I find myself more and more cynical these days. A lot of people have taken to calling Donald Trump a fascist. And he is. But as Jonathan Chait wrote last week, “A nominated Trump would be a different figure.” His point is that the reason the mainstream press feels as though it can call Trump out is because the Republican establishment is attacking him. If Trump gets nominated, the Republicans will fall in line and the mainstream press will be back to, “Trump says most immigrants are rapists, and Clinton says they aren’t. Who can’t say?! It’s a postmodern world!”
But the basic outline of fascism is what we humans naturally are. What Hitler did was only remarkable because we don’t do it so much anymore — at least in such clear ways. But fascism used to be the norm, not the exception. And the broader issue is just our tendency toward hierarchy. I was reading about spotted hyenas this morning. They are the most social of hyenas, with a rigid hierarchy. (There is an interesting twist that the lowest of females is dominant over the highest of males.) It is also passed on from generation to generation; that is, if mom was top hyena, so are you. The hierarchy is based on allies and it is rare for there to be a reversal of rank.
Now, all of this should sound very familiar. This is generally how things work with primates — most especially humans. Forget Donald Trump, let’s talk about Dick Cheney. On Friday, Glenn Greenwald wrote, US First Shields Its Torturers and War Criminals From Prosecution, Now Officially Honors Them. He noted, “Yesterday, the House of Representatives unveiled a marble bust of former Vice President Cheney, which — until a person of conscience vandalizes or destroys it — will reside in Emancipation Hall of the US Capitol.” You can bet whoever vandalizes the bust will do jail time — unlike the man being honored.
This went along with a presentation where the avuncular Joe Biden said, “I actually like Dick Cheney… I can say without fear of contradiction, there’s never one single time been a harsh word, not one single time in our entire relationship.” Of course there hasn’t! Dick Cheney may be a war criminal, but he’s “our” war criminal. He may be one of the most vile humans on the planet, but he’s “our” vile human. And by “our,” of course, I don’t me you or me; I mean the power elite; I mean people of Dick Cheney’s rank; I mean the hyena allies.
I’ve always been a bit bothered by the Nuremberg trials. I’m all for justice. But there was certainly an enormous amount of hypocrisy going on. What we saw was what we always saw: the winners of the war calling out all the bad behavior of the losers. Certainly the Allies had committed war crimes. According to one recent estimate, US troops alone raped almost 200,000 women. But there were also massacres and torture. And there was the firebombing of cities. War is hell, but there is not hell to pay if you win.
And so, of course Obama was never going to prosecute people in the Bush administration. And given that, it follows that there would eventually be statues honoring Dick Cheney. That’s because Obama, Biden, Bush, Cheney, Clinton, or any other major political figure will never hold one of the others accountable. They may do different things to get our votes, but they know they need each other. Hyena allies.