The Anatomy of Trumpism, Part II: Dilettante

Read Parts
I: Foundations
II: Dilettante
III: Liberal Delusions
IV: Conservative Complicity
V: Violence
VI: By Definition
VII: Democracy

A major problem for intentionalists [a historical interpretation that emphasized the importance of the leader’s will in fascists acquiring and exercising power] was Hitler’s personal style of rule. While Mussolini toiled long hours at his desk, Hitler continued to indulge in the lazy bohemian dilettantism of his art-student days. When aides sought his attention for urgent matters, Hitler was often inaccessible. He spent much time at his Bavarian retreat; even in Berlin he often neglected pressing business. … After February 1938 the cabinet ceased to meet; some cabinet ministers never managed to see the Fuhrer at all.

-Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (127)

Okay, this tells us nothing about authoritarianism, fascism, or Trump; I just find it funny. Mar-a-Lago, lack of staff, declining press conferences, watching TV constantly, …

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The Anatomy of Trumpism, Part I: Foundations

9781400033911Read Parts
I: Foundations
II: Dilettante
III: Liberal Delusions
IV: Conservative Complicity
V: Violence
VI: By Definition
VII: Democracy

I experienced several startling moments while reading historian Robert Paxton‘s 2004 The Anatomy of Fascism during these early days of Trump’s presidency. My point is not that Trump is a fascist – he’s probably too stupid and too poorly read to be a fascist – but he does, at the very least, have authoritarian tendencies. He has helped to reveal and mobilize those forces in our country that could accept a semi-democratic and white supremacist authoritarianism. I’ll highlight some of these tendencies over the next few posts through some quotes from The Anatomy of Fascism.

Paxton identifies nine elements of the “emotional lava that set fascism’s foundations” in inter-war Europe. Not all of them apply to America today, but some of them are alarming. Here are four relevant elements (page 41):

the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;

Trump campaigned substantially on a message of white men as victims of conservative and liberal elites, the press, blacks, immigrants, and political correctness. Recall during the general election campaign Trump himself and some of his supporters, including elected officials, called for assassination, coup, revolts, and violent revolution if Clinton won. Trump himself was coy about whether or not he would accept the results of the election if he lost.

Trump also repeatedly egged on his supporters to attack their opponents during his campaign rallies.

dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

Trump invoked an image of decline with his phrase “American carnage” during his inaugural speech and, during his campaign, specifically targeted the resentment of white working-class men whose income and job security have declined during the deindustrialization of America led by America’s economic and political elites of both major parties. And that’s an easy case to make. Sure, it’s too simple to blame NAFTA alone for the decline of good-paying industrial jobs and labor unions; America’s deindustrialization began well before NAFTA. But that decline was substantially the result of choices made by America’s elites. There’s nothing natural or preordained about deindustrialization. Trump also stoked white working-class resentment of immigrants, blaming them for declining wages.

the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;

During his nomination acceptance speech, Trump stated, “I alone can fix [the system].”  He also told his supporters, “I am your voice.” Trump, by his own force of will, was supposed to achieve what no other president could or would do. He didn’t need concrete policies or the ability to build coalitions to achieve his goals. He didn’t need to respect the law or our institutions to do so either. He sees himself as the embodiment of leadership.

the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;

Trump openly states his emphasis on instinct over knowledge and reasoning. He is openly hostile to expertise.

Is any of the above enough to start worrying about America having the conditions for, if not fascism, at least increasing authoritarianism? Well, the guy got elected, didn’t he? Even if most of his supporters didn’t vote for him because of any of the above, they were still willing to vote for him despite the above.

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Forthcoming Book: Dream Patterns

jmiller_web1Just last week I sent off the final corrections on the proofs for Dream Patterns: Revealing the Hidden Patterns of our Waking LivesFindhorn Press is publishing it.  They’ve been great to work with.  They’re always professional and make publishing easy for the author.  It should be out sometime between July and November.

I’ve been studying my own dreams for almost thirty years now.  I was often frustrated in my early years of interpreting my dreams.  Back then, I was following the dream-dictionary approach of almost every book on the subject.  These books ask you to interpret every element of every individual dream to find the meaning of that particular dream.  This usually resulted in incoherent interpretations.  I’ve found psychoanalytical approaches, especially Jungian approaches, to be very useful – but for only a small number of dreams.

Dream interpretation finally opened up for me when I realized that the real value of dreams isn’t in individual dreams, let alone individual dream elements; it is in the long-term patterns.  By studying the patterns that appeared in my dreams, I am able to recognize and then transform patterns that exist in my waking life.  It is this method that I teach in Dream Patterns.

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Video: Drexel’s Vietnam War

I gave a lecture based on my recent chapter on the history of Drexel University during the Vietnam War.  Enjoy.

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New Publications: Building Drexel

drexel125I wrote one chapter and co-authored another in a new history of my own Drexel University.  Temple University Press published Building Drexel: The University and Its City, 1891-2016 in November.  My chapter is “Drexel’s Vietnam War,” which is about how the university community experienced the war.  I also co-authored “Continuous Reinvention: A History of Engineering Education at Drexel University.”

This was a fun project.  I got to poor over old pictures, documents, and student newspapers from the institution I spend so much time at.  They were full of surprises.

Here’s one take away from “Drexel’s Vietnam War:”  Why didn’t Drexel unite behind the US government to support the Vietnam War, the way it did for World Wars I and II?  Because the US government didn’t ask it to.

Update: See my lecture on “Drexel’s Vietnam War” here.

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The Centralia Mine Fire: Failed Government in the Age of Deindustrialization


Steam rising in Centralia

Centralia is a condemned mining town in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania.  There, you can see steam rising from the ground, sink holes, and abandoned buildings.  The coal beneath the town has been burning since at least 1962, and since about 1981 has been causing the timbers holding up the tunnels to collapse, heating up the ground, and releasing dangerous gases.

The fire was major news in Pennsylvania in the early 1980s when the state half-heartedly attempted to extinguish the fire.  In the end, they lost and the people of Centralia lost their homes.  The fire still burns.  Nearby Byrnesville was condemned as well.  The fire could burn for hundreds of years more.


Old Langhorne Library (1680)

The Langhorne Council for the Arts hosted a lecture on Centralia by Stephen Perloff at the old Langhorne Library building on July 28, 2015.  Perloff spent several years documenting the struggles of the people of Centralia to save their town in the early 1980s.  His lecture, accompanied by photographs and recordings of interviews with residents, went beyond spectacle.  He put the tragedy in the context of environmental disaster, Pennsylvania’s deindustrialization, and ineffective government in the new era of deregulation and austerity.

According to Perloff, the state government paid a company to dig up the burning coals, the only way to extinguish an anthracite mine fire.  The company found that the fire had spread further than anyone had realized.  Finishing the job would require another $50,000.  The state refused and let the fire burn.  Infamously, Secretary of the Interior James Watt said, “There is no problem in Centralia.”  In the end, the Pennsylvania and US governments spent $45 million to relocate the citizens of Centralia and millions more to first fix and then relocate the fire-damaged Route 61, the main road through Centralia.  Perloff photographed a sign in Central saying, “Watt is the problem in Centralia.”

Perloff recommended Dave DeKok‘s Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire and The Town that Was (Trailer embedded below. Film available from Cinevolve Studios).

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Pennsylvania Music: Western PA and PA Dutch Folk Music

Folkways Recordings, now part of the Smithsonian, has made many important recordings, interviews, and other documentation of America’s folk music since the 1940s.  They still make available two good recordings of Pennsylvania folk music.  I take pleasure in having a music of our own, a music that speaks of the places and experiences of our own people.

Whether you purchase the CDs or listen to the albums on Spotify or elsewhere, be sure to download the liner notes from the webpages for the albums (links below).  The notes provide both lyrics (and translations when needed) and essential background information about the songs.

Vivien Richman’s Folk Songs of West Pennsylvania

FW03568This 1959 recording has English-language songs about mill workers, industrialization, the decline of the Conestoga wagoners, the French and Indian War, and other topics.  Some songs are humorous (“Forks of the Ohio”), some spirituals (“Hold On”), and others quite serious or even dark (“The Conestoga Wagoner’s Complaint”).  These songs document the history of Western Pennsylvania.

The song that strikes most familiar for me is “The Gloom of Ligonier,” which describes the brutal 1760s winters of Fort Lignonier.  I have too many times tried to cross the Ligonier Mountain in winter.  We always knew that, when going from Johnstown to Pittsburgh in winter, the Ligonier Mountain was going to be the worst part.  I recall one bad day after a snow storm when car after car tried creeping down the side of the road, using the berm for some traction on our right sides to keep us from just going off the road.  Looking back, I wonder why were bothered trying.  But we made it.  I sympathize with the poor British soldier who wrote these lyrics.

Jacob Evanson collected many more Western Pennsylvania songs, published them, taught them to school children, and made them available for this recording.  Richman was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a performer and education of folk music.

George Britton’s Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Songs

FW02215This 1955 recording consists entirely of Pennsylvania Dutch-language songs.  Unlike the Folk Songs of West Pennsylvania, this album is up-beat.  In fact, many of the songs are for children.  Others are for particular holidays.

You don’t need to understand the language to enjoy this album.  If nothing else, listening to it over and over will give you a good ear for the sounds of the language, the language that many of my ancestors spoke and heard and that a few hundred thousand people, probably half of them in Pennsylvania, still speak today.

George Britton was a folk singer and folk song collector who toured widely and sang from a wide repertoire.  He was from Reading in Berks County.  Quite naturally, he gathered and recorded the songs of his own Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors.  Britton heard many of these songs from his own family when he was a child.

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Kelpius’s Cave, Philadelphia


P1000671The Cave of Kelpius is one of the great oddities of southeast Pennsylvania.  Here, in the 1690s, Johannes Kelpius meditated while awaiting the Second Coming of Christ.  Enjoy a short hike in a small wood and visit this piece of Pennsylvania’s religious history.

The cave is located between the southern end of Fairmont Park and Philadelphia University.  To see the cave, hike down into the woods from the trailhead along the appropriately named Hermit Lane.

Kelpius was not alone.  At William Penn’s invitation, he led a group of millenarian Pietists to migrate from Germany and settle along Wissahickon Creek, where they could practice freely, without persecution.  There they established a semi-monastic, celibate community, but one that interacted with and even supported adjacent communities.  The end came and went, as did Kelpius, but some of their community continued to live and practice along the Wissahikcon until the 1740s.

P1000666Keplius was certainly a mystic and occultist.  Some modern Rosicrucians claim him as their own.  AMORC set up a marker at the cave, on which they identify him as the first person to bring Rosicrucianism to America.  He may have also been the first person to produce musical scores in the English colonies.  Kelpius wrote hymns and composed music for them, using formal musical notation.

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Pennsylvania Literature: “Wo Unto Sodom: The Last Day of the Quaker City”

Lippard, George. The Quaker City, or, The Monks of Monk Hall: A Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery, and Crime. Edited and introduced by David S. Reynolds.  Originally published 1845. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

The Quaker City (1845) was the most popular of what may be something of a Delaware Valley gothic literature.  It, drawing on an actual Philadelphia murder, provides a gruesome vision of the corruption, crime, hypocrisy, and poverty of 1840s Philadelphia, while, at the same time, showing us something of the period’s views of femininity and masculinity.


George Lippard (1822-1854)

George Lippard, its author, is today a poorly known author, editor, and reformer who was born in Chester County, grew up in Germantown, and lived in Philadelphia.  The antebellum period (before the Civil War) was characterized by reform movements, including abolitionism, temperance, women’s suffrage, prison reform, public schooling, and the promotion of institutions for the mentally ill, deaf, blind, etc.  Lippard was part of this and The Quaker Cityreflects that reformist impulse.

While Lippard’s efforts are little known today, according to Lippard scholar David Reynolds, The Quaker City was the most popular American novel until the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852.   It was translated and published in Europe as well. This novel then went on to inspire a whole genre of urban mysteries.

According to Reynolds, Lippard was not just popular, but also influential.  He certainly influenced his friend Poe.  He may have also have influenced Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, both of whose styles changed after the publication of The Quaker City.  Twain becoming satirical and made use of local color, for instance.  Both men read Lippard.  While there is no evidence that they read him, Lippard may have influenced Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne too.  For these reasons alone we should not forget Lippard and his Quaker City.

quakercityThe Quaker City is a a novel in the gothic tradition of America’s and Pennsylvania’s first novel Charles Bockden Brown’s Wieland; or, The Transformation: An American Tale (1798).  Wieland opens with a witness to the horrors of the story recounting them to us, asking us to believe in their reality.  Lippard offers us instead a story pulled together from the private papers of a witness.  Hawthorne would do the same just five years later in his Scarlet Letter.  But unlike Brown or other gothic classics, such as Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1777) or Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), there is nothing supernatural here – except for a single scene of astrological foreshadowing.  Instead, for Lippard, all evil comes from men themselves and the corrupting influence of wealth.  These evil men then inflict suffering and even murder on vulnerable women, the poor, and each other.

Lippard sees the republic threatened by slavery, hypocrites, and the rich.  He compares the conditions of wage workers in the North to actual, literal slaves in the South.  This was a common theme for northern reformers.  Lippard sees the corrupt leaders and wealthy of Philadelphia as betraying Wiliam Penn’s dream.  He characterizes Philadelphia as the city…

which William Penn built in hope and honor,– whose root was planted deep in the soil of truth and peace, but whose fruits have been poison and rottenness, Riot, Arson, Murder and Wrong…

White, virginal women are the primary target of the evil in this story and it is their vitue that must above all be protected.  While Lippard uses the most valued chastity of young women as a way to show the hypocrisy and corruption of the wealthy, in so doing, he portrays women as largely passive victims, always on the verge of fainting.  Lippard, through his physical characterizations and use of local color and slang, also makes uncomfortable characterizations of blacks and Jews.

While this book is long and at times torturous to read, it is worth it, at least for Pennsylvanians.  It springs from the very history and culture of Pennsylvania and especially Philadelphia.  Although its reputation has improved considerably, Philadelphia has long had a reputation for violence and corruption.  So it’s one of those, “the more things change…” sort of experiences reading The Quaker City.  Read this novel as a famous example of gothic literature, as a critique of America’s expanding market economy (then or today), or at the very least as a shocking and satirical portrait of antebellum Philadelphia.

“I vonders how that’ll vork?”

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“Something Evil” in Bucks County

I am a Pennsylvanian and love my state, so I’ll probably have many Pennsylvania-related posts here.  Here’s one on Pennsylvania-related movies.

something_evilSomething Evil (1972). Directed by Steven Spielberg.

This Pennsylvania Dutch Amityville Horror is set, but not filmed, in Bucks County.  It’s an enjoyable enough film if you’re interested in supernatural horror, but Bucks Countians might enjoy the film by looking out for characterizations of and references to their home.

The story focuses on a family from New York City who move to an old farm somewhere near New Hope, which, along with the county itself, are specifically named.  Paul, one of the main characters, refers to “Washington’s Corner” at one point.  Presumably this is a reference to Washington’s Crossing, though I can’t imagine why they would deliberately change the name.  Was it simply an error?

Minor conflicts between city and country folk occur throughout the film.  I didn’t live in Bucks County in 1972 – I didn’t live anywhere in 1972 – so I don’t know how rural the county was back then.  But I’m sure it was much more so than it is now.  Regardless, the film portrays the county as rural and Pennsylvania Dutch.  In fact, a central feature of the story is the “hex sign,” that most popular of Pennsylvania Dutch iconography.  Here, they, along with supposedly PA Dutch prayers, are employed as magical symbols to protect people from evil.  I believe Marjorie, the main character, identifies the hex signs with the Amish at one point.  The Amish, however, do not use hex signs.  It was other PA Dutch folk who painted hex signs on their barns.

The most striking mischaracterization of Bucks is the land itself.  Right away any Bucks Countian, or probably Pennsylvanian in general, will see that the landscape in the film is not local.  The movie was filmed in California – and it looks like it.  The climate seems semi-arid and the mountains are… well, there are mountains.  But the misfit isn’t as bad as in The Deer Hunter, set in and around Pittsburgh, which used the enormous mountains of the Cascades  to represent the ridges and plateau of the Alleghenies.

At a crucial moment of the film, Paul has to get from his office in NYC to his home in Bucks as quickly as possible.  He asks his secretary to get him a helicopter to New Hope and to have a cab waiting for him at the airport.  Was there an airport near New Hope in 1972?  Or should we imagine Paul flying in an antique helicopter (is there such a thing?!) and landing at Van Sant Airport, with a cab waiting for him in the fields?

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