Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the most ardent ABC Leftist of them all? What a tough question! Such a crowded field of candidates, parading their green-left credentials day and night! The ABC Act (1983) does include the provision that our taxpayer-funded national broadcaster gather and present news and information impartially, but who cares about silly old legislation?
Anyway, I won’t keep you in suspense. My Captain’s Pick for ABC Leftist laurels is Geraldine Doogue, host of ABC Radio National’s Saturday Extra, who also hosts ABC TV’s Compass.
Her 15-minute 7.30am session last Saturday (Feb 25) was about what a fascist Donald Trump is. Doogue’s interviewee was London University literature academic Sarah Churchwell, whose views of Trump-as-fascist were never contradicted and, indeed, sometimes topped by Doogue’s own hyperbolic contributions. In fact Doogue and Churchwell – billed by her university as “one of the UK’s most prominent academics” — spent their 15 minutes competing to paint Trump in direst hues.
Churchwell is still traumatised by the defeat of her idol, Hillary Clinton. As she wrote for the Guardian (UK), “Stop suggesting that Clinton failed us. The truth is, we failed her.”
Doogue sought out Churchwell because of another Guardian article headed, ‘It will be called Americanism’: the US writers who imagined a fascist future”. Churchwell had gone looking for literary references to fascist dictators (e.g. in Orwell’s 1984 and Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism) and claimed they all presaged the arrival of fascist President Trump.
Doogue lauded Churchwell’s lame attempt at a knife-job as both “fresh” and “clever”. Inspired, Doogue went looking herself for literary allusions to fascists and regaled her radio audience with them, sometimes giggling about the parallels with certain recent events (the Trump presidency is now all of five weeks old, let it be remembered).
Here’s a sample from Doogue’s Saturday Extra interview:
Doogue: You look at comments including Vice-President Henry Wallace quoted in a 1944 article, about American fascism. Quote, “…a Fascist is someone whose lust for money and power is combined with such intensity of intolerance towards other races, parties, classes, regions or nations, as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.”
It’s a pretty devastating old quote. You don’t think Trump is a fascist though really?
Churchwell: Yes actually I think he is. I do, I do.
Doogue: Oh you do! OK!
Churchwell: That description is a very good description. I think Trump is a fascist in the strict sense of the term, a lot more like Mussolini than he is like Hitler.
Doogue: (enthusiastically) or Berlusconi, it is a very interesting comparison actually.”
Churchwell: Absolutely! Elements of plutocracy, elements of corruption, he [Trump] is authoritarian, he has no interest or respect for democracy as a democratic process. He thinks anyone who disagrees with him is not a real voter, and should be in jail. That is a pretty good litmus test for fascism.
Churchwell then cites a checklist by author Umberto Eco about what constituted Italian pre-war fascism, and continues, re Trump, “Yes, reading through it, Tick! Tick! Tick! Tick!”
Later, Doogue quotes meaningfully from a 2004 novel The Plot Against America by Philip Roth:
To have enslaved America with this hocus-pocus! To have captured the mind of the world’s greatest nation without uttering a single word of truth! Oh, the pleasure we must be affording the most malevolent man on earth!”
Doogue had a little simper at that, then continued to encourage Churchwell:
Doogue: “You have a few examples of writers imagining the future where alternative facts — what we are told is fake news — sometimes basically outright lying, is at the centre of the rise of the autocrat. Again you say we should not be surprised.
Churchwell: Yes I think that is right; people recognised that was why this was always going to work — propaganda was crucial.
Churchwell wafted along to an obscure 1942 Katherine Hepburn film, Keeper of the Flame, in which Hepburn’s character marries a popular politician who is a covert fascist. One of his plots for a US takeover is planting fake stories in newspapers to stir up revolts. Churchwell says, “This is the media. It will be central to any (inaudible – either ‘fashion of’ or ‘fascist’ ) project”.
Doogue responds: And the point is these were a few private individuals to whom money didn’t mean anything anymore but who wanted political power. Gosh I wonder who that sounds like, heh heh heh!
In her introductory riff about Churchwell, Doogue incorrectly attributes to a New York Times reporter a 1938 warning, “When and if fascism comes to America, it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’, it will not be marked with a swastika, it will not even be called fascism. It will be called, of course, Americanism.”
Doogue: “Now whatever your view is, one thing is certainly under way, millions of Americans and those beyond are trying to discern what is the true nature of current developments in the US. Can literature help?
Well, people are voting with their feet to some extent — 1984, Sinclair Lewis, Hannah Arendt, all apparently are back on the top reading lists as people search for answers and solutions.”
Churchwell: You go back and you look at some of the things they said in America during the rise of European fascism, that are terrifyingly apt, they could have been written today.
Churchwell cites the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel It Can‘t Happen Here, warning how American democracy could give way to a fascist leader:
“And again it looks like a lot of what was said in the novel could be written about Trump…That is an aspect of American fascism that was really important; it has a corporate tinge to it, about providing government of the profit, for the profit, by the profit.”
Churchwell: ‘When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross’, and as I was re-reading these novels, I think that it will also have a dollar bill. It is religion, it is patriotism and it is about saying this will be all about everyone getting rich.”
Doogue is not to be outdone and has a quote of her own from some Der Spiegel journalist “in a very big article”, she says. This think-piece on Trump adviser Steve Bannon was, Doogue says, “deeper than a discussion about current politics, with a real sense of worrying about the state of the Judeo-Christian ethic in the US among the cosmopolitan elites, and actually aligning with elements of purity and orthodoxy in Russia! Can you see that deeper strand running through any of the literature you have examined?”
After some waffle, Churchwell says,
“Fascism in America has always been recognised as something that would come with a religious cast, have an evangelical flavor to it, which a lot of Americans have responded to…”
The two ladies then make much of Trump posing by a big portrait of himself after winning the Republican nomination. They agree, using their unique psychic powers, that Trump had been inspired by his favorite film Citizen Kane (1941). Director Orson Welles in turn was showing that Kane was in sync with past European fascists who used similar posters.
“People were appalled; why on earth would he [Trump] set himself up to look like a fascist?” Churchwell exclaims. Apart from big portraits now being a mainstay of political campaigning, this doubly-extended analogy seems a stretch.
Doogue, winding down, thinks their analysis of Trump “makes for an interesting way of trying to examine what is under way. We have not even talked about McCarthyism or Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.”
This had me wondering to where Doogue would take an excursion into Trump and McCarthyism. As for the Handmaid’s Tale, it is “Set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government. (The) dystopian novel explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency.”
Tony Thomas’s new book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here.
 Doogue’s personal and subjective perspective is also a feature of Compass. As her September 4, 2016 show had it,
“Are the Brexit vote, the Trump phenomenon and the resurgence of One Nation all signs that democracy and capitalism are under pressure and failing to deliver? If so, what can we do to build a fairer more equitable system?”
 The ABC blurbed it, “George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four; Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here and Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism are back on the top reading lists as people seek insights into to Donald Trump’s America.”
 Silvio Berlusconi was scandal-plagued Italian prime minister from 2008-11. He was convicted of soliciting a minor for sex but this was overturned on appeal.
 The transcript is my own
 Churchwell was not referring to “prophet” because she had also introduced the word “profiteering”
Sarah Churchwell Retweeted Arthur Goldhammer
“Funny how many academics, writers, and intellectuals the Trump administration has already encouraged CBP [Customs and Border Police) to ‘mistakenly detain.’ #resist”
 Sure, Doogue’s next respectful interview on Saturday Extra might be with a die-hard Trump fan who also elaborates on the numerous reasons why Clinton is nicknamed “Crooked Hillary”. But I doubt it.