Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed creating a state paramilitary force that would answer only to him.
He told state lawmakers he wants Florida taxpayers to pay for this to assist with “state-specific emergencies” so it would “not be encumbered by the federal government”.
A week later, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz teamed up with former Trump adviser (and recently indicted) Steve Bannon on the idea of forming an “army of patriots” and “shock troops” to be prepared take over the government if former President Donald Trump were to run and win the White House again in 2024.
This wasn’t the first time Bannon proposed something like this.
Back in October, he called for “shock troops” to quickly “deconstruct” the state in a telephone interview on NBC News after meeting with obsequious Trump-loving republicans at which he encouraged them to be prepared to “reconfigure the government”.
There was a time when we could reasonably shake this off as tormented bluster.
But that was a time before we witnessed hundreds of armed and angry Trump loyalists descend on the Capitol intending to violently subvert the constitutional process of certifying states’ electoral votes.
This no longer falls into the “tormented bluster” category.
Over the past forty years, we have been in the midst of a slow-moving coup that got accelerated five years after Donald Trump’s election.
Trump wasn’t the cause, but he is the metaphorical gasoline people like Bannon, Michael Flynn and his brother Charles, and congressional lawmakers and governors afraid to stand up to Trump throw into the fire.
If the fact that Trump loyalists are calling for a brown shirts-style gestapo doesn’t seem all that alarming, consider historical precedents.
Milton Mayer was a reporter for the Chicago Sun in the 1940s and 50s.
Ten years after World War II, he wondered how Germany, the most cultured country in Europe with a strong democratic republic, could have slipped into fascism so quickly.
So he traveled to Germany and befriended 10 average German citizens who were members of the Nazi party but were not soldiers or people of particular consequence. They were average working Germans: a college professor, high school teacher, baker, janitor, tailor’s apprentice, cabinetmaker and volunteer firefighter, salesman, bill collector, bank clerk, and a police officer.
What they told Mayer, chronicled in his book They Thought They Were Free, should serve as a warning to all–even the “invincible” United States.
The college professor reported:
“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it – please try to believe me–unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”
Explaining what happens when we “put our heads down” and try to just get on with our lives, he added:
“You see, one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next.
“You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not? Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none.
“In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’
“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic.
“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked – if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33.
“But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jew swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose.
“The world you live in – your nation, your people – is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays.
“But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God.”
While we breathe a sigh of relief that Donald Trump and his goons are out of power, and we have a rational, compassionate leader in the White House with a Democratic majority in Congress, we need to realize we don’t need Donald Trump to run again to foment a fascist coup for which January 6, 2021 was practice.
The fascists are already in power and extending their range all over America.
A recent Global State of Democracy (GSoD Indices) report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance includes the United States for the first time in its annual list of “backsliding” democracies.
The report’s co-author, Alexander Hudson, explained:
“The United States is a high-performing democracy, and even improved its performance in indicators of impartial administration (corruption and predictable enforcement) in 2020. However, the declines in civil liberties and checks on government indicate that there are serious problems with the fundamentals of democracy.”
According to the report, the “historic turning point” came last year “when former president Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States.”
“Clean elections” are those defined as free, produce no evidence of irregularities and government intimidation, where fair electoral competitions are present.
The GSoD Indices pronounces the United States has not met those criteria since 2015.
Our decline is being compared to those in Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mauritius, Namibia, Slovenia, and Poland.
From sycophants like Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, et. al to all the wanna-be Trumps running for Congress, school boards, state and local governments, we are at a historic tipping point.
All we need is to allow our elections be rendered irrelevant and turn an apathic eye to the little signs–like calls for “shock troops”–to wind up like the ten Germans Milton Mayer cited who watched their sophisticated, prosperous nation flip into authoritarianism.
All we need to do is stay home and allow republicans to seize the majority again next year.
It doesn’t take much.
If we assume we’re immune to it because we’re Americans, we’re already there.
Image credit: Progressive Charlestown