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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Peripatetic Philosopher has a lively exchange:

The more things change the more they remain the same, so why the worry?

JAMES RAYMOND FISHER, JR., Ph.D.
© January 20, 2017


NOTE:

Like most other concerned people, Donald J. Trump’s soaring victory to the Presidency of the United States has disrupted the norms with which we have become familiar, not only in the United States, but abroad as well. 

Many have written of their concerns, often harkening back to the not too distant past when Adolf Hitler, the Austrian corporal in the German army in WWI, found his way to become duly elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933, assuming dictatorial power with wide German approval, then launching his scorching earth policy and madness of WWII, only to suffer ignominious defeat twelve years later (1945), committing suicide in his Berlin bunker as Russian tanks were roaring into the city.


As true as the Trump rise appears to resonate with this history, America has its own indigenous story that seems to parallel and track the Trump disruption.  It is the inconceivable rise of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1829.  Both views are prominent in this exchange.



A READER WRITES:


Good evening, Jim.

Forgetting about tomorrow for a few paragraphs, the last few readers' letters and your replies make excellent reading. Perhaps central is that phenomenon called "human nature."

It reminds us that ultimately realism puts the bounds on idealism. It behooves us idealists to keep on searching for means by which we might make idealism put the bounds on realism.


Inculcating the Golden Rule is a rudimentary attempt. My expansion of that rule by walking in my fellow man's moccasins would be an improvement, but still ... There remains that human nature, notably the effect of approbation of any individual's upbringing and environment. Your notes on the practical benefit of the two-party system forces me, for one to reflect on this.


Now for Trump. By now we well understand what he has been doing: 


First: effectively appealing to those feeling ignored by both the political parties of "the right" and the "quasi center/left"


Secondly, creating a strong, ultra-right power house and putting a socialist, nationalist label on it.


Thirdly, commingling fact and fiction, in the process undermining the press (a good chunk of which has done a good job of undermining itself by maximizing profit at the expense of exemplary journalism). I well know that this line is overly simplistic.


What we do have are the components of national-socialism as generated by Hitler and Goebbels. 


Current mantra is: He has been elected; give him a chance. Hitler got that chance and did for most Germans many a good thing, not the least of which was a renewed respect for their country and themselves (and not seeing what they did not wish to see).


I have observed immigrant Canadians from Germany collectively maintaining the culture of their upbringing under the Nazi regime including, the reverence. Upbringing is indelible, one aspect of human nature. Education can do much to overcome this...


As a note aside: I recently read about improvements in the Dutch penal system with its strong efforts on rehabilitation and decent treatment of the inmates. As a consequence there was a great reduction in repeat offenders and s further consequence a diminishing prison population and the making available of jail space to prisoners from other countries. Yes, human nature is quite malleable and, while recognizing its existence, it should not be used blindly as an excuse for favoring a caste system of sorts.


By tweeting as one of the boys for that chunk of society blithely overlooked by mainstream (read "career") politicians, Trump exerts a powerful force on them to go along with his way of thinking and doing.


Hitler gained control by having passed an enabling act by which he, the party's leader became the nation's leader. Then, obsessed with racial superiority over Slavs and Jews, he moved to criminal excesses on the international scale. When he eventually realized his game was up, he (as far as we know) committed suicide and left instructions with his Industry Minister Albert Speer to scorch Germany (Germans just did not deserve him, he felt). Speer, up to then always his obedient servant, decided to disobey this final order. That saved him from the noose following the Nuremberg trials and got him 20 years in Spandau prison instead.


Call me paranoid if you wish, but Trump does not need a Speer. He might avail himself of a stronger weapon.


And so, let's hope I am dead-wrong.


Henry


DR. FISHER RESPONDS:


Henry,


I cannot fault your analysis; not any part of it, but I can fault your projections, which are somewhat pessimistic conclusions, while to my surprise, mine are rather optimistic.  Yet, to harbor some trepidations as the Donald assumes the Presidency of the United States are understandable. 


Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here!” (1935) three years after Hitler came to power, a novel I read as a boy, and strangely, could not find anyone to discuss it with, including my parents.  My da said it was pure nonsense.  He didn’t change his mind when I told him that Lewis had won the Nobel Prize for Literature (1930). 


It was not great literature but it has stayed with me all these years knowing it could happen here.  Should you read the novel, the Donald is likely, unfortunately, to come to mind.   To wit:  


“It Can’t Happen Here” is a semi-satirical political novel published during the rise of fascism in Europe. The novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a politician who defeats favored Franklin Delano Roosevelt for President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional American values.” After his election, Windrip takes complete control of government and imposes totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force in the manner of Adolf Hitler’s SS troops. 

The novel's subplot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup's opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion. Reviewers at the time emphasized the connection with Louisiana politician Huey Long (1893 – 1935) who was preparing to run for president (like George Wallace did years later) in 1936 when he was assassinated in 1935 prior to the novel’s publication.


I have a complete library on Adolf Hitler with more than two score of books on all aspects of his life, books that I have read assiduously, and the same goes for two biographies on Albert Speer, as well as his autobiography.  Speer was as slippery a character as Hitler was demonic, and as you have pointed out, avoided being hanged at Nuremberg for his distracting finesse. 


The Donald is someone I understand because my life (like his) has been all about struggle, not vengeance, but struggle to do something not only to be someone; to generate something not simply imitate the norm; to be as comfortable with failure as success and therefore not surprised by either; to distant myself from the rabble while still being in the center of it; to not worry about confounding others because it is not my job as others are amply motivated to do that on their own; to learn that money, power, ambition or even success are not my drive, while they may be the Donald’s, but love, and being able to cherish someone completely, and to enjoy the luxury and freedom that provides to dream and to express those dreams in words and ideas, which may or may not connect with others as that connection is not needed to justify writing every day knowing that most people are too busy to pause and wonder about what I find so electrifying.


Many people thoroughly disappointed with Trump’s presidential victory have written to me about his many failures, his many lawsuits, his many marriages, his fraudulent university, and so on. 


What they don’t mention, because it doesn’t fit the narrative, is that the Donald has metaphorically made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear repeatedly over his long career.  He understands what others cannot comprehend. 


That is why he spent $1 to ever $10 Hillary Clinton did on the campaign; that is why throngs came to his rallies when he said nothing new; that is why he had the most demanding campaign I can recall in my lifetime; and that is why he went many times to New Hampshire for its one electoral vote. 

Were the disappointed to study his imaginative arrival into politics it might augur well for them in the future, but we seldom learn from those we hate and despise, which of course is to our loss.


Struggle defines the Donald.  It is the boilerplate of his leadership.  As you have pointed out, I think correctly, he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but a pragmatic realist in the same sense as David Hume’s essay on Human Nature states that reason is not the key, as reason should be the slave of human passions fueled by “self-interest,” not benevolence motivated action.  To do good you do good; you don’t talk about doing good.


The Donald’s genius was that he was a politician without acting like a politician; that he connected with people by not talking at or down to them but with them.  He didn’t need a Goebbels at his side; he was his own propagandist who understood the “Temper of the Time,” which was the title of one of Eric Hoffer’s books, a billionaire who connected with the frustrations of the underclass in America. 


Americans have always marveled at being able to invent things but seem to be handicapped and to have little capacity to understand human nature other than with rhetoric or promises never kept. 


Will the Donald be different?  We don’t know, but we have been here before, not as Nazi Germany, but as a fledgling nation with a roughshod woodsman from the back country with a no nonsense approach to life.  I am speaking of the Irish American, Andrew Jackson.


THE IMPROBABLE “AGE OF JACKSON”

Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 and was brought up by his widow mother who died in 1781 when he was fourteen.  With little schooling, he and his brother joined the army of the American Revolution. 

Andrew proved not only a brave soldiers but a stubborn one.  He and his brother were captured and a British Captain told him to polish his boots; he refused and was beaten.  His brother refused as well but had his skull crushed by the stock of a rifle.  He was never right after that. 


Andrew got his revenge when they escaped by killing the commanding officer of a British brigade on a horse cutting the officer down from his sniper’s perch in a tree.  This action was not considered proper military etiquette, but that etiquette had no meaning to Jackson.  This would be a pattern throughout his life.  He couldn’t be intimidated, always moving in the direction of the danger or challenge.


His career in the military flourished as a general in the Tennessee Volunteers where he fought in the “War of 1812” and French and Indian War, and became a national hero in the “Battle of New Orleans in 1815” where he decimated the British flotilla of hundreds of ships and more than 8,000 British regulars. 


General Jackson had a patchwork of 4,500 men made up of army regulars, frontier militiamen, free blacks, New Orleans aristocrats and Choctaw tribesman.  In only a period of 30 minutes, the battle was over with the British losing 2,000 men among them 3 generals and 7 colonels, while Jackson lost less than 100 men.


A peace treaty was being signed in Ghent, Belgium so the victory was anticlimactic, ending Great Britain’s ambition to reclaim the American colonies.  Jackson was known as “Old Hickory” while being only 48. 


He was recognized as a man of the hinterland, not of the established East.  With no formal education, he won election to the House of Representatives and subsequently to the United States Senate.  He was unpopular with the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, who found him primitive and uncouth and not worthy to be a member of the august body of the U.S. Senate.  Yet, he became the seventh president of the United States.    


He ran for the presidency in 1824 against John Quincy Adams and won the popular vote but didn’t have enough electoral votes but neither did Adams.  The House of Representatives chose Adams over him.  He ran again in 1828 and won in a landslide, and won again in 1832.  As president he was confronted by an assassin whose gun jammed with Jackson hitting him several times with his walking stick. 


He took on the Second Bank of the United States, which had a powerful lobby that thought it could back him into a corner forcing him to back down or lose a second term.  He didn’t back down, destroyed the Second Bank, transferred its funds to the US Treasury and won reelection.


He was always emphatic in his actions.  The policy of transporting Indian tribes from the South to the North West had commenced in much earlier administrations, but Jackson took hold of the policy vigorously enforcing the relocation, a removal program that started in 1813 and continued 18 years after he left the presidency (1855) in 1837 (see Gloria Jahoda’s “The Trail of Tears”), yet only he is associated with this terrible injustice.


He was hated by the powerful and the connected and the well-heeled, and that included three powerful senators, all of whom wanted to be president: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun (who had been Jackson’s vice president but resigned to fulfill a senate seat opened in South Carolina).    


Jackson’s legacy commenced with Martin Van Buren, his vice president, succeeding him in 1837 to 18941, then William Henry Harrison, again of Jackson’s party, was elected in 1841 and died a month later, John Tyler was president from 1841 – 1845, James Polk from 1945 – 1949, which indicates that Jackson’s party held the presidency for a score of years (1829 – 1949), prompting historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. to call it “The Age of Jackson.”  Could that happen to the Donald? 



Certainly no one thought it would ever happen to the poorly educated Andrew Jackson, but it did.