O ye fair ones

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

(Mormon 8:35)

I am driven to read and understand the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures for a number of reasons. Doing my doctoral thesis on the topic is part of that. But more importantly than this – and a major part of the reason I’ve been willing to spend years on this in the first place – is the fact that I’ve had a spiritual witness that it is scripture, that it is the word of God. As such I know that they contain principles of eternal worth, as well as things that are prophetically relevant to our present day.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, there are parts of the Book of Mormon that I believe have never been more relevant than they are today. While part of the message of the Book of Mormon is one of hope and deliverance for scattered Israel (including the descendents of the Lamanites), that deliverance is coupled with the promise of judgment upon the proud, the wicked and the Gentiles that have oppressed them:

For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

(1 Nephi 22:15-17)

I’ve likewise discussed before how this warning applies particularly to the Gentile nations of the West, and especially to the United States. The accounts of the destruction of the Nephites and afterwards (in the book, earlier chronologically) the Jaredites are there not just because they’re part of the story, but as dire warnings of what we risk. They’re in the book so that “ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Mormon 9:31) and “that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done” (Ether 2:11).

 

“Be more wise than we have been”

One could examine both the fall of the Nephites and that of the Jaredites at length, but even just a few of their salient features are striking. The Jaredites destroyed themselves in the last of a constant series of civil wars. And while many of those civil wars can be laid at the feet of ambitious princes (it appears it was the custom for the youngest son to inherit, which would promote strife between older sons who could be disinherited and their fathers), at the end it was the communal will of the people that pushed them on into mutual annihilation. Coriantumr, that last and complicated king of the Jaredites, had grown to regret his failure to repent, and offered to “give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people” (Ether 15:3-4). His opponent Shiz demanded Coriantumr’s own life, but we don’t even hear of Coriantumr’s response; rather it is “the people”, both of Coriantumr and Shiz, who were “stirred up to anger” (Ether 15:5-6). It is because of “the wilfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge” that the Jaredite people perished (Moroni 9:23).

Our account of the Nephites is explicitly censored by our chief witness (Mormon 2:18), but enough slips through (especially in unedited passages like Moroni 9) to provide a sufficient picture. The Nephites faced an external enemy, the Lamanites, who by this stage were prepared to commit atrocities such as human sacrifice (Mormon 4:14). Yet despite this outer peril, it was not this which destroyed the Nephites. “Because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake” (Mormon 1:17), and they sorrowed, not because they were penitent but because “the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” (Mormon 2:13). They “did curse God, and wish to die”, though “they would struggle with the sword for their lives” (Mormon 2:14; perhaps we might the latter admirable, yet that is perhaps a sign of how far we have fallen). In but “a few years” they became “strong in their perversion”, “brutal”, “without principle and past feeling” and “their wickedness [did] exceed that of the Lamanites” (Moroni 9:12, 19-20).

But perhaps the most crucial turning point came after a ten year truce and the resumption of the war. Lead by Mormon, the Nephites defeated several attacks. Their response was fateful:

And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.

And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.

And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying:

Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth.

(Mormon 3:9-10, 14-15)

The Nephites fell because of their pride (Mormon 8:27, D&C 38:39), because rather than repent of their sins they desired to avenge themselves upon their enemies, and in so doing so violated God’s commandments (including those restricting warfare) wantonly. “Every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually” (Mormon 4:11), and consequently the Lord’s spirit ceased to strive with them (Mormon 5:16), and when that happens “then cometh speedy destruction” (2 Nephi 26:11).

 

“I speak unto you as if ye were present”

How can one miss the meaning of these passages? Mormon and Moroni write with one eye on their past and present, but always with one eye to the future they are seeking to warn. For the Gentiles too face the same fate unless they repent:

And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?

Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll?

Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

(Mormon 5:22-24)

I have watched the US Presidential campaign with intense concern. On one side there is the increasing madness on the campuses and the anger expressed by those who claim to seek “social justice” even as they detach themselves from any concepts of objective truth. On the other, I have watched as people have embraced a figure who appears to reject every principle they claim they embraced, a man who is an inveterate and pathological liar and one who has boasted of his adulteries. I have seen that candidate advocate torture and insist he will order war crimes, and his ratings go up. I have heard even worse from some of his supporters, many of whom (even those who aren’t actual Nazis) embrace a proto-fascism. I have seen and read many of his supporters talk of their “anger”, their desire for vengeance on their perceived enemies, and their belief that everything – including any kind of moral principle – comes second to raw power and making America “great” again.

It is perhaps little surprising that the word of God says of the latter days that “at that day shall he [the devil] rage in the hearts of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Nephi 28:20). I have felt that temptation myself as I have seen these things. But anger and pride will destroy us, as they destroyed the Nephites who sought to make Nephitia great again.

One cannot establish justice – any justice – without truth. One cannot make a nation truly great unless you also seek for it to be good, a principle understood by at least some patriots of old. Yet these seem little understood now. On the right, a few voices still speak out speaking against Trump. My respect for those voices – figures such as the Bush clan, Mitt Romney, Senator Ben Sasse or political commentators such as Jonah Goldberg – has increased significantly. But they seem increasingly lonely as much of the ‘base’ and political establishment fall in line, and they are vilified as “evil”; truly we live in an age in which men “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Our societies are embracing evil.

I cannot claim to know with perfection what the future brings, but I am pessimistic as to the future of the United States and the West as a whole. I believe events like this present election have been a test, and a test that collectively is being failed. But I also believe there is an individual test here, and where people stand on many of these things will be remembered and accounted for. I have been very glad to see that many Latter-day Saints have rejected the siren song of Trumpism, and I hope Utah and other places continue to do so. For those members who I have seen embrace Trump’s campaign, who I have seen express the view that all acts are acceptable in warfare because the only thing that matters is winning, and who have embraced a campaign built on national aggrandizement without principle, I hope that they look again upon the Book of Mormon. I hope they look and see an all too familiar path and turn away from it, because to support these things is to pull down the wrath of God upon ourselves.

There may be little hope for the West as a whole. All civilizations are ultimately mortal. Yet there is still hope, and always is, for the souls within, which are truly eternal, and so we must continue to labour (Moroni 9:6). But this is a period in which – in many different ways – those souls will have to choose, and many of those choices will have eternal significance, regardless of where the rest of society goes. There is also a work that perhaps we should now turn to with increasing seriousness and determination, namely the work of building Zion; something, which should now be apparent, which is not the culmination of the West but its replacement. I plan to turn to that sometime in the next couple of posts. In the meantime, however, one can perhaps still mourn for the tragedy of where our civilization is and where it appears to be going. In Mormon’s words:

O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!

Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.

O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!

But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return.

(Mormon 6:17-20)

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Why Trumpism is proto-fascistic

I am somewhat relieved that Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, although that by no means knocks him out of a race in which he still leads the polls. I’ve made little secret elsewhere that I regard his candidacy as a disaster, although that by no means makes me a fan of many of the others. Cruz consistently seems a little off and until recently he was particularly pusillanimous in his sucking up to Trump (although I doubt he’s the “Manitoban Candidate”), and as for Hillary Clinton, one of the most openly corrupt and autocratic of US politicians? Well I’ve repeatedly referred to a hypothetical Trump-Clinton contest as Aliens vs Predator: “whichever side wins, we lose”.

Trump however does come into a special category by himself. I don’t know whether he actually believes half of what he’s saying, especially as in many cases he’s expressed the opposite opinion in the last couple of years. But he does seem, in both his business and highly publicised (by himself) personal life, to have a very flexible attitude towards keeping commitments. Moreover, while I have a pessimistic outlook on the future of the West, I think Trump’s observable temperament means that any presidency of his could risk accelerating the risk of world war three (and consequent collapse of world trade) from some time in the next decade to within the next eighteen months.

But while Donald Trump is a demagogue and a reality tv star who knows how to pander to a crowd, he’s not a fascist. Some of his followers may be even more worrying. Trump’s political career may (and I stress may) also be on a downward slope. Yet Trumpism may live on. Trump’s rivals doubtless have to try and secure the support of at least some of them, and so may tamper any criticisms. I, however, am neither running for office nor am even American, so I can say what I like.

Yet I am not seeking to merely make a lazy accusation here (and there have been a few). I don’t think all, or even most of Trump’s supporters are driven by racism; I believe the increased visibility of some self-proclaimed “white nationalists” are the work of noisy and poisonous minority. When I accuse “Trumpism” of being “proto-fascistic”, I am referring to certain common threads I’ve seen among a range of Trump supporters, and I am not using fascism in the discredited sense (even in George Orwell’s time) of “something I don’t like”. Nor am I using it in the sense in which it is often used by left-wing groups as “a slur against something right-wing”; an often hypocritical charge, since left-wing political extremism is just a bloody, and here in Britain at least it is Labour who are compromising most on this front with the appointment of people like Seumus Milne, who is an apologist for Stalin’s genocides.

But there are certain common strands to fascistic groups (which – in my view – includes National Socialism, although that had its own rather particular features such as its obsession with race). Some in particular seem – in my view, and in an early, undeveloped state – to find regular expression amongst Trump supporters:

1) “He’s a strong leader”:- Trump is not the most consistent of ideological champions. He has, even in the last couple of years, been on both sides of issues that many Republicans, including his supporters, have said are important: immigration (he felt Romney in 2012 – who did not propose mass expulsions – was too anti-immigrant, now it’s his main issue); health care (he praised single-payer health care – seeming anathema to Republicans who reject Obamacare – in on of the Republican presidential debates last year); abortion (was strongly “pro-choice” until very recently) and many others. It’s difficult to find a policy, or a person (such as his opinions and support for Hillary Clinton – or more recently Ted Cruz), that he hasn’t been on both sides of. The only issue he appears to be consistent on are his protectionist instincts.

Yet any past and indeed present heterodoxies are excused on the basis of him being “a strong leader”. That they are so easily excused is quite baffling, especially when some of his supporters have generally been extremely purist in their approach to politicians in the past, and in fact still are. It’s only on Trump that such rules are relaxed. Indeed, some of his supporters seem willing to change their views to whatever he supports (although the same goes for some of his opponents)! In any case, however, this denigration of abstract principle in favour of appealing to “strength” or perceived “alpha male” qualities is characteristic of (although by no means limited to) fascistic movements. Any inconsistencies or problems with the leader are dismissed out of hand, as with the Führerprinzip, principles are for “losers”.

2) “The Establishment”:- One reason any such inconsistencies is dismissed is because of the perceived impurities of the chosen scapegoat. The Trump campaign and its followers have scapegoated a variety of targets – Mexicans (despite most illegal immigrants now being visa overstays), Muslims (as much as I discourage naivety, picking a fight with all Muslims – most of whom aren’t terrorists – seems stupid) – but none has achieved more mythic proportions than the shadowy “establishment”, who simultaneously are all powerful but cannot get their supposed favourite Jeb Bush higher than a couple of percent in the polls. Despite there being a multitude of other candidates, this “establishment” is supposedly firmly united in their desire to beat Trump so they can lose to Hillary.

It is moreover the “establishment” that are to blame for Obama’s policies, because they didn’t stop him (that Obama is using executive orders, or that to impeach him you’d need a political case strong enough to persaude about a third of Democratic senators to vote for impeachment too are mere details – see below). Nor can they do anything right – Paul Ryan is blamed for passing a spending bill that includes funds to Planned Parenthood, despite him being the first to actually get a bill defunding Planned Parenthood to Obama’s desk, and despite the fact that Trump himself is not in favour of defunding Planned Parenthood. Likewise anyone can belong to the “establishment”, including people praised by the Tea Party just a couple of years ago, while anyone who praises Trump is not “establishment”, no matter how rich and established they may be.

It is a characteristic fascistic tendency to blame present (real or perceived) problems on the malice of shadowy adversaries or outgroups. The Nazis obviously went for racial classifications, but other varieties of fascism show that need not be a factor (Italy, until German pressure prevailed, actually did far more to protect Jews from their ally than, say, Vichy France: 80% of Italian Jews survived). But there is always some group held responsible for the “stab in the back” (the “white nationalists” who have jumped on the Trump bandwagon do of course take a racial approach, including anti-semitism, but again this does not characterize more than a minority of Trump supporters).

3) “He fights”:- Linked to this is the supposed contrast between Trump and “the establishment”: that “he fights!” Fighting apparently solves everything – I have seen repeatedly the response when presented with the arithmetic on impeachment the assertion that if Republicans simply “fought”, they’d get what they want. The mental plan appears to go like this: a) Obama does something b) we “fight” c) ????? d) we win! Similar suggestions are given for election campaigns, as if its simply enough to “fight” the media and the voters, rather than trying to persuade some of the voters to vote for you. Trumps virtue is that he always “fights”. And his followers want a fight.

Fortunately this is violence in a purely rhetorical sense (although Ted Cruz’s proposal regarding ISIS seems to dabble in a similar fallacy that victory is simply a case of dropping more and more explosives). But the valorisation of violence, of “fighting” and of struggle is again characteristic of fascistic modes of thought, including the belief that it is the only, and indeed a sufficient solution (it’s doubtless the line that “violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor” that cause people to misdiagnose Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as a fascist book, although I’d believe that to be mistaken). “Fighting” solves everything, and so whether Trump “fights” is the important criterion. Few seem to stop and ask “but what is Trump fighting for“?

4) “He’s a winner”:- Linked with the above is that “he’s a winner”. Trump “wins”, and thus he’ll win for his supporters, and again that’s the principle thing. That should have hopefully taken a hit since he actually lost Iowa, though there’s still 49 contests to go and there seems to be a willingness to believe in conspiracy theories (including a ridiculous one where Marco Rubio conspired with Microsoft to go from third place to a closer third place) to explain this apparent not winning. Trump has made this explicitly part of his appeal (“There will be so much winning when I’m elected, you may get bored of winning” – hopefully no one has accused him of being a poet). Implicit (and explicit in the words of a number of his supporters) is the idea that the means don’t matter – it’s okay if Trump resorts to dubious campaign tactics, fights dirty or using extra-constitutional executive orders once in office – if he “wins”. I don’t know if it’s at all necessary to go into this – fascistic movements believed any means were fair if it brought about the desired results (hence their poor track record, amongst other things, of abiding by treaties). Incidentally, I believe this is one of the real connections between Nietzsche and the Nazis. He wasn’t a fascist, and so those scholars who have contested his association with fascism and/or Nazism have a point. The problem with Nietzsche is that the only coherent moral critique you could make of the Nazis based on his philosophy is that they lost.

5) “Make America great again”:- Finally, Trump’s campaign and his supporters indulge in outright nationalism. This characteristic is a widespread feature of fascistic movements, though it is not exclusive: it is the accumulation of these traits, rather than any single one, that leads me to characterise the Trump movement as “proto-fascist”. Certainly a number of his supporters (and not just the “white nationalist” fringe) are attracted by his notion of improving American power, stopping immigration and reversing perceived unfair trade relationships, and I’ve certain seen a few openly acknowledge that he isn’t a “conservative”, but this is outweighed by him being a “nationalist”.

Personally, I believe there’s a distinction between patriotism and nationalism – the former I believe a virtue, while the latter, particularly in its extreme variants, verges on idolatry, especially when it is the nation that becomes the highest virtue. A nationalist is not necessarily a fascist or a proto-fascist (indeed Trump himself is far too incoherent and individualist to be either himself, although I don’t think resembling Andrew Jackson is a good thing either), but its an often universal feature because it presents some collective good that overrides other principles. And indeed, I’ve seen at least a few Trump supporters arguing that the nation must come first, before any other principles.

As stated, a lot of these features are in an early, undeveloped state. In isolation, they may well simple be features of other political tendencies (such as Jacksonianism – though the Trail of Tears argues against taking that as a benign tendency). But together, you have the beginnings of a movement with definite proto-fascist tendencies. With any luck it’ll peter out along with Trump’s own political career. I do not think, however, that this can be regarded with an entirely tranquil gaze.

As for the fringe “white nationalists”, well I hope they go back to what internet abyss they came from. It is perhaps ironic, however, that as much as such people put on an “internet tough guy” approach that they’d have been the first victims of something like “the Night of Long Knives”.