Il Duce – Redux: Cult of the Personality or, Just a Duck

There is a hackneyed idiom that fits the present flock of presidential candidates perfectly: If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, poops like a duck, etc. Then what is it?

Not to disrespect the entire family of water fowl, wild and domesticated, by comparing them to a politician, but the phrase does serve the purpose of this analysis. What do we call the self anointed prophets who predict the future by   publicly declaring the following distinct patterns of thought:

What do we call the person who devalues intellectual discourse and feels critical reasoning is a barrier to action?

What do we call the person who seeks to exploit and exacerbate the “fear of difference” that is his appeal to racism and against foreigners and immigrants? That is the person who feels those who are different are intruders; and they make appeals to their personal form of xenophobia.

What do we call the person who believes action, any action, is of value within itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection? Similarly, what do we call the person who believes life is permanent conflict, while at the same time believes there is a final solution?

What do we call a person who believes truth has already been spelled out, once and for all? Such persons believe intellectual debate is an attack on and betrayal of what they consider traditional values.

What do we call a person who appeals to the frustrated middle class suffering from a designated economic crisis or political alienation, and then suggests there is a threat from a lower social groups? They believe there is an international plot and want their followers to constantly feel besieged by the others, the outsiders, whoever they may be.

What do we call the person who rejects science that supports disagreement as a way to improve knowledge, and believes disagreement is treason?

What do we call the person who persistently proclaims we can totally overwhelm and destroy our enemies, while at the same time contend the enemy is fearfully, too strong, has a powerful network within our unsuspecting populous, and believes we must suspect everyone? The same person believes there is a sinister conspiracy of those who disagree with their traditional values and beliefs.

What do we call the person who believes in selective populism or elitism, stronger and wiser, and the general populous is weak and needs the direction and interpretation of the leader?

What do you call person who exploits tragedy for political or personal gain?

What do you call the person who proclaims there should be total liberty and freedom from the constraints of government, and at the same time proclaims total security and security will be the number one rule ?

Finally, what do you call the person who believes in the concept of the Big Lie? The person who operates on the premise that you never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never leave room for alternatives; never accepts blame; and consciously believes people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one.

This writer believes that ALL politicians, including our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, deviate from or pervert the truth, when it is politically expedient. For some there are known errors, and they try to cover up with lies. For instance, “I did not have sex with that woman.” For others it is a way of life, a modus operandi, to inflame, manipulate and control. For instance, to fan the flames of fear by stating  Muslims were seen celebrating in New Jersey after the events of 9/11; or after the terrorist attacks in Paris said the president wanted to let 250,000 potential terrorists into this country without proper vetting; or that the president will not say anything against Islamic terrorists and will not agree to bomb ISIS.

So, what do we call the perpetual fear huckster? il Duce? All those statements above add up to not a duck, but a Fascist. I borrowed liberally from Umberto Eco, who wrote about “Eternal Fascism” in the New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995. He stated:

“In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system ; many of then contradict each other, and are also typical of other forms of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

In fact, if you listen carefully to the hyperbole of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, you will find that it contains not just one of the diagnostic features of a fascist listed above, but all of them. Lest you believe the American people will not support such brazen cult of the personality and narcissism, then why are such personalities gaining such support in the current political process. Personally I am more worried about our own politicians than I am of Islamic terrorists. It seems we are not able to remember what happened just 80 years ago. Jeffrey Herf, writing in his book, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust, Harvard University Press 2006, describes the Fascist process in this way:

“Goebbels and the Nazis used the Big Lie to turn long standing anti-semitism into mass murder. The Big Lie was a narrative of an innocent, besieged Germany striking back at an “international Jewry” which it said started World War I. The propaganda repeated over and over the conspiracy theory that Jews were the real powers in Britain, Russia and the U.S. It went on to state that the Jews had begun a “war of extermination” against Germany, and so Germany had a duty and a right to “exterminate” and “annihilate” the Jews in self-defense. Repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

If you mention this history is just going too far, then it is reasonable to ask you to read a recent statement from Donald Trump:

“We are going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is saying that security is going to rule. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we are going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

It is very difficult for me to not picture another famous fascist, the first il Duce, Benito Mussolini, whenever I see Donald Trump on CNN, etc. Perhaps it is the same arrogant swagger, the condescending posture, or the pursing of the mouth as he speaks down to his populous. But the thing that is most bothersome is the content of his thoughts, speech and what he proposes for our future.