By Patricia H Kushlis
Americans are facing one of the most difficult electoral choices since the founding of the Republic in 1789. How is it possible to explain the Trump phenomenon even to ourselves let alone foreigners? That was the primary question I was asked over and over again while I was traveling in Europe during the past six weeks: By friends privately but also by anonymous fellow travelers I met in planes and on commuter trains. (Photo by PHKushlis, Menton from the Milan-Nice Thello EuroCity 143, 5/27/2016)
Yes, the man who the main stream media made has become the standard bearer for the American political right. But he is neither of the right nor does he represent the true values of the right.
Instead, he foremost represents a constituency of petty grievants which has at its core angry, frustrated poorly educated older white men feeling left out of our rapidly changing globalizing economy. But did the US economy leave them out or did their years of backward-looking complacency, poor education and failure to learn new skills necessary to succeed do it to themselves?
Trump’s demeaning slurs especially against women and minorities provide the sound bites for a 24/7 media hungry for ready-made stories to fill elongated broadcast hours all the while awarding him an inordinate amount of free publicity at the expense of every other contender. But is the US economy performing as poorly as he and the Republican Party would like to make us think? That’s simply not what the data shows. Could the US have done a better job serving their needs? Yes. But it seems to me they also needed to have helped themselves by returning to school or moving, if need be – and I didn’t see the Congress or Republican controlled states doing anything to make it easier for them.
Nevertheless, if the US is in such terrible economic shape, then just one question: why is this country still the land of promise from which we supposedly need to erect the highest of walls across our southern border to keep hundreds of thousands of would be migrants out. Yet, who else will take the jobs many Americans will not?
The US seems to be sleepwalking in a make believe world with a cartoon-like toupeed character in the running for the most powerful job in the world.
Meanwhile, Europe is grappling with its own grave problems: a flood of refugees from drought and war torn regions from as far away as Afghanistan and Sub Saharan Africa, floods throughout southern Germany and France, a Russia led by a power-crazed autocrat attempting to tear the continent apart for his own aggrandizement and an incomplete European Union whose leaders are forcing a Milton Friedman type economic austerity on the entire continent - something needed in times of high inflation but counter-productive now, the British contemplating withdrawal from the European Union and a rash of labor strikes in France.
Clearly history has not ended but continues its troubling twists and turns.
Last month, I spent an afternoon at a new museum in Turin: the Museo Diffuso Della Resistanza. The museum is dedicated to the study of fascism in Italy, elsewhere in Europe as well as globally. Its visual images are poignant and the chance to experience an air raid shelter personally vivid. Its separate library, archives and research facilities provide a powerful reminder of the worst of Europe’s not all that distant past. But could this portend the future too? Or need it? (Photo left of WWII bombshelter, Museo Diffuso Della Resistanza, by PHKushlis, May 2016)
I studied Marxism and Communism in college and graduate school and worked in the Soviet Union not all that many years before it imploded. But my knowledge of Fascism and the Nazis – the twentieth century’s other two horrific mass movements - how and why they came to power and how they differed - is deficient despite Seymour Martin Lipset’s chapters Working Class Authoritarianism and “Fascism” - Left, Right and Center in his classic work Political Man published in 1960.
Communism in Europe may well be dead but what about authoritarianism with its demagogues and storm troops? The current rise of extreme right wing parties and movements based on the attraction of uber-nationalism and hatred for the other suggest they are not.
History is not doomed to repeat itself but similarities exist from decade to decade and century to century which we overlook to our peril.
Has the pendulum swung away from the global spread of democracy which characterized Europe and elsewhere after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 until the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the subsequent rise and fall of the Arab Spring?
The forces of reaction are powerful draws in times of turbulence and disruption - draws that we too often forget.