(A version of this piece was posted to Facebook on Dec. 5, 2016.)
The authoritarian instinct that makes Trump a dictator-in-waiting has become a cliché that is often challenged. But the comparison becomes more unavoidable daily.
The New York Observer — owned by Jared Kushner, who has no journalism experience but is Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser – published an essay by Austin Bay demanding that FBI director James Comey use the FBI as a KGB-style national political police force to investigate, interrogate and arrest Trump’s opponents.
In the sneering and threatening tone of a Cold War Soviet columnist, the Observer essay, with dark references to political bloodshed, demanded that Comey pursue Trump’s opponents for street protests and “possible ties to organizations demanding vote recounts,” a clear attack on the First Amendment. Just as ominous, however, is the demand that federal law enforcement be employed against Trump’s enemies in the same way the Nazis used the Gestapo and Soviets used the KGB.
The comparisons keep occurring. Trump discredits the traditional press and now has the Observer. Hitler bought the Voelkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer) and discredited Germany’s mainstream press. Brezhnev had Pravda (Truth) and discredited the Western press.
Pravda accused dissidents of “hooliganism,” the Observer demands investigation of “political thuggery.” Such terms mean whatever the user intends, but Soviet protesters convicted of hooliganism went to the gulag.
Soviet essayists sneered at their adversaries, diminished them, and used sarcasm and veiled threats to intimidate them. The Observer writer says to Comey: “A mind with a talent for the obvious would see a federal interest. Federal as in Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s the outfit you head, Mr. Comey—at least until the Obama Administration expires.”
To incite fear Soviet essayists implied dark and violent motives. The Observer’s writer said of anti-Trump protesters: “….they incite fear and when they crack heads they cause casualties. People bleed. Street thuggery as an arm of politics is violent, criminalized politics on an ugly downward slope to much worse, the worse including lynchings and pogroms. If you don’t think street thuggery is terror then consider Kristalnacht.”
Like Soviet propaganda, the Observer essay accused anti-Trump protesters of offenses Trump supporters committed at his rallies but did not mention the documented rise in pro-Trump violence since the election: “The hard left’s violent reaction to Donald Trump’s election is vile and dangerous. Peaceful protests? No, the demonstrators vandalize and destroy.”
The most obvious comparison is the Nazi and Soviet habit of lying repeatedly until the lie becomes accepted as truth though it is still a lie. Trump adopted this technique early in his campaign, and now the Observer writer uses it: “(The protesters) have two goals: intimidating people and sustaining the mainstream media lie that Donald Trump is dangerous.”
This is a lie within a lie. First, it is not generally true that the goal of anti-Trump protesters is intimidation. But most importantly it is not a lie that Trump is dangerous.