What vision does Trump aspire to?
Moscow’s Red Square?
Donald Trump used to boast of his familiarity with the military until it became well known that a military prep school, not the battlefield (which he shirked with five deferments), was his training ground. No matter his old gambit no longer salutes. Now as president, he surrounds himself with generals. He demands their loyalty and their submission when they differ. Gen. John Kelly, who previously headed Homeland Security, has largely succeeded in his role as gatekeeper. Kelly fully endorses the president’s hard-line immigration policies, including the Muslim ban. Gen. Jim Mattis heads the Department of Defense, and Gen. Mike Pompeo directs the C.I.A.
This week Trump expressed his reverence for the military with his desire for a parade of American military power. He wants the display of overwhelming force to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, evoking similar spectacles in Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang and even in 1930s Berlin. American soldiers may not march (yet) in goose step, but the very image makes the blood run cold. Trump seemingly aspires to join the ranks of Mao Tse Tung, Hitler and his apparent favorite, Vladimir Putin. These despots crushed resistance through terror and silenced the opposition by eliminating the free press and any who questioned their absolute authority.
Are we there yet? No, but the signs are clear. American democratic institutions have functioned as intended by the Founders. Most of the press is assiduously investigating and documenting the actions and effects of the Trump administration. The courts have mostly stayed or reversed Trump’s harsher initiatives. The legislature, however, is dragging its feet. It has the power, but not the will, to resist Trump’s undemocratic directives. Will Congress have the courage to deny Trump his fantasy? Pennsylvania Avenue is not a military parade ground. Americans don’t do that. (Not to mention the enormous, budget-busting cost!). Is paranoid to consider that the parade, with its enormous numbers of military personnel and weapons moved to the seat of the government, could be a ploy to facilitate a military junta? How many once unthinkable actions has this president taken?
Today, border patrols and immigration agents (ICE) terrorize immigrants. The media are assailed with with relentless and unprecedented presidential fury. Trump undercuts, then emasculates and ultimately fires his own appointees when they are “disloyal” and don’t execute his edicts. As Trump’s judges assume control of the judiciary and his generals adapt to their civilian roles, as Trump’s violations of custom lose their ability to outrage, as voter suppression becomes commonplace, when truth and fake news become indistinguishable, the avenues to choking the incipient autocracy and reviving democracy will become impassable.
Let us not comfort ourselves by thinking “it can’t happen here.” That’s what the German Jews said.