Boiling The Frog

I was just thinking this morning that Donald Trump has been POTUS for 2 years and 172 days (6 hours, 42 minutes and 40 seconds but who’s counting?). I remember when people said he would be impeached within his first year. Some said six months. I personally thought he would quit when he realised there was work involved. We were all wrong.

So roughly two-and-a-half years. I was wondering what Germany looked like two-and-a-half years into Hitler’s regime? Say, around 1936? The Nuremberg Laws had been passed in 1935 but weren’t implemented until after the the 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin. While there was some debate around the world about boycotting it, the only countries not to attend were Spain and the Soviet Union.

It feels like Trump has slowly become normalised. I stopped paying much attention a long time ago. My wife, an American, stopped paying attention almost as soon as he was elected. She was just too disgusted to get sucked up into it.

Trump is probably a narcissistic psychopath. But are fascists psychopaths? Jon Ronson doesn’t seem to think so but I disagree. Ronson says psychopaths don’t tend to believe in anything except themselves, and I agree. But I think they also look for organisation and institutions that will help them to get access to the power they crave. They don’t truly believe in any creed or philosophy. But they are willing to commit acts of violence to get what they want – and fascism is inherently pro-violence, which makes it the perfect landing place for psychopaths.

As Stanley Payne writes in his history of fascism:

“The only unique feature of the fascist relationship to violence was the theoretical evaluation by many fascist movements that violence possessed a certain positive and therapeutic value in and of itself, that a certain amount of continuing violent struggle, along the lines of Sorelianism and extreme Social Darwinism, was necessary for the health of national society.”

There hasn’t yet been a dramatic rise of state-sanctioned violence in the US (and crime itself is at historic lows, as it is in most developed countries) but hate groups are on the rise and at an all-time high (although they were nearly as high a few years into Obama’s first term), according to some sources. There’s no official paramilitary support for his rule, although he does claim to have “the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people”. And over the last couple of years, a number of GOP organisations have invited white supremacist groups to provide “security” at their events, and of course there was the infamous Unite The Right rally. The combination of authoritarian leaders and armed militias has never been healthy for a democracy.

However, around the world, including here in Australia, we’ve been seeing the gradual normalisation of cruelty, usually focused on the poorest and weakest people, immigrants fleeing failed states, and usually carried out by people who claim to be Christian.

The increasing cruelty and violence should worry us, but like the old ‘boiling the frog’ story, we will probably just normalise it.

As Fintan O’Toole pointed out, fascism usually grows slowly over time, using “test marketing” to see how much they can get away with:

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

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