How the Nazi Party Came to Power in a Democratic Country
As the United States government labels people “illegal” to justify violence against them, it’s important to keep in mind how systems of legality have been used in the past to justify deeply immoral acts.
What’s legal and what’s morally right are not the same thing. Just because the Trump Administration has an obscure legal claim for things like their inhumane border separation or family detention policy, doesn’t mean that these policies are right or somehow unavoidable.
Fascists, autocrats, and authoritarians love to hide behind the “just doing my job” defense because they know how to control the systems of accountability to never face consequences for the harm they cause to others in the name of selfish power by inciting nationalist fear of “outsiders”.
While direct comparisons to the Nazi Party in pre-WWII Germany are often unhelpful in political situations, the current steps the United States (and many countries abroad) are taking toward fascism, authoritarianism, militarized police, para-military groups, and mass repression require greater awareness about how the Nazi party went from a fringe group of violent revolutionaries to an established political party, and finally became the genocidal warlords we know them to be today.
Everything Old is New Again
Germany was one of the world’s most progressive and open states in the early 1900’s after World War I. Even though the economic recovery after the war was causing internal tension and political turmoil, social movements were taking shape faster than the law could follow. Women had more power and freedom, gay people were laying the groundwork for our modern LGBTQ rights movement, and trans people were living openly in public during the Weimar Republic.
In less than a decade, it all came crumbling down under economic pressure, government in-fighting, and rising bigotry. Marginalized groups were scapegoated to explain the struggling German economy, which collapsed as the country was forced to pay war reparations to the winners of World War I and the Great Depression in the US caused economic earthquakes abroad.
We seem to share a collective myth in the United States that the Nazis immediately burst onto the German political scene from nothing and took the government by physical and political force. In reality, the Nazi party and other fascist-leaning parties grew slowly, in full view of the German public for over a decade. Long before World War II, American citizens who wanted to stem the tide of European fascism were fighting without a country in the Spanish Civil War, aware of the need to quell fascist power before it consolidates into established institutions or builds them from scratch.
Even after the Nazis seized power in Germany following the Reichstag fire, the President’s death, and a rigged election to make Hitler the “official” president after serving as Chancellor, their plan for genocide was years away. Nazis ruled over Germany with gradually escalating threats, slowly chipping away at civil rights, free press, and individual freedom while simultaneously pushing their tentacles into every corner of the government that could possibly hold them accountable for their past, current, and future abuses.
Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was based on stoking fear and nationalism to provide one convenient explanation for all German woes. Much of the research and philosophy that fueled his paranoia of Jewish people and all other minority groups came from the United States.
Even though his political career started in a democratic country, Hitler was never actually elected to public office. He was appointed to the position of Chancellor by the winning German president, General Baron Von Hindenburg, after losing the popular vote.
Hitler’s first grasp at power was a failed overthrow of the government six years before World War II. Hitler and his co-conspirators thought there was enough anti-government anger in Germany that all it needed was a spark and it would ignite into a full-blown military overthrow. They provided that spark:
On November 8–9, 1923, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party led a coalition group in an attempt to overthrow the German government. This attempted coup d’état came to be known as the Beer Hall Putsch.
They began at the Bürgerbräu Keller in the Bavarian city of Munich, aiming to seize control of the state government, march on Berlin, and overthrow the German federal government. In its place, they sought to establish a new government to oversee the creation of a unified Greater German Reich where citizenship would be based on race.
Although the putsch failed — and Bavarian authorities were able to prosecute nine participants, including Hitler — the leaders ultimately redefined it as a heroic effort to save the nation and integrated it into the mythos of Hitler and the Nazis’ rise to power. (Source)
Hitler was put on trial in Nazi-sympathizing Bavaria instead of being tried in German court, where he certainly would have been jailed for most or all of his life. He was given the 5 year minimum sentence for treason, but he only ended up in prison for 9 months. Disillusioned by their failed revolution, this was an important period in Hitler’s personal formation of a politically successful ideology based in hatred, fear, and violence that could win him elections, not just crowds.
During his prison sentence, Hitler wrote his memoir, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which added to his growing popularity with fascist groups worldwide as an “unjust political prisoner” and target of the German state. He milked this narrative for all it was worth upon leaving prison, and instead of disbanding or discouraging support for the Nazi party by jailing Hitler, the Weimar government actually made it much stronger:
Despite its considerable growth, the Nazi party won only 2.6 percent of the vote in the 1928 election. But then the Great Depression hit, sending the U.S. and Europe into an economic tailspin and shooting the number of unemployed up to 6 million people in Germany (around 30 percent of the population). The sudden slump caused massive social upheaval, which the Nazis exploited to gain further political traction. By 1930, the Nazis won 18.3 percent of the Reichstag vote and became the second largest party after the Social Democrats, while the Communist party also grew to ten percent of the vote.
The economic unrest of the early 1930s meant that no single political party had a majority in the Reichstag, so fragile coalitions held the nation together. Faced with political chaos, President Paul von Hindenburg dissolved the Reichstag again and again. Frequent elections followed. (Source)
Even before he was the sole ruler of Germany, Hitler directed his supporters, who formed non-governmental paramilitary forces, to beat up protesters who spoke out against the government or against him personally. In 1932, Hitler ran for president, losing to Von Hindenburg but establishing himself as a political power to be reckoned with.
Even though Hitler lost the popular vote, he established that he had a hardcore base of support (roughly a third of German society). In a bid to harness this rabid fan base, he was appointed undemocratically to the position of Chancellor, a historically powerless position that was the go-between for the President and the Reichstag (parliament). German leaders and citizens alike told themselves that his more extreme rhetoric was just a show. In the meantime, Hitler used his political foresight and loyal base of support to slowly add more powers to the Chancellor’s office.
On February 27th, 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire by an arsonist. No one knows who was really behind the fire, but Hitler seized on the opportunity to blame Communist protesters and Jewish people. The next day, Hitler pressured Von Hindenburg to pass the “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State,” which granted the government emergency dictatorial powers over its citizens.
Upon the death of Baron Von Hindenberg in 1933, Hitler had consolidated his power politically and socially. He held a sham election to make himself the sole ruler of Germany and immediately began to eliminate the free press and chip away at human rights. (Source: Ted Ed, “How did Hitler rise to power?”)
This process didn’t happen overnight, or even over a year. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were in plain sight for almost a decade stoking anger, fear, and violence before they were finally able to consolidate that fear into political power.
Long Before Hitler Inspired American Neo-Nazis, American Racism Inspired Hitler
Unfortunately, this current strain of authoritarianism in 2018 isn’t that new for the United States. Many US citizens were either supportive of the Nazi regime or silent about its rise to power in the 1920s and 30s, even as their oppression ramped up towards mass killing.
American thinkers, scientists, and politicians provided the scientific, social, and legal blueprints for the Nazis’ treatment of Jewish people, disabled people, queer people, Roma people, and anyone else they saw as inferior. Thousands of refugees from Europe, including Anne Frank, were turned away from America, and forced to return to the countries that ultimately participated in their mass murder.
The United States may have reluctantly done the right thing by engaging Germany in World War II, but it was certainly not motivated by a popular desire to save the targets of the Holocaust, who had already been under attack by the Nazi regime for years. Once attacked by Japan, the US essentially had no political choice but to go to war.
Hailed as virtuous saviors, American citizens returned home to enact Jim Crow segregation laws, restrict safe housing on the basis of race, deny education to veterans of color, deport south and central American immigrants, and permit the extra-judicial murder of people of color in public lynchings.
Far from being the triumphant, justice-loving heroes that history wants you to believe, many Americans at the time were sympathetic to the Nazis, or at least believed Hitler was simply a blowhard using racism just to score political points.
Even if they didn’t directly sympathize with the Nazis, the majority of Americans still believed in white superiority over people of color, Christian supremacy over Jewish people, and still subscribed to the same bigoted ideas about gender and sexuality that eventually led Nazis to burn the world’s first collected research on queer and trans identities.
“America first!” existed long before Donald Trump, and was a popular phrase of Nazi sympathizers who wanted the US to stay out of WWII. Nazis in Los Angeles even planned their own fascist overthrow.
While there seems to be a collective historical myth that the Nazis were a uniquely bigoted culture, research by American scientists, philosophy written by American scholars, American race-based slavery, and race-targeting laws passed after emancipation by the United States served as an ideological and practical framework for everything from Hitler’s early repressive anti-Jewish policies to the death camps themselves.
The Nazi regime cited United States eugenics policy, practice, and research as a major justification for their genocide of Jewish people, disabled people, people of color, and queer people.
In Hitler’s own words:
“There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but [the United States], in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially. By refusing immigrants on principle to elements in poor health, by simply excluding certain races from naturalization, it professes in slow beginnings a view that is peculiar to the [German] People’s State.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf — 1925)
The pro-Nazi German-American Bund group, led by Fritz Kuhn, was the most vocal and visible Nazi presence in America at the time, although local groups of Nazi sympathizers were everywhere. Between 4,000 and 8,000 Nazi sympathizers showed up to a rally in Chicago on June 18th, 1939.
A pro-Nazi rally put on by the Bund in New York’s Madison Square Garden on February 20th, 1939 drew a crowd of 20,000. The main stage featured a massive portrait of George Washington flanked by American flags, Colonial flags, and two Swastikas. Washington was revered by members of the Bund, who called him “the first Fascist” who “knew democracy could not work.” (Source)
Outside the rally, anti-fascist protesters pushed back against the Nazis with signs and slogans denouncing fascism and the Nazi regime. Police protected the doors of Madison Square Garden and allowed the speeches to continue.
While the German-American Bund supporters were eventually disbanded when Fritz Kuhn went to jail for embezzlement, Nazi sentiment remained strong throughout America until the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
We must not only remember the atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust, but also understand how the United States of America inspired these atrocities with our own and kept systems of systemic violence in place long after the fall of the Third Reich.
We seem to forget that the US also put our own people in camps during World War II, mass deported South and Central Americans, created tiered systems of citizenship based on the color of your skin, and experimented on our own population in deeply unethical ways.
Rethinking “Legal” and “Illegal”
The Nazis were not only masterful at public manipulation, but also at manipulating systems of law and order to enact their bigoted agenda. The Holocaust didn’t start with death camps, it started with suspicion, fearmongering, propaganda, restrictive policies, increased incarceration, and mass panic about how immigrants and Jews were undermining the “real” Germany that was the birthright of white Christian Germans, the Aryan race.
Our modern-day discussion of so-called “illegal” immigrants is certainly not the first time structures of law and labels of citizenship have been used to control marginalized populations. The social process that resulted in the mass death of 6 million Jewish people and millions more disabled people, queer people, and other marginalized groups was decades in the making. It wasn’t something that happened overnight.
German citizens were slowly acclimated to hate, bigotry, and inhumanity. If we only focus on the massive tragedy of the Holocaust, we miss all of the incremental steps that eventually gave the German state a legal framework for mass death. The Nazis originally tried social restriction, isolation, and mass deportation to “solve” their self-created “Jewish problem”, including a ludicrous plot hatched when it looked like Germany might win Europe quickly to use British ships to deport all Jewish people to Madagascar.
One of the Nazis’ most important early steps was purging Jews, gays, Roma people, disabled people, and other groups they planned to target from the military, so the military would be less resistant to enforcing bigoted policies later on. They also tightly controlled membership in their para-military groups and encouraged those groups to commit random acts of violence on marginalized groups.
Another important step in the Nazi regime’s plan was revoking “citizenship” from the groups that Nazis were targeting. This ensured that those groups no longer had legal rights, government representation, or any recourse for accountability when the state caused violence to them. The Nazi re-definition of citizenship also served an important purpose in the Nazi’s “purity” argument by saying that “real” Germans (Aryans) were citizens and any non-citizen was inferior and unworthy of protection by the state.
Hitler also turned his citizens against each other, inspiring “browncoats” to be his own personal para-military guard and leading civilians everywhere to spy on each other, loot, steal, and burn anything deemed dangerous to the Nazi regime. One of the most famous pictures of Nazi book burning is from May 6th, 1933 when students burned thousands of LGBTQ research materials, summarized in this article from Teen Vogue:
“On May 6, 1933, Nazi demonstrators raided the libraries of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, a German name that roughly translates to the Institute of Sexology. The Institute was a privately operated research space for studies of human sexuality. More than 20,000 books were taken from shelves and burned days later in the streets by Nazi youth groups.
It was a devastating blow to the life’s work of Magnus Hirschfeld, the institute’s founder. Hirschfeld, who was Jewish and gay, was a pioneer for rights and liberation in Berlin’s thriving LGBTQ community. He founded the institute in 1919, after beginning his career as an activist in 1896" (Source)
Even though Nazi Germany was unique in the level of systematic violence they directed at LGBTQ people, the idea that queer people should be punished by the state was not an invention of the Nazi regime.
Before the rise of Hitler, queer people in the United States were subject to harassment by police, indiscriminate jailing for “crossdressing,” “lewdness,” or “sodomy,” and were almost completely barred from participation in systems of government, business, religion, education, finance and family support without hiding in the closet.
Anti-queer state violence was rampant in the US, bolstered by sodomy laws, crossdressing laws, and police brutality of queer and assumed-to-be-queer bodies. This harassment would continue through the queer anti-police rebellions in the 1950’s and 60’s, including the Cooper Do-Nuts riot, the Compton Cafeteria Riot, and the Stonewall Rebellion.
Current efforts to eradicate trans people from public life are still a part of this legacy of active oppression and violence. The elimination of transgender people is the publicly stated goal of the Family Research Council, who has provided multiple members of the Trump Administration, in addition to being the essential moral and political framework for Republicans introducing the same bill across the country. While conservatives have often been the ones actively pushing these policies, liberals have also contributed to trans erasure and violence by crumbling to TERF pressure and not pushing back against transphobic policies.
Our ideas about what is legal and illegal are not some inherent structure of right and wrong, but shaped by the needs of society, culture, and capital at the time.
Building a Legal Framework for Genocide
Starting in the the 1600's, British regional governors and colonial leaders, used systems of “legal” enforcement to move indigenous populations off their tribal lands under the threat of violence. These governments, and later the US government, used law to justify heinous things like the murder of indigenous people in mass shootings, forced relocation resulting in mass death by starvation, and stealing indigenous children for forced re-education. Federal and State governments continue to violate tribal sovereignty today whenever it’s convenient for business or government interests.
In the second half of the 17th century, a new system of slavery was established as an innovative “legal” invention of European and North American colonialists, desperate for labor to work their land stolen from indigenous people. These white men in power distorted the historical idea of prisoners, debtors, and war captives being used for labor (already an inhumane practice) to become one solely based on the color of a slave’s skin. This changed slavery from a temporary condition that any human could theoretically experience to a fundamental condition of the person for life based on nothing more than their skin color.
White colonizing powers created false legal ownership frameworks that ensured the children of slaves were immediately born into slavery themselves, a concept that had never existed across the world in a systematic way. This, among other things, incentivized white slaveowners to sexually assault the people they had forced into slavery as a means of control and financial investment.
By establishing an automatic right to the ownership of a newborn child, slaveholders solidified the idea that Africans who were enslaved should be seen as and treated like animals. They wanted to dehumanize black bodies in white communities so they would handle the cognitive dissonance of the atrocities of the slave trade.
Eventually, by the mid 1800’s, the practice of slavery existed only in the United States, where the specific legal framework of chattel slavery wasn’t abolished until decades after the rest of the world had ended their slave trade and ownership systems.
However, even without their own systems of slavery, the rest of the world (now functionally capitalist) in addition to the US North, relied on cheap manufacturing through slave labor in the US South during the gap between most other countries outlawing slavery and the Civil War.
When the Confederacy secceded from the United States, they originally planned to avoid war by being so economically valuable that they could survive on their own while the US stayed dependent on the cheap goods produced by slave labor. The South’s gamble didn’t seem to work at first, as the US fought very hard to keep the South AND abolish slavery at the same time.
After the war, the South made immense progress during the Reconstruction era. Black politicians were elected from The South, black people were given access to social programs, and power finally began to equalize between former slaves and whites.
After years of festering under what they considered an “unfair war of Northern aggression”, and in retaliation for ending slavery, whites in the US South embarked on one of the most brutal, destructive, and inhumane terrorism campaigns in recent history, murdering black community leaders and politicians with legal impunity, burning houses, schools, and churches, hanging black citizens from trees in black communities as a punishment and a warning to other black people, and so much more destructive violence.
After initially trying to quell this dissent with National Guard troops, The United States Federal Government essentially “surrendered” this second civil war and withdrew their soldiers from the South. They turned away from the genocide being perpetrated against black people, and allowed the formation of sharecropping, Jim Crow segregation laws, poverty through menial wage labor, erosion of voting rights, militarized police, and mass incarceration to control black populations and ensure permanent minority rule by white men.
We are still dealing with the impact of this continuing war over whether the United states will forever be a white Christian ethno-state that privileges the rich, landowning, corporation owning, and labor owning powers who run our lives now, or a nation that truly reckons with our past as the motivators of racist, sexist, anti-queer, eugenicist, and ableist actions in the US and across the world.
Authoritarians Want You to Feel Hopeless, Powerless, and Alone. We’re Not.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it would be like to live under authoritarian rule.
When would you know? When would you really know?
Would you tell yourself it’s not happening while it happens?
When you look back, would you know when it did change, even if you didn’t see it changing at the time?
Would there be any record left to look back into at all?
Would it feel like voting still mattered?
Would we know it was happening while it was happening?
Would we ask each other why we all pretended like work and school and sports and family feuds and money were so much more important than protecting each other from fascism?
What will I be targeted for? My politics? My sexuality? My podcast? My polyamory? My writing? My sluttiness? My trans identity? My joy? My community? My femininity? Just because?
What I do know is that citizens of the United States are using their tax money to detain families indefinitely.
I know that after the Trump administration re-defined all border crossings as illegal, they separated over 2,000 children from their families and are still unable to find the majority of them because there was never a plan to re-unify families in the first place.
I know that while the Federal Government seemed to stop this policy after public pressure, in practice, not much has changed. People seeking asylum and fleeing violence and poverty are still being detained like animals and treated without a shred of human decency. Family separation and indefinite family detention are not only deeply inhumane, but also in violation of international and federal asylum protections.
I know that after being ordered by a court to reunite all children under the age of 5, only four children were reunited with their parents by the court deadline. This is a crisis in basic enforcement of our legal system. How do you enforce a court deadline against the people who control their own mechanisms of enforcement?
I know that many of the “nonprofits” and private contractors being used to house the 2,000 people separated at the border have direct ties to ICE and Donald Trump, and they are raking it in to the tune of one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000).
And, to make matters even worse, I know that some of these separated children have already been put into systems of adoption. For those unaware, forcibly separating children from their parents based on their race, nationality, or other identity groups to be raised by people who aren’t their parents/guardians is defined as genocide by international law:
From the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession by General Assembly resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948 Entry into force: 12 January 1951)
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a ) Killing members of the group;
(b ) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c ) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d ) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e ) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
This is not hypothetical. This is not imaginary. This is not a warning. This is already happening. US Citizens are complicit in genocide with our money and our silence.
Stealing the children of vulnerable people as a deterrent for asylum seekers, and by extension as a deterrent for all legal and illegal immigration, is just plain evil, especially when the violence those refugees are fleeing is often the fault of the United States and our colonialist policy in South and Central America, including CIA assassinations of democratically elected leaders, puppet regimes, arms sales, and US fiscal policies. These problems have been exacerbated indirectly by decades of neglect, refusals to work together, and a slow starvation of the global south by corporations backed by US covert action.
The immigration policies implemented by Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice, and Donald Trump treat any undocumented person as a criminal by immediately charging them with “illegal entry” without a chance to make any asylum claims. This, coupled with the new restrictions on who can make credible “asylum” claims (gang violence and intimate partner violence are no longer reasons, for example) now means that even people applying for asylum are being treated as criminals.
Asylum is supposed to ensure protection from deportation and imprisonment, at least until it’s decided if you have an asylum claim or not. This process is essentially being eliminated as a way to enter the US, ask for help, and recieve protection from violence. There is no way to file an asylum claim from anywhere other than on US soil.
Re-focusing ICE and Border Agents on every undocumented person as being inherently “illegal” by crossing the border at all, regardless of asylum claims, is the legal loophole that was used to justify children being separated, because children can’t be with their parents in federal prison while the parents await charges for illegal entry. The new executive order to “end” family separation was effective in taking the heat off of Trump, however immigration authorities now seem to be detaining families together indefinitely while parents await charges, which is in direct violation of the 1997 Flores Settlement. This precedent decided the government couldn’t detain youth in immigration detention for more than 20 days.
It’s impossible to listen to the screams of these children, hear about the numerous counts of child abuse, read about children being forced to clean toilets, drink toilet water, or how toddlers as young as 1 year old are representing themselves in court and not understand how we are complicit in international, federal, and state crimes, in addition to basic crimes against humanity. We even learned just last week that ICE and Border agents separated a family of American citizens for over a year and still, nothing has happened to hold specific people or the agencies accountable for any of these violations of the law.
We must not succumb to complacency as we think about the human rights abuses already taking place in the United States. This is likely to get much worse before it gets better, as author and speaker Brynn Tannehill summarized on a piece she published the day after the 2016 election:
You probably think this is paranoia; but bear with me. By the end of this essay, you’ll realize that it isn’t just transgender people who should be frightened. It should be everyone who isn’t white, Christian, straight, cisgender, and male…because we, as a nation, are probably Fucked with a capital F.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we are now a nation with one political party controlling virtually everything: The White House, the US Senate, the Supreme Court (especially after Trump’s nominees are confirmed), the US House of Representatives, thirty-three of the fifty Governor’s Mansions, and sixty-seven of ninety-eight State Legislative Chambers.
The system is rigged, but not in the way Donald Trump claimed. Due to gerrymandering, most state legislatures and the US House of Representatives are completely unwinnable to Democrats. And in most of these states where Republicans control the legislature, the demise of the Voting Rights Act means that voter suppression laws will skew gubernatorial, Presidential, and Senatorial races further to the right. Post VRA suppression was in large part responsible the election of Trump and other right wing demagogues in 2016.
It won’t get better either. A Supreme Court full of little Scalias will not strike down gerrymandered districts, voter suppression, or any of the million legalistic or bean-counting ways Republicans can use to ensure that they never leave power. In 2018, 25 US Senate seats held by Democrats will be up for election. Only eight are held by Republicans. The House is out of reach for at least a decade and a half, if not more, due to gerrymandering and the census cycle.
In 2020 when the census is conducted and districts are drawn up for the 2022 mid-term election, two thirds of the states will still likely have Republican majorities across all three branches. As a result the gerrymandering situation is likely to get even worse.
It is no coincidence that Clinton underperformed the polls so badly in the first election since the Voting Rights Act was struck down. It’s also part of the Democratic death spiral we have entered. As demographic shrinks for Republicans, the more they will work to suppress the vote and rig districts. In turn, elected officials will look less and less like the people in their states, and represent their interests less and less. For elected Republicans, as a result of gerrymandering, there is also a perverse incentive to ignore people in your state who aren’t just like you: i.e., white, Christian, and straight.
We must respond to this administration now, before all the tentacles are set and the systems of accountability we have left aren’t utterly useless. The Republicans are Baron Von Hindenburg. They had a chance to stop Trump in the primary, and in the general election. Instead, they made a deal with the devil to get a Supreme Court seat and tax cuts without realizing the machine they’ve set in motion.
Lest we dream that this fascist future comes from nothing, it’s important to remember that this mass of fascist machinery has always been under our feet, ready to be mobilized by someone shameless and bigoted enough to activate it again.
Every choice you make is political. Silence is political. Inaction is political. What you share and what you don’t share on social media are political. Taking a publicized “social media break” because “everything is too political now” is political.
You don’t have to do everything, but you do have to do something. Especially white people. Silence at a time like this is complicity in what’s happening now and permission for what will happen later.
Our only path out of this forest is through direct action, political organizing, and vocal opposition to everything. We must educate ourselves and each other. We must speak when they want us to be silent. We must march when they want us to stay home. Just like in Nazi Germany, Trump does not have a majority of the country supporting him, and he never has. He lost the popular vote by over 2 million votes.
Even if this shift to neo-fascism is unstoppable, I know I’d rather go out swinging than be complicit in the continuation of genocide.
We will only be able to address this current outbreak of authoritarianism when we begin to see the history of the United States for what it truly is and always has been, minority rule by white men through systematic coercion, repression, and state violence. White men are a minority and have always been a minority in the United States, as this powerful analysis by Rebecca Traister points out:
White men are at the center, our normative citizen, despite being only around a third of the nation’s population. Their outsize power is measurable by the fact that they still — nearly 140 years after the passage of the 15th Amendment, not quite 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, and more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts — hold roughly two-thirds of elected offices in federal, state, and local legislatures. We have had 92 presidents and vice-presidents. One-hundred percent of them have been men, and more than 99 percent white men.
But it’s not just in the numbers; it’s also in the quotidian realities of living in this country. The suffocating power of our minority rule is evidenced by the fact that we’re always busy worrying about the humanity — the comfort and the dignity — of white men, at the same time discouraging disruptive challenge to their authority. (Source)
Instead of wondering how fascist sentiment in the United States has “magically” appeared with Donald Trump, consider instead that the US has always been a fascist authoritarian state which has simply been more successful at concealing their impact through mass marginalization, convoluted “legal” frameworks for oppression, overwhelming military force, white men controlling power at all levels of government, generations of wealth stolen from the bodies of black people forced into slavery, the theft of indigenous land, genocide of indigenous people, and the public or private control of numerous states across the world in a global American Empire.
Consider that just because you feel relatively safe under a fascist or authoritarian state that doesn’t target you, it can still be causing harm and maintaining power through oppression and marginalization.
Consider the possibility that state violence isn’t just mass executions by the state, but also the disproportionate death of marginalized populations which are the result of completely “legal” practices like mass incarceration, the drug war, finance institution greed, deregulation, lack of funding for public services, taxes left uncollected from the rich and corporations, gerrymandering, the school-to-prison pipeline, lack of healthcare, lack of mental health care, lack of safe housing for marginalized people, lack of legal protections for marginalized people, a voting system that isn’t just mailing every citizen a ballot 2 weeks before the election, and every other legal framework that causes oppression as its outcome.
Consider how US Presidents have engaged in intentional and deliberate campaigns to eradicate indigenous people in the United States and aided other government and corporate interests across the world to harm indigenous communities and local populations through war, broken treaties, chemical warfare, terrorism, kidnapping, and forced acculturation.
Consider how the entire concept of “legality” and our very understanding of “law” itself has always been poisoned at the deepest levels to justify disparate outcomes in wealth, safety, and quality of life for people of color, queer people, disabled people, religious minorities, and indigenous communities.
For the vast majority of indigenous communities impacted by European colonialism, and eventually impacted by US imperialism on the North American Continent and abroad, the United States has always been a functionally fascist and authoritarian country in its impact. This was all done “legally”, but we refuse to see the idea of “legal” as a product of the people who have the power to write, enforce, and ignore the law.
Will we ever stop running away, using smokescreens, dog whistles, algorithms, lies, and lack of accountability for people in power to protect white supremacy?
Will we ever truly look at slavery, indigenous genocide, stealing Mexico and how the US is exporting violence, war, and weaponry across the world and see how it has bled into every corner of our policies, our media, our language, our online spaces, our algorithms, and our political movements?
Will we ever listen to marginalized people who say that they have never known freedom in the “Land of the Free”?
Will we ever be able to re-conceptualize our idea of “violence” to include things like lack of access to healthcare, mass incarceration, police executions of unarmed civilians, disproportionately high suicide rates, poverty, lack of access to healthy food, lack of clean water access, and the myriad of social ills we could choose to solve if we really wanted to, but which we choose to ignore in the name of “fiscal responsibility” while politicians and the rich laugh all the way to their bank accounts?
If we want to change these systems, we must shift to focus on the impact of systems, government, and legal establishments instead of the stated intent.
We must shift from a problem-avoiding mindset to a problem-solving mindset.
We must listen to marginalized communities when they tell us the harm of white supremacy, anti-queerness, slavery, militarized police, mass incarceration, and other systems that disenfranchise millions of people.
We must understand that white supremacy has always been here and that this current strain of Nazism, white nationalism, and fascism is not something new, but something deep and old, transformed by technology, social adaptation, and the mass scale of the prison-industrial complex.
We must take these threats seriously and organize seriously to elevate the voices of marginalized people.
We must challenge those in power to actually do something or face political, social, and legal consequences for their inaction, as their constituents are forced to face every oppressive law and system that targets them intentionally or unintentionally.
We must change this system. It is the only just choice we have.
Sara is the host of the Queer Sex Ed Podcast. You can learn more about her work and listen to the show at www.queersexed.org or on any podcast app. You can also follow QSE on Facebook at www.facebook.com/QueerS3xEd and on Twitter@QSEpodcast. If this article has enriched your life, and you would like to support the continuing work of QSE to educate and create queer, intersectional spaces for conversations about sex and sexuality, please consider joining our Patreon community at www.patreon.com/QueerSexEd.