In his speech last Thursday afternoon commemorating the first anniversary of the attempted coup against our government, President Joe Biden said:
“Rioters rampaging, waving for the first time inside this Capitol, the confederate flag that symbolized the cause to destroy America, to rip us apart. Even during the Civil War, that never, ever happened. But it happened here in 2021.”
Biden wasn’t merely recounting a detail from last January sixth.
He was warning us.
The fact domestic terrorists brandished within the citadel of democracy the same symbol traitors intent on destroying democracy did during the Civil War represents how near we are to losing that democracy.
More pundits, bloggers, journalists, historians, and even former presidents, lately have been weighing in on this precarious moment in our history, when the most violent attack on our Capitol since the War of 1812 should have shocked us back into wanting to defend our democratic ideals against all enemies foreign and domestic.
But that isn’t what happened.
Instead, over the past year, we have seen more evidence America is closer to fascism than ever.
And it’s happening at the institutional level so by 2024, Donald Trump’s tendrils could be so inextricably extended that preventing what happened last January sixth from being another failure could be futile.
The “coalition of America First secretary of state candidates” is a group of Trump loyalists seeking to take control of the electoral process by running for secretaries of state positions in crucial swing states.
All of them support Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 election was rigged.
Some were present at the Capitol last January sixth.
Secretaries of state are the officials responsible for elections and who and who does not vote.
Jim Marchant, QAnon conspiracy theory adherent, former business owner and Nevada state assembly member, and failed US House candidate, confirmed the group’s existence.
In an interview with The Guardian, Marchant confirmed eight current coalition members running for state election official roles, and more will likely join.
The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), the organization responsible for secretary of state races, and the State Government Leadership Foundation, raised a historic $14.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2021, totaling $33.3 million.
What’s notable about this is that last year was an “off-year” for elections; in other words, it was a year for which there was neither presidential nor congressional races.
But this November, voters will be going to be polls to elect and/or re-elect members of Congress.
That outcome will sow the seeds of 2024–the next time we vote for president.
The amount of money, which the Supreme Court has determined is equivalent to “free speech,” will be astronomical by that point.
This is more than just a story about Trump loyalists embedding themselves into the system to rig it for their “dear leader”.
This is part of a ploy to install a dictator–Trump or anyone else–regardless of whether or not the majority of Americans vote for another Democrat.
They had a plan to repeat the 1876 election that resulted in a president, Rutherford B. Hayes, being installed after having lost both the popular vote and the Electoral College.
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.
Our decline is being compared to those in Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mauritius, Namibia, Slovenia, and Poland.
We are at the most critical period in our history since the Civil War, asserts Historian Ken Burns, one of the foremost documentary filmmakers in America.
Yale history professor Timothy Snyder, an expert on the rise of authoritarianism, concurs, stating:
“First of all, I just want to say that, for the people who actually study the origins of civil wars, not just in the US, but as a class of events, America doesn’t look good right now. Those social scientists who actually work on this topic— neutrally— see indicators in the United States, which suggests that we are on the brink of some kind of conflict.”
He adds it is “very possible” we could see a repeat of 1876 in 2024.
“A few states just have to withhold their electoral votes; the House of Representatives then votes, according to state delegations; the Supreme Court then blesses the whole configuration; and then all of a sudden you have an installed president of the United States.”
Our neighbors to the north are already fearing this scenario.
Canadian author Stephen Marche posits in his new book The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future:
“The United States is coming to an end. The question is how.”
Canadian political scientist and Cascade Institute executive director wrote in an op-ed–to Canadian readers–in The Globe & Mail:
“By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.”
Canada has a right to be concerned.
No functioning democracy wants to share a border with a right-wing dictatorship.
This is one reason (besides economic interests) we fight to preserve and expand democracy all over the world.
Democracy makes the world safer.
But right now authoritarian regimes are challenging democracy’s legitimacy.
The Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum wrote in a recent piece titled, “The Bad Guys Are Winning“:
“If the 20th century was the story of liberal democracy’s progress toward victory over other ideologies-communism, fascism, virulent nationalism-the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.”
The problem, though, is not just republicans and Trump loyalists.
They can only be stopped when enough people notice they’re a threat.
And right now not enough Americans care enough to recognize them as a threat.
Therein lies our potential destruction.
If we were to stop random Americans on the street and suggest we’re headed in the direction of fascist authoritarian regimes, they might call you an “alarmist.”
They’ll think you’re being hyperbolic.
Likely, they won’t even know what “fascism” means.
“We’re Americans, after all,” they’d proclaim. “We’re not like those countries.”
Maybe not yet.
But if the republican party and others still loyal to the cult of “ the former guy” aren’t stopped soon — legislatively, legally, non-violently — the next coup attempt will probably be successful.
There’s historical precedent for this.
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: 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.”
With our elections under assault, republicans distracting their base with “ critical race theory” canards and blind antipathy toward anything resembling equity and — that word again — the merger of state and corporate interests that defines fascism is inevitable.
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 Milton Mayer’s ten Germans who watched their sophisticated, prosperous nation flip into authoritarianism.
Once it’s here, it will wreak oppression for generations before we get back what we lost.
If we get it back at all.
Image credit: Flickr