By Arnold Dodge
“When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can.”
“If I only had a brain!”
—The Scarecrow, “The Wizard of Oz”
At the recent Republican National Convention, former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey had submitted a petition from delegates like him to force a roll call vote in a last-ditch attempt to derail the Donald Trump juggernaut. The negative reaction from the podium reminded him of another era.
“I sought to be recognized to raise a point of parliamentary inquiry and was immediately drowned out by people I would refer to as ‘brownshirts,’” he told MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff. When asked what he meant by “brownshirts,” the conservative Senator, who’d served in Congress from 1979 to 1990, replied: “I mean people who act like fascists.”
With Humphrey’s accusation in mind, let’s examine Trump’s quest for the White House now that the billionaire has ascended to the top of the GOP food chain as the standard bearer of his party. His newest campaign team swears that he will pivot to become presidential timber.
Trump continues to binge on adolescent tantrums, engage in personal attacks, lob incendiary salvos at will. Among the cringe-worthy moments were an attack on a Gold Star mother and a ghastly suggestion that “the Second Amendment people” may be able to stop Hillary—a not-so-veiled call to arms for gun owners to take matters into their own hands.
But the most troubling of all these outrages could be Trump’s assertion that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania in the general election is if the Hillary Clinton camp cheats. Here he crosses a new boundary, no mean feat for a serial boundary-crosser. This time he is looking to breach a firewall, one that is a bulwark against tyranny. This time he is signaling the end of democracy.
Not too long ago another self-centered, self-styled demagogue (who had no regard for the commonweal) used this playbook to transform a nation and pursue world domination. Lest we forget, on August 19, 1934, Adolf Hitler was elected the absolute ruler of Germany through a democratic process, receiving 90 percent of the vote in a plebiscite.
Here is the Nazi dictator in his own words:
“The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered.”
Read more about the rise of totalitarianism in 1930s Germany and brace yourself. Here are some ideas about the period from Haig Bosmajian, a scholar of rhetoric and freedom of speech and the recipient of the 1983 George Orwell Award for his book, The Language of Oppression:
“Hitler and the Nazis recognized that if the German people had a group mentality, they would be much more receptive to Nazi ideology and propaganda. To reinforce this mindset in the German people…the Nazis held events that required mass participation and did not invite individuality… Anyone who did not openly participate or share the emotion of the rest of the crowd was easily identified and dealt with by either the crowd itself or by security personnel.
“[Another tactic Hitler used] was convincing his audience that the rest of the world thought of Germany as inferior, second-class citizens. This angered the crowd, who had been comprehensively indoctrinated to believe that they were the master race.”
Where to now?
There may be hope yet.
While Trump accuses Hillary of playing the woman’s card, sane people may have their own card to play:
Trump doesn’t have a brain.
If he were intelligent, he would be able to coherently express an idea without bombast; be aware that he contradicts himself from one speech to the next; understand that he repeatedly reveals his ignorance about domestic and foreign policy; change his pattern of doubling down when caught in a lie, and realize that he offers a juvenile’s simplistic response to the most complex and important issues of the day.
If Trump somehow were to stay on message and deliver even a modicum of rationality in his remarks, then the fabric of American democracy as we know it might become unraveled.
That’s not to say that, whether Trump wins or loses, there won’t be domestic instability. His followers are in such a lather that they can’t help but continue the ruthless onslaught begun by the Donald—and they don’t care in the least that he is completely witless.
“Hitler and the Nazis recognized that if the German people had a group mentality, they would be much more receptive to Nazi ideology and propaganda.”
But let’s trust—for the moment—in the ability of those who have been smitten with Trump fever to calm down when they can take a deep breath. If they begin to realize that their champion is clueless, maybe they will come to their senses. For those thinking of voting for Trump, perhaps the sheer magnitude of his ignorance will steer them toward a wiser choice.
Trump’s advisors would be of service to their boss if they had the guts to penetrate the implacable redoubt that he has erected to keep out advice. Unlike the Scarecrow, Trump doesn’t realize he is brainless. The Scarecrow, on the other hand, laments throughout his journey on the yellow brick road, “If I only had a brain.”
At the end of the tale, the Wizard comes to his rescue:
“Back where I come from, we have universities–seats of great learning–where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts, and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma! Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the University…I confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D.: Doctor of Thinkology!”
Too bad for The Donald that his diploma will be issued by Trump University.
Trump as Hitler? Maybe a bridge too far.
Trump as fascist? Getting closer.
For now, let’s go with Fascist Lite.
And hope that the better angels of our fellow citizens will win out over the dark energy tapped into by the Trump machine.
But let’s be vigilant. Let’s be on the lookout for an unrepentant narcissist who manages to capture public attention through hate-filled rhetoric.
The next one may have a brain.
Arnold Dodge, PhD, is an associate professor of education at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, where he serves as the chairperson of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration. Dr. Dodge is a former teacher, principal and superintendent. In his 45th year in education, he is particularly focused on the effects of high-stakes testing on schools.
(Featured photo credit: Michael Vadon)