The Rise of Trump: Fascism 101

trump

I regularly identify Donald Trump as a fascist, or a neo-fascist (by which I simply mean “modern day fascist”). Some may think that I am engaging in hyperbole, or political rhetoric, but I am in earnest. Donald Trump is undeniably, and demonstrably, a fascist.

I say that because Trump’s campaign for president bears all of the traditional hallmarks of fascism, so much so that Mussolini’s descendants probably should sue him for copyright infringement.

Here’s what I mean:

In my opinion, the single biggest common denominator among would-be fascist leaders is the narrative that only this one man can save the nation. That he alone, the strong man, uniquely has the qualities required to meet the crisis of the day. It is implied that without this one individual, national salvation is not possible, because the democratic (lowercase “d”) leaders are “weak,” “stupid,” or some other diminishing adjective. The fascist leader tells us that traditional political models are insufficient for the present national emergency, and that only he can restore the nation to its previous glory (or, “Make America Great Again”), while focusing his followers on what he defines as present national humiliation and an ongoing state of victimhood.

He tells his followers that to save the people, they must reject the weakness of the past and embrace a radical new future.

The fascist leader must quickly identify both internal and external enemies for his followers to fear and hate. The far more important of the two is the demonized internal enemy, as they become identified as the insidious “other” living among us, who must be driven out if the nation is to survive. For Adolf Hitler, obviously, this was German Jews. For Donald Trump it is illegal aliens, and more specifically, Mexicans. Trump has identified his scapegoat group thusly: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He has promised to hunt down and remove 12 million of the “other” and to turn America into a fortress to keep these frightening people from ever getting back in.

Of course, Trump has also identified Muslims as a target “other” group, and he seeks to build a legal wall around America to protect the nation from the threat they pose. Whether or not these people ever actually represent anything near the threat that is portrayed is beyond the point. The leader’s followers must have an evil enemy upon which to project their rage, which keeps them unified toward a common goal; the “other” supplies them with their enemy.

The fascist leader hates the free press, which he sees as a threat to his power. Hitler and Mussolini shut down opposition newspapers immediately upon assuming control, and soon their nations’ media was in lock step behind them. Trump has repeatedly expressed hatred and disdain for those in American media who challenge him, and he has said that he will change libel law to allow the free press to be dragged into court if they write unflattering articles about him. While we all assume that such court cases would fail, one only need to imagine a budget-strapped newspaper considering an anti-Trump piece, knowing that Trump’s army of lawyers could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in defense fees. It would soon be cost-prohibitive to report negatively on Trump. Trump could also easily deny press credentials and access to “unfriendly” media, which would make editors think twice before angering him unnecessarily, and just as Hitler and Mussolini did, the free press would be effectively muzzled.

It should be noted that Trump’s rallies are already shining examples of his attitude toward the free press. In every other political campaign ever run in America, reporters and photographers are allowed to move at will, speaking with, and often videotaping the event. But not at Trump’s events. The media is literally caged in a steel pen, guarded by Secret Service agents so that they cannot escape, while Trump mocks them from the stage. Recently, a photographer was choke-slammed to the ground at a Trump rally because he attempted to leave his metal pen. Trump has said that the editor of the National Review “should not be allowed on TV,” and I’m sure if Trump had his way, others would be faced with similar bans from speaking out against him. This is what the future of the free press looks like under Trumponian Fascism.

The fascist leader hates democratic (again, the lowercase “d”) processes, and strives to rule without them. For example, upon taking power, Hitler used the burning of the German national assembly as an excuse to declare a national emergency, and for the next twelve years ruled by decree. In the USA, we have a similar mechanism called an “executive order.” Donald Trump has already stated that, should Congress prove slow or indecisive with approving his legislation, he would consider ruling by executive order. His words: “I won’t refuse it. I’m going to do a lot of things.” Just last night Trump threatened that if Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan attempted to oppose him, Ryan would “pay a big price.”

The fascist leader sees violence as a useful tool in suppressing dissent. Trump’s rallies, where silent African-American protestors are forcibly removed, and where the media is intimidated and physically assaulted, may just be the beginning. So what does Trump think about political repression in general? Here are his thoughts about how the Chinese crushed democracy protests in 1989: “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. They were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

But what about political expression here in America? Well, when anti-Trump tee shirts first appeared online, Trump had his lawyers send them an email: “Mr. Trump considers this to be a very serious matter and has authorized our legal team to take all necessary and appropriate actions to bring an immediate halt…”

And what about the internet, where freedom of expression runs amok, Mr. Trump? “I would certainly be open to closing areas of it.”

Fascism 101, folks.

Now, lastly, let’s look at how the fascist leader presents himself in public. The fascist leader must always project strength and power to his followers. He must also communicate that he is above and separated from them, because he alone is their savior. Mussolini did this by speaking to Italian fascists from balconies; while Hitler always spoke from behind a raised lectern. While other presidential candidates often speak at rallies without barriers between them and their audiences, so as to project a sense of oneness and community, Trump is definitely a lectern guy. Even though he never uses prepared notes, once he’s ready to speak, he is always behind a lectern, because the lectern projects power and separation.

The fascist leader is also always louder than other speakers, because, as the strong man, he cannot be seen to lose a war of words with those he has portrayed as weaklings. Thus, he is prone to shouting and fits of public rage, because rage is interpreted as power by his followers, and the words of the fascists’ opponents must be subjugated, just as are the individuals.

Finally, the fascist leader must always be seen as the head of a mass movement, which is why he speaks so often at large public assemblies. Small group appearances work against his use of the lectern and his voice amplification technique, they also reduce the fascist leader by making him appear to be more common, which undermines his strong man image.

So, now, I hope you can see why it can be clearly concluded that America is witnessing the rise of what I like to call Trumponian Fascism. I think that it is also instructive to note that while Germany’s fascist leader rose from the military, and Italy’s from the newspapers, America’s fascist has risen from big business, which is probably what we should have expected all along.

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Trump Youth Singing Propaganda Song At Rally

Actual lyrics, sung by Trump Youth dancers at Trump rally:

“Enemies of freedom face the music

C’mon boys, take them down 

President Donald Trump knows how to make America great 

Deal from strength or get crushed every time”

The Vote Heard ‘Round The Beltway

Last night, in what was paradoxically an upset that felt increasingly inevitable, Republican state senator Scott Brown defeated Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Edward Kennedy. This vote is being described as a “game-changer” because it deprives the Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60 seat majority in the Senate, which leaves the future of much of President Obama’s legislative agenda, including healthcare, in doubt.

In the wake of this stunning turn of events, I have granted myself the following exclusive interview, which represents nothing more than an interested outsider’s point of view:

Q: Wow! How did the Democrats manage to lose Ted Kennedy’s seat?

A: Well, it wasn’t easy. Martha Coakley, as it turned out, was a rather poor candidate, and thoroughly unprepared for a fight. As the only woman in the Democratic primary, she was treated with kid gloves by her male opponents. According to the Boston Globe, “Throughout the primary, Coakley’s three male opponents were wary of appearing too aggressive. Early in the campaign, when US Representative Michael E. Capuano called her “cautious,’’ his remarks were called sexist by (state Senate President Therese) Murray…From that point on, none of Coakley’s challengers attacked her with any vigor.” Democrats just assumed (not without reason) that whoever won the primary would win the seat in a cakewalk, and so Coakley was anointed. Scott Brown didn’t hesitate to attack her, and her response was to go on vacation. Soon, Brown had cast himself as the everyman candidate, and Coakley as the tool of the system. Before the Democrats recognized what was happening, the race had gotten away from them.

Q: OK, but the Democrats still have 59 out of 100 U.S. Senators, why is this a big deal?

A: The Senate has a wonderful, time-worn tradition called the filibuster. A filibuster is basically just a rule that says the Senate needs 60 votes to forcibly stop debate and move on to a vote. If a bill is coming up for a vote, and the losing side has at least 40 votes, they can essentially hold Senate business hostage by refusing to end the debate. At that point, the bill must be either put aside or tabled (killed). It’s a great procedural maneuver that gives the minority some leverage, and it’s been used effectively by both sides over the years. James Stewart’s classic 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, is most vividly remembered for its filibuster scene. The Republicans now have enough votes to filibuster again, jeopardizing the Obama agenda.

Q: So what happens to the healthcare bill?

A: That’s anybody’s guess right now. The Senate passed a version that is very different from the version passed by the House. The only way that the Democrats can avoid having to deal with a potential filibuster in the Senate is to get the House to accept the Senate version without changes, and that seems very unlikely. There’s been talk of trying to rush something through before Scott Brown is sworn in, but I doubt that any Democrat up for reelection this year would have the stomach for that. What may end up happening is that the bill gets separated into small, bite-sized chunks, and the pieces that can be agreed upon would then survive. This would allow the President and the Democrats to claim that they kept their promise of healthcare reform, even if it is only limited reform.

Q: So, is this the beginning of a Republican comeback?

A: Not necessarily. There were a lot of factors in play in Massachusetts, not the least of which was the electorate’s desire to “send Washington a message.” If the Democrats are smart, and return to a populist, centrist position on national issues, and if they can change their focus from healthcare to job creation, there’s still time to recapture the agenda. What they can’t afford to do anymore is to appear arrogant, like they did in Massachusetts. One thing that Americans hate is when one party lords over them.

Q: What does this mean for President Obama?

A: It means he must proceed with extreme caution. If he overreacts and begins to cave in on every issue, he’ll be seen as a lame duck by his own party, and he’ll alienate his base. If he goes the other way and becomes more aggressive in pushing his agenda, he risks appearing arrogant in the face of voter anger. In both cases, the Democrats would pay heavily in the Congressional midterms this November. In 1994, Bill Clinton faced a similar crisis and successfully reinvented himself as a centrist; Obama doesn’t have to reinvent himself just yet, but he must heed the danger signs ahead.

Whatever happens, those of us who follow politics as sport are in for a fun ride.

The Speed Camara Conundrum

Speed cameras are once again in the news as State Senator Jim Brochin wants to curtail their use in inactive construction zones, probably after having read a story in the Baltimore Sun that credited 8,800 tickets to the cameras over a six-week period on three stretches of highway marked as work zones.

As a driver who often struggles to stay within the posted limits, I have no love for devices that promise to surreptitiously expose and punish my bad driving habits. However, as someone who believes in the principle of a society based on the rule of law, I have a difficult time defending my right to evade detection.

Yes, I realize that they’re probably just cash cows for local governments, disguised as traffic safety devices, but if they’re generating a lot of money, that means that there are a lot of scofflaws out there, myself included. If I accept the argument that the ability to evade the law is not a right, if I accept the premise that law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to enforce the law, then I must also find my distaste for the cameras problematic, especially in light of the 12mph “grace zone” granted by the devices.

At the end of the day, to argue against speed cameras is to argue for speeding. Speeding causes accidents by reducing the amount of time a driver has to react to changing situations; speeding makes accidents worse by increasing the velocity of the collision. Therefore, it would be lunacy to be consciously supportive of a behavior that can only be viewed as potentially destructive.

There are positive aspects to speed cameras as well. Speed cameras allow police officers to be somewhere else, doing something more important that hiding in the bushes alongside a highway. It would also stand to reason that they’re also probably conditioning drivers to obey the posted speed limits.

Some call the cameras an unreasonable invasion of privacy, but I don’t buy that. If I’m operating as a government-licensed driver, in my government-licensed vehicle on a government-maintained road, where can be my expectation of privacy? Did I not surrender that when I agreed to be subject to government oversight in exchange for the privilege to operate a motor vehicle publicly?

And what about police cameras aimed at street corners where drug-trafficking is known to exist? If those are a good idea, why not speed cameras?

Conservatives contend that the devices are just a sneaky way for tax-and-spend liberals to take and spend more of our money. Perhaps, but bear in mind that those contributing their money have at their disposal an easy way to opt-out: stop speeding.

Does all this logic make me feel better about speed cameras? No. Do I now welcome a proliferation of cameras everywhere, as a low-cost, convenient way to promote law abidance? Unequivocally not. Am I left feeling more comfortable with an increasingly intrusive government? Quite the contrary.

What I’m left with is that uneasy “Big Brother Is Watching You” feeling, but without any way to protest rationally. I know there’s something in all this that’s not right, but I don’t know what.

And it’s that intellectual impotence that bothers me the most.

5 Best Ex-Presidents

Some Presidents enjoy history-changing terms of office and find themselves elevated to the Pantheon of greatness. Other Chief Executives, however, do as much (and sometimes more) once they leave office as they ever did in power. Here, then, for your Friday History List enjoyment, are the top five ex-presidents:

5. Herbert Hoover – With his presidency devastated (along with the nation) by the Great Depression, a personally repudiated Herbert Hoover was trounced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election. Because his image was so tarnished, Hoover largely stayed out of the public eye in the 1930s, resurfacing in 1941 to speak out against American entry into the Second World War, and a possible alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany (he correctly foresaw that helping the Russians defeat Hitler would give them control of much of Europe). After the war, President Truman sent Hoover to Germany to assess its need for economic relief and the state of U.S. occupation; one of Hoover’s innovations was a school meals program for German children Hooverspeisung (Hoover meals). His Hoover Commissions in the years 1947-1949 and 1953-1955, promoted efficiency in the United States Government. The author of over a dozen books, he oversaw the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a public policy think-tank that had been created in 1919, and did much fund-raising for the Boys Clubs (now the Boys & Girls Clubs of America).

Herbert Hoover

4. Thomas Jefferson – After having served two terms as president, in 1809 Thomas Jefferson retired to Monticello, his plantation in Virginia. Continuing in the spirit of his “Renaissance man” personality, Jefferson studied the classics, worked as an architect, and was a prolific writer of letters, most notably to his former rival John Adams. For many of these years he was occupied with the creation of the University of Virginia, doing most of the architectural design himself. He served as president of the American Philosophical Society from 1797 to 1815.

Thomas Jefferson

3. John Quincy Adams – Defeated overwhelmingly by Andrew Jackson in 1828, career public servant John Quincy Adams reentered the arena almost immediately, becoming in 1830 the only U.S. president to be elected to the House of Representatives after leaving office. He would faithfully serve in Congress, first as a National Republican and later as a Whig, until his death 17 years later. In the House, he was often the lonely antislavery voice, using parliamentary devices to bring up the subject in spite of the Gag Rule. In 1841, he successfully defended the rebellious slaves of the Spanish slave ship Amistad before the Supreme Court of the United States (Amistad is a great movie, by the way, you should see it). Adams did the work pro bono.

John Quincy Adams

2. Bill Clinton – President Clinton has remained active in both party politics and world affairs since leaving office in 2001. A popular public speaker in Democratic circles, Clinton has also published two books, My Life (autobiography) and Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. His William J. Clinton Foundation promotes and provides for a number of humanitarian causes, such as HIV/AIDS programs and the Clinton Foundation Climate Change Initiative; it also funds the Clinton Global Initiative (global public health, poverty alleviation and religious and ethnic conflict). Clinton has traveled to Kazakhstan to help securing mining contracts and to North Korea to negotiate the release of American journalists.

Bill Clinton

1. Jimmy Carter – Defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980 after what many have considered to be one of the worst presidencies of the 20th century, Carter immediately got to work. In 1982, he established the Carter Center in Atlanta, to advance human rights and promote democracy by mediating conflicts, and monitoring the electoral process in support of free and fair elections. It also works to improve global health through the control and eradication of diseases, to diminish the stigma against mental illnesses and to improve nutrition through increased crop production in Africa. Carter has traveled the world since his electoral defeat, meeting with world leaders and sometimes negotiating agreements in support of world peace. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. The author of over two dozen books, he is also well-known for his work with Habitat for Humanity.

Jimmy Carter

Ranking the Most Important Constitutional Amendments (post-Bill of Rights)

For today’s History List, I look at the lesser known amendments to our constitution that were ratified after the Bill of Rights. (Everyone knows the 1st and 5th amendments, but what about the 23rd?) I rank them as to how important they are today, not necessarily how important they were at the moment they were ratified.

And away we go:

1. 13th Amendment – Ratified almost immediately after the end of the Civil War, this abolished slavery in the United States, removing America’s original sin and fundamentally changing the nation’s character. Without this, the United States would have lacked the moral gravitas to act as a force for civil rights around the world.

2. 14th Amendment – Makes the citizenship of former slaves part of the constitution, removing any potential legal challenges or clever legislative devices to deny the benefits of freedom to those formerly held as slaves. This amendment was largely a reaction to the attempts of Southern states to so restrict the movements and activities of African-Americans as to return them to something very much like slavery.

3. 15th Amendment – Makes it unconstitutional to restrict voting based on race. Another Reconstruction amendment codifying the rights of former slaves.

4. 19th Amendment – Makes it unconstitutional to restrict voting based on gender. Giving women the right to vote took until 1920 – fifty years after African-Americans got the vote.

5. 24th Amendment – Another voting rights act, this time making it unconstitutional to compel voters to pay a tax in order to vote. These “poll taxes” were applied to Southern blacks as a way to discourage their voting. This amendment wasn’t passed until 1964, almost 100 years after the Civil War.

6. 16th Amendment – Allows a federal income tax. We may hate it, but this is how the massive machine that is our government gets paid for.

7. 12th Amendment – In the election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, running mates in the Presidential election, tied in electoral votes. (In those days, vote-getter #1 became President, while the runner-up became Vice-President.) The contest went to the House of Representatives, where Burr almost wrested the presidency from Jefferson.  This amendment straightened out the process, making it clear to electors who was running for President and who was running for Vice President.

8. 17th Amendment – United States Senators used to be selected by state legislatures. This amendment elects them by a direct vote of the people.

9. 21st Amendment – repeals the 18th amendment (prohibition of alcohol), ending the gangster era and bringing drunkards out of closet.

10. 22nd Amendment- Ratified in 1951 as a response to Franklin Roosevelt being elected four times, this amendment restricts the President to two terms of office. This amendment had the unintentional effect of making every two-term president a “lame duck,” with limited power and influence. In reality, a president has a term and a half to get his agenda passed, after that, forget about it.

11. 25th Amendment – Clarified the order of Presidential succession. Here it is, in case you were wondering:

Office Currently Held By
1 Vice President Joe Biden
2 Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi
3 President pro tempore of the Senate Robert Byrd
4 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
5 Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner
6 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
7 Attorney General Eric Holder
8 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
9 Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
10 Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
11 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
12 Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius
13 Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan
14 Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood
15 Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
16 Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
17 Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki
18 Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

12. 26th Amendment – In 1971, the voting age was dropped to 18, immediately causing millions of young Americans to ignore it.

13. 11th Amendment – Prevents states from being sued by citizens. Can you imagine how hopelessly clogged our court system would be if you could sue the government?

14. 23rd Amendment – In 1961, the voters of Washington, D.C. finally got included in the Electoral College. Democrats have been thankful ever since.

15. 27th Amendment – This amendment, which was only ratified in 1992, says that any Congressional pay raise (or decrease) cannot take effect until the next Congress is seated. In 1873, Congress tried to give themselves a 50% pay raise, backdated to the beginning of their terms! This ruse failed when the public caught wind of it.

16. 20th Amendment – Presidents used to be sworn in on March 4th, but with travel being much faster than it was in Washington’s day, this amendment changed the date to January 20, with Congress being sworn in on January 3.

17. 18th Amendment – (Prohibition of alcohol) This amendment tried to legislate morality and failed, giving rise to an era of speakeasies, gangsters and classic movies about speakeasies and gangsters. The 21st Amendment repealed it.

High School Hitman, Sexy Sarah Palin and Poor Steve Hauschka

Each of us can probably remember having to deal with a particularly difficult teacher in high school. Perhaps we didn’t like the subject (for me this would be math or science), or maybe we found the workload excessive. Sometimes there were just personality conflicts with individuals whom we found to be harsh or overbearing.

If provoked, we might, in a fit of pique, get worked up enough to say the wrong thing to our nemesis, which, if we weren’t careful, might land us in detention, or cause the teacher to have us killed. What’s that? You can’t recall any instances of teachers in your high school putting out a contract on students that angered them? Well then, you were just in the wrong high school.

At Mundy’s Mill High School in Clayton County, Georgia this fall, it seems as if 10th-grade teacher Randolph Forde had a problem student on his hands. On September 29th, he called the 16-year old out of class, demanding to know if he was gay. The next day, Forde argued with the student, and threatened “to hit him in his ‘effin mouth.” (Come on now, doesn’t that bring back memories of ol’ Mrs. Lardbottom from your school?) The student reported Forde to his school’s administration, but nothing was done. On October 9, Forde approached another student and offered to pay him for killing his classmate. Given the choice between earning some after-school money or destroying a teacher’s life, the assassin opted for the latter, and ratted out Forde. (Note to conspirators: It’s a bad idea to let the outcome of your plot to kill someone rest with the a teenage boy. Trust me on this.)

Incensed, the boy’s mother removed her son from the school and then filed a police report on October 12, resulting in Forde’s subsequent arrest and release on $10,000 bond. This, in turn, forced the school to remove Mr. Forde from the classroom (I guess being arraigned for conspiracy to commit murder is the triggering mechanism for intervention in Georgia public schools). Forde’s attorney now says it was all a joke. Funny guy, that Mr. Forde. Funny guy.

Sarah Palin, who, I’m led to believe, wants to be the leader of the free world, is using her endless, unmerited press coverage to attack Newsweek for their choice of cover photo. Palin said, “The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this ‘news’ magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant,” Palin wrote. “The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist, and oh-so-expected by now.”

"The Next President of the United States..."

Apparently, Palin posed in a skimpy running outfit for Runner’s World magazine, from where it was lifted by Newsweek. While it’s true that Newsweek was looking to make a statement by their choice of this photo, I’ve grown way past tired of hearing Sarah Palin disingenuously complain about being dealt with less than seriously by the media.  A year ago Palin could be granted an ignorance pass, but no more. If she wants to be taken seriously, she should appear on Meet the Press and Face the Nation, not Oprah. And when discussing economic policy differences with the President, she should stay away from silly-sounding comments such as:  Obama has a  “…backassward ways of trying to fix the economy.” Before you can sit at the grownup table, Sarah, you’ve got to be able to act like a grownup.

I know that just about every Ravens fan was relieved yesterday to learn that Steve “Wide Left” Hauschka had been released, but I feel terrible for him. As angry as I was when I saw his kicks sail outside the uprights, watching him walk back to the bench alone and then sit there staring at the ground, knowing that his dream was falling apart in front of his eyes… well, for me that was just heartbreaking. I suppose Hauschka knew that he was finished in Cleveland Monday night; I just can’t imagine having to continue playing, showering and dressing (without having the heart to celebrate a win) in the locker room, and then the long trip home – all the while knowing that you’re about to be fired. And then, to add insult to injury, the team’s fans dance on your grave. Good luck to you, Steve Hauschka.

Steve, we hardly knew ye

Lessons Learned Since Those Heady Days After the Wall Fell

In 1989, I was the proud father of my first child, a son. It was also the year my wife and I bought our first house. And that year, I, along with much of America, watched the fall of the Berlin Wall on television. That’s also where I heard about the execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu, and the arrest of Erich Honecker. For me, it was like seeing Allied soldiers shaking hands at the Elbe River.  The Cold War was over, and we won.

Later the next year, my mother gave me a small cardboard box. Inside the box was a tiny chip of concrete, which the box claimed had been part of the Berlin Wall. I doubted the authenticity of the “relic” almost immediately, but I cherished it anyway. Not because of its monetary value, or even its supposed historic significance. I kept that box because to me it represented the day we gave communism the final beatdown it had so long deserved. For me, a child of the Cold War who had grown up with Third World War nightmare scenarios, that box represented the day the good guys won, and the oppressed people of Europe took back their countries. The box didn’t hold a fragment of dusty concrete; it held the self-righteous vindication of my entire worldview.

Of course, I was a lot more idealistic in 1989. (To give you a sense of my naiveté, it hadn’t even occurred to me that nature didn’t make humans with the body types of Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire.)  I can distinctly remember thinking that the people who had lived behind the Iron Curtain were going to join us in repudiating their pasts and that before too long, the entire industrialized world would be (relatively) friendly bastions of pro-Western capitalism and democracy. I assumed that Cuba would fall to revolution within weeks and that China couldn’t stand alone forever. Once China had “converted,” of course, their North Korean dependents would beg their cousins in the South to reunify. Vietnam would finally come to its senses, demonstrating that we had known what was best for them all along. President George H.W. Bush spoke of a “New World Order.” At the time, there was little doubt which nation would be directing this “New World Order.” In my view, the new boss had arrived.

As it turned out, Communism hung tough in a few small pockets of the globe, and one really big pocket. The euphoria of the young democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, with their cardboard Statue of Liberty and willingness to stand before tanks, couldn’t bring freedom to China. Tyranny dies hard, I suppose. Russia’s path to democracy has been filled with stops and starts, and some there remember the old Soviet Union with a whitewashed fondness, because those were the days when Russians felt powerful. Rather than being our democratic partners, the Russians have opted to be the loyal opposition. So have the reunified Germany and France, for that matter. Cuba continues to poke a stick at us from across the Straits of Florida and Vietnam hasn’t admitted to the error of its ways.

November of 1989 seems like so long ago now. The United States, knowing what was best for everyone else, tried to direct the “New World Order,” with mixed results. Nowadays, I wonder whether world leadership is really worth all of the grief. I suspect many others wonder, too. I guess people just don’t like to be led, even if it is by the “good guys.” But, you know what? I am the father of teenagers, so, I understand. I didn’t understand much in 1989, but in 2009, I understand more. Maybe not a lot, but more than I did then.