Among the Leftist literati, the ‘Trump is Hitler’ meme has a thousand variations. In the hilariously titled “The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming”, Alex Ross writes:
Adorno believed that the greatest danger to American democracy lay in the mass-culture apparatus of film, radio, and television. Indeed, in his view, this apparatus operates in dictatorial fashion even when no dictatorship is in place: it enforces conformity, quiets dissent, mutes thought.
Film, radio, and television has been the province of rightwing fascists and not the free-speech-stifling province of politically correct Leftists? Who knew!
Nazi Germany was merely the most extreme case of a late-capitalist condition in which people surrender real intellectual freedom in favor of a sham paradise of personal liberation and comfort. Watching wartime newsreels, Adorno concluded that the “culture industry,” as he and Horkheimer called it, was replicating fascist methods of mass hypnosis.
‘Fascist methods of mass hypnosis’, eh? That sounds like quite the falsifiable hypothesis.
Ross goes on to cite Thomas Mann’s time in the U.S. as some kind of magical, prescient foreboding of fascism coming to the U.S… in some unspecified time in the future… or something:
Mann was hardly the only Central European émigré who experienced uneasy feelings of déjà vu in the fearful years after the end of the Second World War. Members of the intellectual enclave known as the Frankfurt School—originally based at the Institute for Social Research, in Frankfurt—felt a similar alarm. In 1950, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno helped to assemble a volume titled “The Authoritarian Personality,” which constructed a psychological and sociological profile of the “potentially fascistic individual.” The work was based on interviews with American subjects, and the steady accumulation of racist, antidemocratic, paranoid, and irrational sentiments in the case studies gave the German-speakers pause.
Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality was an unsubstantiated declaration of war against white Christian social morales. It was nothing more, nothing less.
Living in Los Angeles in the 1950s (irony: the U.S. having accepted Mann as something of a post-war, political refugee emeritus), Mann writes to Adorno:
“The way things are developing is already clear. And we have rather gone beyond Brüning.” Heinrich Brüning was the Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932.
Umm… but wait… America didn’t experience fascism after Joseph McCarthy.
No matter! You know what he means. Everybody knows The Holocaust began on June 6, 1944. And all these disparate emotional threads are leading somewhere important, you rube!
The fears of Mann, Adorno, and other émigrés came to naught—or so it seemed. The McCarthyite danger passed; civil rights advanced; free speech triumphed; liberal democracy spread around the world.
Okay, now what?
Why, full-blown, MSM meltdown hysteria, that’s what:
I spoke too soon. His moment of vindication is arriving now. With the election of Donald Trump, the latent threat of American authoritarianism is on the verge of being realized, its characteristics already mapped by latter-day sociologists who have updated Adorno’s “F-scale” for fascist tendencies.
We also get more alarmism about that Bogeyman of the Moment, Richard Spencer!
So here we are, living in what feels like an excessively on-the-nose novel by Don DeLillo, in which a President-elect tweets of his cabinet-selection process, “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!” One all-too-schematic plot twist is the revelation that Richard Spencer—the white supremacist whose phrase “alt-right” was adopted by Trump’s strategist, Steve Bannon—wrote a master’s thesis on the topic of none other than Theodor W. Adorno, arguing that Wagner’s anti-Semitism prevented Adorno from coming to terms with his love for Wagner’s music. The Department of Hitler Studies, from DeLillo’s “White Noise,” is moving to D.C.
Strange, as the fictitious Department of Hitler Studies from DeLillo’s “White Noise” was a satire of pointless, postmodernist, navel-gazing dominating academia… not academia suddenly promoting Fascism 101.
Ross’s piece is replete with hysterics like this:
However the Trump Presidency turns out—whether it veers toward autocracy, devolves into kleptocracy, or takes some unheard-of new form—America has, for the time being, abdicated the role of the world’s moral leader, to the extent that it ever played that part convincingly.
According to Ross, the only options here are:
- Some unheard-of new form of A or B.
A wee bit myopic I’d say. (Has anyone checked to see that Ross is okay? Is someone looking after him?)
So, does Ross see a glimmer of hope anywhere in the Western world, now that this dastardly pandemic of populism is sweeping the West? Why, in Merkel’s Germany of course!
Germany, on the other hand, increasingly appears to be the strongest remaining bastion of liberal democracy. With the United Kingdom mired in the aftermath of Brexit, France facing a possible hard-right swerve, and Italy in disarray, the country that long stood as a synonym for nationalist insanity has so far resisted political and cultural regression.
For added effect, Ross adds this irrelevant factoid:
On the day after the American election, which happened to be the seventy-eighth anniversary of Kristallnacht…
Were no astrological coincidences available for Ross to add? This sort of clumsy and didactic writing is the stuff of a freshman writing class.
Man, The New Yorker has really sunk into the gutter.