The MAGA Mutiny Shows that America Isn’t a Fascist Country…Yet
Nazi and fascism analogies are back in fashion. Rather than dismiss them, we need to learn from them.
As shocking details continue to emerge in the wake of the January 6th MAGA mutiny, Nazi and fascism analogies are suddenly fashionable again. For five years, prominent experts in fascism, Nazism, and rhetoric made similar comparisons, and they were often met with derision or dismissal. But the new wave is being powered by skeptics, for whom the January 6th insurrection was a jarring wake-up call.
The reinvigoration of such analogies among people who were initially skeptical invites its own analogy. Skeptics in Nazi Germany experienced similar wake-up calls after Hitler became Chancellor: following the suspension of the Constitution in 1933 or the anti-Jewish boycott soon thereafter; following the Night of the Long Knives in 1934; following Kristallnacht in 1938.
Some Germans never awoke from the Nazi fever-dream, but others were eventually brought to their senses by the mounting violence. Reich Economics Minister Hjalmar Schacht, for example, was shocked by Kristallnacht.
“Setting fire to Jewish Synagogues, the destruction and plundering of Jewish stores and businesses and the mistreatment of Jewish citizens was such a shameless and outrageous action that every decent minded German must blush in crimson shame.”
Schacht was demoted soon after and eventually ended up in a concentration camp.
For the first time in some time, a Nazi comparison offers Americans some potentially hopeful news. Notwithstanding the violence and loss of human life on January 6th, we are not calculating the massive human devastation of a Kristallnacht.
We should be grateful there wasn’t more damage on January 6th, but we also need to use this moment take stock.
It is no longer possible to pretend that Trump didn’t mean what he said, and it’s clear the people marching under his flag were deadly serious. Fortunately, however, Trump never held absolute power, and he is fortunately out of office. That represents a crucial difference from 1930s Germany.
Hitler was a full-fledged dictator by the time the scales began to fall from skeptics’ eyes. In 1933, there was a trivial amount of political, legislative, or legal recourse for anyone who began to see the light. By 1938, there was none.
By contrast, Americans still have robust political, legislative, and legal options. We are at a critical inflection point in this country’s history, and it’s not inconceivable that we will continue down our dangerous path. But if we heed the important lessons from Nazi and fascist history, we can choose a different path.
The catch, however, is that we actually have to choose a different path and move the country down it.
In the immediate term, average Americans have more power than they may realize. A key lesson of the Trump era is that making phone calls and sending emails can have significant influence on legislators. The same is true for business and media organizations, as we’ve seen in the wake of the insurrection.
Americans can, and should, prevail upon legislators — many of whom will begin running for re-election by this time next year — to pursue every means at their disposal to hold the mutineers and their leaders accountable. This could mean anything from supporting legal action against Trump and his followers to sponsoring new legislation aimed at preventing future armed rebellions.
In the intermediate term, Americans must re-commit to our founding ideals. This may seem like a trite, nebulous suggestion. But the people who stormed the Capitol bearing Nazi and Confederate regalia, looking for politicians to detain and perhaps murder, highlight just how controversial ideals such as freedom, equality, and democracy still are.
Meanwhile, some prominent Republicans continue to insist that Trump supporters weren’t responsible for the insurrection and that any investigation is tainted. Clearly their sense of justice is misguided.
Re-committing to America’s founding ideals, then, is a necessary step forward. This means committing to civic action, to civic education, and to holding ourselves to our own ideals in support of all the people around us, not just the ones we agree with.
Over the long term, Americans need to vote for better political representatives — people who demonstrate their belief in equality, justice, freedom, democracy through legislation and action.
People who attack democracy and vote against our ideals should not be elevated to positions of power. Americans have the power to hold people accountable at the ballot box, as we’ve seen repeatedly over the past five months.
Big change won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without Americans taking action.
But we can avoid further discomfiting Nazi and fascism comparisons if we take the MAGA mutiny as an opportunity to right the ship of state. Because we know the destination we’re aimed at, and it’s horrific.