Sam Goldman interviews Matthew Rozsa (@MatthewRozsa) about his recent article for Salon.com: Trump’s Big Lie and Hitler’s: Is this how America’s slide into totalitarianism begins? which reads in part:
“The Germans who ‘believed’ in Hitler’s Big Lie did so not because he had any proof that Germany had been stabbed in the back, but because they hated Jews, hated leftists and wanted to restore the German Empire to its pre-World War I glory. The Republicans who ‘believe’ in Trump’s Big Lie do so not because there is any logical argument that Biden stole the election, but because they don’t want to admit that a majority of Americans do not support their policies. In order to stay in power, they need to disenfranchise racial minorities, low-income voters and anyone else who might be inclined not to support Republican politicians.”
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Matthew Rozsa 00:00
We need to understand just how abnormal Trump’s behavior is. There are thresholds which Trump has crossed that none of his predecessors did. We’ve never had a sitting president lose an election and flat out refuse to give up power. His fascism really is about giving people who have these toxic ideas, a way of expressing themselves.
Sam Goldman 00:24
Welcome to the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers, and host of this show. Today, we’re talking with Matthew Rozsa, about Trump’s big lie, the continuation of the fascist movement in the U.S., and how they’ve taken a page straight from Hitler’s playbook to use this big lie to advance their cause, even as they don’t control the White House anymore.
But first, we have to address the unrelenting tragedy of the murder of Black and brown people by the police in this country. We have to grapple with the enduring and embedded legacy of white supremacy, as documented by the website mappingpoliceviolence.org, the rate of police murder in the US has not decreased in 2021. In fact, there have only been three days in 2021 where the police did not kill someone. While there are uneven rates of unjust violence, depending on the jurisdiction, what remains true year after year, is the percentage of Black people murdered by police completely outpaces other ethnic groups. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. If this was another country, people would be demanding the UN step in and disarm the US police before they killed again. Instead, we are told to be calm and wait to see what the official police report describes as yet another person loses their life. It’s beyond ludicrous at this point, as video after video of the death of an unarmed person is released. The latest video being this horrible video of a 13 year old child in Chicago, Adam Toledo, shot with his hands up.
Personally, I feel that now is a time for pure rage, because it didn’t matter that he was a child. Because it didn’t matter that his hands were up because there are too many mothers mourning their stolen sons, because I believe you can’t reform a system that sends its enforcers to chase down and kill children. And this is why I think one of the many reasons why I think you need a revolution, nothing less. It’s right that people call out the lie of compliance and unjustness. Between the way Black folks are routinely treated by the police and the way that deadly white mob was treated when clearly not complying as they stormed the Capitol. As writer Jeff Sharlet pointed out on Twitter: “Remember, flashbangs were not allowed to be used against the white supremacist mob of 9000 that attempted to overthrow the US Congress, but for people protesting police executions of civilians?” We will continue to follow these stories and encourage our listeners to join in protests demanding justice near you this week, and in the weeks to come.
On a related note, as most of our listeners are aware, there was a proposal for an America First caucus announced on Friday. While this seems to now be stopped, or at least stalled, it’s important to touch on in relation to our continued discussion of this revenge filled trumpist movement. As documented by numerous historians of the US most recently and eloquently by Sarah Churchwell, “America First” is a slogan rooted in the most explicitly racist, xenophobic, and overtly fascist strands of US politics. Specifically, the rebirth of the KKK in the early years of the 20th Century. So when Q-Anon conspiracy peddler Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Trump’s bulldog Matt Gaetz announced this week the formation of a new America First Caucus in the House of Representatives, we must recognize the naked white supremacy that represented with its calls for the, “assimilation of worthy immigrants,” and an institutionalization of white, “Anglo Saxon Protestant traditions” in this country. What this tradition it’s the three-fifths rule, it’s the Dred Scott decision, it’s white impunity, and the lack of any rights of Black people that any white man is compelled to respect. For all the talk of freedom from these America Firsters it’s freedom for white people, and the most brutal subjugation of everyone else.
Now, my interview with Matthew Rozsa, taped earlier today, In today’s episode, we’re talking with Matthew Rosza, staff writer for Salon and fellow Pennsylvanian to discuss his recent article Trump’s Big Lie, and Hitler’s Is this How America’s Slide into Totalitarianism Begins? Welcome, Matthew. Thanks for joining us.
Matthew Rozsa 06:06
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Sam Goldman 06:09
In your article, you detail how Hitler undermined democracy by lying about World War I, and how Trump wants to do it by lying about the 2020 election. So let’s start with what prompted you to write this? Why does this matter as we approach almost three months of him being out of power? Why can’t we just, as some have argued, move on?
Matthew Rozsa 06:32
There is an immediate answer, and there is also a longer view that I’ve taken on the subject. The immediate answer is that Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election are being used as a justification for voter suppression initiatives throughout the United States. There is currently a bill that needs to be passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden, which is held up due to filibustering, which is another subject that I’ve covered in my writing for Salon. For that legislation to get through, people need to realize the path that we’re on. People need to exert pressure on our legislature so that they will appreciate we’re not just talking about specific electoral reforms, we’re talking about rolling back a movement, which is fascistic in nature and based on a big lie. And the reason I drew that parallel is because after World War I, Hitler infamously claimed that a conspiracy of Jews and socialists and other supposedly nefarious elites had stabbed Germany in the back, and if they had not done so, Germany would have won the war. And that was used as the starting point for gradually disenfranchising and oppressing millions of people before, eventually, Hitler rose to power and created the Third Reich. And I fear and believe that we are in a similar situation. So that’s the immediate reason to place these voter suppression efforts into that broader context by identifying the parallel between the big lie regarding World War I and the big lie regarding the 2020 election.
The longer view perspective, and I’ve written many pieces about this as well, is we need to understand just how abnormal Trump’s behavior is. And I say this as someone who would argue that America has never really been a democracy, has never really been a free country. I think it’s important when we criticize Trump to not normalize or defend the people who came before him as a way of doing so. But at the same time to recognize that there are thresholds which Trump has crossed that none of his predecessors did, which is an objective statement. The big threshold is we’ve never had a sitting president lose an election and flat out refuse to give up power. There have been 10 sitting presidents who sought another term and lost. Some of them handled it gracefully, some of them behaved petulantly, but none of them simply said, “I’m not leaving.” None of them tried to undermine the legitimacy of their successor’s victory. And that threshold in particular, I consider important. Like I said, this does not mean that we haven’t had fascistic presidents before Trump. I would argue that George W. Bush had fascistic qualities, that Reagan had fascistic qualities. I would argue that any society which systematically disenfranchises people based on the color of their skin, based on their income status, based on their sex all of which has happened in this country has always had a potential to be fascistic. But we need to balance that knowledge that fear-eyed view of America’s past with an understanding of how Trump is different. And the big lie that he is told about the 2020 election has no precedent in our history.
Sam Goldman 10:24
It’s a really important point that the continuity of the past can negate this departure from which you actually can’t return to a sense of normal – whatever you think normal is – once you are discounting the votes of millions of people. The overwhelming majority of Trump voters, a population numbering over 74 million people, actually believe that conspiracy theory-driven lie that this election was stolen from Trump and that this lie centers on supposed voter fraud concentrated in urban, heavily Black populated areas. Not only are these people completely inoculated against any facts or evidence that contradicts that, and any other fascist lie that Trump might have told them or may continue to tell them, they are convinced to their core that Trump was betrayed and victimized by institutions, laws and norms of government that obstructed his fascist coup.
Even after the deadly storming of the Capitol, all of this is fueling and I believe will continue to fuel, a growing fascist determination to further assault and shatter these institutions and norms and carry out violence driven by white supremacy, misogyny, and xenophobia. I think that you’re pointing to the voter suppression is one that we need to continue to pay attention to. In your article, you wrote that millions of people believed Hitler’s big lie because they held more sinister beliefs, namely genocidal anti-Semitism, a lust for empire and everything we know of the Nazi ideology. Those beliefs didn’t start with a big lie, but the big lie help transform those general vague impotent beliefs into an actionable program. And I’m hoping that you can talk more about why you see this as the key thing to understand and how Trump took a page from the Hitler playbook around this big lie.
Matthew Rozsa 12:19
I think to understand that, we have to go back to something you pointed out earlier in your question regarding how a majority of self-identified Republicans say they believe Biden stole the election. I’m not sure if believe is exactly how I would put it. I think they say this for the same reason that Hitler’s supporters said Germany had been stabbed in the back during World War I, which is ideologically convenient, because it provides them with a justification to support policies that would otherwise be transparently unjustifiable. And one of the proofs of this is that very often in these polls, these individuals will express opinions that contradict each other. For instance, they will claim that antifa was behind the Capitol riots, but then they’ll say that the riots were peaceful, but then they’ll say that Trump was right for egging on the rioters, but then they’ll say that Trump had nothing to do with it. All of these things cannot be true at once. The consistent pattern is they want to create a society, as you put it very astutely, that is white nationalist, that is patriarchal, that is capitalistic, because they view themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. And they’re going to believe what Trump tells them to believe, because they’re sucked into his cult of personality, and on an emotional level are convinced that casting their lot with Trump, and with his fictional narrative, will ultimately benefit themselves and their agenda.
And that brings me to an article I wrote back in December for Salon called “Trump, the Fascist Artist,” in which I quoted a Marxist philosopher from the 1930s named Walter Benjamin. And Benjamin said, and I’m now quoting in its entirety, “Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in getting these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations. Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.” I feel that quote is very relevant to Trump. And when I say that Trump is a performance artist, again, I’m stating an objective fact. I think his artistic sensibility, so to speak is tacky and vulgar. But, the reality is what has he provided his supporters? He hasn’t passed policies that have helped them. His main priorities as president included cramming the judiciary full of conservatives and passing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy, neither of which were on his movement’s wish list when they supported him. But what he provides them with is the ability to express themselves, the ability to trigger the libs, the ability to troll people, the ability to say, “I’m not politically correct and proud of it.” “I won’t wear your mask, even though the public health officials say that I should.” “I won’t respect the rights of individuals who have been marginalized historically, even though I know that’s the right thing to do.” “I will instead emulate Trump in terms of his rhetoric, in terms of wearing that red hat.” And following this cult of personality these created — I mean, Trump from the days when he was a real estate developer and covered his buildings and brass, through his reality TV show career — has always been a performer. And his fascism really is about giving people who have these toxic ideas, a way of expressing themselves, and feeling a sense of solidarity through their unity behind his cult of personality, while simultaneously advancing an agenda that only helps groups which already have power, and doing so through anti- democratic means, because the democratic process would inevitably empower enough people who oppose fascism to stop individuals like Trump and his supporters.
Sam Goldman 16:40
I wanted to just touch on one of the things that you were getting at in your response, which was what happens to the truth in what people say is the truth versus what is the truth? I think that we’ve really seen a bludgeoning of epistemological integrity, the notion that the truth is the truth, no matter its implications. I think we have a situation right now, where tens of millions of people were led to deny basic facts of reality, and to take up literally lunatic ideas, each time more insane than the previous one, even if they conflict with each other. Part of that is the insanity of it is that they can’t logically both be true, but they still insist on that. And I think you look at like a [Josh] Hawley character, and the fact that it’s an act of absolute self-deception and deception of others, that because one’s constituents, who have deep hatred for whole groups of people and tons of ignorance, think that something happened, no matter how outlandish and ridiculous, say, “Oh, we got to hear their grievances. We got to hear it. We’ve got to prevent the law from being implemented. We need to have an investigation.” All of that being part of the assault on what is true, and what lasting damage that has. You talked a little bit about this earlier, but I wanted to explore it a little bit more. Trump didn’t invent white supremacy or misogyny or American supremacy. You spoke about that. But has he changed their role in our society? And if so, how do you see that?
Matthew Rozsa 18:16
I would say the most objective measurement, and I apologize for repeating myself, is his response to the 2020 election. Because, again, voter suppression measures are nothing new on the American political scene. His brutalization of immigrants, while deplorable and deserving of 100% condemnation is, again, sadly, not new on the American political scene. The 2020 election really is an area where you can just look at every other president who has lost an election and say they didn’t do this, but Trump did. That’s why I think I focus on this one so much, because it’s indisputable. There’s no arguing that one of Trump’s ten predecessors who lost an election did the same thing. They didn’t. The closest analogy, and I wrote about this as well, in an article, it’s called, “It’s Not the First Time that an Outgoing President Refused to Work with an Incoming One.” I wrote that in November, and it compared Trump to President James Buchanan. Buchanan was president in 1860, and allowed the South to secede from the Union, thereby causing the Civil War because they rejected Lincoln’s victory in that election. Buchanan was an open racist who believed in white supremacy. He clearly was sympathetic to secessionists and therefore, was directly responsible for the immediate conditions that ultimately led to the Civil War. And that, like I said, was in turn prompted by a group of white supremacists rejecting the result of a legitimate election, which Lincoln won in 1860. Having said that, Buchanan himself was not running for re-election. He never said “I’ll refuse to step down. This election is illegitimate. Lincoln wasn’t the true winner.” He just sympathized with the South in saying that they wanted to form their own country rather than live under a nation led by President Lincoln. So that’s the closest analogy. But even then, Buchanan wasn’t trying to become a dictator. He was just a white supremacist who allowed a civil war to break out. The 1860 election is the closest analogy I can think of, to the 2020 election in terms of just that precedent of not accepting the result unless you win.
Sam Goldman 20:36
In the piece that we’re focusing on today, “Trump’s Big Lie and Hitler’s,” you wrote, “anyone who doesn’t stand up to that big lie today would have likely been complicit in Hitler’s big lie last century. Anyone who actually believes Trump’s big lie…do I need to finish that sentence?” In the conclusion of your article you write “the path of enabling Trump’s big lie is the way of fascism.” I’m hoping that you can talk more about that, and how you see this big lie continuing to be enabled, and a little bit more on what you think that people can be or should be doing to combat that.
Matthew Rozsa 21:13
First, the reason I wrote that sentence about, if you believe Trump’s lying about the 2020 election, you would have believed Hitler is because I’m getting my PhD in history. I already have my master’s. And often people will ask, you know, I think, “what side would I have been on during this great moment in history when it was good versus evil?” And obviously, most people want to imagine they would have been on the good side. But we have the same questions today, the same issues. To use another example, if you don’t support Black Lives Matter now, chances are you wouldn’t have been marching with Martin Luther King 60 years ago. Because it’s the exact same issue. And the reason I made that observation is because Trump is pulling a Hitler. He is telling a big lie. There is not a shred of evidence that Biden’s victory was illegitimate, just as there wasn’t a shred of evidence that Germany was stabbed in the back during World War I. And it is the fact that there is literally no evidence, so the people making these claims have to lie wholesale, fabricate entire narratives and bodies of evidence just to promote a complete fiction. Their agenda, the reason they’re doing it is so that they can oppress marginalized groups that yes, that’s why I wrote that sentence. You can’t say “I would have opposed Hitler if I lived in Germany 100 years ago,” while simultaneously supporting what Trump is doing in America right now. And I would make the same argument about people who oppose Black Lives Matter in 2021. You can’t say “I would have opposed segregation 60 years ago,” when an analogous issue today is going unaddressed in your own mind.
In terms of what people can do to combat the big lie, I think just calling it out as a big lie, acknowledging that there is no legitimacy. Because you said something earlier that I thought was quite insightful, where you said that it’s just this war on truth, this war on facts. People of goodwill can look at the same set of facts and disagree about their conclusions. But once you cross that line into just making things up, it becomes impossible to really have a conversation. So I guess what I’m saying is for people who already believe in Trump’s big lie, many of them are lost causes. I hate to be that blunt, but many of them are never going to admit that they’re wrong. They are emotionally invested in this. They’re politically invested in this. They’re never going to accept that there is no evidence whatsoever that in order to believe their big lie, you would have to imagine a grand conspiracy involving hundreds of people, many of them Republicans, many of them Trump supporters appointed by Trump himself, including Attorney General William Barr and Vice President Mike Pence and the entire Supreme Court. You would have to believe that everyone was conspiring. It’s ridiculous. But you’re never going to convince people who hear those facts and are like, “nope, Biden actually lost,” that they’re wrong. But what you can do by constantly calling it a big lie is make it clear to people who aren’t already in the cult, that this is a cult, that it is no more intellectually legitimate to claim that Trump won in 2020 than it is to claim that L. Ron Hubbard was right in creating the Church of Scientology. Watch, I’m going to get sued by the Church of Scientology for saying that. But you know what? I think that’s a fair comparison. Both are completely groundless. Both have no basis in reality. Both are cults.
Sam Goldman 24:46
You spoke earlier about how you see the connection between this wave of voter suppression laws and the connection between that and the big lie. So I’m wondering how do you see combating this continuation in many ways of the big lie through voter suppression.
Matthew Rozsa 25:06
I would say just raising awareness, making it clear that this is a lie. When people claim that there was massive, widespread fraud, that is simply untrue, qnd that by perpetuating that lie, laying the foundations for hurting other people. And maybe that’s a good way of putting it, you’re not just saying, oh, you believe one thing, and I believe something else, you are believing something that exists for the sole purpose of hurting other people. It doesn’t exist because Trump woke up on Election Day 2020 and said, “Hey, something fishy is going on here.” It exists because Trump and the Republican Party and his supporters want to have power for the foreseeable future. And this lie is their path to doing so.
Sam Goldman 25:57
I want to thank you, Matthew, for joining us and having this important conversation. You can follow him on twitter @MatthewRozsa, and you can read him over at Salon.com. You can find a link to his article “Trump’s Big Lie and Hitler’s, Is This How America’s Slide into Totalitarianism Begins?”
Thanks for listening to Episode 55 of the Refuse Fascism podcast. I hope you’ll subscribe to stay in touch and rate and review the show to help us reach more listeners. And yes, you can chip in to support the show by donating at RefuseFascism.org. I want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on this episode, the show in general, your ideas for topics and guests. questions you have. Connect with me on twitter @SamBGoldman, or email Samantha [email protected] fascism.org. If you haven’t listened yet to our 50th episode, we highly recommend checking it out. It features Dr. Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum in Germany, an author of “Learning from the Germans Confronting Race and the Memory of Evil,” along with Daryl Lamont Jenkins, Executive Director of the One People’s Project. And if you want to hear more about the wave of voter suppression, looking to understand the white supremacy at its core, listen to Episode 53, which features an interview with Bishop Talbert Swan. Again, thanks for listening, and I’ll be back next Sunday with more. Thanks as always to Richie Marini and Lina Thorne for helping to co-produce this episode. As always, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America! Stay safe, not silent.