Roger Cohen thought long and hard before declaring Donald Trump a fascist. It’s more than you can say about many other members of the fourth estate.
Cohen did not want to indulge a cheap analogy between the rise of European fascism after World War I and America’s current political scene. And yet, the temptation was there and he could not resist it.
In Cohen’s words:
I have tried to tread carefully with analogies between the Fascist ideologies of 1930s Europe and Trump. American democracy is resilient. But the first days of the Trump presidency — whose roots of course lie in far more than the American military debacles since 9/11 — pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire.
Keep in mind, keep firmly in mind, that Donald Trump has been president for exactly six days. Cohen is not attacking Trump’s record. He is attacking Trump’s rhetoric. There is a difference. Getting emotionally overwrought over a president’s rhetoric—some of which I find dubious—is not befitting a man of Cohen’s intelligence.
But, Cohen is correct to say that American democracy is resilient. Has Anglo-American civilization ever fallen victim to fascism? As it happens, denizens of the political left are constantly denouncing the Anglosphere for being fascistic. They fail to notice that fascism's cultural roots lie elsewhere. Cohen should have noted that the armies of America and Great Britain that defeated European fascism and Nazism. Thinkers who trash British and American civilization in the name of Middle European idealism are basically sore losers.
That being said, Cohen does light on a salient point. The point is so salient that I made it a centerpiece of my book Saving Face. In that book I examined what happens to a nation when it loses a war. I would add today a remark by Winston Churchill, namely that when it comes to war it’s worse not to fight than to fight honorably and lose.
Two decades ago I expounded at length about the cultural fallout from Vietnam. Cohen examines the consequences of our less-than-successful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
National humiliation is long in gestation and violent in resolution….
Some 2.7 million American soldiers came home to a country that had been shopping while they served in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, with 6,893 killed and more than 52,000 injured. They returned to an increasingly dysfunctional and polarized polity; to the financial disaster of 2008; to the mystery of what the spending of trillions of dollars in those wars had achieved; to stagnant incomes; to the steady diminishment of American uniqueness and the apparent erosion of its power.
Cohen must have been short on space. He fails to remark that the national humiliation America suffered after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was engineered by Barack Obama.
After all, Obama declared that the situation in Iraq was stable and under control in 2011. Being the ultimate anti-war candidate, he surrendered America’s victory and withdrew America’s forces from the country. You know what happened next.
Obama ran around apologizing for America and bowing down to the mullahs in Iran. He allowed the Iranian Navy to humiliate America’s sailors. After that episode Obama’s Secretary of State thanked Iran for treating the sailors so humanely.
In Iraq, Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. As for Afghanistan, America’s humiliation was on public display when Obama traded five Taliban commanders for a deserter named Beau Bergdahl.
Given Obama’s display of weakness, we should not be surprised that America turned to someone who at least sounded like he was tough and uncompromising, someone who would never apologize.
Cohen has understood perfectly well that the debacle of Syria was entirely the fault of Barack Obama. He should have added that another champion of national humiliation is German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
As it happens Cohen has strongly supported the Merkel policy. He believes in open borders for refugees, regardless of who they are and what they contribute. In that he favors the Obama/Clinton approach, approach that represents a failure of national will and a failure to protect the nation’s citizens. Where we see the downtrodden of the earth seeking refuge, the immigrants that Merkel invited into Germany do not consider themselves to be refugees. They see themselves as an invading army enjoying the spoils of their victory.
Faced with the weak Merkel, a woman who has allowed her nation and its people to be humiliated systematically by an unassimilable flood of immigrants, Great Britain voted to exit the European Union and America voted to build a wall. Whether and how well the latter will work, we do not know. The picture of an America that will no longer tolerate being invaded by people who have no business being here is clear enough.
All of this to say, first that when talking about national humiliation we need first to know who has brought this upon the nation. And second, that there is not just one way to respond to it. Fascism is one way, but it is certainly not the only way. After the Vietnam debacle, arguably a bigger national humiliation than Iraq and Afghanistan, America did not turn to a strong man. It launched the Great American Cultural Revolution.
If Cohen were as enamored of rational thought as he says he is, he would have considered alternatives to his cheap analogy.
And he ought to have thought a bit more clearly before dropping this at the end of his column:
Trump’s outrageous claims have a purpose: to destroy rational thought.
Between you and me, when Trump’s opponents indulge in an irrational display of raw feeling they are not promoting the cause of rational thought. If you want to advance rational thought, practice what you preach. Consider all sides of the argument, take all of the facts into account and make a deliberate judgment.
Now that you mention it, how has the New York Times fostered rational thought about the Trump phenomenon? Has it presented all sides of the issue, kept its readers well informed and has it given them the facts they can use to make an independent judgment?
Cohen himself has no influence on Times reporting, and does not raise the issue. Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg wrote on the day after the election that the news media—aka the Times-- had let its readers down by keeping them in the dark about what was going on around the country. Statistical models had not compensated for their living in a bubble.
All the dazzling technology, the big data and the sophisticated modeling that American newsrooms bring to the fundamentally human endeavor of presidential politics could not save American journalism from yet again being behind the story, behind the rest of the country.
The news media by and large missed what was happening all around it, and it was the story of a lifetime. The numbers weren’t just a poor guide for election night — they were an off-ramp away from what was actually happening.
No one predicted a night like this — that Donald J. Trump would pull off a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton and win the presidency.
The misfire on Tuesday night was about a lot more than a failure in polling. It was a failure to capture the boiling anger of a large portion of the American electorate that feels left behind by a selective recovery, betrayed by trade deals that they see as threats to their jobs and disrespected by establishment Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media.
Of course, it was more than boiling anger. More than irrational emotion was on display in the election. After all, voting is a deliberative action; it is not the same thing as breaking windows and burning up limos.
People voted for Trump because they had had enough of watching the nation be systematically humiliated. The American people did not want to make the same mistake again.
They might have overdone it. They might have chosen someone who will not allow his office to enhance his stature. On the other hand, Trump did not invent autocratic government, ruling by executive orders. He is merely canceling the orders signed into law by his predecessor… a man who believed that if the Congress did not do what he wanted it to do, he would have to do it himself.
If you are looking for someone who ruled despotically, you do not have to look very far. Perhaps Trump will be as much of a despot as Obama. Perhaps not. But, we should base our judgment on something more than rhetoric.
We all want to promote rational thought. And we recall that there was nothing rational about the way so many of Obama’s supporters in the media have been slobbering over him for eight years now. They never found fault with him and refused to hold him accountable for anything that happened during his administration.
That, in itself, will make people angry.
It is not just the media that has been trying to destroy rational thought. America’s universities have pretty much killed it. They killed it with a flood of adolescent sentiment and with political correctness.