Can Biden Beat Trump & the Putin/MAGA Movement’s Threat to America?

by | Sep 30, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Image: Zachary McGee, Wiki Commons

Can Biden Beat Trump & the Putin/MAGA Movement’s Threat to America?

by | Sep 30, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Image: Zachary McGee, Wiki Commons

Can we rescue our nation from treasonous Republicans, who are trying to shut down our government to help Putin while they continue to bow and scrape to "The Rapist Who Would Be King?"

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Speaking at an event in Phoenix honoring the late Republican Senator John McCain, his old friend President Joe Biden forcefully pointed out how Trump and the movement he leads—the MAGA movement—fundamentally reject democracy and the historic American ideals that have made our country a beacon to the world for over 200 years. He said:

“I have made the defense, the protection, and the preservation of American Democracy the central cause of my presidency.

“From Gettysburg to my Inaugural Address, to the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection, to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and Union Station in Washington, I’ve spoken about the danger of election denialism and political violence and the battle for the soul of America.

“Now today in Phoenix, Arizona, at an institute devoted to the defense of democracy named in honor of a true patriot, I’m here to speak about another threat to our democracy that we too often ignore: the threat to our institutions, to our Constitution itself, and the very character of our nation.”

While there are plenty of countries and dictators all around the world who would like to tear our democracy down, the “threat” Biden was referring to is coming from within our country, from within our political system, from within a Republican Party that has been captured by a man who has repeatedly taken the side of dictators against his own nation.

Donald Trump regularly promotes the interests of Vladimir Putin, and continues to do so in his rhetoric against Ukraine. His children have taken billions of dollars from foreign potentates in exchange for top secret information, if press reports are any indication.

He has said that if he is elected he will never give up the office, and tried to use the military to keep himself in office when he lost the last election. He wants military generals who opposed him executed, judges and prosecutors who identify his crimes fired or thrown in jail, and wants to seize and shut down media that has reported on his corruption.

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán have done these things in Russia and Hungary; Donald Trump and much of the rightwing media—and a significant portion of the GOP—want to do the same here in America.

Biden laid it out vividly:

“As I’ve always been clear, democracy is not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue. …

“But there is something dangerous happening in America. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. The MAGA Movement.

“Not every Republican—not even the majority of Republicans—adhere to the extremist MAGA ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with Republicans my whole career. But there is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA extremists.

“Their extreme agenda, if carried out, would fundamentally alter the institutions of American Democracy as we know it.”

America has had a love/hate relationship with fascism ever since it first arose in Italy in the 1920s. It just never came this close to taking over the country.

Dorothy Thompson, one of America’s most respected foreign correspondents (and the wife of Sinclair Lewis), who became Berlin Bureau Chief for The New York Post in 1925 and interviewed Hitler in 1930 (she was not impressed), wrote in 1935 after reporting from Europe on both Hitler and Mussolini, as quoted by Helen Thomas:

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.”

Considering how fascism may one day come to America in future years, Thompson said in 1935:

“When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American. And nobody will ever say ‘Heil’ to him, nor will they call him Fuhrer or Duce. But they will greet him with one great big, universal, democratic sheeplike bleat of, ‘Okay, Chief!’”

While Ernest Hemingway was singularly unimpressed when he met Mussolini while reporting in Italy for The Toronto Daily Star—the dictator was avoiding discussions by pretending to read a book, but when Hemingway walked behind him to see what it was, he discovered Il Duce was holding an English-Italian dictionary upside down—most of the American press fell in love with Mussolini and Italian fascism throughout the 1920s.

The New York Times and The Saturday Evening Post (which serialized his autobiography) regularly wrote glowing articles about Mussolini in that era, believing that fascism presented less of a threat to Europe than did the then-growing communist movement that had seized Russia. The American Ambassador to Italy at the time, Richard Washburn Child, was positively giddy, calling Mussolini “a Spartan genius.”

A decade later, a more sober and informed American vice president who helped lead the war against Mussolini and his ally Hitler warned us of the possible rise of fascism in America and was removed from the Democratic ticket in 1944 for his efforts.

Although most Americans remember that Harry Truman was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Vice President when Roosevelt died in 1945 (making Truman President), Roosevelt had two previous Vice Presidents: John N. Garner (1933-1941) and Henry A. Wallace (1941-1945).

In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, “Write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?”

Vice President Wallace’s answer to those questions was published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan.

“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. …

“His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”

In this, Wallace was using the classic definition of the word “fascist,” the definition Mussolini had in mind when he claimed to have invented the word. As the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is:

“A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”

1983 American Heritage Dictionary. Photo credit: Thom Hartmann / Daily Kos

Mussolini was quite straightforward about all this. In a 1923 pamphlet titled The Doctrine of Fascism he wrote:

“If classical liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government.”

But not a government of, by, and for We the People: instead, it would be a government of, by, and for the most wealthy individuals and powerful corporate interests in the nation, seizing power by pitting the people against each other, inflaming political, racial, and religious conflict for political gain.

A government animated by scapegoating, vengeance, and hate.

Noting that, “Fascism is a worldwide disease,” Wallace further suggested that fascism’s “greatest threat to the United States will come after the war” and will manifest “within the United States itself.”

In a comment prescient of Donald Trump and the current GOP jeremiad against Black voters, banned books, drag shows, unions, critical race theory/Black history, and queer people, Vice President Wallace continued:

“The symptoms of fascist thinking are colored by environment and adapted to immediate circumstances. But always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power.

“It is no coincidence that the growth of modern tyrants has in every case been heralded by the growth of prejudice. It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination…”

But even at this, Wallace noted, American fascists would have to lie to the people to gain power. And, because they were in bed with some of the nation’s wealthiest people and largest corporations—who could assert control over newspapers and broadcast media—they would probably be able to promote their lies with ease.

It was as if Vice President Wallace had a time machine and could see today’s media landscape, with the billionaire Murdoch family’s Fox “News” and 1,500 rightwing hate-radio stations:

“The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact,” Wallace wrote. “Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy.”

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism that the Vice President of the United States saw bubbling under the surface in America, he added:

“They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.

“Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

As Wallace feared, Ronald Reagan’s 1981 embrace of neoliberalism gutted the American middle class and transferred much of their wealth to the top 1%, setting the stage for the rise of a populist fascist leader like Trump and his MAGA movement.

Over the four decades since the Reagan 1980s, the merely rich have become the morbidly rich while average working people have gone from a middle-class lifestyle being possible with a single income to two or more wage-earners being the now-necessary norm in American households.

This crisis of economic inequality has, predictably, led working-class whites to look for villains and scapegoats, and today’s MAGA GOP is happy to supply them. They’ve ginned up moral panics around trans kids, bathrooms, abortion, American history in our schools, and even affirmative action in our military, all to direct attention away from their embrace of fascism and their ongoing theft of over $50 trillion—so far—from the American middle class.

Using racism, faux nationalism, misogyny, homophobia, and the corruption of both democracy and the rule of law, Republicans are cementing their power in state after state with extreme voter suppression, voter roll purges, gerrymandering, dismantling of checks-and-balances, and packing the courts.

So here we are, with a wannabee Mussolini in the form of Donald Trump and his well-armed MAGA followers and his quisling toadies in Congress.

And, perhaps most telling, he got there with more than a little help from his good friend Vladimir Putin, whose oligarchs repeatedly bailed him out when he went bankrupt six times in the 1990s.

During his 2016 campaign for the White House, Trump had inked a secret deal with Putin to earn hundreds of millions of dollars by putting a hotel with his name on it in Moscow, and kept it concealed from the American public throughout the campaign.

But that wasn’t Trump’s first tryst with Russian intelligence. He’s been gung-ho for turning the US into an authoritarian state that Putin (then a mere intelligence officer) would love for more than 30 years.

Czechoslovakia’s Státní bezpečnost (StB) first started paying attention to Trump back in 1977—as documented by the German newspaper Bild when the StB’s files were declassified—because Trump married Czech model Ivana Zelnickova, his first wife, recently buried on his golf course in New Jersey.

Czechoslovakia at that time was part of the Warsaw Pact with the Soviet Union, and Ivana and her family had been raised as good communists. Now that a Czech citizen was married into a wealthy and prominent American family, the StB saw an opportunity and started tracking Trump virtually from his engagement.

As 2016 and 2018 investigations by The Guardian found:

“Ivana’s father, Miloš Zelníček, gave regular information to the local StB office about his daughter’s visits from the US and on his celebrity son-in-law’s career in New York. Zelníček was classified as a ‘conspiratorial’ informer. His relationship with the StB lasted until the end of the communist regime.”

In an investigative reporting breakthrough by Craig Unger for his book American Kompromat, Unger tracked down Uri Shvets, a former KGB spy who’d been posted to Washington DC for years using the cover of being a correspondent for the Soviet news agency TASS.

Shvets told the story—from his own personal knowledge—of how Trump and Ivana visited Moscow in 1987 and were essentially recruited or seduced by the KGB, a trip corroborated by Luke Harding in his book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.

Their trip was coordinated by Intourist, the Soviet travel agency that was a front for the KGB, and the Trumps’ handlers regaled Donald and Ivana with Soviet talking points, presumably about things like the horrors of NATO and how America should stop defending democracy around the world.

The KGB’s psychological profile of Trump had determined he was vulnerable to flattery and not much of a deep thinker, so they told him repeatedly how brilliant he was and that he should run for president in the US.

Much to the astonishment and jubilation of the KGB, Trump returned from Moscow to the US to give a Republican presidential campaign speech that fall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

He then purchased a large ad in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe on September 1, 1987 that questioned America’s ongoing support of Japan and NATO, both thorns in the side of the USSR and their Chinese allies.

Trump’s ad laid it on the line:

“Why are these nations not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests? … The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.”

As The Guardian reported in 2021:

“The bizarre intervention was cause for astonishment and jubilation in Russia. A few days later Shvets, who had returned home by now, was at the headquarters of the KGB’s first chief directorate in Yasenevo when he received a cable celebrating the ad as a successful ‘active measure’ executed by a new KGB asset.

“‘It was unprecedented,’ [Shvets said.] … It was hard to believe that somebody would publish it under his name and that it will impress real serious people in the west but it did and, finally, this guy became the president.’”

Trump was president, in large part, because he used Hillary Clinton’s emails that had been hacked by Russian intelligence services, who then ran a Facebook operation hyping that same information that reached into the homes of 26 million targeted Americans in 6 swing states, helping him win the Electoral College vote.

When he was Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort personally transmitted to Russian intelligence, via an oligarch he owed money to, details of top-secret GOP polling that could have identified persuadable swing-state voters.

Also, during that 2016 presidential campaign, an insider with Russian connections informed the Trump campaign that Russia had successfully hacked Hillary’s emails on behalf of Trump before the hack was revealed on Wikileaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Thus, in his first weeks in office, presumably as thanks for their help, Trump invited the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister to a covert meeting in the Oval Office and gave them top-secret information on a Middle Eastern spy about whom Russia had been concerned; that spy was then frantically “burned” by Israel.

That was followed by congressional members of his own party voting against compiling information about war crimes committed in Ukraine by Russia.

Senator Rand Paul then made a private trip to Russia to hand-deliver possibly stolen secret “documents” to Putin’s intelligence service; documents that had been personally handed to him in a sealed package by Trump.

Trump then had a series of nearly 20 secret telephone conversations with Putin (the records of what was said no longer exist) and then unilaterally—in defiance of both Congress and the law—blocked military aid to Ukraine while Russia was massing troops on its borders.

He followed up with a years-long campaign to destroy NATO, which was Russia’s top military concern. And he openly praised and deferred to Putin while trash-talking American intelligence services at Helsinki and in other venues.

Which is why when Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller looked into the extent of Russian involvement in the 2016 election and Trump’s collusion with Putin, he:

  • Found that Russian interference in the 2016 election was “sweeping and systemic.”
  • Brought indictments for helping Russia steal the election for Trump against 37 individuals including six Trump advisers and 26 Russian nationals, secured seven guilty pleas or convictions, and found “compelling evidence” that Trump himself had stonewalled or lied to investigators and “obstructed justice on multiple occasions.”
  • Referred 14 criminal matters to the Justice Department, where Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General—who’d helped President George HW Bush cover up the Iran/Contra Treason Scandal—ignored them and let them lapse.
  • Uncovered five specific examples of Trump, as president, criminally obstructing justice in ways that could easily have been prosecuted if Bill Barr hadn’t buried them.

When Trump ran for re-election in 2020, Russia again came to his aid, this time by hacking Hunter Biden’s iPhone and iCloud accounts, both looking for and trying to plant damaging information suggesting Biden’s father was corrupt, as I documented here yesterday.

Russian social media troll farms and their GOP allies then spread lies about Joe and Hunter Biden across social media in the months before the 2020 election.

When Trump nevertheless lost, Russian intelligence officers used social media to amplify his claims the election was stolen, leading to plans for a coup involving the assassination of Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Pelosi on January 6, 2021.

The FBI—in part, during Trump’s time in office—compiled material for a report concluding that:

“Throughout the [2020] election, Russia’s online influence actors sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in ballots, highlighting alleged irregularities, and accusing the Democratic Party of voter fraud.”

Attorney general Merrick Garland appears to have ignored these crimes for the first two years of the Biden administration. He could’ve picked up the work Robert Mueller started, but chose not to. Nobody knows why.

There also have been no prosecutions, and apparently no investigations, of senior Trump administration officials and members of Congress who colluded with the former president in this plot.

Similarly, Senator Chuck Schumer has shown no inclination toward setting up an investigative committee at the Senate that, like the Church Committee of old, could investigate the crimes of a previous president.

At least, though, President Biden is now pushing back, loudly and in public. Better late than never.

He wrapped up his speech yesterday by saying:

“As I’ve said before, we’re at an inflection point in our history—one of those moments that only happens once every few generations. Where the decisions we make today will determine the course of this country—and the world—for decades to come.

“So, you, me, and every American who is committed to preserving our democracy carry a special responsibility. We have to stand up for America’s values embodied in our Declaration of Independence because we know MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t. We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because MAGA extremists have made clear they won’t.

“History is watching. The world is watching. Most important, our children and grandchildren are watching.”

Trump and his fascist MAGA movement represent the most serious threat America has faced since World War II.

And, as President Biden noted, it’s going to be up to us to rescue our nation from the treasonous Republicans who are trying to destroy American democracy while they bow and scrape and kiss the ring of The Rapist Who Would Be King.

We have a lot of work to do, and despair is not an option. Pass it along!​

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

Follow Us

Subscribe for Updates!

Subscribe for Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This