Opinion on the reasons for why President Trump fired FBI director James Comey run the gamut from the President’s fear over the investigation into Russia election influence through loyalty to Director Comey work performance. Why not just listen to the President himself? “He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander…” Six foot eight Mr. Comey was getting too big for Trump’s britches. If there is one thing that will upset the President more than anything else, it is someone getting more attention than him. Trump fired him because he did not want to compete with Mr. Comey for the political stage that is Washington, District of Columbia.
And the beat goes on. There is more drama, more distraction, more evidence that this administration is a sorry excuse for governance. What it means in the scope of history remains to be seen. It did not take long for the Julii Caesares after Augustus to descend into debauchery, insanity, and gruesome abuses of their power. Applying twentieth-century political science labels to Ancient Rome, fascism as one would not be inaccurate. With his imitation of Benito Mussolini, Trump is not far from that thought. He grooms his family for succession planning. He treats governance as if it existed entirely for his benefit and pleasure. My favorite gag running around Facebook is that Trump fails to understand that the FBI is not his personal security service.
Problem is, this is no joke. Our common understanding of fascism tends to focus on the personalities. The role that corporations play is often not well understood. Perhaps for survival sake given the power dynamics, corporations cozy up to fascist leaders, and, of course, fascist leaders make it worth their while. They ease regulation, corral the workforce, make a path for resources, and, naturally, eliminate opposition. German industrial leaders became extraordinarily wealthy under Hitler and remained in good graces so long as they did nothing to contradict or upstage der fuhrer.
I have been thinking about this connection of late as I have watched the Federal Communication Commission. First, the FCC eases regulation on telecom privacy practices and security controls. Then it holds Congress’s hand while it votes to allow telecoms to scrape user’s personal information without notice or consent Next, the five-member, Republican led commission is poised to vote on removing the internet from the utility category back to an information service. Unimpeded, the telecoms are sure to make big money hand over fist.
Employees will not see the benefit. Neither will the consumer. Given vertical integration, newer entrants into the market don’t stand a chance. Innovation in both science and culture will languish. Not tolerating competitors or dissent, this administration does not care if it strangles the free press or the public sector, including government itself, and education not least. In anticipation of this vote, one might rationalize by thinking, oh what the heck, it is just the pipes, let the telecoms make a buck. But with just about every aspect of our lives now connected via the internet I can’t help but wonder about the ineluctable aspects of a compromised public life under such economic, social, and political constraints.
Observers of the environment and banking might have similar thoughts. Trump administrative changes starkly favor of corporations against the public’s interest. I know the old saw of supply side economics. I didn’t believe it with Ronald Reagan and his man-of-the-hour David Stockman, and I sure as heck don’t believe in it now. Not only have the wealthy gotten immeasurably more wealthy since the 1980’s -- way out of proportion for our mid-twentieth-century middle class existence -- but they have become insidiously influential in American political life. Plainly, it is such a waste of the promise in those years of the United States.
Ancient Rome again pops to mind. As the government became increasingly ineffectual, especially in the West, the wealthy doubled down on their properties and investments. Tax pressures on the merchant and artisan “middle classes,” together with increased social instability from both within the society and from without, squeezed the life out of it. Fleeing to the countryside, where once they bound themselves to a landholder at least they had something to eat, the erstwhile middle class found themselves to be serfs, a role that would last a millennium. Trade fell apart. Technological and scientific progress ground to a halt. Literature, the arts all went from awe-inspiring resplendent to primitive and surreal. If you ever happen to be in Ravenna, Italy, go first to a 6th or 7th century church, and then to a 10th or 11th to look at the mosaics. You can’t miss the difference. It is a one-stop lesson in how history is not a story of continuous progress.
Perhaps there are forces so much larger than us that we cannot escape. President Trump, then, is merely an agent, an actor on the stage of history playing his part. But for that role to be so patently ludicrous now is to insult our collective intelligence. Compared to other times and places, we still live in a profoundly advantaged moment. It makes no sense to passively accept this farce. As perverse as moneyed interests have attempted to make our body politic, it is as of yet a democratic republic. Let’s stop giving them our money and our trust. Let’s take back our country from the billionaires. Let’s make the corporations truly accountable to citizenship. Let’ us help the homeless and the poor, the addicted and the immigrant. And if you are, like me, middle class, let’s help ourselves. We have a good life. I don’t want to lose it, nor go to my grave watching it slip through my children’s fingers. In short, it is not too late. At least not yet ...