by Vijaya Chandrasoma

“The Great Dictator” (1940), the anti-war political satire, was the first black and white “talkie”, written, directed by and starring the incomparable Charlie Chaplin. Acclaimed as one of the greatest political satires/comedies ever made, it was based on a condemnation of Hitler and Mussolini, and their policies of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism that led to World War II.

Chaplin’s movie had a complementary ideological theme to George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel and cautionary tale, “1984”, which predicted what could happen if governments are allowed to manipulate facts to suit their narrative, providing an insight into the fearful choice faced by citizens living under an oppressive regime.

The Germans faced such a choice between authoritarianism and democracy in the 1930s. A choice they made based on the lies of a bigoted monster, Hitler, who, manipulating their patriotism, convinced them that Jews, the real enemy, had been planning the destruction of Germany since World War I. He persuaded them that The Final Solution, the genocide of Germany’s entire Jewish population, deemed to be vermin of impure blood, was the only answer. It was supposed to be an act of self-defense to preserve the glorious destiny of the Fatherland, the Master Race of Europe. The end, they were told, as savagely cruel as it was, justified the means. The tragedy is that many decent Germans pretended to be unaware of the horrors unfolding before their eyes.

Chaplin’s film was released in 1940, when the United States was at peace with Nazi Germany; a time when there was a wave of anti-Semitism in America, in accord with Hitler’s belief that Jews presented a threat to world peace and prosperity.

A fickle summary of the storyline of “The Great Dictator”, is used to draw a parallel with the Germany of the 1930s, and the imminent threat faced by America in 2024.

Chaplin, played the role of a lowly Jewish barber, known throughout the movie as The Barber. He bore a strong physical resemblance to Adenoid Hynkel (Adolf Hitler), the dictator of the imaginary fascist nation of Tomainia (Germany), also played by Chaplin. Hynkel, in collusion with Benzino Napaloni (Benito Mussolini), Dictator of Bacteria (Italy), was ruthlessly persecuting the Jews in Europe.

The climax of a complicated plot featured The Barber, impersonating Hynkel, making an impassioned speech to an adoring crowd of Hynkel supporters, announcing he had a change of heart. He exhorted his soldiers to shed their evil, murderous ways and fight for liberty, uniting Tomainia in the name of democracy.

Speaking as Hynkel, The Barber concluded his masterly epilogue thus:

“Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power, let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world….To do away with national barriers, with greed, with hate and intolerance….Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!”

That epilogue changed the course of Tomanian history. Hynkel supporters realized the dangers of the path they were treading. Forsaking the evil machinations of Dictator Hynkel, Tomainia continued to live in peace and harmony with all its citizens and neighbors.

The last scene in the movie shows Hannah, The Barber’s girlfriend, listening to his message of hope on the radio, saying that “The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying onto the rainbow, into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future, that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us”. The film reaches its dramatic climax after the epilogue, when Hannah turns towards the brilliant sunlight, and says, “Listen”.

Unfortunately, the Germans didn’t listen. They made the wrong choice, believing the words of a bigoted madman, Hitler, plunging the world into the most violent military conflict in human history, a war that claimed the lives of 20 million combatants and at least 40 million civilians, including the genocide of six million Jews in Nazi gas chambers.

Today, we have a situation in the United States of America approaching the same choice that the mythical Tomainians faced in the 1930s. A situation where we, alas, have no Trump look-alike who can, like The Barber did in Tomainia, impersonate our own bigoted madman and save American democracy.

Wait! There’s hope. We may not need a look-alike or an impersonator. There’s every chance that Trump may destroy himself, at the rate he seems to be speeding towards lunacy/dementia, considering the nutjob nonsense he has been spewing recently. Like Jesus counting his votes! The day Jesus descends to earth, that’s the day Trump goes straight down to hell!

Seriously, though, this is not some drama-filled hyperbole predicting that the choice awaiting Americans next year will either see the continuation of our Great Experiment of Democracy, or plunge our society into the chaos that would have been the fate of the German people had Hitler prevailed in WW II. It’s just the plain, unadulterated truth.

(For aficionados of historical coincidences, Friedrich Trump, born in the Kingdom of Bavaria in Germany in 1869, was the patriarch of the Trump family, The Donald’s paternal grandfather. Born of humble stock, Friedrich too worked as a barber in Munich. He spread the lie that he was related to the Wittelsbach Dynasty, who ruled Bavaria at that time. He repeated this lie so often that his peers believed it, though the fact that he was as dumb as a rock, the village idiot, belied his claims to royalty. And even more coincidentally, he was exiled for the crime of dodging the military draft (bone spurs?) by the Bavarian government, and made his home in New York in the late 1880s.

Friedrich’s genius for transforming a lie into the truth, his cowardice in refusing to serve his country and his monumental stupidity have been the hallmarks of the Trump Dynasty, traits inherited in generous measure by The Donald).

Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, exploiting the fears of the Christian white majority in the USA of rapid changes in the demographics of the nation, caused by the influx of legal and illegal immigrants, people of color, especially Latin Americans. These dark-skinned aliens are predicted to form the majority of America’s population by 2050, with the resultant erosion of privilege white Americans had enjoyed for centuries.

I am not going to detail the disastrous four years of the Trump administration; his tax cuts of $1.7 trillion which benefited only the super-wealthy; his immigration policies based on race and religion; his cruel policies of family separation of asylum seekers at the southern border, housed in overcrowded camps devoid of human amenities of hygiene and sustenance; his criminal mismanagement of the pandemic which caused avoidable deaths of over 600,000 Americans; and the economy he left adrift, with an explosive rise in the national debt of almost $7.8 trillion.

Nor am I going to dwell on the multiple felonies that Trump has been arrested and bailed, with a current score of 91 felonies in four separate jurisdictions.

The only fact that continues to amaze me is that, in spite of Trump’s obvious acts of corruption and criminal incompetence during his presidency; and subsequent crimes of fraud, sexual assault, sedition, obstruction of justice and espionage hanging over his head after his defeat in 2020; he still remains the prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidency. The Party of Family Values and the Rule of Law tragically transformed into the modern version of Hitler’s Nazi Brownshirts. Swastikas and all.

But I will, very briefly, touch on recent public statements Trump made, which prove his attitude towards elections and abuse of power, and his evil genius for Projection, the old Nazi trick invented by Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, “accuse your enemy of the same crimes of which you are guilty”.

Last week, at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, addressing his Evangelist and white supremacist base, Trump made breathtaking statements about US elections, “that I would win even blue states like California and New York if Jesus Christ – and God – would simply come down and act as a scorekeeper for me”. When asked if he would be a dictator if he is reelected in 2024, he said, “Only for one day. I’ll only abuse power on the first day of my second term”.

And he made a Projection for the ages, almost Orwellian in its manipulative gaslighting, comparing himself to President Biden:

“If Joe Biden wants to make this race (for the presidency) a question of which candidate will defend our democracy and protect our freedoms, I say to Crooked Joe – and he is the most corrupt president we’ve ever had – we will win that fight, and win it very big.

“Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy. Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy”.

These statements were met with with wild applause from his Evangelist and White Supremacist base.

The title of “Crooked, Corrupt Joe” has been bestowed upon President Biden by a convicted felon, arrested and on bail on 91 felonies! The mantle of “Destroyer of American Democracy”, again conferred on Biden by an indicted traitor, arrested and on bail for felonies of inciting an insurrection and espionage, who recently stated that he would terminate the constitution if elected – that’s pretty rich, even for Republicans turned Nazis.

Can Trump’s web of deceit and treachery succeed again? Of course it could, but only if Democrats don’t fight back, or keep fighting in ways that were honorable 20 years ago, but are obsolete now and destined to failure.

Democrats have not as yet realized that times have changed, that deception, lies, violence and death threats are now the new normal of election campaigns. If they continue taking knives to a gunfight, unless they stoop to somewhere near Trump’s level – plummeting to his depths is a human impossibility – and use all the criminal and treasonous ammunition they have against him and the Republican Party, they will be outwitted again, like they were in 2016.

The fourth Republican debate was held last Wednesday, which Donald Trump again did not attend. The participants were four Republican hopefuls who were all a distance behind Trump in the polls. The reason commonly given for Trump’s absence at these debates is that he has this huge lead over all his rivals. My opinion is that if he does attend, Republican candidates like Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, even Ron DeSantis will find the courage to attack Trump on his spectacular character flaws and crimes, even at the risk of antagonizing his base, perhaps gaining the support of moderate Republicans.

These are exactly Trump’s criminal and racist blemishes that Democrats should be shouting from the rooftops. There is no lack of ammunition: Trump’s despicable character, senile vacuity and treasonous crimes, the Republicans’ embrace of the white supremacist fears of the Great Replacement Theory, Abortion Rights and Contraception, Gun Control (especially after the 561st mass shooting in 2023 in Nevada last Wednesday), Voting Rights, Climate Change, LGBTQ rights and Gay Marriage, Taxation, Income and Wealth Inequality, the threat to Obamacare, Student Debt. All these rights and more will be under attack in a radical red MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republican administration.

These dangers to democracy under a Republican administration should be highlighted by every Democratic politician, at every available opportunity. And Democrats should not concentrate on winning just the presidency, they should aim at sweeping both Houses of Congress.

America is on the threshold of a struggle for its democratic life. And many decent Americans, like the Germans nearly a century ago, seem to be unaware of the dangers unfolding before their eyes. As Republican Liz Cheney wrote in her recent bestseller, Oath and Honor, “Americans are sleepwalking towards a dictatorship”.