Saturday, February 25, 2017

Parallels: Oswald Mosley and Donald Trump

Parallels always emerge while reading history, so I was interested to find the other day --- while reading Michael Bloch's "James Lees-Milne: A Life" --- Lees-Milne's brief characterization of Sir Oswald Mosley, founding leader of the British Union of Fascists during the years leading up to World War II.

There are parallels here between Mosley and President Trump, currently at the helm in public at least of America's neofascist movement, although Mosley seems to have been far brighter. Among them --- both emerged from the lower echelons of the aristocracy, Britain's class-based and America's cash-based, to exploit the generalized angst of a substantial number of people.

That's Mosley at the top, receiving the salutes of his followers during a rally in London during the 1930s.

Lees-Milne, fresh out of university in 1931 and scratching for a job, found one through family connections with Mosley before the latter tipped over the edge into full-blown fascism and still was trying to salvage the fortunes of his less extreme New Party. The relationship between the two men did not endure and Lees-Milne did not embrace the fascist ideology.

Here's how Lees-Milne described Mosley in a later autobiography: "It became clear that he was a man of overweening egotism ... he brooked no argument, would accept no advice. He was overbearing and overconfident ... His eyes flashed fire, dilated and distracted like a mesmerist's. His voice rose and fell in hypnotic cadence. He was madly in love with his own words. It would be a terrible day, I fancied, when they ran away with him and took the wrong turning. The posturing, the grimacing, the switching on and off of those gleaming teeth, and the overall swashbuckling, so purposeful and calculated ...."

It's a curious experience now, some 75 years later, to watch the inevitable re-emergence of the ever-present right-wing fanatic strain of homegrown fascism in the United States. And to hear the movement's leaders, wrapping themselves in a form of mystic, mythic and religious nationalism, call for their version of decency and order --- at the expense of democracy.

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