That may not be the shadow of the Third Reich I see coming over the hill, but the reverberation of stiff-legged men in jack boots pounding the pavement in unison is unmistakable. When H.L. Mencken wrote that “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under,” he was forewarning us of the possibility of an American president with a predilection for tyrants. When President Trump finds dictators like Erdogan of Turkey and psychopaths like Duterte of the Philippines praiseworthy, is he merely acting the diplomatic oaf, or is he expressing admiration for a role he foresees for himself?
In the early days of his presidential campaign, Trump began speaking of spy chief and serial killer Vladimir Putin in ways that no other American politician ever had. Showering praises that could have doomed the candidacy of any other man, Trump lauded Putin 80 times during the campaign, called for him to hack into the Democrats’ databases, and did not alter his tone when Putin was shown to have accepted his invitation. Is his violation of their bromance by firing $110 million worth of Tomahawk missiles into Syria a way of indulging his blood lust, an ineffective but eye-catching show of force, a set-up to convince us that his relationship with Putin is not yet consummated, or an effort to strengthen his own image as a bully? Since it is unlikely Trump is sufficiently self-aware to puzzle it out, the answer may be unknowable.
Trump’s long-standing admiration for strongmen is well documented. Beside Putin and Duterte, the list now includes Kim Jung-un whom he would be “honored” to meet with. Kim might like that, since no other leader of any country has yet seen fit to do so. The aptly named Viktor Khrapunov, Kazakhstan’s most corrupt money launderer and Trump family associate, holds a place on the president’s list of respectables. More surprisingly, so do Saddam Hussein, Mussolini, and even Mohamar Gadhafi who ordered the bombing of an airplane flying over Lockerbie, Scotland. Dictator Fattah al Sisi of Egypt also gets honorable mention. There appears to be a pattern here. Trump knows the brutal history of these world-class reprobates, yet does not hesitate to seize the presidential microphone to enumerate what he perceives as their virtues.
Those of you who wonder at the intense revulsion of so many of us toward this rotund repository of crippling neuroses would do well to ponder, before the shadow crests the hill, what you think his despotic desires will lead to. We, meantime, are humming to ourselves a piece from Les Misérables that you may have heard. It begins, “Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men? It is the music of the people Who will not be slaves again.” You may see liberals as wimps, but watch how Hulk-like we become when this would-be dictator makes his move to seize total power. How will you respond?
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The writer lives in Pawleys Island.