They say there are strangers who threaten us
Our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness, too dangerous
In our theatres and bookstore shelves
Those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves
Quick to judge, quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice and fear, walk hand in hand
— Rush (not Limbaugh), The Weapon
Well, maybe they’re not literally walking hand in hand right now. They’d have to put down their guns to do that.
Trump is, of course, the personification of this trend. He undermined the FBI. He encouraged attacks on journalists and mocked one for being disabled. He went far beyond the usual makeover of appointed government jobs to purge the ranks of dissenters. He tried to turn the Voice of America into the GOP’s own Radio Moscow. He scapegoated “enemies” (not limited to “liberals” — see his sickening attacks on John McCain) and altered his image in the most literal sense. Flatter the king.
He’s not Hitler. But he’s dangerously close to Mussolini.
His potential successors aren’t much better. In Florida, Ron DeSantis was so irked by Disney’s refusal to bend the knee to his anti-LGBTQ+ stance that he moved to change their tax status — at considerable expense to Florida’s taxpayers.
They’ve also embraced QAnon, which would be easily dismissed as a bunch of Flat Earther-esque conspiracy nuts if they weren’t dangerous. (I once wrote a story on Flat Earthers, incidentally — one of the best-read stories I’ve ever written.)
On a local level, school boards are making efforts to remove books from schools. The same people who are defending Confederate statues because “you can’t change history” are screaming at school boards or passing legislation to make sure their kids don’t learn about slavery or Jim Crow.
Hatred and othering
“Jews will not replace us,” chanted the crowd at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that led to the murder of Heather Heyer.
Trump’s response? There were “very fine people on both sides.” His defense of that statement? He was merely saying there were fine people marching in favor of keeping a Robert E. Lee statue in place, even though Confederate generals’ descendants themselves aren’t arguing to keep them where they are. These are, after all, statues of people who took up arms against the United States (no wonder the Confederate flag was seen on Jan. 6), statues that were mostly erected in the 20th century as a means of intimidating Black people.
An amateur historian put together a checklist of the early warning signs of fascism, a list that was reproduced on a poster sold at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Here’s a generous reading of that checklist, by which I mean I’m not checking some boxes that probably but not definitely deserve it. (In fact, I’d argue against “supremacy of the military” in the current climate, though the powers that were had an interest in infiltrating or reworking other agencies of national security.)
Powerful and continuing nationalism? Check.
Identification of enemies as a unifying cause? Check.
Rampant sexism? Check.
Controlled mass media? Getting there. You may argue that the “liberal media” have plenty of opinion pieces against the modern GOP, but they certainly give Republican extremists a lot of free publicity.
Religion and government intertwined? You betcha.
Disdain for intellectuals and the arts? Oh yes.
Rampant cronyism and corruption? Most def.
Fraudulent elections? They tried.
The final word, we hope
On Jan. 6, 2021, a mob incited by the president charged the Capitol to prevent the lawful certification of a fair election. After dozens of lawsuits had failed, this was the last-ditch effort of someone who had also pressured Georgia’s secretary of state to change the election results.
Lest we forget, this also happened in Michigan over COVID restrictions.
Please don’t encourage these mobs to do anything else.
- June 2021, Vox: Call it authoritarianism
- January 2021, Monmouth University study: Authoritarianism Among Trump Voters
- December 2020, The Conversation: President Trump’s use of the authoritarian playbook will have lasting consequences
- June 2020, Washington Post (Max Boot): The GOP has gone from tea party libertarianism to Trumpian authoritarianism
- The Trump record