Down With Godwin -Kate Paulk
If I could eliminate one thing about the Internet, it would be Godwin’s law. Why? It’s made it next to impossible to make actual comparisons about what is probably the best documented instance of the rise of a populist dictator. The instant the magic words come out, any semblance of rational discussion gets defenestrated and the next thing you know people are shouting past each other and the whole thing dies.
Consider: a nation whose people were known for hard work, for pride in their achievements, who – not without justification – saw themselves as having been betrayed by wealthy elites. Their savings were wiped out by what appeared to them to be a combination of malice on the part of the same wealthy elites who claimed they were shameful warmongers and financial mismanagement. Despite what they were being told, they could see themselves losing ground and becoming less well-off than their parents and grandparents had been.
Simply put, these people were immensely vulnerable to a charismatic populist willing to tell them that they had every right to feel betrayed; that they had been betrayed; and that he was going to change all this and make them a great people and a great nation again.
Sound familiar? It should: there are two populist demagogues spinning their separate flavors of this particular scenario through the USA right now. One of them has deployed rioters against the other, although it’s not impossible that the whole thing was staged the way the early NSDAP supporters would pretend to be opponents of the party to set off violence that made the NSDAP look like the victim. It made for good copy, and gave their leader some really good material for those crowd-pleasing speeches he became famous for… before he became a synonym for evil.
It’s worth remembering the man was an idealist. He had a vision of a once-great nation becoming great again, and he wanted – at least as far as all the documents available suggest – to bring that dream to life. He was also more than a little narcissistic and barking mad as well, something that leads to nightmarish alt-history scenarios in which he’s not so utterly insane the British don’t stop trying to kill him because his grandiose plans do more damage to his side of the war than theirs.
None of this means that any of the current crop of wannabe US Presidents are going to be like that. It’s a warning sign. Middle and working class Americans do feel betrayed by both national leaders and the big multinational corporations (particularly the ones outsourcing their jobs despite this actually being more costly in the long run because said outsourcing causes a drop in quality which in turn drives customers away; customers who are unable to make their opinions known because the customer service has also been outsourced and just try to get through those phone menus and speak to someone who understands what you’re saying and whom you can understand – of course by then the decision-makers have claimed their golden parachute and are long gone).
They know they’re being lied to. They know the only place the economy is ‘booming’ is the artificial hothouses where the government of the day is directing funds to its favored supporters. They know their life is worse than their parents in many ways. They know their kids have it harder, despite the plethora of gadgets (bread and circuses?) to distract them. They’re sick of being told they’re the source of all evil in the world, even places where they’ve never been and evils that existed long before they were born.
Is it any wonder they’re angry? Is it any wonder they’re rushing to support someone who’s telling them they’ve been lied to and cheated? Is it any wonder they’re not seeing past this to where the vision they’re being sold could take them?
If I were fifteen or so years younger and less cynical, I probably wouldn’t see it either. But now…
The angry dragon awakens. The populist demagogue who betrays it will pay dearly – and he will betray it because he (both options) are making promises which are impossible to fulfill.
My role in all this is to do my best to keep the ideals of the Constitution going through the mess so that what emerges on the other side is a freer, more just USA. I believe it will: I can’t define why, but since the financial crash of 2008 I’ve had an unshakeable sense that we will win, that the USA – and perhaps more importantly, the principles endorsed by its founders – will prevail no matter how dark the future appears. I don’t understand it, and if I try to examine it, it slips from my grasp and my mind turns away. But it’s there. It’s solid. There are times when it’s the only light I can see.
But in the end, we win. The darkness is dispelled. We do not fall to dictatorship or the bleak emptiness of Communism. That is enough.