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The Carletonian

The threat of Trump’s banality

<y frightening development is occurring in this country today. It is not the creation of a plutocracy run by people who have no experience governing, although that certainly is happening. It is not the deepening web of ties that the Trump administration has with Russia, potentially compromising this government and all of its actions, although that, too, is gaining body. The development I see today, that which threatens this country most, is the cooptation and normalization of proto-fascist rhetoric.

A few examples should suffice to illustrate this development, although they are by no means exhaustive. First, the Trump administration has consistently and systematically attacked the democratic institutions and practices that undergird our public sphere. Trump has repeatedly vilified and alienated journalists, particularly from the longest-standing, most reputable sources who have been critical of his policies. He refers to sympathetic journalists as “good,” implicitly branding all others as “bad.” He has, at times, banned certain newspapers from his press briefings. What’s worse, he and his administration have repeatedly labeled the press as the enemy. Stephen Bannon, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, called the media the “opposition party” in late January, just after Trump moved into the White House and began his work as leader of the free world. A few weeks later, Trump himself tweeted that the press is the “enemy of the American people,” further peddling the antagonistic and anti-democratic rhetoric that has been a feature of Trump’s team since he first declared his candidacy.

The press is by no means the only recipient of Trump’s democracy-eroding rhetoric. He has repeatedly attacked judges, undermining a bastion of liberal democracy that the Founding Fathers fought so intensely for. He has even attacked the legitimacy of the security and intelligence agencies, setting the precedent for a declaration of police-state powers if ever there were a national emergency.

This is not normal.

These tactics all come straight out of the fascistic dictator’s handbook.

Many of Europe’s most repressive dictatorships in the 20th century began as democracies.

They had legal institutions distinct from the government, active and variegated news medias and executive branch agencies respondent in one form or another to the people. Savvy politicians eroded these various institutions, however, by undermining their legitimacy and branding them as dangerous to the state. They were able to delegitimize the most reputable news sources while elevating those sources that peddled in state-accepted propaganda. They convinced the public that the legal and professional institutions were run by cabals of ‘internationalists,’ ‘cosmopolitans,’ or ‘reactionaries.’ Over time, as these invectives became more frequent, the masses began to believe the lies of the state. Then, when some calamity hit, the calls by said politicians to implement martial law or emergency powers and to dissolve so-called ‘insurrectionary political parties’ met with little resistance, as the seeds of mistrust and fear had already been sown.

Today, the rhetoric is different, but the tactics are the same. Each time Trump attacks a vital institution of American democracy, he makes his future seizure of power more likely. By slowly removing the various pegs of our public sphere, he deconstructs the state to the point where it will topple like a Jenga tower. And each time we meet his attacks with indifference or disinterested bemusement, we contribute to his machinations. By refusing to stand up for the legitimacy of this country’s most distinguished newspapers, or by remaining uninformed of the prerogatives of the courts, or by failing to intimately follow the workings of the various intelligence agencies, we allow Trump’s fascistic rhetoric to further squeeze its dark hand around the neck of American democracy.

In order to prevent this terrifying eventuality, we must all be ever vigilant. The awareness and engagement of every American literally could mean the difference between democratic persistence or devolution into dictatorship. Being critically engaged with politics, both foreign and domestic, could mean the difference between democratic resilience or a repeat of the 20th century on this side of the Atlantic. We are all responsible for the future of this country. Protecting its values and institutions begins today, with the mundane protection of democracy against the banality of evil.

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