Lately I’ve been looking at the nasty stuff that the neocon-Republican establishment has been throwing at the Donald to bring down his poll numbers. Some of it is so ridiculous that it points not to any failing in a controversial presidential candidate but to the narrow twilight world in which the establishment’s lackeys are comfortably nestled together. An utterly self-defeating attack has come from that decrepit “conservative” icon, George Will, who in his nonage has given up wearing his once accustomed bow-tie but continues to be an insufferable bore. George has warned ad infinitum that Trump is “no true conservative.” If he were, he would be rallying to the established positions of the established Republican Party and perhaps divvying up his fortune with Jeb Bush, who was Will’s favorite candidate for president, as long as Jeb showed signs of life. What is more, Trump by leading an insurgency against the GOP establishment might contribute to “the destruction of the Republican Party.” Since that party and its current leadership are the true guides to what is “conservative,” Trump is in fact destroying conservatism, which is presumably dependent on that living oracle, the RNC. Needless to say, George misses or pretends not to see that most of the Right despises his living oracle and may be supporting Trump precisely because he may bring about what Will conjures up as a nightmare. His nightmare is the hope of others.
An even dumber strategy has come from Jonah Goldberg, who has just announced that “no movement that embraces Trump can call itself conservative.” Apparently, Jonah’s glaringly leftist positions on social issues, including gay marriage, in no way conflict with his right to determine the nature of conservatism—or his right to call Trump on TV “the bane of humanity.” Jonah has also reached for some bewildering historical analogies in his diatribes against the Donald. Indeed his historical parallels are so obscure as to leave his probable readers running to Wikipedia for enlightenment.
Okay, let’s give Jonah the right to belabor his strained comparison of Trump to Mussolini. Other establishment journalists are using it, and his readers may have heard of the interwar fascist leader who fell into Hitler’s clutches. This doesn’t mean of course that there is any substance in the comparison drawn (the last I heard Trump was not replacing the Constitution with a corporate national state). But at least Jonah’s likely readers, who are GOP junkies and for the most part culturally illiterate, might have encountered il Duce’s name somewhere, perhaps on a quiz show or in an undergraduate course on twentieth-century history at Jonah’s alma mater Goucher College.
But how does the average reader of Jonah’s pap deal with such scare figures as Huey Long and (I’m kidding you not!) Father Coughlin? In a recent column Jonah warns that by advancing Trump, we may be giving prominence to a dangerous populist like the interwar Louisiana Senator or the anti-Semitic demagogue Father Coughlin. Now I’m not here to defend either the flamboyant Long or the Michigan priest who slammed Wall Street and Jewish capitalists in the 1930s (before going back to being a New Deal Democrat). But I can’t imagine that most under-eighty Americans, or perhaps anyone but aging Jewish liberals who attend Bernie Sanders rallies or subscribe to Commentary, would have heard of Jonah’s villains. Perhaps that is the group that Jonah is reaching out to.
I’ve encountered even dumber historical comparisons coming out of conservatism, inc., for example, by Goldberg’s frenetic companion-in-arms Glenn Beck. This yap show host, with a pleading voice that is perpetually about to crack, has had pictures projected on to a wall behind him of Hillary Clinton and German existential philosopher Martin Heidegger. Beck’s viewers were urged to look at these juxtaposed pictures, to understand why American democracy is now in danger. It would surprise me if Beck, who’s been ranting against Trump for several months now, hasn’t added a photo of the Donald to his Rogues’ Gallery. Once again I can’t see how this linkage of current GOP villains to dead historical figures, whom one’s audience is not likely to have heard of, can assist the GOP cause. I won’t dwell on the by now minor problem that the historical figures we’re supposed to boo have generally been misrepresented.
In view of these clumsy assaults on Trump, I must compliment the Washington Post syndicated columnist Richard Cohen for comparing Trump to someone whose name we would know, namely Adolf Hitler. Cohen started the “Trump is like Hitler” routine as early as April, 2011, before this comparison had taken off in the national press. He’s had to work hard to make this comparison sound plausible. And certain obvious difficulties remain, for example the impossibility of finding anti-Semitism in Trump’s background or the absence in his rhetoric of anything resembling the Nazis’ expansionist foreign policy. I don’t even know whether Trump can speak German with Hitler’s Upper Austrian accent. Although Cohen’s view of two parallel lives may not convince all of us, among certain readers even paranoid fantasy can pass for truth.
It make no difference if I, as someone with an impoverished imagination, can’t think of anything that would make Trump and Hitler seem similar, except for the facts that both talked about unemployment and threats to the homeland, shared the same gender and had hair on their heads. Cohen’s comparison can catch on, because his readers know who Hitler was, that is, a very evil man who killed lots of people and, perhaps even worse, made politically insensitive remarks. If a journalist wants to pummel Trump with poisonous darts, then at least come up with a usable historical comparison. Don’t bring up liberal villains who aren’t even featured on the History Channel. Just go for the big H.