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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Is 'Scapegoating': another Signpost?

In the Declaration of Independence, there is much concern about something we probably minimize, or think about less than our Founding Fathers did. They were, of course, dealing with a situation that demanded their full attention, and here are a few of the phrases they used to describe the Tyranny of England’s King George III:

He has refused his assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
 
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states.…obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither…”

He has erected a multitude of new offices and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people…”

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws…”

For cutting off trade with all parts of the world.”

For imposing Taxes on us without our consent.”

For…abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our Governments.”

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with the cruelty and perfidy scarcely unparalleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Tyranny” is not a pretty term. Nor is it unfamiliar to our own history. As a matter of fact, we have had Presidents and Legislators, right on down to governors and local office holders like mayors, who from the very beginning of our Republic through to modern times have let their tyrannical or authoritarian tendencies rule their better natures. Unfortunately, tyranny comes in many forms and can get loose from a democratic foundation in varying increments of time. But one thing is consistent: in whatever mode and at whatever acceleration, tyranny is marked by oppression, repression, injustice and, perhaps most often, by uncommon cruelty, harshness or harm.

Instead of reviewing numerous examples of such perfidy in our history, let us concentrate on a few basic premises that may have escaped our attention in the chaos of a Trump administration and its accompanying cruelties and injustices. As one author suggests, “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.” (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder).

One of the very basic items that Tyrants depend on for eventual ability to control large numbers of people is one of humanity’s basic flaws: an inability to control one’s impulses, to self-evaluate or to question authority. It is, in some sense, wrapped-up in our origins, in human nature, and in the slow adaptation of our brains beyond tribal myths, norms, behaviors and group-think. We are, as a result, intrigued by new leaders who can easily demand our obedience born from the fundamental aspects of our nature. We are willing to cast aside many things we have learned (or could learn) and to give our loyalty to such leaders according to our basic instincts.

Donald Trump is quite adept at capitalizing on this “anticipatory obedience,” as it is termed by author Snyder. Trump is eminently successful at manipulating the fundamental instincts of citizens including deep-seeded loyalty to family, a local area, and to country above all. Playing on those loyalties, he tends to over-emphasize the glories of the military, touting as well the importance of devolving programs like Medicaid and many others to administration by states and local entities. Thus, he uses in-bred instincts and loyalties to build a militant nationalism that gathers support for “America First” and “Making America Great Again” which demand a leadership that is uncompromising, and a constituency that is militantly loyal.

The unthinking obedience he counts on is also connected to the human instinct to blame someone else for life’s problems, exigencies, unfairness, and injustices, and for the nation’s ills. Such scapegoats are perceived as possessing characteristics, appearance, language or religious beliefs that are different from the accepted norm. That kind of scapegoating is the essence of what an authoritarian leader needs to inspire: unquestioning personal loyalty to him (or her) as the supreme leader and savior they can admire and serve. Donald Trump has chosen “radical Islamic terrorists” as his primary scapegoat (he has many). Starting with his much-maligned ban on Muslim immigrants from seven countries he has broadened this target to, by inference, include all Muslims, even though he continues to deny it! But those denials pale in the light of additional facts and actions:
  • Friday, July 29th – in a speech before law enforcement officers, Trump praised the aggressive tactics of immigration officers (CNN.com)
  • December 2016 – quietly began having immigration officials ask foreign visitors for their social media accounts on a voluntary basis (Politico via CNN)
  • Increase in deportations
  • Extreme vetting” instituted in January and has been characterized as a “euphemism for discriminating against Muslims” (CNN.com)
  • Use of anti-Muslim rhetoric
  • Elevation of Islamophobic staff members to key positions in the White House
  • Lack of response to the rise in hate crimes targeted at Muslims (Brennan Center for Justice)
  • Anti-Muslim bias in the workplace; complaints to EEOC are up substantially (Brennan Center)
  • Mosques around the country under attack
  • Some cities and towns have changed their laws to prevent the building of mosques (Brennan Center)
  • An “anti-sharia movement” seeks to convince Americans that courts need to be stopped from applying Islamic traditions – 34 states have considered such legislation (Brennan Center)
  • Policies that allow profiling on basis of religion and treatment of American Muslim communities as “pools” of potential terrorists resulting in constant surveillance by police authorities
It goes without saying – but I will not hesitate to say it – this all sounds so akin to what Hitler and the Nazis did toward German Jewish citizens in the 1930’s and 40’s that it is absolutely frightening. Innuendos, lies, inflammatory rhetoric, and manufactured phantom threats (like sharia law) are all a part of what it takes for authoritarian leaders to cultivate a rabidly loyal following toward the ultimate goal of dictatorial control. One thing we should have learned by now: Donald Trump is not a thoroughly committed advocate of democratic principles. He is imbued with values and verities that challenge democratic ideals, most likely implanted in his psyche from the shabby (and shady?) business practices and principles he has absorbed and cultivated over the years. Under the guidance of Steve Bannon and others, he has begun to act on those values and we as a country are beginning to show the signs of an entrenched minority who are fiercely loyal enough to become his staunch supporters and henchmen.

We are not far removed from a nation transformed into something it was never meant to be. Consider the following list of attributes of a Fascist regime (per Prof. Lawrence Briggs):
  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. Disdain for human rights
  3. Identifying scapegoats
  4. Military supremacy
  5. Rampant Sexism
  6. Control of mass media
  7. Obsession with national security
  8. Religion and government intertwined
  9. Business interests protected
  10. Labor power suppressed
  11. Disdain for the arts
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment
  13. Rabid cronyism and corruption
  14. Fraudulent Elections

Now ask yourself: how can we resist these trends? How can we stop this de-construction of our democratic government? How can we turn away from this path leading to destruction and begin to regain the spirit of independence, democratic participation, and truly representative democracy built on justice and equality; on checks and balances of political power? What will it take to re-invigorate our rule of law?

It certainly will not be accomplished by the current Executive or Congress or Supreme Court; what does that leave? It leaves that branch of government on which our Constitution ultimately depends: The People. We are the answer; we are the resistance; we are the reformers; we are the only ones who can rejuvenate a weakened and failing Democracy. Citizens must resist appeals to base instincts and stand instead for our basic democratic beliefs and ideals; must formulate policies and programs that advance the well-being of all, not of the few; must run for office to represent local constituents, not to manipulate them into following party lines nor to become beholden to an elite corps of monied sponsors and lobbyists; must demand of office-holders that they solve real problems rather than dither with political party philosophies.

We are faced with the tyranny of despotism, not unlike the experience of our Founders. If we fail to resist the authoritarian Trumpian philosophy, and fail to recall this nation to a progressive ethic of liberty and justice for all, we shall awaken to a reality that is unfathomable and to a nation that is known for its perfidy rather than its compassion; for injustices rather than a passionate fervor for human rights and universal justice. We must not minimize the Danger! We must Press On with the passion that has characterized progressive democratic humanitarian movements throughout our history. We Must Not Give In or Give Up!

[There is more to be said on this theme, but, in keeping with a new self-imposed rule for this Blog, I am limiting this, and future posts, to a more reasonable word limit of around 1,500. I hope that you, dear reader, will find this appealing and return as often as is convenient. Thank you for continuing to follow my Blog!--- I.M. Publius 2]