The Return of Despotism?

Back in 2016, I wrote a post obliquely comparing Trump to Hitler. At the time it reminded me of Marx’s famous quote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy (Hitler) and then as comedy (Trump). I could not imagine that Americans could actually elect this buffoon as our president, and I had grave concerns about our freedoms and about our responsibilities to the biosphere. Many of these were justified.

The good news is that we actually survived those years and that on January 6, 2021, the vastly outnumbered Capitol Police turned back the deadliest full-on insurrection since, well, the Civil War. The bad news is that the feckless and immoral Trumpian effort may not be over.

The latest news is that Trump intends to pardon the insurrectionists if he is returned to office, and they may even be let go sooner if the Republicans win the House and/or the Senate in the 2022 midterms. We should be clear as to what this means. It is the sort of thing that happened after President Lincoln was assassinated, and Andrew Johnson presided over an accelerated reconciliation called Reconstruction.

We have never really come to terms with our country’s history of failure to stand up for its own ideals, of liberty and justice for all. We did not grant these rights to Native Americans or to African Americans (and in many respects still have not done so). During the 1930s there was a strong pro-Nazi movement in the U.S. (led by Charles Lindbergh and others) that sought to keep America out of the war with Germany. During the 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy investigated “communists” and “fellow travelers” in government and in Hollywood. Beginning in the 1960s, and continuing up to the present day, our government is, at times, engaged in war crimes for which we would condemn others (such as drone strikes outside of a declared military confrontation).

But in each succeeding generation, a few of us notice that we are not treating all other human beings as equals, and if we are successful we can sometimes redress these wrongs. Today (i.e., 2022) we are beginning to speak openly about racism, slavery, and the stolen lands of the Native Americans who once occupied this region (in our case, the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee). We are in desperate need of their knowledge and wisdom in managing the land, and listening to the Great Spirit that animates the Earth. We also need to treat all living beings with fairness and respect, because their rights are ultimately our rights also.

Instead, however, we have General Flynn behind a major coup attempt, and the Republicans targeting secretaries of state in order to have them reject the actual votes in favor of their pre-selected ones. Truly, this is banana-republic stuff. We should not have to take it seriously.

Indeed, what I fail to understand is how anyone could still allow Trump and his followers to operate in the public realm, since they are so clearly threatening everything the republic itself stands for. This is what now seems to be a clear and present danger.

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