Does America Want Fascism?
It’s June. And annually, the month of June prompt the same similar, yet burning questions. How can LA still have bumper-to-bumper traffic if no one is here for the summer? Why don’t my kids at sleep-away camp seem to miss me even a little? And how can The Bachelorette be so darn boring this year, especially considering how enamored of Becca we were when she was runner-up on The Bachelor?
So, yes, those were the salient questions that I have asked each June, year after year, almost decade after decade. Those or at least incredible facsimiles thereof.
But not this year. This year feels different. This year is different.
This year, I have one burning question that I require an answer to and it has nothing to do with how this season’s Big Brother house will be a new manifestation of “expect the unexpected.”
Rather, this year I can get no rest or solace until I get some semblance of an answer to this question: Are Americans more prone to accepting a Fascist-style governmental rule than we think we are?
Are there way more fellow citizens than we realize that would knowingly gravitate towards a tyrannical strongman who rejects our democratic norms, institutions and rules of law?
Are there really a near-majority of people whose conception of the “American-style” of government is the complete anathema to the democratically-elected, constitutionally-based system based on laws, truth and liberty that we’ve projected and protected for over two hundred years?
And is this American democratic experiment possibly coming to extinction and we don’t even know it?
I mean, this is a nation who’s origin story is the rag-tag rejection of authoritarian rule. The rejection of monarchy for rule of the people is who we are and we continue to tell the world that they should be.
Yet in the past week, we have a President of the United States who actively and aggressively used the instruments of government to separate children from their parents and place the kids in cages. And while half the country was rightly outraged, a full other half praised Trump for his “strength.” As if committing to a policy of picking on society’s most vulnerable and promoting a policy of state-sponsored child abuse somehow makes you tough. Not just a cowardly pandering to a fearful right wing base eager and willing to scapegoat the “other.”
This is the same week that this same President — not a mentally deranged lunatic in an isolated cabin — but the President of the United States advocated denying immigrants access to courts, laws or Due Process. And did all of America, a nation that places its laws before any leader, rise up and instantly reject such assaults on an independent judiciary and the fundamental primacy of law? No, not exactly. Instead, recent polls cited in the NY Times show that Trump’s approval ratings amongst the GOP are now at 90 per cent.
That’s right, nine out of every ten members of one of the two major parties condones the attacks on our instititions. Condones the scapegoating of people of Latino descent for the perceived wave of violent crime sweeping the nation. They don’t just condone it. They seem to relish in the discomfort of anyone who sees these values as inconsistent with the American way of life. The liberals and elites and city folk are getting their comeuppance. And there’s no doubt the politics of resentment and grievance will always hold some appeal.
But this is not a fringe movment of disaffected radicals. This isn’t some minor flirtation by the few Father Coughlin or John Bircherism. These are the views of the President of the United States. A man with a widely-held history of admiring the means and tactics of autocratic strongmen. A man who clearly holds no qualms about the accumulation of his own power at the expense of a two century history of assiduously rejecting such power grabs.
But everything about the Trump presidency has been modeled on Fascist-style tyrannical nationalism. It’s happened right before our eyes. We’ve simply chosen not to believe that it could actually happen to us. And yet, the soil was fecund for such a takeover. All it took was the rare American politician not intent on upholding the American democratic experiment.
It’s been an administration based on lies and mistruths. Everything from Birtherism to the Inaugural size. From Pizzagate to Spygate to the assertion that Trump was being wiretapped by President Obama. In this presidential era, the truth is not an immutable fact, but a fungible commodity used to serve the leader’s purpose. Never before have fact and truth meant less in democratic government whose cornerstones are supposed to be facts and truth.
This is an administration that has waged an all-out continual war on the idea of a free unfettered press. With every cry of “fake news”, not just from angry rally mobs, but the President himself, this administration has systematically sought to delegitimize the sanctity of the media and their ability to hold the powerful accountable.
This is an administration that has had zero reservations treating their political enemies, not as vanquished electoral foes, but as true enemies worthy of jail. Is there any more principle in a democracy more seemingly sacrosanct than not abusing governmental power to punish your political rivals. Yet every Trump rally to this day is punctuated by the repeated cries to ‘lock her up.”
For an administration so hell-bent on selling itself as the one true purveyor of patriotism, no administration has gone to greater lengths to attack its own democratic norms, values and institutions. Day after day, tweet after tweet, Trump has sought to inflict irreparable damage on our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He has diminished the importance and trustworthiness of our court systems. He has for 30 years repeatedly described our armed forces as a weakness and a disgrace. And like all autocratic leaders in the history of autocratic leaders, only he, Donald Trump can fix the institutions that fail us.
Go back to the early 80’s. Trump’s arguments for Trumpism have remain unchanged. America is failing. Crime is rampant. We are getting screwed on trade deals. Our allies abuse us in our security relationships. We are chumps. We are under attack by foreign hordes. And who can save us? Not our cherished democratic institutions. But a strong man with no regard for the law.
Whether it’s his attempted Muslim Travel Ban or his desire for a southern border wall, all of Trump’s policy prescriptions are textbook cases of Fascist grievance policies in action. Nothing is more popular than ginning up support amongst the poor whites, the economically-anxious, than blaming their problems on the colored “other.” Who takes their jobs? Illegal Latino immigrants? Who causes crime? Gang members, rapists and murderers from Mexico and El Salvador. Who is our greatest foreign threat? Muslim terrorists sneaking into our country because of a lax Visa system.
This is a presidency based entirely on manufactured fear. And why not? If you’re only goal is power and its self-perpetuation (plus enriching yourself and your corporations), why not appeal to people’s basest fears. It’s worked the world over for a long time.
But what’s different is that American has always resisted such entreaties. America has always seen through such obvious cons. And yet, somehow, Americans are letting it happen. Even under the guise that punting away due process and civil liberties is somehow even more American. That ceding power to a lawless strongman is somehow a manifestation of our way of life, not a complete and thorough rejection of it. Too many American citizens are abdicating their responsibility as protectors of the American way of life. And they are too consumed with hating liberals and modernity and people of color to even recognize that it’s happening.
Will the United States of America ever accede to full-scale European-style Fascism? I sure as fuck hope not. At some point, I believe in my heart of hearts that enough will be enough. I believe that people will recognize that there is nothing less American than a President wholly unconcerned that our sacred free elections were indisputably interfered with by our most pernicious foreign adversary.
I believe that people will remember that America still stands for tolerance and decency and compassion, not simply the scapegoating and punishment of our most vulnerable for political expediency. I believe people will recall that all laws are more vital and important than any one leader. I believe that even with the daily erosion of our norms, a course correction is necessary and inevitable for our union to survive.
I believe that Americans will remember that we stood up to and shed blood fighting Nazism and Fascism and Communism and all forms of tyrannical, autocratic totalitariansim. And I believe that no American truly, honestly wants to see the opposite form of government to everything we stand for take root on our shores. I believe these past two years are an aberration. And I believe this march away from democracy can’t and won’t last.
I believe it because I have to. Because as a country-loving American patriot, to accept anything else but a full-restoration of our American norms and values is frankly just too painful to believe.