A statue of Lenin, leader of the Russian anti-establishment movement.
A statue of Lenin, leader of the Russian anti-establishment movement.
Photo credit Antonio Bonanno via Flickr.

I would like to begin this article by reminding everybody that one of the main characteristics of conservatism is that we (unlike Marxists) learn from history. Knowing that we are to learn from history, we need to ask: What does history say about anti-establishment movements, such as the one currently led by Donald Trump?

In the 1910’s, things were pretty bad in Russia. A lot of people think the Russian revolution was sparked by Russia losing in World War I, but really, it was more like a powder keg waiting to explode: Wages were falling, the Tsar establishment was corrupt, the rich got away with anything they wanted while the poor toiled with nothing to show for it. In their desperation, the Russians turned to Lenin. Most of them had never read the Communist Manifesto (a fair portion couldn’t read at all!), or knew anything about communism really, other than that it was a system that was supposed to force the rich to share and take away the power of the corrupt establishment. Russians turned to Lenin in desperation, appointed him their savior and created a personality cult around him, not because they had any reason to believe he’d really be a savior, but because they so desperately wanted a savior that anyone would do. Lenin, of course, did nothing to stop this. The Russian revolution was the result of an anti-establishment movement, where people thought “Well, this new guy can’t be any worse than the Tsar, right?”. They wanted to send a message to the corrupt Russian establishment, and they sure did.

In the 1930’s, things were really bad in Germany. The Weimar Republic which had been formed after World War I was a complete disaster – in particular, the leaders were really bad at negotiating making deals, as proved by the Versailles treaty. Savings had been evaporated by hyperinflation, corruption was rampant, and the proud German Empire was but a distant memory from the past. Meanwhile, communism – just like in Russia – was gaining support, and non-leftists were looking for someone who would stand up to communism as well as to foreign powers. The politically corrupt establishment sure weren’t going to do it. In the midst of that, anti-establishment candidate Adolf Hitler seemed like a good option. Sure, he’s a loudmouth with simplistic solutions and a shady past, but he’ll stick it to the establishment, and that’s all that matters – we need someone who can shake up Berlin. And I mean, everyone knows his campaign rhetoric about wiping out the Jews is just rhetoric, right? It’s a slogan, nothing more. Besides, he’s the only one who can stand up against the communists, and they are worse. As with Lenin, most people who voted for Hitler (and formed a personality cult around him) had no deep understanding of nazism; they were just angry at the current system and wanted something new. And they sure got it!

As a final example, back in the 1950’s Cuba had some serious issues: Basic things like access to clean water could not be taken for granted, unemployment was high and the political establishment was corrupt – the dictator Batista even had ties to organized crime! Of course, along comes anti-establishment Fidel Castro and gains popular support (as well as a cult of personality) even though the Cuban communist party had only received 7 % of the vote in the last election before the revolution, 1948. Just like the Russians, the vast majority of Cubans had never read Das Kapital, they just hated the establishment. They had good reasons for that, one must concede, but while Batista was no saint, Castro turned out to be so much worse. And yet, the personality cult that he developed even before the revolution was won would largely insulate him from criticism.

In fact, most dictators first got to power through anti-establishment movements. This is not to say that opposing the establishment is inherently a bad thing; my point is that history clearly tells us that those of us who despise the establishment have to be wise about what and who we support instead. Anti-establishment movements are like fire – it can heat your house, or burn down your neighborhood. Hence: Be careful.

The other lesson from history is that things can always get worse. Whenever you hear someone claim that things can’t get worse than the status quo, you know that they have no clue what they are talking about. The US is a first-world country, nobody starves, the kids go to schools, and well over 90 % of adults in the workforce have a job. The situation in Russia in 1917 was much worse, and things got worse still after the revolution. You may not be too happy about the Obama administration or the fact that wages have stagnated for a really long time, but trust me, things can definitely get a whole lot worse. Anyone who doesn’t see that suffers from severe entitlement syndrome.

But how do you know if your anti-establishment candidate might be a future Hitler or Castro? Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  1. Does the candidate share my values? Remember that sharing opinions and sharing values are not the same thing; lots of different sets of value can lead to the same opinion.
  2. Has the candidate lived a Christian life, or is he (or she) just at most paying lip service to religion?
  3. Is there a personality cult surrounding the candidate? Personality cults are dangerous because people who have them know that they can do pretty much whatever they want and their supporters won’t abandon them and will actively attack anyone who points out their flaws. This gives them way too much power, and power, as we all know, corrupts. And to anyone saying Obama had a personality cult too… tell me, how did that work out?
  4. Has the candidate ever been in a powerful position before, and if so, has he or she ever abused the power granted to them? This is a useful indicator of how they might act if elected to the world’s most powerful office.
  5. On a similar note; does the candidate exhibit narcissist traits? Narcissists are famously unable to see any fault with anything they do and refuse accountability, preferring to blame just about anyone else for their failures. This is needless to say a very dangerous quality in a leader.
  6. Has the candidate flip-flopped on important issues? This could indicate the candidate lacks genuine beliefs and is just looking for power for self-serving purposes.
  7. Has the candidate showed respect for democracy and the right for people to criticize him/her?
  8. Has the candidate ever expressed approval of violence or disrespect for the democratic process and/or legal procedure?

As you can see from the links, Donald Trump fails every single one.

I’m not pro-establishment. I’m personally a member of an anti-establishment party in my home country, and I write for the country’s biggest anti-establishment website. But in addition to being anti-establishment, I’m also anti-screwing-everything-up-even-more, which is why I don’t support someone just because they are anti-establishment. I would not be a conservative if I refused to learn from history.

And for those of you who are voting for Trump thinking that the Constitution will stop him from becoming a tyrant; that’s actually kind of like driving your car into a brick wall to see if the airbags are working.

Finally, there is the argument of “there are only two options”. Guess what? Millions of Europeans – and I’m not talking about those in Germany – supported or at least tolerated Hitler because they figured the fight was Nazism vs Communism, and they preferred the former. Nazi Germany was before the war openly spoken of as a “shield” protecting Europe from the advance of communism. But fascism can never be a shield against communism; they are two heads on the same hydra. One will not protect you from the other.

When Christians are confronted with two evil options our obligation is not to pick one, but to create a third. In the case of World War II, the United States and Britain created a third alternative, a third worldview, and showed the world that nazism and communism were not the only options and that liberal democracy wasn’t dead after all. I ask of all Christians in the US to do the same: Reject the false dilemma. Refuse to choose between fascism and liberalism. Vote third party, write in a candidate, vote blank – but whatever you do, don’t bow to the false messiah that is Donald Trump.

2 comments
  1. This was an interesting perspective. I was reading through it, and was convinced as I neared the bottom the author would say Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump. His observations surprised me. My next though was the author would be young and not know Hillary’s history, nor her vindictive nature over the last 30 years. I believe I am correct. He may be “conservative” and he has some valid points which both of our current presidential candidates could check off; however, he is not even close to understanding Clinton’s overt Marxism against Trump’s capitalism. As a European bystander…and a young one…he needs to go back re-evaluate her history. If it can still be found.

    1. I am well aware of her history and I do not support her, but that does not obligate me to support Trump either.

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