So we come to the end of our metaphorical journey through the rise of Trump's brand of fascism, with the song Cabaret capping off the experience. In the movie, this is the final sequence, showing Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) desperately trying to stave off the realization that the Nazis have taken over Germany while she and everyone she knows was busy trying to ignore the world outside of the confines of the Kit Katy Klub. There is a frantic tone to Sally's delivery of this song, as if she could shut out the world around her and not have to deal with the harsh reality that is the line of Nazi Party members sitting in the front row. But the blunt truth is that evading the issue won't make it go away - the outside world continues to exist, and its machinations continue even without one's participation.
The theme of trying to make an unpleasant reality go away by ignoring it is not unique to Cabaret. In the Lord of the Rings, many of the hobbits happily work to erect metaphorical fences around the Shire - confident that if they don't stick their nose into the affairs of the outside world, the outside world will be content to leave them alone. What they don't realize is that they are not fencing the world out, they are merely fencing themselves in, a point that Tolkien makes quite bluntly when Saruman and his lackeys take over the Shire and turn it into an industrial dystopia. Closing your eyes to the outside world doesn't make the outside world go away. It will eventually turn its attention to your corner of the world, and your willful ignorance only means that you will be unprepared when it does.
I've used the movie Cabaret as a metaphor for the rise of Trump and Trumpism, because it fits all too well. To the extent that Trump has policies that he espouses, he is a fascist. To the extent that Trump's devoted followers have principles they adhere to, they align with fascism. As an unnamed New York Times reporter stated in 1938, "[w]hen and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism’". Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" is simply "Americanism" distilled into something pithy enough to be put on a hat. A slogan, by itself, does not make a movement a fascist one, but the continued insistence by Trump and his supporters that he and only he can save the country is in line with the messianic nature of the fascist movements that took over Germany, Italy, Hungary, and other nations in the 1930s. The scapegoating of Muslims, Latinos, and even Jews is, of course, reminiscent of the Nazi Party. More recently, Trump's attacks upon the media and the protections afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are almost straight out of the fascist playbook. What Trump's campaign has shown us is that there is a sizable number of U.S. voters who will happily support an authoritarian strongman espousing fascist policies so long as he hates all of the same people they hate and promises all of the same promises that fascist dictators always promise.
When Sally Bowles sings Cabaret, the movie-viewing audience knows that it is already too late for her and the other characters in the film. The licentiousness that the Kit Kat Klub represents will be an anathema to the Nazis once they reach power. In all likelihood, the androgynous, often cross-dressing Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) will eventually find himself inside of the concentration camp, as will the Jewish heiress Natalia Landauer and the smitten Fritz Wendel, who revealed his Jewishness to win her love. Brian Roberts (Michael York) has fled the country and returned to England, but his bisexuality represented by his dalliance with Maximilian von Heune (who also apparently fled the country) would have gotten him condemned as well.
But it is not too late for us now. We can still vote against the rise of Trump's version of fascism. We can still work to defeat these pernicious ideas after Trump has been sent back to his gilded tower to sulk. The most important thing about this elections is the realization that the work of ensuring the U.S. remains a free republic does not end by defeating Trump's candidacy. That is merely the first thing that must be done. Even after Trump is defeated, we must all continue to diligently work against the forces that supported Trump - and that means the Republican Party as it is constituted today. It also means working against the forces that are part of what has come to be called the "Alt-Right", which is really just groups like the American Nazi Party and the Klan given a new coat of paint. Many people like to say "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance", but they don't really think about what that means when it comes to elections - it means showing up every election to use your vote to say no to those who espouse the toxic mixture of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and authoritarianism that prospers among the far right in the country. This fight doesn't end this November. This fight will likely continue indefinitely, but it is a fight that must be fought, and must be won again and again.
Cabaret Musical Monday Playlists Liza Minnelli Musical Monday Home