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Trump is about to enter his post-halcyon period


“After Mussolini’s advent to power his qualities—mental agility, shrewdness, ruthless opportunism, and histrionic and rhetorical talent—kept him afloat in a flabby world, in which for a time he was not subjected to much competition, and people were prepared to accept him at his own valuation. But during this halcyon period his defects were rotting the fabric he had created and, when he came to be severely tested, his jealousy, lack of courage, vanity, egotism, ignorance, and superficiality led him into policies which were the logical consequence of his own errors and inexorably plunged his country into servitude and disaster.”

I revert to the Mussolini analogy again, as I did yesterday, because the comparisons are just too precise. The above description, by Ivone Kirkpatrick in Mussolini: A Study in Power, could almost without change be used for Trump. His “halcyon period” is these first two years; his qualities (such as they are) have “kept him afloat,” although Trump has had much more trouble with internal critics than did Mussolini, who was able to establish a dictatorship quickly. As for those “severe tests,” they’re already coming at him—and will soon become infinitely more severe.

I’m struck by Kirkpatrick’s use of the term “flabby world.” By it, he means that in the early period of Mussolini’s rise to power, no authoritative group within Italy (the Church and Papacy, the monarchy, the military) was able to identify his obvious flaws, largely because they did not wish to perceive them. And in the wider European community, the Great Powers (France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia) likewise failed to appreciate the threat Mussolini posed to them; although the French came closest, they chose not to oppose him.

What is the “flabby world” within which Trump has so far stayed afloat? Clearly, it is the Republican Party. Corrupt, contradictory, mired in scandal, it consistently elevates politicians of weak intellect, who place personal gain ahead of service to country. You need look no further than (for instance) the House Freedom Caucus or the Republicans in the U.S. Senate: a collection of non-entities of dubious mental prowess, driven by religious belief, afraid of crossing their boss, prone to making catastrophic decisions, or non-decisions, as in the case of climate change.

But now, with the dawn of 2019 and a Democratic House of Representatives, Trump enters his post-halcyon era. Everybody, including him, knows it will be ugly. Trump tweets, in his New Year’s message, that this will be “A FANTASTIC YEAR” [the caps are his], but he knows that it will not be. It will in fact be a year of disastrous turns for him, of crimes proven, of more lies and more incalculable damage to America, and one moreover of extreme danger to his family. What he calls (humorously, given the “Obama Derangement Syndrome” of 2009-2017) “TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME” is just getting started. No one is about to “CALM DOWN”; perhaps that is Trump’s way of telling himself to take a deep breath amidst the turmoil closing in on him.

Someone on Breitbart tried to insult me (an impossible task, since I don’t take their nonsense personally) by writing that I’ve let Trump into my head, which, in their opinion, is proof of his historical greatness. Trump certainly is the most dominating president of my lifetime, in the sense that every news cycle begins and ends with him, and his name is on every lip. But—also from Kirkpatrick, speaking of Mussolini—“Surely…he is likely to enjoy fame, but…he can lay no claim to real greatness.” Trump is immensely famous. But his fame is based on his callousness, vulgarity and divisiveness. These are not qualities destined to burnish his name in the history books alongside those of truly great presidents. We do not, in fact, quite know how history will treat him, because in the long span of American politics there has never been anyone quite like him. Yet I’m confident that a special place in the annals will be reserved for him, a place of vileness, regret and shame.

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