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February 27th 2017 print

Tony Thomas

Chicken Littles Clucking About Trump

Swapping leftist absurdities over coffee is every fashionable nitwit's democratic right, and fair enough too. What isn't fair is that taxpayers must underwrite Geraldine Doogue's faux profundities, not to mention those of her latest Saturday Extra guest

chicken microphone IIMirror, 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[1].

Her 15-minute 7.30am session last Saturday (Feb 25) was about what a fascist Donald Trump is.[2] Doogue’s interviewee was London University literature academic Sarah Churchwell[3], 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.”[4]

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”.[5]

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 is really clever, isn’t she![6] She then again quotes Sinclair Lewis

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.[7]

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.”

The ABC guidelines on impartiality run to a truly massive 4041 words. The bit I found eerily prescient (to use Doogue-speak) was the sub-head,  “Impartiality – what could possibly go wrong?”[8]

Tony Thomas’s new book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here.



[1] 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?” 

[2] 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.”

[3]  Churchwell  is professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities, and director of the Being Human festival at the University of London.

[4] 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.

[5] The transcript is my own

[6] Churchwell was not referring to “prophet” because she had also introduced the word “profiteering”

[7] Churchwell seems to have visions of Trump-style concentration camps for intellectuals like herself.  She has re-tweeted,

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

[8] 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.

Comments [36]

  1. Don A. Veitch says:

    Using objective criteria, the Republicans are arguably, now, to the ‘left’ of the Wall Street Democratic Party. With Trump attacking sections of the swamp, deep state and the establishment media.
    The ‘left’ ‘right’’ labels are becoming meaningless, but lets give it a go:

    Trump is in the foot steps of their darling Obama (deportations);

    Trump personally is probably to the ‘left’ of Hilary Clinton – détente with Russia, less war, destroying misogynist jihadis, proletarian jobs, tariffs, less identity politics;

    certainly Trump is more honest, less hypocritical and certainly less corrupt than the Clinton gang,

    And the left should be thrilled that Trump has aroused the masses. ‘Leftists’ websites now flag the coming Mass Strike, the mass uprising that their dear Rosa Luxembourg wrote of.
    The main problem with Trump is that he is too weak, eg failed to defend Michael Flynn.

  2. Don A. Veitch says:

    I will continue the monologue about Trump’s emerging weakness:

    Trump must purge the CIA and remourselessy hunt leakers;
    Trump was weak not to hound Hilary into jail;
    Trump is shallow and follows the last person he spoke too/with (mainly Goldman Sachs types);
    Trump is dominated by Steve Bannon (aka Rasputin, Svengali, Savanarola) and his Fourth Turning;
    Trump is exceedingly weak and has no real economic ideas.

    • Jody says:

      Completely agree. The Australian today carries the editorial instructive, “Grow up, Mr. President”. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime.

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        Nor I in mine, Jody, but I’m enjoying every minute of it. Thus far at least, the only media organisations banned have been the ones who shamelessly, unprofessionally and unapologetically behaved as the public relations divisions of Hillary Clinton. For that alone, no reputable private enterprise company would have anything to do with them, so why should the President who was the target of their disgraceful behaviour. I have no brief for Trump’s actions to date, except for this. He’s perfectly justified, and it’s a shame that The Australian doesn’t have the decency to admit it, instead of cravenly closing ranks with the unethical scum.

        • Jody says:

          I’m afraid I have to agree with “The Australian”. I don’t think they’re being ‘craven’ so much as concerned about the fate of the free world in the hands of a reality TV host who lies like there’s no tomorrow. And his press conferences which still talk about crowd numbers and victory. Ye gods!!

          • en passant says:

            Jody,
            No problem as you have a $3,000 bet with me riding on the fact he will not be President by 31st December 2018.
            Easiest money you will ever make.

        • Warty says:

          You speak of the Australian as though their columnists think in some sort of uniform fashion: far from it. There are a number of strong Trump supporters, your Jennifer Oriels and Janet Albrechtsens and Chris Kennys, albeit there are several establishment writers, like Paul Kelly (despite the ire of his readers), Greg Sheridan and Peter Van Onselen, and this last I refuse to read any more of his ‘wet’ articles.

          • Jody says:

            The ‘ire’ of Kelly’s readers. He’s easily the most thoughtful, intelligent and prescient commentator we have today. Bar none.

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      Don:
      “Trump is exceedingly weak and has no real economic ideas.”
      I disagree.
      What about “stop the boats; no cuts to the ABC or SBS…?”
      I’m pretty sure that’s what Trumpf said.

  3. Keith Kennelly says:

    So speaks the voices of the disenfranchised elitists

    • Lacebug says:

      I’m more of a ‘franchised’ elitist myself.

      • Jody says:

        My eldest son has just returned from Canberra where he says the art gallery shop is full of books which re-iterate the same cultural marxist agenda. He said to the woman in the shop, “Mmm, these books are interesting in that they all reflect the pervasive group-think of the day. You are young enough to hear this because you have the rest of your life to form your own opinions”.

        Not so far from the gallery was a coffee shop where he said next to “that toad, Jonathon Green”. My son had great pleasure discussing right wing issues, while watching The Toad with this family – squirming and grimacing all the while.

        So, you can be anti-progressive but not infantile and dangerous.

  4. ianl says:

    If “press freedom” and “media freedom” (both phrases are from the Oz’ self-serving editorials today) means the MSM *not* reporting this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBewxQUHwvo

    or this

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ylg9NPFzPnA

    or a heap of other uglinesses:

    then the MSM is just as despicable as any Trump outrage on display here. And that’s if these reports are only even 50% true. That the MSM has no credibility is self-evident, but it is actually destructive in its’ blind vanity. Vomitous.

    The situation is now way beyond my ability to understand. It is genuinely out of control. I can see how madness starts wars.

    Oh, and Trump did not cause the situations described in the reports. Narrowly based “white guilt”, masquerading as political correctness, did.

  5. Bill Martin says:

    How much more ridiculous could things get? Trump is doing the things he said he would do and was elected on that account, his popularity increases with every action he takes and his hateful opponents warn that he is a perilous danger to democracy. How much more democratic could you be than doing the thing the majority want done?

    I do have one concern, though. The new security adviser he appointed in place of Flynn rejects the term “radical Islamist terrorism” and maintains that ISIS is not Islamic. The exact copy of Obama’s attitude. Now that’s a worry.

  6. Keith Kennelly says:

    Lacebug

    Well you’d be wrong. And you’ll learn that at the next election.

  7. Jody says:

    @en passant: I believe I said Trump wouldn’t be President by the time the next election came around. I did not specify a date.

  8. [email protected] says:

    As I’m lazy and not a journo, I’m not writing an article on this.

    However, I’m shocked that in an environment where the left are calling everyone facsists that no journo has pointed out that neither Mussolini or Hitler were democratically elected.

    Mussolini, a former socialist, organised the 1922 March on Rome to unseat the democratically elected government and became appointed Prime Minister as the king saw no other party capable of governing in the face of mass fascist protests. Hindenburg only appointed Hitler Chancellor in 1932 due to the Nazis using protests to make the country ungovernable unless a fascist was appointed. These are historical facts.

    So now we have the left fighting a democratically elected government in the US in an effort to make the country ungovernable so as to unseat a democratically elected head of state, precisely copying the strategy of Italian and German fascists in the 1930s and yet they call that head of state a fascist?

    Ignoring the fact that fascism died in 1945, tarring someone with that brush whilst using the very tactics that brought appalling regimes to power is either stupid or evil.

    I mean, why do I seem the only one to notice this? Why has no journalist or Quadrant contributor not pointed this out? Am I wrong?

  9. Don A. Veitch says:

    You are right, but there were no Wikileaks then!
    Germany did not have an elitist Electoral College ‘fiddle’.
    But also, the first one that uses the ‘F’ word (fascist) loses the debate! You are not allowed to use the F word in polite debate. If you want to go deep into the fascism of Steve Bannon (Rasputin) read/Google Julius Evola – the father of fascism. Also look up Steve Bannon’s connection with Opus Dei.

  10. Keith Kennelly says:

    Backsliding already Jody?
    Contact@…
    Listen carefully. Hitler was a socialist, leading the national socialist party.

    • Jody says:

      You are very aggressive and dictatorial in your own right.

    • [email protected] says:

      Keith, I am aware that the European regimes of the 20s to 40s that are presented by the media and certain academics as hard right were in fact totalitarian socialist regimes.

      I thought that was a given. I didn’t think the comments section of Quadrant needed us to rehash that fascism and communism are two sides of the same coin.

      My point was that the tactics used by people calling themselves liberals and anti-fascists are entirely fascist. But you could also argue that every totalitarian communist regime came to power the same way but what is the point? These people don’t see the tragedies of Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, Eastern Europe and so on as tragedies.

      Hence my wondering why no one is writing serious articles pointing out the ‘fascist’ tactics of ‘socialist’ protesters.

  11. Ian MacDougall says:

    The Homer J Simpsons of America, by electing Trump to the Presidency, have lit a slow burning fuse under their own US Constitution. I incline to the view that before we all get too much older, there will be a full-on constitutional crisis, which will occur because there is no way Trump can deliver on his promise to “make America great again”; but that is precisely what all those voters expect.

    And when they realise that the man was just a balloon full of hot air, there will be no easy way for them to remove him.

    And he won’t want to go anyway.

    In the history books, he will put Richard Nixon in the shade.

    • [email protected] says:

      But that is my point Ian.

      He’s only got a 4 year term, really 3.5 years of real power.

      So why not let him do what he promised, mess it up and demonstrate his approach was wrong.

      I mean none of us here are kids, how much real damage could he ca7se in 3 and a half years?

      By denying him the ability govern we give his supporters actual ammunition to show what they wanted didn’t get done and provide zero evidence that what they wanted wouldn’t work.

      The only way to show an argument is wrong is to test it, but so many supposed supporters of democracy are determined to prevent a democratically elected person to give it a go. That is where totalitarian regimes develop from, not the fair election of someone like Trump but the forces that oppose him.

    • Anthony Cox says:

      I just knew there would be at least one snowflake making declarations about Trump which are based on nothing except snowflake logic: ego, self-regard and utter delusion. Trump can be got rid off (sic) at the next POTUS election or are you channelling other snowflakes like Attenborough who thought it best if Trump were shot?

  12. Ian MacDougall says:

    …So why not let him do what he promised, mess it up and demonstrate his approach was wrong.
    I mean none of us here are kids, how much real damage could he cause in 3 and a half years?

    A helluva lot, actually. But, as an Australian, I can’t do much to stop him.
    Big expenditure on a military showcase: all very unproductive stuff cf the real needs of the bulk of the American population.
    I ordered this morning a copy of Gibbon’s multi-volume Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I will read it through looking for analogies to the present US situation.
    Expect to find a few.

    • [email protected] says:

      Ian. Maybe Trump as Justinian.

  13. Keith Kennelly says:

    See Jody, just like Ian.

  14. Keith Kennelly says:

    Jody

    People will make up their own minds about your behaviour.

  15. IainC says:

    Interesting that the Left are counting 1984, which is a thinly disguised excoriation of the cult of Stalin and the destructive nature of Stalinism, as a lesson on fascism. Does this mean that they are finally admitting that fascism is a left construct? Will my imminent Socialism IS Fascism t-shirt get sage nods of approval from “progressive” (I don’t really need a sarc appended here on this site, do I?) colleagues?
    As I age, I am increasingly inclined to the view that 1984 may be THE most important book published in the 20th century. The old adage that the Right read 1984 as a warning, the Left read 1984 as a training manual, never rang truer, even after the fall of the USSR (the second major defeat for fascism after the destruction of Nazism in 1945).

  16. old44 says:

    The) dystopian novel explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency.

    You only need a $1000 plane ticket to the Middle East to find that. Or the South West suburbs of Sydney.

  17. Jody says:

    Pence and congressional leaders may have to act if Trump escalates his delusional behavior:

    Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

    Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.