Salonfähig Trump: Hate and Extremism as the New Global Norm

Can it be that Donald Trump represents the future of global politics?  Yes indeed, says Robert Reich, who wrote last month that in politics of yesteryear “political parties, labor unions and business groups, and the press mediated between individual candidates and the public–explaining a candidate’s positions, endorsing candidates, organizing and mobilizing voters,” but that in today’s “era of anti-politics” essentially anyone rich, brazen and egotistical enough, like Donald Trump,” can basically declare “himself a candidate; communicating with and mobilizing voters directly through Twitter and other social media; and getting free advertising in mainstream media by being outrageous, politically incorrect, and snide.”  And that the totality of all this means official “endorsements are irrelevant.”

Speaking to the legacy of President Obama’s neoliberal style of governance, renowned intellectual and social critic, Noam Chomsky, said in a June 2nd interview at Truthout that:

“The neoliberal assault on the population remains intact, though less so in the US than in Europe. Automation is not a major factor, and industrialization isn’t ending, just being off-shored. Financialization has of course exploded during the neoliberal period, and the general policies, pretty much global in character, are designed to enhance private and corporate power. That sets off a vicious cycle in which concentration of wealth leads to concentration of political power, which in turn yields legislation and administrative practices that carry the process forward.”

As such, power structures are stronger, yet more nebulous and polarized—not just in the US, but across the globe—including in Austria, where just days ago in its presidential election the nation barely escaped electing Norbert Hofer of the far-right nationalist Freedom Party.  Hofer lost by a hair to uber-progressive Alexander Van der Bellen, formerly of the Green Party but running as an Independent, and none of those favored by the political establishment even came close, which sets a precedent as “the first time in Austrian history that no candidate from the traditionally powerful centrist coalition parties (Social Democratic SPO and Conservative OVP) was represented in the runoffs.”

In a video at The Real News, a social critic and economist in Vienna, Walter Baier,  who was national chairperson of the Communist Party of Austria from 1994 to 2006, says the outcome of the Austrian presidential election “has to do with disappointment about democracy…with a fear of social downward mobility of the middle strata,” combined with a broad consensus “that the ruling party do not represent them anymore.”

Baier is a former editor of Austria’s Volksstimme, and says Austria’s in a “political crisis” that reflects “the economic and social crisis which affected Austria since 2007, 2008.”  Furthermore he says, there continues to be “much frustration and much disappointment,” and that “people feel betrayed by the major parties and that is basically the reason for the amazing rise of the far-right.”

It’s not just big Western nations finding themselves in an extreme sociopolitical conundrum.  According to various media reports, in electing Rodrigo Duterte president the Philippines basically elected their own version of Donald Trump.  Duterte has been called “The Punisher” by Time Magazine, and yet an article at the Guardian UK, entitled “Don’t compare Trump and Duterte – the Philippines leader is far worse,” argues Trump is a better choice—less dangerous than Duterte.   Chiming in at The Rappler, a widely-read news site covering Indonesia and Philippines, says that while Duterte has been dubbed “Trump of the Philippines,” in fact “Trump and Duterte are actually polar opposites.”

The Chicago Tribune, however, begs to differ, as Gina Apostol writes in a commentary that Duterte “paints himself a populist, an outsider who will fix all ills,” and further that Duterte’s astonishingly “meteoric rise, coupled with his fascist appeal and anti-establishment persona, bears similarities to the surprisingly successful candidacy of Donald Trump.”  Even though, she says, Trump’s “rise is not surprising.”

Echoing Baier comments on Austria, Apostol says Duterte popularity is a symptom “of a traumatized citizenry — an irrational response to a rational rage.”  And in the lead-in to her piece, Apostol writes scathingly that:

“This man jokes about wanting to gang-rape a woman. He vows to kill all drug addicts within six months of his election. If Congress opposes him, he will abolish it. He says he’s a scourge of the elite.”

In spite of the fact that:

“Jailed oligarchs are rumored to have him in their pockets. He gleefully announces he’d like to burn the flag of Singapore, expel the Australian Embassy, and show people his penis. He says of Ferdinand Marcos, who brutally ruled the country from 1965 to 1986, that “if only he had not stayed so long, becoming a dictator, he is the best president.”

And as well, Apostol says that because Duterte is:

“…brazen, vulgar, and happily shameless — makes him a truth-teller, not a disaster. In some ways, the people see him as their protection — from meddlesome foreign governments, from overweening institutions, and of course from criminals. He told the U.S. and Australian ambassadors to “shut your mouth” after they criticized his joke about gang rape. He called the pope “the son of a whore”

Apostol and Baier agree that a deep dissatisfaction with mainstream establishment leadership is real and bears merit.  And in a Memorial Day article, entitled “The Elites and the Rise of Donald Trump,” economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, expressed the same sentiment saying there “is no excuse for supporting a racist, sexist, xenophobic buffoon like Donald Trump. But we should be clear; the workers who turn to him do have real grievances.”  Because, Baker says, the system “has been rigged against them,” and that it is “hypocritical of those who have benefited from this rigging to be mocking the poor judgment of its victims.”

Too this, even in his own party Trump is being repudiated.  According to the New York Times, as recently as June 10, Meg Whitman—a prominent republican and the chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise—compared Trump to Hitler and Mussolini.  Whitman ran for governor of California in 2010, and earlier this year, in March, Whitman reportedly told CNBC that in regards to comments Trump’s made “about women, about Muslims, about reporters…it’s just repugnant.”

Observing political extremism elsewhere, 6 months ago in France the National Front led by Marine Le Pen and long considered extremist, received “29.4 per cent of the vote.”  Le Pen’s father founded the National Front in 1972, and was quoted in a 2011 New York Times [Magazine] article as having said “the Nazi occupation of France was “not particularly inhuman,” that the gas chambers were “a detail,” that “the races are unequal,” that someone with AIDS is “a kind of leper,” that “Jews have conspired to rule the world.”  Nevertheless, this past December the National Front received its largest share of votes ever, with Le Pen commenting after the election that the “old system died tonight.”

In response to the popularity of Le Pen’s National Front, at a major paper in New Zealand the headline for an article and video read: “Marine Le Pen: The new face of French extremism.”

Yet all this news comes as a no great surprise to Eric Weitz, a Weimar Republic historian who says that the era of pre-Nazi Germany offers many important lessons, particularly in regard to Trump—writing recently that:

“The lessons to be learned from Weimar Germany are not the ones we hear and read about today. Weimar Germany did not collapse under the weight of its various crises. It was actively destroyed by a conservative elite – noble landowners, high-level state officials, businessmen, army officers – that chose to ally with the Nazi Party. As we watch the Republican establishment’s ineffectual flailings to stop Donald Trump, it’s worth remembering that Weimar Germany’s old-style conservatives never really liked Hitler and the Nazis either. To them, the Nazis were too loud, uncouth, low class. But they admired Hitler’s nationalism, his promise to revive Germany’s great power status…”

Weitz is Dean of Humanities and Arts and Distinguished Professor of History at The City College of New York.  He’s the author of Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, and says that with each passing day Trump is being presented more and more as “acceptable to polite society” or salonfähig, as the German’s say.  And that, says Weitz, is “the real lesson from Weimar Germany and the real danger – when traditional or moderate conservatives throw in their lot with radical conservatives.”

In a June 3rd phone interview, Weitz gave a historical overview of the Weimar Republic, and why it’s important today, particularly as it relates to presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

Max Eternity:  In my research about the Bauhaus and the origins of modernism, I learned about the Weimar Republic.  You wrote a very successful book about the Weimar Republic, but I suspect many not know anything about it.  How would you describe the Weimar Republic, and why it’s important today?

Eric Weitz:  I would describe it as a very important experiment in political democracy and cultural innovation.  So much of what we know as modernism, comes straight out of Weimar.  It was a chaotic time in many ways—deep, deep, deep political conflict—economic crisis—but at the same time incredibly innovative in a cultural and a political way, as well.

Eternity:  Within the conflict and crisis that you talk about, what was some of what was happening?

Weitz:  The background is, of course, Germany’s loss of World War I, which was this great trauma for the country.  Not only [did] so many men get killed, others came back psychologically and physically wounded.  At the home front, women had streamed into the factories; working 14 hour days, 7 days a week.  In the end, all this war sacrifice was for naught.

Germany then experienced a revolution from 1918 to 1919.  While on the one hand the war was cause of great misery—and basically shattered so many of the existing values—the revolution let loose great hopes.  Not only for workers who formed workers councils—the country established its first real democracy, ever—but also theater directors, artists, actors and actresses were very much caught up in the possibility of what the future could bring.

Eternity:  I read that there were like 9 Germans who won Nobel Prizes in science at that time.

Weitz:  Just think about, though, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, Tomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, one of the greatest philosophical tracks of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, Brecht and Weill’s Three Penny Opera—all of these things come out of the Weimar Period.

Eternity:  And I’m just curious, was this also the time of Carl Jung’s rise in Germany?

Weitz:  Absolutely.  He started before World War I, but was very much a key figure in the 1920’s.  He was in Switzerland—was Swiss—he moved in the German speaking professional world, and that includes Germany, as well.  He was published—he had followers, also.

But there was a succession of economic crisis: first, the adjustment from a war economy to a peacetime economy, which went better than many people expected, and then the hyperinflation of 1923-24, which ruined many people in the middle class and many people who had savings.  From 1924 to 29 you have 5 reasonably stable years, but then came the Great Depression, which moved very quickly from the United States to Germany.

Germany was probably the most affected of any country by The Depression.

Eternity:  I did not know that.

Weitz:  So you have this interesting, strange juxtaposition of both crisis and artistic creativity, and I think they are related.

I think the fragility of the economy and the political system inspired artists to innovate.

Eternity:  You used the word salonfähig in an article you wrote earlier this year.  And you relate that to Donald Trump—how this parallels Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.  The German conservatives didn’t really like Hitler, and now with Donald Trump, the US conservatives don’t really like him.  So could you flesh that term out: salonfähig? 

Weitz:  Well, just today [June 3rd] an article on the front page of The New York Times is that The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has endorsed Donald Trump.  I figured this going to happen.

In other words, all these people who were very hesitant about Trump, for very good reasons.  All these conservatives—I shouldn’t say all, but many of them—are coming around.  And they are making Trump respectable, despite his racist comments about Mexicans, despite his misogyny.  Despite their own misgivings, they’re making him respectable, and that’s what I see as the real parallel [to Hitler’s rise] and the real danger.   That’s what German conservatives did with the Nazi’s.

Eternity:  Many economists and social critics that I follow appear in agreement that hard-right political extremism is rooted in a deep dissatisfaction with how global leadership collectively failed to resolve a systematically-diminished quality of life for millions of global citizens that came as a direct result of the 2007-08 banking crisis.  With Noam Chomsky saying in a June 2nd interview that “The neoliberal assault on the population remains intact, though less so in the US than in Europe.”  What are your thoughts on this?

Weitz:  Well, I think it’s true.  It goes deeper that, the crisis of 2008-09.

The reason that Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders, are so successful is that all areas of the United States have been de-industrialized, because manufacturing has moved overseas.  The 2008-09 crash worsened things in a dramatic way, but it’s almost as if it dissembles some of these deeper structural changes that have been going on for quite some time.

Eternity:  When you say “quite some time” are you saying all the way back to Ronald Reagan—how far back are you saying?

Weitz:  I would say back to the 1970’s, and continuing through Reagan.  There has been a continuing decline in manufacturing in the United States since the 1970’s, and a growing cleavage between the very wealthy and everybody else.   Family incomes have stagnated—there is growing inequality in the United States.  And the roots of that are deeper than 2008-09.

Eternity:  In an article at the Chicago Tribune, entitled “Meet Rodrigo Duterte: The Filipino Donald Trump,” award-wining author, historian and social critic, Gina Apostol said Duterte’s “meteoric rise, coupled with his fascist appeal and anti-establishment persona, bears similarities to the surprisingly successful candidacy of Donald Trump.”  Although, she says, Trump’s “rise is not surprising,” and that it’s symptomatic “of a traumatized citizenry — an irrational response to a rational rage.” 

Weitz:  We see this transnationally—in Europe, in the United States, Philippines—that populist leaders like Donald Trump have gained a great deal of popularity, because they fix the blame on somebody or something out there.  And act as if blame—in Trump’s case, Mexican immigrants—is just going to fix the dire situation that some people find themselves in.

That’s not going to fix the situation.  The rage is real.  The rage is understandable, but Donald Trump as the savior?  I don’t think so?

Eternity:  And would you say that that was the situation in the Weimar Republic?

Weitz:  Well in some ways, Hitler was a successful politician.  He did put people back to work in the 1930’s.  And that was based upon building the weapons of destruction for the war he intended to carry out, and did unleash.  But that did bring people out of The Depression.

I remember when I started going to Germany, and that generation was still alive, still active, and what I heard all the time about Hitler and the Nazi’s was not about the destruction of the war, not about the Holocaust, it was: Hitler put us back to work.  And that’s what people remembered.

Eternity:  Wow, that’s jaw-dropping, because from all the documentaries I seen about this—Hitler and the Nazis—and all the historians I’ve heard talk about it, I’ve never heard that point put at the forefront of why Hitler became popular.  It helps me understand his appeal.

Weitz:  Yeah, that’s what secured his popularity.  There were all sorts of other programs.  There were symbolic mother crosses for women who had lots of children.  There were loans for young people to buy furniture, to get an apartment.  That was fantastic for them.

Eternity:  So there was a socialism going on.  It was a right-wing socialism, if you will?

Weitz:  Exactly.

Eternity:  Ok.

Weitz:  Now, I don’t think Donald Trump’s going to solve anything.  I don’t think he’s going to get people back to work.

Eternity:  So, what’s the handwriting on the wall that you see?

Weitz:  First of all, I hope the handwriting is that he doesn’t get elected.  And if he does get elected he’s just going to be stymied in so many ways, and he’ll just lash out more.  But fundamentally, he’s not going to improve people’s lives.

Eternity:  And what about Hillary Clinton—is she the leader the world’s been waiting for—will she make decisions that give ordinary citizens real opportunity ?

Weitz:  I’m not a Hilary fan.  I especially worry about her foreign policy.  I think she’s much too quick to send in the troops, and she has waffled so much.

5 Replies to “Salonfähig Trump: Hate and Extremism as the New Global Norm”

  1. Very insightful article and nice to see tempered articulate conversation. I appreciate the fact the article is not trying to prove right or left is best but focused on the conditions we have seen in the past and why we see the political landscape we currently have.

  2. Thanks Max:

    I see now that the initial appeal of Hitler was his restoration of the economy. And people followed, many blindly, into antisemitism and war.


  3. Max:
    Great interview with Weitz. What I especially take away is that the German people remembered Hitler fondly for giving them dignity, with jobs; similarly with Americans feelings toward Rosevelt. And today, so many Americans FEEL the promise of Trump. These titillating emotional connections can trump severely defective character traits.


    1. Thanks – it would seem, Buck, that emotions tend to outweigh facts in the most disturbing ways. Demagogues [political] know this, and use this to their advantage. And so many corporations do the same.

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