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Donald Trump and the Nation’s Death Plunge into Authoritarianism

(Note: This was posted days before before Donald Trump was found guilty on 34 felony counts in a New York criminal trial for falsifying business records.)

While it doesn’t top filmmaker Ken Burns’ “existential crossroads” warning during his recent remarks at Brandeis University, a May 26th piece filed by columnist Ruth Ben-Ghiat compliments Burns’ remarks by detailing how an extraordinary number of Americans continue to perceive the 2024 presidential election as a “politics as usual” contest between Democratic incumbent Joe Biden and Republican challenger and former president Donald Trump, normalizing the ongoing insanity being peddled by the GOP standard-bearer and modern Republican Party — a far cry from even the party of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush.

This despite explicit quotes from Trump himself detailing in no uncertain terms how his second administration will entail nothing less than authoritarian, far-right rule, buoyed by his refusal to accept lawful election results if he is not the winner in November.

When it comes to Trump and his Republican surrogates, there is no basement low enough to express their current positions — only a further descent into the right-wing idiocracy eroding our nation’s fragile democracy day by day. Rather than heralding the end of the American republic as we’ve known it since 1776, supporters of Trump’s rhetoric see his petulance as a means of “saving” the nation. So to be clear, it’s fair if Trump wins and rigged if he loses — got that?

Polls certainly bear this disconnect out, despite the four years of Trump’s failed presidency and his sedition in the wake of his 2020 loss, laid bare for all to see in real time (on live TV!) with his direct involvement in, and instigation of, the Jan. 6th insurrection — one of the most disgraceful episodes in U.S. history.

As we well know, the storming of the Capitol resulted in nine deaths, assaults on at least 174 police officers, a delay of the Constitutionally-mandated counting of electoral votes, threats made by Trump against his sitting vice president for upholding the law, and extensive physical damage to the Capitol’s offices and chambers totaling more than $30 million in repairs and greater security measures in the first non-peaceful transition of power in 245 years of our nation’s history, in peace and war.

That the Jan. 6th insurrection was set into motion by the sitting President of the United States and predicated upon lies, prejudices, and ginned-up resentment with no connection to reality is all the more extraordinary.

Even as 40 out of Trump’s 44 cabinet appointees warn he should not serve another term as president, a majority of Americans in poll after poll in the critical swing states that matter have not only brushed off these concerns as imaginary, but stand ready and willing to elect him today, despite his policies while in office, continued kinship with expansionist Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, sharing of classified intelligence with Russian operatives at the White House in 2017, increase in Christian nationalism and abject displays of Nazi support since his 2016 election, a rape conviction in civil court, and credit taken by Trump himself for the U.S. Supreme Court’s far-right politicization and overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Also during his presidency we saw Trump browbeat the venerable National Park Service (NPS) into fabricating inflated numbers and doctoring photos of his inauguration — as banana republic a move as any he made during his four years in office. Trump forced the the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove the page on climate change at its website and instead praise the benefits of coal, while touting “clean coal” and coal liquefaction as part of his praise for the 19th century fuel source. As part of Project 2025, it’s clear a second Trump administration will jettison any enforcement on climate policy, if not rollback what remains of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other effective environmental laws as Trump’s team expands control over all federal agencies.

Just in the last several days, Donald Trump — as disheveled, confused, sickly, and beyond the pale as ever — said he will consider banning contraceptives nationwide, posted a campaign video with a reference to creating a “Unified Reich,” admitted he hid at least four classified documents in his bedroom while the FBI was in his house searching for them, and in his most unhinged moment made the insane accusation that President Biden tried to kill him.

There once was a time when any one of these instances, in even the smallest doses, would’ve been a political career-killer. No longer. Trump’s hold on his cult is too strong.

Upon co-founding San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action in 2014, I said the only thing standing between us and the abyss of GOP nihilism was President Obama, but even at that time the concern was over the remnants of the Tea Party and the radically conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, which seems positively quaint in 2024.

Today it appears America is ready to make a voluntary death plunge into a shattering, violent dismemberment in what may be the last vote any American makes for president, with Republicans pledging their support to a person — from Mitch McConnell to Nikki Haley to Chris Sununu, to bootlickers like Speaker Mike Johnson, to the most minor GOP party operatives.

Courage has always been in short supply in politics, but Republicans’ ongoing, cowardly abdication long ago crossed the line into treasonous. I never imagined the end of the GOP would be so severe or calamitous, or that Americans would so willingly follow it over the edge.

Lamentably, I’ve ceased being surprised. The GOP long ago decided to take this fork in the road, but as much as Trump has detailed what his second administration will be, those who hear Trump’s words still, somehow, don’t think it applies to them. Whether they’ve retreated to the 2016 position of disbelief that “it can’t possibly happen,” or they’re members of elite institutions coddling up to the dictator-in-waiting in the hope of scraps from the table, or they’ve convinced themselves nothing will really change — as many did in the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration — it’s clear that Americans, and perhaps humans generally given how the same patterns of right-wing authoritarianism are returning to Europe as the first-person collective memory of World War II recedes, simply choose not to learn from history.

If Trump was just one person, he’d be a grotesque cartoon. But it’s not just Trump, it’s the degenerates hoping to ride his coattails into autocratic power, many for a second time, that are truly worrisome for the future of our nation, and if our nation may at all survive.

To that end, comments made by Spartacus Olsson at the conclusion of his War Against Humanity entry on the maniacal death spasm of Nazi Germany, part of the excellent week-by-week World War II in Real Time series produced by TimeGhost History, takes on additional meaning in his warning against right-wing strongmen with all the answers for fabricated rage. In summing up how the Nazi regime turned on its citizens in the face of its apocalyptic defeat in the spring of 1945, Olsson said this on the ultimate cowardice of the Nazis:

Like many other extremists, when push comes to shove it’s only about them.

Driven by egocentric delusions, and the choice to discard reason and humanity for the cult of conspiracy myths and chauvinism, they will claim that the hatred they preach is the lesser evil to achieve the greater good.

They will call themselves righteous, dance around the fires of rage, fan the flames, don war paint, cry battle and demand that their tribe follow them into war.

They will expect the ultimate sacrifice from their followers, and celebrate death as a heroic choice.

But when the battle luck sours, they will deflate — and reveal that they are nothing but little scoundrels, dressed in outsized uniforms.

Then, they will either try to run to save their own skin — or escape the consequences of their actions by a coward’s death. For they are the opposite of heroes, the antithesis of upstanding, and the contrary of righteous.

Don’t listen to the bullying, bloated screamers, bloviating about how they are fighting for you.

They will never fight for you.

And when you fight for them, they will abandon you at the snap of a finger if it serves them better.

Never forget.

Never forget indeed. But even with the approaching 80th anniversary of the liberation of Rome and the D-Day landings in France, I’m afraid it may be too late for an entitled nation that never cared much for remembering to begin with.

Hug your country while you have it. Here’s hoping for better days this Memorial Day.

White House photo by public domain.