avatarFay Wylde

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I Don’t Get Americans Being Authoritarian-Curious

Why is there enthusiastic flirtation by some Americans with “Dictator” Trump?

A photomontage of six authoritarian national leaders (Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Hideki Tojo, Ferenc Szálasi, Ante Pavelić, and Francisco Franco), WikiCommons, public domain

Curiosity in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is fine to be curious about a great many things.

Take for example being bi-curious. That is perfectly fine. I understand that variety of “curious.” The recent case of the founder of Moms for Liberty being involved in a three-way relationship with her husband and another woman did not surprise me at all. There was a study that had been done by Doctor Gerulf Rieger from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex which found (not without some controversy, of course) in his experimental study group that 74% of the women who identified as straight were nonetheless sexually aroused by videos of both attractive men and attractive women.

Bi-curious women? Not a problem, just so long as a merrily and enthusiastically bi-curious woman doesn’t then go and start the authoritarian Moms for Liberty, attacking and demonizing LGBTQ folk.

Ah yes, Moms for Liberty, a whole organization of authoritarian-curious women. These are people who declare they have the right to dictate — against the wishes of any parents or kids or educational professionals who disagree — what all children in a public school can and cannot have access to. Little tin-hat dictators setting up shop at a school near you.

Still, it is comprehensible at least. I do understand how people could be drawn to an organization like “Moms” that sweetly (even if dishonestly) proclaims it “just wants to protect kids.”

It is quite another matter for people to be drawn to El Presidente Trump, who says that those who oppose him are “vermin,” that immigrants who don’t have white skin are “poisoning the blood of our country,” that he will be “dictator” on day one, and he will invoke the Insurrection Act on day one to mobilize the military against American citizens who protest against him. This is the Hitler and Mussolini album of greatest hits in the campaign speeches of Donald J. Trump.

This is what I do not get. I don’t get the authoritarian-curious Republican Party flirting so openly with fascism.

Now please note that in speaking of bi-curious versus authoritarian-curious, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek. That is comparing apples to oranges — or maybe I should say comparing apples to a cement truck. To quote Jules from Pulp Fiction: “…ain’t the same effing ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same effing sport.”

Being bi-curious is merely a matter of human sexual behavior in a bedroom or one’s browsing habits on PornHub.

Being authoritarian-curious is flirting with the destruction of an entire nation and everything it stands for and was founded upon.

Authoritarian Hall of Shame

The photo above includes some of the most famous world leaders who were authoritarians.

There is Hideki Tojo, the Japanese Prime minister from 1941 to 1944. He also happened to be a Buddhist. Not exactly how I would have envisioned a Buddhist.

There is Ferenc Szálasi of Hungary, leader of the Arrow Cross Party, who became dictator there during the Nazi occupation. He wanted to “protect the superior race.” He also claimed to be a good Christian and Catholic.

There is Ante Pavelić, who was the dictator of the “Independent State of Croatia,” a puppet state built from occupied Yugoslavia by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. He was ruthless. Even Nazis called him “bestial,” which is saying something. He wanted to “keep the Croat bloodline pure.” He also enforced keeping the nation strictly Roman Catholic. Jews who converted were spared. Those who did not were rounded up and put to death.

There is the authoritarian Francisco Franco, who led the overthrow of Spanish democracy in the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 and ruled the country until 1973. Interesting to me about Franco is that he “worked to transform the country into a bastion of tradition. Siding with the Catholic Church and the Spanish monarchy, he saw liberals and socialists as enemies to be suppressed at any cost.”

The superior white race. Bloodlines to be protected. Liberals and socialists as enemies to be suppressed.

Trump rally, anyone?

Is Trump the same as those men? Do I care? No.

I don’t care about Trump himself or what he truly believes.

I’m not here to psychoanalyze him — leave that to Mary Trump. I’m not here to debate whether he is just yanking the chain of the liberal media or means what he says — leave that to pundits who are smarter than me to decide.

I don’t care.

As Rachel Maddow put it, “The leader doesn’t matter.”

What matters is the people who follow him.

I want to know why crowds are cheering for him.

I want to know how people born and raised in a democracy, who describe themselves as American patriots, who describe themselves as “evangelical Christians” are openly authoritarian-curious.

After all, there has never been any such thing as a “good, kind, and moral” authoritarian.

The stupidity theory

If you are reading this thinking I am going to offer you The Answer, sorry to disappoint you. I don’t have the answer. I do not know why so many Americans are authoritarian-curious enough to have hopped into bed, figuratively speaking, with Donald Trump as their choice to be President of the United States.

I have heard two theories. First, the standard explanation is the “stupidity theory.”

It holds that all those people at those Trump rallies, cheering his talk of vermin and applauding his promise to be a dictator “just for one day” (as though that is even a thing), are just plain stupid.

I do hear some evidence of this when I listen to interviews done with people at his rallies. I hear them say that Trump “doesn’t really mean it” or they say — with a big toothy grin — that “it is just the way he talks.” No big deal.

I listen to his rally attendees and I have to admit, a revised version of an old joke comes to my mind. It goes something like this: How do you light up a Trump supporter’s eyes? Shine a flashlight in their ear.

Trump himself subscribes to the stupidity theory. He has enormous contempt for his followers and always has. He has particular contempt for Christians. Trump has called Christians “fools,” “idiots,” and “schmucks.” According to Michael Cohen, Trump thinks Christianity is “bullshit.”

The stupidity theory is not sufficient for me, though. It is too easy — not to mention insufferably snobbish — to dismiss them all that way. They are not all stupid.

There are Republicans who are intelligent and who are authoritarian-curious because they genuinely do want to get in bed with an authoritarian.

Why?

The hired gun theory

I watched an interview with the author Tim Alberta, discussing his new book The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. It is his personal story of his experiences in evangelical circles. It discusses his heartbreak and horror at how that movement has forsaken its fundamental principles to support Trump.

I have not read the book. I don’t plan to. I have a stack of about 20 books still to read and top on the list is Liz Cheney’s book. The last thing I want to do is read about the world of evangelicals. I’d rather pour Tabasco in my eyes.

But I did happen to hear something Tim Alberta said that gave an interesting answer to the question of how could good people — Christians — throw all their fanatical support behind Trump, an obviously and utterly immoral man.

The answer is simple. He is their hired gun.

According to Tim Alberta, evangelicals know perfectly well the flaws and sins and ugliness of Trump. They are not blind. They continue to support him because he is the guy who will do the dirty work for them so they can personally keep their hands clean.

These evangelicals — and I imagine this may be true of nearly all Trump supporters — feel they are under an existential threat. It is not just that they disagree with liberals. They feel that liberals are out to utterly destroy them, quite literally. Destroy their churches, destroy their children, destroy everything they value and hold dear. They are in a state of terror and people in a state of terror will hire a mercenary to defend them. Trump’s lack of morals even becomes a plus; he can be counted on to fight hard and fight dirty, and just win baby, win. Trump will defend them from the forces of pure evil (little old you and me).

So they don’t mind the authoritarian talking points in his speeches. All the more proof they are getting a good return on their investment in their hired gun.

I don’t know if I accept this theory or not, but perhaps there is some truth in it.

They think they are making a good bargain. They have good intentions… which are paving the road to hell and they are too stupid to see that.

Maybe the right theory is a merger of both: “The stupid hired gun theory.” (Yes, I mean he is stupid too.)

Evil is as evil does

Not all Republicans are white supremacists, but all white supremacists now vote Republican.

I’ve been pondering the puzzle of otherwise good Americans who have become authoritarian-curious. However, we must never lose sight of those Americans who are not “curious” but know exactly what they are doing and exactly what they want.

Somebody gave that line about “vermin” to Trump. Somebody wrote the speech for Trump with the phrase “poisoning the blood of our people.” That somebody is a student of history. That somebody is an admirer of Hitler. That somebody knows exactly what he is doing.

I think maybe we give Trump too much credit. He is not smart. He does not read books. He has an enormously fragile ego and can be led by the nose like a puppy dog if you praise him. Just ask Putin.

He is, at his core, a very weak man, intellectually, morally, physically, and in every other way imaginable.

So, maybe he is just a figurehead.

Maybe the real question to be asking is who are the authoritarians standing in the shadows behind him?

Too many questions, and time is running out to answer them.

Politics
Authoritarianism
Fascism
Trump
Republican Party
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