Our Coarse Culture and Resurgent Racism
A downward slide for democracy
Tom H. Hastings | 8/15/2018, 6 a.m.
From calling Mexicans rapists and animals to calling the one black person at one of his rallies “my African American,” to endorsing and appointing proven racists, to defending confederate statues, to encouraging violence by his base at his never-ending rallies, Donald Trump is taking page after page from the rise of Hitler in Germany in the 1930s to the populist Roman empire nostalgia of Benito Mussolini.
Name-calling tweets. Body-shaming insults. Mocking disabilities. Kneejerk juvenile retorts. Grade school pejorative nicknames. Trump returns again and again to target people by their identities—e.g. religion, country of origin.
He scorns democratic dissent even as his alt-right brown shirt followers claim “free speech” as their right to scream hate at gays, Muslims, and those who don’t toe the Trumpline. Trump endorses torture and calls for killing noncombatants in a warlord tear at the very fabric of all international humanitarian and rules of engagement as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Facts are his enemy; another accurate label for his utterances and tweets is pathological lying.
Don’t dare compare? We must. The Nazi rise in Germany only happened because ‘good’ Germans kept their heads down and enjoyed the relief from the starvation and extreme poverty of the 1920s that Hitler brought them. He targeted, in turn and ultimately lethally, gays, Jews, communists, people with disabilities, and more.
Is Trump adding jobs and therefore helping otherwise good Americans from resisting his coarsening influence on virtually all aspects of American polity and society? We’ll see how that works out as his trade wars dump the US economy into insolvency.
What will it take for Americans to put a stop to unraveling civil society, the long-time pride of America so touted by analysts ever since Alexis de Tocqueville wrote so passionately and admiringly about it in his 1835 volume, Democracy in America?
We have shown ourselves the key to combating this neo-fascism by our collective mass action against the cruel racism of separating “illegal” parents from their children. This is the very first time Trump has backed down and it was not because politicians suddenly decided to draw a line; this was civil society finally taking nonviolent collective mass action across the U.S.
This is how we roll back this descent into dictatorship, if indeed we want to, if we decide to in enough numbers. Because Trump controls all branches of the federal government, thanks in part to the remarkable theft of a Supreme Court seat by Mitch McConnell and his Senate hench-people, we can only slow, stop, and reverse these lurches toward barbarism from the bottom-up.
Yes, we will have a huge chance to stem this disastrous denigration of democracy in November, but even that will be tough, given the dirty tricks done by Republican operatives in redistricting using the low tactics of gerrymandering and the purges from voter rolls made possible by overturning portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, another Republican attack on democracy.
The stakes are far beyond mere name-calling and rudeness. As the nonpartisan Freedom House report shows, the US is sliding downward in basic components of a healthy democracy, and no one except the American people themselves will fix this, if indeed democracy is still the ideal and assumed preference.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is director of PeaceVoice and a professor of conflict resolution at Portland State University.