Viewpoint

Fascism can happen here – and is

Kathleen Parker
Kathleen Parker

Now that Donald Trump has spoken before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group, Americans have learned the following:

Trump can read a teleprompter; he finally got someone to write him a decent speech, which he was able to deliver without resorting to vulgarities; and he has provided something like a justification for reluctant Republicans to support him.

Which is a pretty low bar, you must admit. And it’s not nearly enough.

You know the arguments by now. He speaks plainly. So did Archie Bunker. His message of isolationism appeals to those tired of loose immigration policies. So was the case with Sen. Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the nativist demagogue in Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 cautionary novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.”

Windrip, like Trump, spoke of national greatness, though Windrip was more explicit. Like Trump’s, Windrip’s base consisted largely of working-class white males, whom he called upon to help control dissent after he ascended to the Oval Office.

It’s called fascism by any other name, and it does seem that it can happen here. That is, a demagogue can become president, as Lewis warned. And, yes, we do have checks and balances in this country, but does anyone think Trump should have the power to start a nuclear war?

No one is more familiar with language of marginalization and authoritarianism than the Jewish community, causing one to wonder why Trump was allowed in AIPAC'S door. The answer is that the nonpartisan organization invites all presidential candidates to speak to its annual policy conference.

Well, that’s an explanation, anyway.

The conundrum for Republicans is that though Trump may be the devil, he’s their devil. If you’re House Speaker Paul Ryan, how do you say you won’t support your party’s nominee? Then again, if you’re a good man like Ryan, how do you support him?

This is what we ask ourselves about the industrialists and “good Germans” who supported Hitler. This is what we ask our Southern grandparents about when blacks were being lynched. There’s a price to pay for silence.

That so few have shown the courage to deny Trump shows how difficult it is to be brave – and how rare character is. But one can only pretend for so long not to hear the dog whistles of history. Perhaps Republicans are no longer listening. Or they’re deluding themselves that Trump’s words don’t really mean what, you know, they mean.

A Jewish friend – a Democrat, scholar, erstwhile politician and former U.S. ambassador whose parents were Holocaust survivors – called to vent after Trump’s AIPAC speech. First, he said he was glad his father wasn’t alive to see this, and that he’d almost like to join AIPAC so he could resign in protest.

“The reality,” he said, “is if you go back and look at Hitler, somehow you elect someone that you know is beyond the pale. But you do it because you’re afraid of someone else. And then later, you look closely. And it’s too late.”

The tiny flame at the end of this darkening tunnel is a contested convention, which depends on Ted Cruz and John Kasich starving Trump of the delegates needed to secure the nomination. It could happen, according to Princeton University’s Sam Wang, a statistical prognosticator and game theorist with a golden record. If Kasich campaigns only in proportional delegate states, leaving winner-take-all states to Cruz, Trump’s chances of becoming the nominee are reduced from 90 percent to 50 percent, says Wang.

It’s a big gamble, but it beats losing your soul.

Email: kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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