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The Roots of Trumpism

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There are many roots of Trumpism. We are just beginning to figure all of this out. In coming decades, assuming historians are still allowed to practice in fascist America, there will be a lot of books exploring where this fanaticism came from. Lawrence Glickman makes a useful contribution to these emerging ideas in the blog of the Organization of American Historians, noting that modern Republicanism and Trumpism specifically comes out of the extremist rhetoric Republicans used to oppose the New Deal:

Rather than framing their disagreements with the New Deal as a critique of Roosevelt’s proposals, they argued the New Deal state was corrupt and dangerous, a “new-fangled name for old fashioned tyranny.” They viewed their political enemies as dissemblers who were hiding their true goals in the language of incremental reformism. The New Deal, in this view, was a stealth revolution. For this reason, the critics of the New Deal rarely took Roosevelt’s proposals at face value. Roosevelt’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover spent the rest of his long life after leaving office predicting a “New Deal apocalypse.”

In the face of this danger, they used the urgent language of emergency politics. The choice, they claimed endlessly, was binary and time was short. In the 1936 presidential campaign, Republicans laid out this vision of a dangerous and corrupt New Deal usurping the traditional American “free enterprise” system. And they continued in 1940, when Wendell Willkie, remembered today as a moderate who accommodated himself to the New Deal, accused FDR of seeking to “Sovietize the American system.”

After the war, this language continued, now aimed against what became known in the late 1940s as the “welfare state,” rather than Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1947, the lawyer Frank Branch Riley condemned “the stealthy, sinister erosion of our free institutions.” Two years later, Col R, H. Engler denounced government “so big and powerful that it masters us rather than serves us.” As late as 1952, critics continued to argue that the New Deal has been a “Trojan horse,” the opening wedge of a “secret battle.” The journalist Willard Edwards feared that there existed among Fair Dealers, a “secret blue print for a super-state in America.” In 1955, Herbert Hoover said, “If the power of government can’t be checked now, it never can be.”

Listen again to Trump, against this backdrop of opposition to the New Deal order. “This is not simply another four-year election,” said Donald Trump in a speech on October 13, 2016. “This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government.” Trump went on to explain that “this election will determine whether we are a free nation.” Over the course of his campaign, he complained about governmental corruption—secret plans and false statistics—and called out President Obama for dual loyalties. He accused his opponent Hillary Clinton of plotting secretly to abolish the Second Amendment and has pre-emptively—and unnecessarily, it turned out— proclaimed her presidency to be illegitimate. He has condemned the “FDA food police” and other examples of job and freedom killing “regulations on top of regulations.”

Trump is no student of history, but his alarmist rhetoric almost perfectly follows the patterns laid out by New Deal opponents. “I call this election the crucial crossroads,” said one New Deal opponent in 1944. “The roads lead in opposite directions.” Four years earlier, the Republican presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie, said that “it is just about five minutes to midnight” and feared that “we shall go down into the totalitarian pit.”

The roots of the Trumpian worldview can be found not only in extremist outliers but in the very mainstream of the party for which he was the standard bearer and is now the leader.

And once again, in the face of today’s horrible appointments, it is worth noting that any bog standard Republican president would have made very similar appointments. There are unique things about Trump that are dangerous threats–particularly the open fascism and bullying of critics. But most of this is just called the Republican Party.

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