Comment on Swedish Radio, P1 Godmorgon världen, Oct 23, 2016
Democracy after Trump
Donald Trump will not become America's next president, on this I dare put my money, but the problem is no longer Donald Trump. The problem is the many millions of Americans who are still going to vote for what the whole world now knows is a notorious liar, a shameless molester of women, a xenophobe, an advocate of torture, an admirer of dictators, an inciter of violence, who is handing out promises he cannot possibly keep.
And for those still wondering: for all this there is evidence enough and to spare. Donald Trump has threatened to imprison his political opponent, urged his supporters at rallies to beat up people protesting against him, himself threatened to beat up people who protest against him, giving advice on how to molest women, being repeatedly accused of molesting women, elevated tax evasion to a virtue, resurrected anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, derided Latinos and depicted Muslims, all Muslims, as a danger to the nation.
But worse then, he's gotten millions of Americans to publicly think and say and do things that just yesterday were unthinkable, or at least unspeakable in public. Yes, things that must be unthinkable and unspeakable in a democracy, because democracy ultimately rests on people believing in and respecting the foundations of democracy, on the people having a democratic mindset if you so wish, which Trump does not have, neither do those who howl "lock her up, lock her up," at his rallies and who on the day after the election will be convinced that democracy in America is a conspiracy that has defrauded them of victory, and who, with David A. Clarke, the elected sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, will stand ready with their pitchforks and torches.
If anything in the US today is reminiscent of the 1930's, it is this, that millions of people under certain circumstances can be made to think and say and do things that only yesterday were politically and morally unthinkable, or at least taboo. Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler but his ability to get his followers to cross one line of shame after the other, merits a comparison.
Once again we are witnessing how a ruthless leader with an authoritarian disposition and an authoritarian message ("trust me, not democracy”) in a time of dashed hopes and rampant uncertainty, is able to transform frustration and fear into submission and hatred, and thus destroying the foundations of democracy.
It Can't Happen Here is the title of a novel from 1935 by American Nobel Laureate Sinclair Lewis, telling the story of how it actually happens, how a certain Buzz Windrip promises to make America "a proud and rich country again", and who makes no bones about what he wants to do with his opponents and the press and Democracy if he wins – and when he wins the presidential election of 1936, he delivers on his promises.
America in 2016 is not America in 1936, much is different, but the limits of shame that are being exceeded, and the taboos that are being demolished, and the mistrust and hatred that have now been unleashed, and the violence-prone authoritarianism that has shown its ugly face, might very well be taken from a novel titled "It Can’t Happen Here".
I believe that a book with such a title could also be written about Sweden in 2016.
Here, too, limits of shame are now being exceeded and taboos demolished.
Here, too, fear and hatred have become a politically potent fuel.
Here, too, the metaphorical pitchforks and torches have been brought out.
Here, too, what was unthinkable to say and do has become possible again.
This doesn’t mean that what happened in the 1930's will happen again, the world is different now, more interwoven, more difficult to control with ever so authoritarian methods by ever so authoritarian leaders.
It only means that people then as now are much the same.
With the same capacity, under certain circumstances, to be led to think and to do just about anything.
Which means that when those things begin to happen that "could not happen here", we might not know what is happening to us – before it is too late.