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Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination for president on July 21, 2016. (Photo: Disney/ABC Television Group/flickr/cc)

Donald Trump's Autocratic Speech Triggers Alarm Bells

Trump's speech ultimately "signaled his determination to exploit fears of violence as part of crusade to seize the White House."

Nadia Prupis

It's official. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president.

Reactions abounded late Thursday after the (racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and misogynistic) real estate mogul accepted the party's nomination in a rambling, hour-and-fifteen-minute long speech.

Some noted the parallels to Richard Nixon's infamous 1968 "law and order" speech; others pointed out the fascist undertones of Trump's declaration that "I alone can fix this." Few were thrilled that former KKK grand wizard David Duke praised the speech on Twitter.

As The Nation's John Nichols said Thursday night, the speech ultimately signaled Trump's "determination to exploit fears of violence as part of crusade to seize the White House from the Democrats."

Nichols wrote:

Richard Nixon accepted the Republican nomination for president on a Thursday night in the long hot summer of 1968 with a speech that signaled his determination to exploit fears of violence as part of crusade to seize the White House from the Democrats.

[....] The permissive '60s would end, Nixon argued, with the transition of power from a Democratic administration to a Republican who was prepared to crack down on violence.

"Tonight, it is time for some honest talk about the problem of order in the United States," declared Nixon in 1968.

"It is finally time for a straightforward assessment of the state of our nation," declared Trump in 2016.

"The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead," Trump told Republican delegates in 2016.

"When the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness…then it's time for new leadership for the United States of America," Nixon told Republican delegates in 1968.

Trevor Timm made similar comparisons. In a column for the Guardian on Friday, he wrote:

The parallels with a man who presided over another era in which there were widespread allegations of police brutality and killings of unarmed African Americans seem compelling.

But if you take a detailed look back at Nixon's 1968 campaign for president, the analogy runs much deeper than his not-so-coded language attacking racial minorities. As each day passes, Trump's success looks more and more similar to Nixon's rise to power.

But the alarm bells did not stop with Nixon comparisons. On Twitter, prominent activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza said, "I don't know what I'm watching right now but I imagine this is the kind of speech Hitler would make."

"When Trump says law and order what he means is shut down #BlackLivesMatter," she tweeted. "He meant law and order for whites, martial law for everyone else."

At The Root, Danielle C. Belton summed up:

Trump said, "[O]ur plan will put America first. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo."

Mmm, nationalism. That's never caused any problems. I hate to bring up the "F" word, but what a fascist thing to say, future "Dear Leader."

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said in a statement issued Thursday, "The terrorist on our televisions tonight was Donald Trump. He pledged to fight for Americans, while threatening the vast majority of this country with imprisonment, deportation and a culture of abject fear. His doublespeak belies his true nature: a charlatan who will embolden racists and destroy communities of color. He is a disgrace. White people of conscience must forcefully reject this hatred immediately."

Yet while the speech seemed "self-evidently absurd to liberal listeners," writes Richard Eskow of Campaign for America's Future, "it's likely to resonate very well among the white, largely male demographic his campaign has targeted."

Eskow noted the rhetorical trajectory of the speech, which "suddenly pivoted from real-world complaints" like poverty, unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure to "something much more abstract—and nationalistic," something that would appeal to his "decimated" base that is "desperate and frightened and looking for answers." Eskow wrote:

Trump spoke to their economic injuries in classic authoritarian style:

"Not only have our citizens endured domestic disaster, but they have lived through one international humiliation after another. One after another! We all remember the images of our sailors being forced to their knees by their Iranian captors at gunpoint."

For Trump, the sexualized image of humiliation—"to their knees"—is surely no accident. (Remember this?) Weimar Republic comparisons may come too cheaply, but this marriage of economic anxiety and national humiliation is strikingly reminiscent of someone else's rhetoric—and I think you know who I mean.

That's what makes Trump's core message—putting "America First"—so dangerous, Eskow says.

"At the mention of this phrase," Eskow writes, "born of anti-Semitism and unwillingness to fight Hitler's Germany, the crowd erupted in wild cheers: USA! USA!"


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