role—a white man is taking on the position of being the minority. A white man might have a difficult time finding jobs because companies need this balancing act, need to have more Hispanics, more African-Americans working. Maybe it’s hard for a white guy to find a job, and that’s been a great concern of mine.[3]

For people like Patterson and many other white Americans they support the idea of America becoming more diverse in principle; however, what they support at an abstract level they actually fear supporting in the actuality. Again, the United States is suffering from something of an identity crisis between what it was and what it is becoming.

Mark Twain observed history doesn’t repeat though it rhymes. With Twain’s observation in mind, the 1920s and the early 2000s “sound” eerily similar: during these two decades both Germany and the United States experienced existential crises where economic collapse fell fast upon the heels of military failure. These crises contributed to, and exacerbated feelings of, desperation and a sense of rootlessness in German and American political life alike; and in both situations, for good or for ill, the type of leaders benefiting most weren’t democratic-minded people but reactionary men promising radical solutions.

Economic or politic crisis doesn’t always mean a rise in the popularity of right-wing movements. However, at the risk of sounding fatalistic, authoritarianism does hold a certain attraction for those of us—especially in times of uncertainty—who look at the world in terms of black and white as opposed to grey.[4] In this context, the fear felt by white Americans, and expressed in their support of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, seems understandable, even predictable. There really is no historical precedent of a majority going quietly accepting its fate. People aren’t really motivated by principles like pluralism, tolerance or democracy. Instead, what motivates them are things tied to human nature itself like tribal identity and the jealous guarding of privilege.

Now in an article such as this one might expect a straight-forward comparison between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler. I’m not going to do that (and besides doing so would be a disservice to Hitler). Instead, I’m going to compare the relevant histories of Germany and the United States searching for instances of Twain’s historical rhyme schemes. By drawing parallels between the two countries’ histories some light can be shed upon the meaning, significance and possible future of both the Trump Movement and prospects for democracy in the United States.[5]

Some Planks for Building a New Social Order
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”—Noam Chomsky, Professor, Activist and Author

Following Germany’s defeat in the Great War (1914-1918), and America’s own recent adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, both peoples sensed their respective governments weren’t functioning as expected: in the United States, even before 9/11 and the country’s subsequent international entanglements, many Americans felt the Congress had been hijacked by corporate and special interests.[6] The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin coined the term “inverted totalitarianism” to describe the special corporate-congressional relationship—one in which money from Big Business subverts democracy to a point where “economics trumped politics”.[7] The assertion America is a fascist or totalitarian state might seem counter-intuitive at first; nevertheless fascism, like democracy or any other political or economic system for that matter, can and does exist along a spectrum. In other words, concentration camps are not necessarily a pre-requisite for the presence of fascism.[8] Wolin describes the situation in the following way:

Antidemocracy, executive predominance, and elite rule are basic elements of inverted totalitarianism. Antidemocracy does not take the form of overt attacks upon the idea of government by the people. Instead, politically it means encouraging what I have earlier dubbed “civic demobilization,” conditioning an electorate to being aroused for a brief spell, controlling its attention span, and then encouraging distraction or apathy. The intense pace of work and the extended working day, combined with job insecurity, is a formula for political demobilization, for privatizing the citizenry. It works indirectly. Citizens are encouraged to distrust their government and politicians; to concentrate upon their own interests; to begrudge their taxes; and to exchange active involvement for symbolic gratifications of patriotism, collective self-righteousness, and military prowess. Above all, de-politicization is promoted through society’s being enveloped in an atmosphere of collective fear and of individual powerlessness: fear of terrorists, loss of jobs, the uncertainties of pension plans, soaring health costs, and rising educational expenses.[9]

Normally totalitarian states have the courtesy of revealing themselves by doing something obvious like banning the freedom of speech. This clearly isn’t the case in the United States; and since fundamental freedoms remain intact people don’t recognize fascism when they see or are living in it. In countries where inverted totalitarianism prevails, citizens can at one and the same time possess every civic freedom while being kept out of any meaningful participation in the decision-making process. Corporate power doesn’t depend upon the existence or absence of human rights and freedoms; its success depends upon the purchasing power of citizens who exchange money for goods.[10] In other words, corporate-dominated governments don’t actually need the expected gulags, concentration camps or prisons to silence and control people; if people can buy what advertisers tell them to desire then citizens won’t generally fret about the state of the government;[11] moreover, for the few people willing or capable of meaningfully criticizing the government, if you simply ignore them long enough while directing everyone else’s attention on to something else—like registering Muslims or expelling rapist Mexicans for instance—the informed few will remain incapable of directing the many to take either any meaningfully action or interest in the direction their government happens to be taking.

A sense that America, the world’s first truly representative democracy, isn’t so representative after all is obvious to all except the most uninformed. The country’s descent in to a sort of creeping fascism is neither a recent development nor an accident: it’s the inevitable by-product of a decades’ long marriage between the Congress and the energy sector, financial services industry, and military industrial complex. In this relationship, political leaders like Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney—to name only a few of the more recent—move seamlessly back and forth between Congress or Cabinet to the corporate board room and back again. Meanwhile regular citizens are dissuaded from being politically active, controlled for their own good by “masters whose decisions are inherent in nature and beyond the reach of electoral authority”.[12] Citizens, in this context, aren’t expected to practice civic virtues like looking after one another’s interests by keeping power accountable but to consume, consume, consume. Consequently, Americans (and Westerners generally) have accrued historic levels of debt, over-extending themselves, entering a state of credit servitude to the banks and credit card companies.

Equally problematic is the press—capable of generating awareness about problems affecting the public—is owned by a handful of self-interested corporations who’ve no real incentive to encourage the growth of an informed citizenry and everything to gain by selling products to a captive audience. The thinking of news programmers is the average person would rather be titillated by the latest sex scandal than have journalists or news anchors cover “heavy” stories requiring the sustained attention of the public. Thus, information outlets like BuzzFeed cynically pass off top ten lists for news where profit, not principles or actual news, drives the public dialogue; and instead of keeping power accountable, arguably journalism’s most vital function, the press convinces the public to be fatalistic, to live in fear, and accept as inevitable reductions to both their personal liberty and to congressional accountability. An ill-informed citizenry is a blind one and the blind make for pawns.[13]

The extent of the problem of a corporate run media was hammered home for me recently when I incidentally learned of thousands of protesters marching on Washington, D.C. in late April (2016). There wasn’t any mention of it by any of the major media outlets like CNN, Fox, BBC, or even the CBC in Canada. The protesters were part of something called the December Spring movement who were calling for electoral reform among other things. Over 1,300 people were arrested during the event. This is certainly newsworthy. Normally I can find information pretty quickly online; it took me several minutes, and several strategic keyword combinations, to find anything remotely passing for coverage of the protests.[14]

Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting (at least for non-Americans), is globalization’s continued expansion—with its corresponding trade agreements and developments in American domestic law—enabling corporations to unfetter themselves of oversight or regulation: international trade agreements like North American Free Trade Agreement (1994) or the Trans Pacific Partnership (2016) have created a post-nation-state world where national sovereignty has become a relic of the past where nation-states must subordinate themselves to a new corporate world order.[15] In the emerging global legal framework, corporations have:

  • All the legal protections intended to protect individuals from government interference while not burdening corporations with any of the corresponding civic obligations.[16]
  • The ability to sue countries when national governments pass laws protecting either their citizens or ecologies when doing so jeopardizes corporate profit.

Governments (and by extension the people they represent) no longer entirely control what goes on inside their own borders; rather, distant and personally unaffected stockholders decide for locals whether or not ancient hardwood forests are cut down in Papua New Guinea, hydraulic fracturing sites are developed in Bulgaria, mountain tops are removed for coal in West Virginia, or mines (and the associated toxic wastes) are retired and abandoned in Montana.[17] The ability to keep corporations legally, ethically or environmentally accountable is next to impossible today given the corporate world’s vast financial resources, friends in government, problematic trade agreements, and the economic gravity of globalization itself. The problem, it can be argued, is national governments and corporations were developed to serve categorically different purposes: national governments not only encourage conditions for economic growth inside their borders but must also govern according to the values of its people generally; whereas the sole purpose of a corporation is the maximization of profit—irrespective of the real cost—while only being accountable to a comparatively small base of investors (who are not necessarily citizens of an affected country). In principle, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on profitability except when doing so means we ignore the “true cost” of our economic activity which leads us along an unsustainable path ending in climate change and environmental collapse.[18]

* * * * *

Prior to 1919 Germany had no recent experience with democracy. This doesn’t mean the country had no previous experience with liberty at all. The “free imperial cities” of the Holy Roman Empire (15th through to the 19thcenturies) certainly were relatively liberal enclaves; also, Germany was one of the two most important regions supporting the development of humanism; however, these centers of liberalism, along with Germany’s aristocracies, disappeared as the French Revolution spread at the head of Emperor Napoleon’s armies during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Following France’s eventual defeat liberalism was suppressed by conservative monarchs across Europe; this is because Napoleon used liberalism as a pretense to establish his empire and abolish feudal privilege.

In this atmosphere, the Carlsbad Decrees (1819) were passed by Germany’s various independent states; these decrees removed liberal university professors from their positions while expanding censorship of the press. Suppression is the usual response of power to challenge. Yet, unless the underlying causes making reform necessary in the first place are addressed repression is only ever temporarily successful. Therefore in 1848, during the Spring of Revolutions, Germany erupted in to an orgy of republican inspired revolutions. In retrospect, even though not a single revolution succeeded in 1848, the democratic spirit of the age seemed to point to the inescapability of the old conservative-monarchist order’s disappearance and the emergence of the modern liberal nation state.

Although the more optimistic political theorists and historians believe history is on the side of democratic movements in Europe and North America, there was no guarantee the old conservative order would necessarily go quietly. In 1871 Germany’s patchwork of independent states were united under the leadership of militarist Prussia. The newly minted country was dominated by a class of landowning Prussian nobles called Junkers. In order to contain democracy, German federal parliament passed the Anti-Socialist Laws (1878) banning group meetings where “social democratic” ideas were discussed while effectively outlawing trade unions and closing democratic and socialist newspapers. The ban did not have the desired effect; instead of weakening democracy, the popularity and influence of political parties like the Social Democrats was strengthened.[19] Thus, Germany’s elite welcomed war with France and England when it came in 1914. The war diverted the attention of Germany’s lower classes from the elites and the need for social reform to external enemies. Armed conflict acts as a sort of inhibitor to social change—reminding the people of their imperial obligations and, in the process, preserves the existing social order (for at least a little while longer).

The reality is although war occupies the public’s attention in the short-term, in the long-term it can have unintended effects (especially if the war goes poorly): by October of 1918 Germany was on the verge of defeat and in November the Emperor was overthrown during the German Revolution. The revolutionaries rallied to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) declaring the Weimar Republic in to existence in 1919.

Weimar (1919-1933) was weak and vulnerable from the beginning: on one hand, the young republic was challenged by communists believing the socialists didn’t go far enough in their reforms; and on the other hand, Weimar was exceedingly unpopular with the country’s powerful and wealthy political right who believed in the legitimacy of monarchs, not constitutions. To deal with the communist threat the Social Democrats formed an alliance with Germany’s post-war military and corporate elites. Street clashes followed and the country teetered on the brink of civil war. The communists were eventually defeated. The street violence had the unintended effect of normalizing the use of violence to solve political problems in post-World War I republican Germany. Republics usually abhor violence when it comes to conflict resolution; nevertheless, Germany had more experience with political repression than with reaching compromises; therefore, in the post-war years leaders like the National Bolshevik’s Ernst Niekisch or the National Socialist Adolf Hitler used political murder to accomplish objectives.[20]

Systemic and Organic Racism

“Racism is man’s greatest threat to man—the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”—Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jewish Theologian

Germany has had problems with racism for centuries. In the 11th century Crusaders massacred thousands of Jews during the Rhineland massacres (on their way to massacre Muslims in the Holy Land). During the 14th century, hundreds of thousands of Germans died from bubonic plague and Jews were blamed. Christians, strangely and frequently pre-disposed to antisemitism (Jesus being a Jew and all), destroyed over 300 Jewish communities in an effort to compel the “Christ killers” to stop the plague. The 16th century Christian reformer Martin Luther was an unabashed anti-Semite. He described the Christ denying Jews as “vermin,” “rats,” and a “plague” (terms borrowed by the Nazis for their own propaganda purposes in the 20thcentury). For centuries political leaders in Germany used race-baiting as a springboard to power.[21]

In the 20th century, Hitler’s National Socialist Party appealed to so-called “scientific racism” to gain election and justify discrimination against Jews and other minorities in Germany. Strangely, the rule of law (or at least the appearance of it) mattered to Hitler.[22] So he made sure to entrench discrimination against Jews through the Nuremberg Laws (1934). According to these codices, Jews couldn’t teach in universities or work for the government; they couldn’t marry Germans (or so-called Aryans); they were forced to register with the government and wear yellow patches bearing the Star of David. Hitler exploited the economic crisis brought on by the Great Depression in 1929 to prey on the fear of the masses convincing people that the Jews—a minority in every sense—somehow possessed a stranglehold over the country’s economy. Break their hold, Hitler asserted, and the country would recover; expel the Jews (and other outsiders) and the Reich’s culture, its future and its people would be secure.

Taking a page from more recent history, West Germany specifically, the 1970s brought significant economic growth and prosperity; faster than usual growth contributed to a labor shortage. The country consequently opened its doors to thousands of Turks to fill jobs; it should be noted here that contrary to received wisdom immigrants do not in fact steal jobs, they actually create them: any growth in population necessarily leads to a corresponding increase in consumer demand; an increase in demand makes an increase in supply necessary; and to increase supply jobs are created to meet growing production needs; it’s that simple. The argument immigrants, illegal or otherwise, steal jobs is demonstrably false; and wouldn’t you know it: the Turks helped grow the economy, and when times were good these migrant workers were valued and accepted and became “German” in their own fashion.

Germany has experienced at least three significant economic downturns in the last four decades. So, while economic growth initially encouraged Turkish immigration and acceptance, economic decline has encouraged a collective changing of the German mind: the shift has encouraged right wing elements in Germany to return from the margins and fear monger making use of tired old arguments like “the Turks are stealing our jobs” to justify hatred and gain election to regional assemblies.[23]

* * * * *

Race has always played a central role in American life: the Thirteen Colonies (like every other English colony) practiced slavery from the 17th century through to the middle of the 19th. However, the British Empire abolished the practice by 1820 while America, having broken ties with Great Britain in 1776, continued the practice. Slavery was essential to the health of America’s economy and the identity of the Southern states. Arguably, slavery was just as vital to the well-being of America’s economy in the 19th century as the congressional-military industrial complex is to the country’s economy in the present day. Let the significance of that sink in for a moment…and suddenly slavery’s continuation after the American Revolution (1776-1783), a war fought for principles like freedom from tyranny and “all men are created equal by their Creator,” becomes more understandable; it actually took a civil war—the bloodiest conflict in the entire history of the United States—to ultimately end the practice. I wonder: what would it take to wean America’s corporate elite off the Congress, do you think?

Immediately following the Union’s victory over the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-1865), Southern states passed the Black Codes restricting the rights of the newly emancipated slaves. In the decades following, the Jim Crow laws were enacted establishing the legal basis—piece by piece—for what eventually became known as segregation.[24] I won’t bore you with the discriminatory practices against African-Americans in the military; the hoops they had to (and continue to) go through to participate in elections; the lynchings, church and cross burnings (still on-going); or being denied access to housing, transportation, healthcare, or employment, etc. These are all a well-established part of the public record.

The fortunes of minorities improved somewhat in the 1960s: this was a decade of reform and challenges to the status-quo; this was the decade of second wave feminism, free love, and student protests against war and imperialism; and the decade’s liberalizing spirit energized and enabled activists like Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, Jr. to succeed where their predecessors had failed. Although in many ways life has improved for minorities in America, racial division and inequality persists.

President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) introduced a civil rights bill to end segregation in 1963. He was resisted by many Americans who didn’t want to see the country integrated. Kennedy understood the importance of de-segregation when he appeared on television explaining to the nation that “we are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all [my emphasis] Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities”.[25] Five months later Kennedy was assassinated. Kennedy’s vision for the country was obviously not shared by all; it’s just so much easier to hate.[26] Vice-president Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) succeeded Kennedy as president pushing the Civil Rights Bill through the Congress in 1964.

I’m an educator. A number of years ago I had a lengthy conversation with a couple Canadians who were teaching in Mississippi. During the discussion I asked them what it was like to teach at an American school. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to ask them about their impressions about the role race played in the state; they described a situation where wealthier white families sent their kids to expensive private schools while the poorer whites and African-American families sent their kids to underfunded public schools. This sorting basically constitutes segregation in fact if not in name; and segregated schools aren’t a thing of the past or confined to the South; similar sorting is also taking place in northern cities like Newark, New Jersey.[27]

The self-sorting—rich people sending rich kids to rich schools—constitutes a sort of de facto segregation reflecting the self-same dynamic of power extant during segregation, i.e. people with money have choices while the poor do not. The problem isn’t wealthy people sending their kids to well-funded schools (that’s their prerogative). The problem, at least as I see it, is the reasoning and motivation behind doing so: to keep kids from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds from mixing. If you want to keep people separate, it makes sense to emphasize differences while simultaneously downplaying similarities. To press home the point further, let’s turn our attention to another type of sorting taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, wealthy whites living on the city’s perimeter have withdrawn in to a closed community; these affluent families can afford private police and private fire protection. The wealthy are not contributing their tax dollars to fund public schools or police and fire protection in Atlanta. The result is the city has found it harder and harder to meet the needs of residents. Author and social activist Naomi Klein describes the situation in the following way:

Another example of a disaster apartheid future can be found in a wealthy Republican suburb outside Atlanta. Its residents decided that they were tired of watching their property taxes subsidize schools and police in the country’s low-income African-American neighborhoods. They voted to incorporate as their own city, Sandy Springs, which could spend its taxes on services for its 100,000 citizens and not have the revenues redistributed throughout the larger Fulton County. The only difficulty was that Sandy Springs had no government structures and needed to build them from scratch—everything from tax collection, to zoning, to parks and recreation. In September 2005, the same month that New Orleans flooded, the residents of Sandy Springs were approached by the construction and consulting giant CH2M Hill with a unique pitch: let us do it for you. For the starting price of $27 million a year, the contractor pledged to build a complete city from the ground up.[28]

To be clear I am not an anti-capitalist. I don’t believe wealthy people are inherently evil or some such thing; moreover, the purpose of democracy isn’t to redistribute wealth; democracy isn’t an economic system; it’s a style of government premised upon the notion of preserving the fundamental freedoms of citizens through the rule of law and placing limitations on government or corporate power; thus, wealthy individuals sending their kids to private schools or establishing private policing and fire services is not incompatible with democracy; yet, it would be overly simplistic to think disparities in income do not contribute to the undermining of the rule of law or contribute to oppression of the poor. This is because freedom is, or at least it has been argued as such,[29] attended closely by taking some responsibility for how one’s fellow citizens are doing; nevertheless, in a society where rugged individualism plays such an important role it isn’t surprising some Americans do not feel the need to show either responsibility or compassion for those different from themselves.

This situation reflects the individualistic nature of American republicanism; it also speaks volumes about how important it is for elites to control the historical narrative. Expressly, the United States does have meaningful experience with socialism through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Kennedy’s “New Frontier” and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”. From 1934 to 1968 America was one of the world’s most progressive states enacting all sorts of social reforms to address economic and political inequalities.[30] However, after President Johnson’s presidency there was a concerted effort on the part of the political right in the United States to end social welfare programs. This was the height of the Cold War and conservatives didn’t make any distinction between socialists and communists. In this context, corporate propaganda mills set about convincing people that social programs were somehow un-American, that the Free Market was virtually an absolute good, that regulating the economy or the environment was against freedom, and that Big Government couldn’t do anything right.

Since the 1970s America has pursued a policy of ending government oversight while privatizing, or establishing “for profit” systems for prisons, the armed forces, mercenaries, water, police, fire protection, education, and healthcare. If you can think of a role typically associated with progressive governments, the Americans have found a way to turn it into something akin to a fast food franchise. Despite the propaganda coming from the political right, it is indeed a myth that everything a government touches necessarily fails.[31] The linguist and dissident author Noam Chomsky (1928-present) described the formula for convincing the American public to accept without qualification privatization as the only option: first, you have to under fund government services (as was the case in both Atlanta or Newark); make people angry as a consequence; sell the public on the idea “big” government can’t do anything right; and then follow that up by having bought and paid for members of Congress repeat the mantra “everything is better privatized”; and then let the corporations save the day; repeat.[32] Government isn’t “too big to fail” in the United States; it’s designed to fail.[33]

Double-Standards and Authoritarianism

“One of the most ridiculous aspects of democracy will always remain…the fact that it has offered to its mortal enemies the means by which to destroy it.”—Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda

During Germany’s 1932 federal election Ernst Thälmann (Communist Party) and Adolf Hitler’s respective supporters clashed disrupting one another’s rallies. The streets of Germany turned into an ideological battleground where the rule of law was replaced by the role of the jackboot. Hitler was offered an important position in government in exchange for putting his goons away. This situation reminds me of an event where the Republican Donald Trump accused Bernie Sanders of sending supporters to disrupt a political rally. During one of his midnight Twitter sessions Trump tweeted a veiled threat, “Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren’t told to go to my events. Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!” Sanders denied the accusations; it’s not impossible Sanders sent people to disrupt his political rival though highly unlikely. Sanders is a known pacifist (most Republicans even think he’s honest and beyond reproach). Besides, people don’t really need much of an excuse to disrupt a Trump rally given the current tension-filled, and compromise free, atmosphere.

After winning the Florida Primary in March 2016, Trump actually winning the Republican nomination became a real possibility. The GOP responded by devising ways to push him out. Trump warned fellow Republicans that if he wasn’t selected as the GOP’s candidate there would be rioting in the streets. Prophetic words these (and probably not far from the truth). Although historically threats are a common feature to elections, in the current age of political correctness and hyper-sensitivity it’s relatively rare; so it’s worthwhile noting how little it appears to trouble Trump to utter threats and in the process work his supporters up into a lather. During a speech at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina in March 2016, Trump reminisced about how protestors were dealt with during the “good old days”:

In the good old days [this] doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily. But today they walk in and they put their hand up and they put the wrong finger in the air at everybody and they get away with murder because we’ve become weak, we’ve become weak.[34]

In an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, former-Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio expressed concern with respect to Trump’s bluster: he argued Trump’s appealing to the baser nature of disaffected Americans promoted intolerance; moreover, it was a dangerous game to play, Rubio further observed, because not “everyone who hears the billionaire talk has complete control of themselves or is balanced”. The implication is clear: punches thrown in Chicago are portents of things to come. Rubio also lamented the Trump Movement cast political opponents not as fellow-Americans who simply disagreed, but as enemies of the United States.

There’s precedent in America for calling political opponents “outsiders” or “un-American”. In the foreword of a book called The Fear Brokers moderate Republican Mark Hatfield of Oregon wrote a description of the “New Right” then emerging in the 1970s. He identified three tendencies members of the New Right held in common: firstly, their hyper-nationalism transformed all foreign and domestic policy debates into tests of loyalty for citizens; secondly, opponents were cast as both un-American and un-Godly (a strange thing to do for a society purporting to have a separation of church and state); and thirdly, persistent threads of racism “lie right below the surface of the New Right’s ideology”. Generally speaking, Donald Trump’s supporters possess some combination of one, two or all three of these tendencies.[35]

So, if you identify with the political right—whether you lived in Germany (1930s) or live in the United States in 2016—there’s a strong possibility that at some level you feel your government has failed and that the “true” social order is under threat; and this is why a reactionary like Trump appeals to authoritarian-minded people: when authoritarians feel vulnerable and insecure they look to recreating an orderly past. Trump’s hyper-nationalism and irrational appeal to fear; his over-simplifications about the economy and his fake religiosity; his Islamophobia and anti-Hispanic sentiment are par for the course when it comes to values espoused by the Republican Party over the last several decades; to be completely candid, contrary to what establishment Republicans assert, Trump is not some sort of outlier who doesn’t represent the “conservative movement”; his success is largely the result of the groundwork laid by the Republican Party in the late 1950s and after.[36]

* * * * *

Democracy in Germany wasn’t destined to fail in 1933. The Weimar Constitution (1919) granted the government the power it needed to secure itself from internal threats. The problem, however, is the regime lacked the stones to effectively address the threat posed to it by the Nazis; also, the majority of people in Germany had grown up under an absolutist regime; thus, in 1933 civic values like obedience and austerity played a stronger role in Germany’s political culture than either individualism or the idea a government required the consent of the governed. Fascism was particularly difficult to tackle anyways because, as a worldview at least, it appealed to a broad base of the population ranging from members of the working class all the way to the corporate elite; it linked everybody into a corporate whole.

By comparison America’s democratic institutions and core values are much stronger than Weimar’s; however, there are certain “civic virtues” peculiar to America making it unique among the world’s democracies. For example, the country fought a revolutionary war for liberation while preserving slavery. The framers of the American Constitution understood the continuation of slavery was a paradox for the young nation. The slave holding states in the South would never have fought for independence from Britain if it meant they had to end slavery. Also, men like Alexander Hamilton believed it was essential to limit the power of the new central government to preserve liberty: it was no good to simply trade one master across the Atlantic for another closer to home; therefore, the right of individual states to pursue their own self-interest—whether it was to retain slavery or keep government at arm’s length—was entrenched into the Constitution.[37] Power in the new republic was purposely decentralized where each individual state was regarded as a nursery for preserving republican values. Thus, while slavery might not have made much sense to the average New Yorker in 1859, it made perfect sense to the contemporary South Carolinian.[38]

The American Civil War was fought over conflicting ideals of freedom. On the one hand there was the “democratic” ideal of liberty as reflected by the Union appealing to the fulfillment of an inclusive culture implied by the Declaration of Independence and the principle that “all men are created free and equal”. On the other hand, the Confederate or republican view of liberty: where freedom was best preserved in small homogeneous republics guided by the contradiction that fundamental freedom and slavery were somehow compatible.[39] In the 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln questioned how a nation could be founded in liberty while still practicing slavery. Slavery was objectively wrong, he argued, and every man or woman of conscience had a duty to oppose it. Lincoln’s view of freedom was a universal, rather than republican, understanding. To put it simply: Northerners and liberals had one conception of liberty while Southerners and conservatives held quite another. As is always the case, both groups believe they’re right and history or nature or God is on their side; and both groups are equally unwilling, or perhaps their relative starting positions are too different, to allow for a compromise or consensus view to be reached between them; and therein the virtue of a more universal understanding of democracy is demonstrated: people don’t necessarily have to agree on everything but everyone must accept the right of the other to exist while respecting the rule of law.[40]


“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”—Upton Sinclair, Author

Alfred Rosenberg, the official philosopher of the Nazis Party (and a complete hack by my reckoning), asserted that whenever he heard the word reason he reached for his gun. Authoritarianism generally, and National Socialism expressly, reflected at root an anti-intellectual and undemocratic worldview: a proper social order is not established through parliamentary debates or reasoning with one’s opponents; and respect for human rights was not a virtue but evidence of a civilization’s decline. Order, Rosenberg argued, was achieved by forcing agreement—racially and intellectually—among society’s members. Therefore, an ideal society was structured according to the principle of fuhrerprinzip (or the leadership principle) whereby every problem or issue was decided by an appeal to power, as opposed to intellect.

Contrary to what some might think, love’s opposite isn’t hate, it is power. Power, especially unaccountable power, doesn’t so much preserve the social order as attempt to freeze it in time; change is regarded as a social evil, and the weak (or those who would benefit from a change to the status-quo) are by necessity preyed upon. For those on the outside looking in—whether they are Jews, Turks, Syrians, gays, the disabled, or women—this idea society has no room for them. Contrary to Rosenberg’s philosophy, social change is neither good nor bad; it’s inevitable. What wise leadership does is accept this reality instead futilely attempting to force that reality to conform to expectations. An effective form of government, be it democratic or otherwise, incorporates constructive ways of dealing with change to avoid social atrophy or violent revolutions; and the end of any society considering itself modern isn’t order but the pursuit of meaningfreedom, and happiness.

Although America is unquestionably democratic, ever since the country’s founding in 1776 the political elite have monopolized the decision-making process; the political class, with the exception of self-made men like Abraham Lincoln or optimists like Thomas Jefferson, purposely kept the general population at arm’s length. There’s a prevailing attitude among the ruling class that, to quote founding father Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the American public is a “great beast needing to be tamed” or to quote Jonathan Gruber, the architect of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (2010)), in order to pass legislation government has to frequently rely upon the “stupidity of the average American voter”.

As members of the political class, Gruber and Hamilton are hardly exceptional in their attitude towards the American People.[41] Suffice to say Americans aren’t as stupid as their leaders believe. Jefferson argued if people were given the best, most accurate information they’d make informed choices. Regrettably, not every person who occupies a position of influence wants to see the creation of an informed public. If anything the American People have been purposely misled by a self-interested political class composed primarily of compromised men and women lacking any nobler vision for the country than what can be concocted in a closed board room or hammered out on a stock market floor.

In May 2010 I found myself in a small bookstore in San Francisco. I was immediately drawn to one specific book called The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby. In this book, Jacoby argues that a not unsubstantial number of Americans have increasingly rejected the liberalizing influences of secular humanism.[42] This is unsurprising considering so many Americans prescribing to religion equate (wrongly in my opinion) humanism with atheism. The reality though is the country, and the Constitution, was founded upon the separation of church and state and premised upon Enlightenment principles, not religious ones.[43]

Nevertheless, a degree of anti-intellectualism, or distrust for those living a life of the mind, pervades the political culture of the United States. Anti-intellectualism has expressed itself in a number of ways throughout the country’s history: through an appeal to Scripture (the so-called “Curse of Ham”) justifying the South’s opposition to ending slavery; in the subsequent establishment of the Klu Klux Klan following the South’s loss in the American Civil War to preserve the old social order; through the passing of the Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws, again, to preserve the so-called “natural order”; or, more recently, we see it in the lowering of the American People’s standards of what is acceptable or what is not acceptable when it comes to dialogue in the public sphere.[44]

In the entire history of the modern world, there’s not a single example of a fascist state, or one that purposely suppresses reason or science, lasting longer than 36 years. Fascist states are short-lived because they rely upon censorship, oppression, obedience, and coercion as opposed to the rule of law or legitimacy. England has had the same form of government since 1689 for a reason. The Westminster system of parliamentary democracy is premised upon the idea of the supremacy of law (a synonym for reason) and it regards consensus building, and respect for human rights, as a strength (not a weakness or sign of civilization’s decline); and because decisions affecting the entire public aren’t reached arbitrarily or through an appeal to power or emotion, and because mechanisms exist to deal constructively with change, and because no particular segment of society actually has more rights or privileges than any other, the Westminster system is rightly as one of the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.

“We say keep your change, we’ll keep our God, our guns, our Constitution.”—Sarah Palin, Former Governor of Alaska

The growth in the political right’s popularity in the present day is not a trend isolated to either Germany or the United States. Belgium, Denmark, Greece, France, and Canada have all toyed recently with chauvinist or race-based populist politics to preserve, so the argument goes, security and order. Focusing our attention on America, I recall during the 2008 election cycle watching footage of Republican Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate, whipping people in to a frenzy at a rally insisting anyone who voted for the Democrats couldn’t possibly be a “true” American. Looking northward to Prime Minister Stephen Harper during Canada’s 2015 federal election, the prime minister invoked an equally absurd notion of purity when he defended a policy that new Canadians could not wear niqabs (face coverings) while speaking the Oath of Citizenship. Zunera Ishaq, originally from Lahore, Pakistan, challenged this policy as discriminatory by appealing to her Charter right to freedom of religious expression.

Prime Minister Harper’s support of the ban on face coverings seemed to imply he believed real Canadians didn’t wear niqabs.[45] In the subsequent case of Canada vs. Ishaq (2015), the Supreme Court upheld Ishaq’s Charter right to wear the niqab at the ceremony. Any society considering itself to be genuinely democratic responds positively to challenges like these or else it risks replacing the rule of law with the rule of caprice. Thus, burka wearing Muslims, head dress wearing First Nations, necklace wearing Africans, cross wearing Syrians, turban wearing Sikhs, yarmulke wearing Jews, and colander wearing Pastafarians, are all free to wear whatever they want to whatever ceremony they want. Which begs the question: what does a true Canadian look like? I would argue: free.

Free is what they look like. Freedom at its most fundamental level, however, is not absolute; it comes with responsibility—the responsibility, for example, to balance one’s freedom of speech against how what we say might affect others; the responsibility of weighing one’s right to live as autonomous individuals while accepting our obligation to respect the fundamental rights of others (even the rights of people we dislike or disagree with);[46] and the responsibility to be an active, rather than a passive citizen, by putting in the hard work of becoming informed so we can speak truth to power or otherwise preserve our democracy.

* * * * *

There are a number of interesting similarities between Germany and the United States, e.g. racism has shaped both; anti-intellectualism most certainly has played (or continues to play) a part in preventing either polity from becoming overly secular; corporations have dominated each country’s political and economic life; both countries have an on-going and quixotic love/hate relationship with immigrants and minorities; and historically-speaking, Germany’s economic situation in 1933 and America’s in 2009 are not terribly dis-similar: both countries were de-stabilized and plagued by protracted and profound economic crises; and in both cases, economic downturn contributed to a belief that not only democracy was failing but so too was free market capitalism. In order to solve these problems, some conjectured, the country needed strong and decisive leadership drawn from a pool of people not corrupted by any association with the “establishment”.

Yet, there are salient differences between the two countries making it so people in Germany today live in a society with a broader understanding of freedom. The Germans, not unlike the English, were not republicans but transitioned in 1918 from monarchy into democracy. The previous experience Germans had with an emperor meant, metaphysically speaking, that the “King’s Justice”[47] applied to everyone equally at all times. This actually points to one of the more interesting differences between continental and English (or American-style) liberalism, i.e. liberalism on the continent, in Germany and France at least, meant subordinating oneself to what Jean Jacques Rousseau called the “general will” of the people; that is, individuals gave up a portion of their autonomy in exchange for security and stability provided by a strong centralized state. This limited liberalism prevented the fractiousness (or republican-style democracy) one finds in an American-style republican system. For this reason when laws are passed by the central government today in Germany people are, despite possibly disagreeing with these laws in principle, more willing to abide by and accept them as legitimate and applicable to the entire nation.[48]

By contrast liberalism in the Anglo-American context consisted less in following the lead of the state, and more in the state stepping back to allow individuals greater personal freedom. The Declaration of Independence was pregnant with a universal notion of equality for all; but the admixture of republicanism and American political culture took the country in a very different direction than Germany. With that said, Germany followed a path to dictatorship and genocide and then, only after World War II, embarked on becoming one of the world’s strongest democracies. The Americans for their part didn’t suffer the tyranny of another King George after 1776; however, the country seems to suffer from a somewhat ironical “tyranny of the individual” where minorities continue to be singled out and denied all the privileges every citizen—regardless of their origins, ethnicities, or persuasions—should enjoy. For this reason it is difficult for the Federal Government in the United States to pass laws benefiting all citizens based simply on an appeal to utility or common humanity. Some Americans still want to preserve their state-level tribal identities while jealously guarding their privileges, e.g. Atlanta.

I would like to think Americans, invoking Lincoln one last time, will in the end follow the better angels of their reason choosing to work with one another where possible and disagreeing peacefully when it is not; however, with the election of Donald Trump as president, the tension and polarization in American society has increased (along with the possibilities for violence). Trump the man, not unlike Obama before him, is not important because he possesses any particular ability to bring the people together; rather, Trump, like Obama, is symptomatic of a tension felt by both democratic and republican-minded Americans over what America is becoming. Both Trump and Obama’s relative appeal was and is, more or less, a reflection of exasperated people on either side of the political spectrum hoping to bring someone in to fix a dysfunctional and malfunctioning political system.

Some thinkers, like author Chris Hedges, believe this political system cannot be saved and all that’s left is for people to quite cooperating with an unresponsive Congress in hopes it’ll all collapse. Hedges, quoting the 1960s free speech advocate Mario Savio, observes:

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part [e.g. inverted totalitarianism], and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.[49]

In the end, Wiemar failed not because Germans were incapable of appreciating the benefits of freedom or human rights; it failed because people had no faith in the regime, the oppression of minorities became normalized, and the regime failed to change constructively address the threat posed to it from the right by men like Adolf Hitler. America in 2016 is confronted by a similar convergence of political, economic, and social factors. Some say authoritarianism trumps reason in the short-term. I think, though, reason wins out in the end because its practical; through reason we test and work with reality as it is; and the reality is, as Thomas Jefferson believed, we can have confidence in people to do the right thing if they are presented with reliable information that isn’t spun one way or the other for ideological purposes; moreover, despite the interference by corporations in decision-making or the dysfunction of the Congress, democracy’s potential continues to exist in the people themselves, those enigmatic nurseries of republicanism. Such is my faith and such was Lincoln’s when he acknowledged how remarkable an achievement it was for the Founding Fathers to bring forth to the world a new nation conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.


End Notes
The United States was attacked by al Qaeda on September 11th, 2001 at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the years following, 9/11 the Americans were hit several more times by another Jihadist group called ISIS. Canada, likewise, was attacked twice in October and November 2015 (and the RCMP/CSIS thwarted at least two other larger scale attacks on Canadian soil).

[2] The 2016 election was different than previous ones in several ways: firstly, there were fewer swing voters suggesting the American electorate was more polarized than before; secondly, white middle-class voters from manufacturing and energy producing states voted overwhelmingly in favor of Trump (which was both a rejection of Hillary Clinton’s perceived elitism and President Obama’s energy policies designed to deal with climate change); thirdly, the media predicted a so-called decline in the “white voter” predicting that the president of the “New America” would be decided by a coalition of minorities, educated workers and millennials. The prediction is valid because the white population is declining in umber while the population of people of color is growing; however, the media was premature: the change in demographics will not really be meaningful until quite possibly the 2030s. See for more.


[4] Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, Authoritarianism & Polarization in American Politics, p.18.

[5] Canada’s future is ultimately tied to the United States: if America becomes a fascist state, if this isn’t already the case, it is unlikely Canada will remain unaffected or left alone. For this reason it makes some intuitive sense to learn more about our neighbor because it provides a glimpse into one of our potential paths as a nation. Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau (1919-2000 AD) was an admirer of the United States because it represented a beautiful vision of a society guided by reason and the rule of law; he was inspired by American thinkers like Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. Trudeau recognized also America’s importance as Canada’s largest trading partner and most powerful ally. He famously borrowed a quote from Prince Klemens von Metternich to describe the significance of the United States to Canada, e.g. when the American elephant sneezes, everyone catches a cold. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (1897-1972) observed as much in a speech when he said, “We must protect and advance our national interests, but we should never forget that the greatest of these is peace and security. The achievement of this aim—it is chastening to realize—does not depend on our policies so much as it does on those of our [American] neighbor”. John English, The Worldly Years: The Life of Lester Pearson (1949-1972), p.361.

[6] America’s wealthiest citizens use their financial power to influence the outcomes of elections in their favor. Billionaire oligarchs like Sheldon Adelson, George Soros, and the Koch brothers, spend extraordinary amounts of money to help push through business-friendly policies through Congress, e.g. candidates seeking election in Congress, state level legislatures, and even judges, etc. need a lot of money to run for office. This majority of this money comes from private donors like the aforementioned billionaires. In return for financial support, candidates who win elections return political favors, e.g. elected officials in West Virginia continue helping keep the troublesome public out of the way of corporations that continue blowing up mountains to extract coal despite public desire to stop the practice because of human health and environmental impacts. Chris Hedges, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, p.160-165.

[7] Chris Hedges, p.238.

[8] America’s huge private prison industry is arguably an indicator of the country’s move towards fascism. These prisons make their shareholders money by incarcerating people. This “for-profit” system presents potential conflict of interest issues for judges, lawyers, and police in Texas and Louisiana where these prisons operate, e.g. a judge will personally benefit financially by sending someone to jail as opposed to letting someone go. These inmates are then forced to work for essentially nothing for corporations. The fact that the majority of the people incarcerated are African-American makes it look as though slavery has indeed returned to the United States. See for more.

[9] Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, p.239.

[10] The historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997 AD) argued liberty is not incompatible with autocracy. Just as a democracy may deprive citizens of liberties, e.g. restrictions on privacy rights made legal through the passage of both the Patriot Act or the Anti-Terrorism Act, etc. so it is perfectly conceivable that a liberal-minded dictator would allow his subjects a large measure of personal freedom. The dictator might be unjust, and even encourage the wildest inequalities, care little for order, or virtue, or knowledge; but provided he does not entirely curb their liberty, or at least curbs it less than many others like China or North Korea for instance, he meets with little resistance. Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, p.14.

[11] The Egyptian Revolution in 2011 provides supports this idea that people are willing to live under dictatorship if their material needs are at least being met. Egyptians lived under the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak since 1981. For nearly 30 years the people lived under a repressive regime that disallowed a series of civil and civic rights. Egyptians tolerated restrictions to their freedom because most were employed and could earn a paycheck and make ends meet. This all changed in 2008-2009 with the Great Recession which saw mass unemployment in Egypt as well as a corresponding rise in food prices. Before the economic meltdown people didn’t have rights but at least they had work. Following the meltdown they had neither. So Egyptians rose up en masse and removed Mubarak from power. Interestingly, a similar dynamic exists in present day Russia with some noteworthy, if subtle, differences, i.e. the older generations miss the good old days of the Soviet Union when they had material security but absolutely no civic or civil rights. Curiously people are willing to accept limitations on their political rights and freedoms in exchange for economic power. This is one of the reasons the syndicalist thinker Georges Sorel (1847-1922 AD) observed small economic reforms sapped the energy of a socialist-minded revolutionary movement. Hans Dam Christensen, Oystein Hjort, Niels Marup Jensen, Rethinking Art between the Wars: New Perspectives in Art History, p.18-19.

[12] Harold J. Laski, The American Democracy, p.436.

[13] There are still some reputable newspapers out there and they do impact public policy. A 2015 article in the New York Times outlined how Republican controlled states were attempting to undermine the Voting Rights Act by making it more difficult for people of color to vote in elections. President Barack Obama read the article and was inspired to press Congress to try to reverse this trend. He failed. The Times article can be found at the following URL:

[14] See:

[15] If a country’s government does not observe or follow trade agreements to the letter then it can expect a reduction in corporate investment. Corporations love stability and predictability; and without investments a country’s economy is prone to stagnation; thus, corporations possess significant bargaining power when it comes to enforcing and getting state’s to sign trade agreements, i.e. if you don’t agree then someone else will. The most distressing component of these agreements is arguably the so-called “investor state dispute settlement” instruments, i.e. the same lawyers who negotiate these trade agreements are frequently the same ones who act as arbitrators when disputes inevitably emerge between states and corporations, e.g. a lack of genuine transparency and accountability in these agreements makes it problematic to either safeguard principles of law and justice that are consistently and equitably applied.

[16] Murray Dobbin, The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen, p.26.

[17] Jared Diamond, Collapse, p.466-485.

[18] In his seminal work Small is Beautiful (1973), economist Ernst Schumacher introduces readers to an important, though often ignored, aspect of doing business—the “true cost”. In economics the “true cost” of producing something takes into account not only the cost of raw resources, labor, etc. on producing something but also the impact such production has on the ecology and human populations. For example, silver doesn’t just cost cash money to extract, e.g. labor costs, energy expenditure, purchasing equipment, etc. it also has other associated costs, e.g. tailings ponds polluting the eco-system, greenhouse gas emissions, other pollutants emitted, and impacts upon local human populations. Although corporate culture is changing slowly, some companies are more responsible than others (see Jared Diamon, Collapse, p. 475-477), corporations do not generally take into account the impact their activity has upon ecologies (up and down the supply chain) or peoples, e.g. Nigeria suing Shell for decades of oil spills. Schumacher presents it this way: there is nothing about our economic activity which implicitly makes sure that whatever is good for a corporation is necessarily be good for the environment: “Economics [sic] deals with goods in accordance to their market value and not in accordance with what they really are. The same rules and criteria are applied to primary goods, which man has to win from nature, and secondary goods, which presuppose the existence of primary goods and are manufactured from them. All goods are treated the same, because the point of view is fundamentally that of private profit-making, and this means that it is inherent in the methodology to ignore man’s dependence on the natural world [Schumacher’s emphasis].” E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, p.29.

[19] Liberalism was, and remains, essentially an unsinkable rubber duck (and the same can be said of conservatism, really).

[20] In 1929 Weimar Germany proved incapable of solving either the economic or political problems besetting the republic due to the Great Depression. As society grew increasingly unstable, support for democracy evaporated. Right-wing parties, like the National Socialists (Nazis), took advantage of the situation by reminding people of a glorious past while promising a brighter future. Violence plagued Weimar until Hitler swept democracy away altogether to the sound of applause in the Reichstag in 1933. Interestingly, despite Germany’s brief experiment with a republican-style government, it remained one of Europe’s most conservative of states.

[21] William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p.22.

[22] Hitler in his book Mein Kampf discusses why a military overthrow would not work in Germany. Germans had to too strong a sense of tradition and an appreciation for following the natural order of things. If Hitler wanted to take power, he would have to do so democratically. For the same reason Hitler ensured his government’s discrimination against so-called enemies of the state, e.g. Jews, homosexuals, the Roma, etc. appeared lawful despite being completely capricious and arbitrary.

[23] Frauke Petry’s Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) is currently trading off of the fear of Syrian refugees. The most frightening development in Germany currently isn’t the growth in xenophobia itself but the acquiescence of Germany’s typically moderate middle-class which is increasingly supportive of anti-immigrant sentiments and actions. Hatred is going main stream on the streets and at the polls in Germany and the United States.

[24] The Jim Crow Laws were the American equivalent of Germany’s Nuremberg Laws.

[25] John F. Kennedy, “Civil Rights Address,” June 11, 1963.

[26] The author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel observed that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.

[27] Corey Booker, Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good, p.113.

[28] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, p.533.

[29] President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865 AD), another important American civic leader who was assassinated, inspired by the Greeks argued perfect liberty for the wolves meant death for the sheep. Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States and for this reason he was killed. He presciently articulated the problem with sheep and wolves in American life, e.g. “The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator [not my emphasis], while the wolf denounces him for the same act as a destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep is a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.” Frank J. Williams and William D. Pederson (editors), Lincoln Lessons: Reflections on America’s Greatest Leader, p.85.

[30] In 1929 the global economy collapsed following the collapse of the New York Stock exchange. The collapse precipitated the Great Depression (1929-1930). Business and political leaders argued the depression would eventually correct itself—since capitalist economies “naturally” contract and grow cyclically. The expected recovery never came; therefore, President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought in a “New Deal” whereby he aimed to restore dignity and prosperity to the average American who suffered more than the country’s elite. The “New Deal” not only put people to work building large capital projects like the Hoover Dam, it also expanded Social Security, protected the right of unions to strike and bargain collectively, and gave African Americans and women some much needed protections. In the end, Roosevelt’s program fundamentally changed the relationship between the Federal Government and the American population.

[31] Canada’s highly regulated banking system prevented it from suffering from the same systemic risks as the American financial system. This enabled Canada to weather the economic storm following the Great Recession in 2009 which was a product of mass fraud committed by Wall Street firms; moreover, the robust social programs and stability of socialist countries in Europe—particularly Norway and Sweden—are proof positive that government definitely plays a positive role in both preserving liberty while ensuring society’s various members (and not just the wealthy or the “wolves” as Abraham Lincoln observed) enjoyed a decent standard of living.

[32] Obviously, not all white people are racists. Yet, the fact Alabama didn’t ratify the Thirteenth Amendment (an amendment abolishing slavery) until 1995 is at least suggestive of certain prevailing attitudes whites have towards blacks. According to some sociologists studying the issue of race in the United States, white Americans aren’t nearly as overtly racist as they were during the first half of the 20th century; nonetheless, although whites no longer see blacks as racially inferior (overt racism), whites now see blacks as violating time-honored norms of hard work (symbolic racism). Hetherington and Weiler, p.29.

[33] Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, and Peter D. Hutchinson (Producers), “Requiem for the American Dream” (Documentary).


[35] See the footnote at the bottom of page 84 in Hetherington and Weiler’s book.

[36] During the midterm elections in 1958, a number of racially progressive northern Republicans (GOP) were defeated by liberal Democrats. This event began the process of sorting the political parties on the question of racial tolerance. The Democrats appealed to a broader base of Americans through a coalition established back in the 1930s by Roosevelt. This base meant the Democrats were more competitive than their Republican rivals. A rift took place within the Democratic Party following 1958—where northern Democratic liberals deprived the southern (and racist) wing of the Democratic Party of its traditional congressional dominance. The erosion of southern Democratic influence was responsible for enabling Lyndon Johnson to promote greater racial equality. As counter-intuitive as it seems to observers today, the Republicans or the party of Lincoln was often a better bet to support the interests of blacks. An examination of political platforms in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s shows the Republican Party advocated more for racial tolerance than did the divided Democratic Party. However, like the Democrats the Republicans had problems: in the North they weren’t perceived as progressive enough while in the South they were unelectable because they were too progressive with respect to racial tolerance. This lack of competitiveness was pressed home when the Democrats soundly defeated the Republicans in the 1964 presidential election. Despite the poor showing, the GOP gained some support in the South. Republican strategists recognized immediately that they could appeal to more white voters—particularly in the South—if they used race as an issue; that is, the GOP understood they could gain election by running against the interests of African Americans and, in the process, mobilize vast new white constituencies to leave the Democrats and vote Republican. This process of party sorting reached its nadir during the 2016 presidential election: there was a marked absence of swing voters and the supporters of both parties did not just disagree but were actually diametrically opposed to one another. Hetherington and Weiler, p.66-69.

[37] This is one of the reasons why Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was such a revolutionary approach because it granted the Federal Government enormous powers and responsibilities hitherto exercised by the individual states themselves.

[38] In this light the second-class status of African-Americans in terms of education funding, housing, equality of opportunity, etc., and the reasoning behind the creation of cities out of whole-cloth like Sandy Springs, suddenly makes a lot more sense.

[39] Professor J. Rufus Fears, The History of Freedom, “Liberty and Lee at Gettysburg” (The Great Courses).

[40] Conceptions of freedom and liberty are still shaped by republicanism—or the confederate view—in America. For this reason, state by state, one standard exists for those in power and quite another for those who are not. The Constitutions’s framers believed in the wisdom of smaller government, limiting the power of central authority, and raising individualism on to a pedestal. In democracies, or at least ones that are genuinely democratic, governments act to protect and preserve the interests of every citizen. They don’t just protect the racial or religious majority or preserve the elites. Yet, the great irony is that even in democratic societies there exist citizens who sincerely do not believe everyone deserves the same equality or protection under the law. In the German context, this meant Jews were denied citizenship rights; and in the American context, this meant African-Americans struggled, and continue to struggle, with not being extended the same citizen rights as white Americans, e.g. Over the last decade Southern states, or the former slave holding states, like Louisiana and Alabama, etc. have made it harder and harder for people of color to vote in elections. In principle, states are supposed to get permission to make changes to the Voting Rights Act; however, in practice states have been going it alone while the Supreme Court has stood idly by watching the civic rights of African-Americans erode.

[41] As a side note, isn’t it curious how many presidents are related to one another? President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was related to five other presidents by blood and six by marriage. Leadership in a democracy shouldn’t bloody well be hereditary. Maybe some of the problems affecting the Republic could be solved if the People could draw from a deeper pool of presidential candidates…? My intuition tells me this is the case.

[42] Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, p.120-121.

[43] During the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason (1650-1800 AD), thinkers like Denis Diderot, Voltaire, John Locke, David Hume, and Thomas Paine, etc. all saw a certain wisdom in explaining reality and solving problems through an appeal to reason instead of superstition or traditional authority. A number of these thinkers—like Voltaire—possessed religious convictions while simultaneously expressing skepticism about the trustworthiness of religious doctrines. They promoted scientific rationalism, the humane treatment of the mentally ill, an end to torture, and believed society could be improved through education. The Enlightenment was fundamentally an optimistic intellectual movement. Needless to say, conservative thinkers like England’s Edmund Burke (1729-1797) and France’s Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) hated everything the Enlightenment stood. In the case of Burke, he believed people did not have a right to form governments by and for the people; they owed the English king their undying loyalty. In the case of de Maistre, he argued people should be brought back to the simplicity of obeying the dictates of the Catholic Church at the expense of reason. De Maistre is one of the fathers of a political philosophy that would later become fascism.

[44] Also, noteworthy is the dumbing down of language contained in speeches given by presidents since the time of President John F. Kennedy. Strategists and speech writers now focus more on the power of the soundbite and arguments from emotion to direct voters in desired directions. Reason has taken a backseat to unreason. If another president uses the word “folks” or the segue “look” one more time, I think I’ll rage. Everything is so obviously staged.

[45] I don’t like placing words in to the mouths of others but this is how the prime minister’s stand was viewed by most Canadian progressives.

[46] In Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s book The Friends of Voltaire, the author places the following aphorism into the French philosopher’s mouth: I hate your opinions but I would die for you to have the right to express them. Although Voltaire never actually spoke these words, they’re an accurate summation of the French philosopher’s thinking on liberty; it also reflects Immanuel Kant’s thinking on human nature reflecting Psalm 85: 10-11, e.g. what God has rendered straight cannot be made straight. Democratic societies, compared to the clear and cut social nomenclatures of either monarchical or religiously ordered societies, are complex; this complexity reflects the fact that human beings—even ones who might outwardly look the same—are not necessarily motivated by the same things or see the world in the same way. Thus, democracies best reflect humankind’s complex and often contradictory nature, while creating relevant institutions to allow people the ability to work together meaningfully and disagree peacefully.

[47] The King’s Justice is a corporate, organic and universally binding notion of law. The importance of the role king’s played in Europe as law-givers was pressed home for me while studying the French Revolution, i.e. when King Louis XVI was put to death the basis of legitimate authority was physically destroyed. In 1791 the French attempted to recreate this legitimacy through the adoption of a constitution. Constitutions that are based on the abstract rights of man, however, are a poor substitute for the arcane symbolism and poetic meaning underpinning the authority of a God-appointed king.

[48] Professor J. Rufus Fears, The History of Freedom, “Why the French Revolution Failed” (The Great Courses).

[49] Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, p.216.

Episode 12: The Liberals Go On a Spending Spree

Peasants & Emperors is a podcast presenting topics related to democracy, science, culture, women’s issues, current events and critical thinking. A new podcast is produced and available for listening/download approximately every two weeks.

In episode 12, the Hooligans discuss the recent federal budget passed by the Trudeau administration in Canada.

Episode 12: The Liberals Go On a Spending Spree

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Notes & Clarifications
1). President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his famous “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” remarks during his Inaugural Address as president in 1932. Roosevelt was speaking in the context of the challenges confronting the United States during the Great Depression.

2). Jessica raised the question about whether or not the Liberal’s budget included some sort of jobs plan or funding for retraining oil patch workers. Aside from making some changes to unemployment insurance and some vague promises about money for infrastructure, there’s nothing in the budget for retraining people working in the energy sector.

3). During the podcast, the hooligans discussed reforms made to student bursaries as presented in the 2016 budget. Rick observed students from low income families would receive a greater degree of financial support than students coming from middle income families. Rick made the mistake of associating the “poverty line” (drawn at around the 15 to 17 thousand dollars a year range) with “low income,” i.e. a family of four making $41,500 dollars a year is by definition low income while a middle, or median, income for a family of four is $86,600 dollars.

4). In the podcast, Rick observed that the economic tactic of “pump priming” an economy recover has never worked in history. In reality pump priming did work once (sort of). In 1939 the Western democracies got out of the Great Depression by pouring billions of dollars in to defense spending. The defense spending dramatically reduced unemployment, encouraged industrialization and promoted mass consumption. However, there was some concern, following the end of World War II, that depression era conditions would return without all the government spending. The danger was averted by the promotion of mass consumption and the re-purposing of factories from producing tanks, bombs, guns and ships, etc. to making cars, dishwashers, homes, suburbs, and so on. For more on post-World War II economics please see Yanis Varoufakis’s The Global Minotaur.