The GOP is increasingly clear about their goal: Make America Russia, or at least Russia’s mini-me, Hungary. They are openly embracing a modern, westernized, Christian white supremacy-based version of classic fascism.
And the Trump-MAGA Republicans have a three-step process to bring it about that they are already putting into place.
They are willing to put enormous time and resources into the project, because they know that once fascism fully seizes a nation it is extremely difficult to dislodge it.
In 19th century America, it took a Civil War to defeat the Southern fascist movement we call the Confederacy, as I lay out in The Hidden History of American Democracy.
In 20th century Germany, Japan, and Italy it took military defeat at the hands of an alliance of democracies to purge those nations of fascism. In Chile and Spain it took long, painstaking, deadly years of movement-building to produce what was essentially a political revolution to dislodge Pinochet, and fascism in Spain didn’t fully end until Franco died in 1975.
These are the stakes for contemporary America, and the Christo-fascist movement that has seized most of the Republican Party knows it well.
They have read their history: they know that if they can just once achieve total power in the U.S., they can embed fascism so deeply at every level of American government, business, and civic life that it would take generations to rip it out.
To accomplish this, they are following the script Viktor Orbán provided as an example, producing a “kinder and gentler” version of Putin’s fascist autocracy. It involves three major steps:
1. Take over the electoral systems “to ensure election integrity” and then, when you “win” elections, pass more laws disenfranchising your opponents’ voters.
2. Build a fascist base of support by openly mobilizing hate of racial and gender minorities, merging large church factions into the Party, funding a fascist-leaning media infrastructure, aligning your policies with the richest and most powerful billionaires and industries in the country, and calling for a return to “traditional” roles for women.
3. Seize control of the ultimate state power — the power to kick in your door and imprison you — and use it against political opponents.
Here is a review of their efforts and successes so far.
1. Corrupting electoral systems
And it worked. As the Journal of Democracy noted:
“Although in both the 2014 and the 2018 elections Fidesz failed to win more than 50 percent of all votes cast, it both times secured a two-thirds parliamentary majority.”
Orbán used that supermajority to rewrite the nation’s constitution and pass laws that further gerrymandered parliamentary districts and gave extra “bonus” seats in parliament to parties that got a vote over a certain threshold. His party then took over administration of election systems across the nation.
The result was that in a recent election Fidesz took 68 percent of the seats in Parliament with 53 percent of the vote.
How did his party even get to 53 percent of the vote? Control of the media.
After his oligarch cronies bought up virtually all of the country’s radio and TV infrastructure and put the equivalent of rightwing talk radio and Fox “News” into cars and homes in every region of the country, he also seized control of public media — Hungary’s equivalent of PBS and NPR — so that “96% of public news coverage about the government was positive, and 82% of its coverage about the opposition negative.”
Opposition politicians are blacked-out of public media and also ignored by the commercial media owned by Orbán’s pals: many voters don’t even recognize the names of opposition candidates. Instead, every word uttered by Orbán and his Trump-MAGA equivalent allies is carried live in breathless “breaking news” coverage.
Since publication of the Powell Memo in 1972 and its widespread implementation in the 1980s, over 90 percent of political radio broadcast outlets in the United States carry pro-fascism programming. In the world of television, Fox “News” and Sinclair Broadcasting have established a strong beachhead. And Republicans in Congress try every year to fully defund NPR and put it up for sale to the highest GOP-aligned billionaire bidder.
Like with Russia and Hungary, gerrymandering in the U.S. is the only reason Republicans right now control the House of Representatives.
In Pennsylvania, even though a majority of voters statewide cast ballots for Democrats, 13 of the state’s 18 representatives to Congress are Republicans. In the 2018 election in Wisconsin, although the majority of statewide votes went to Democrats, Democratic politicians only won 36 of the 99 seats in that state’s state assembly.
As the Brennan Center notes:
“In the 26 states that account for 85 percent of congressional districts, Republicans derive a net benefit of at least 16 to 17 congressional seats in the current Congress from partisan bias.”
At the state level, efforts to corrupt election systems in Red states have gone into hyperdrive. Almost a thousand bills making it harder to register or easily vote have been proposed over the past decade in states controlled by Republicans, with well over 200 of them becoming law.
Some even saw the work of elections officials openly seized by partisan Republican hacks. For example, Houston — a Blue dot of 3 million voters that has the potential to swing the mostly-Red state — just saw its entire election system set up for a takeover by Republicans in a naked power grab by the Texas legislature.
With the blessing of five Republicans on the Supreme Court, multiple layers of restrictions designed to make it more difficult and costly for working-class voters to take time off work to cast a ballot are now in place in state after state, resulting in millions purged from the voting rolls, long lines in heavily Democratic districts, and onerous requirements for those who would like to vote by mail.
Both states have also criminalized voter registration drives, which are most heavily used to get female, minority, and youth voters on the rolls.
To suppress the reliably Democratic votes of people of color, Florida and Texas have begun arresting former felons who were told by the state they could vote, and then parading them before TV cameras in public.
The result in the 2022 election was dramatic: Republican turnout in Florida in 2022 was at 67.3%, while Democratic turnout collapsed to 52%.
Black voter turnout was what pulled down those Democratic numbers (and their being midterms) because, as Politico noted:
“Black turnout [in Florida] dropped from 62 percent [in 2020] to 40 percent [in 2022].”
2. Building a fascist follower base
In Russia and Hungary, Putin and Orbán have cast themselves as populists, raging against “elites” and minorities while, in the background, giving the morbidly rich everything they want. Orbán built his wall, while Putin has revived the “blood and soil” idea of white Russian genetic superiority. He’s even mandated that Russian passports must contain “genetic information” by 2025.
Both men have heavily criminalized homosexuality and restricted abortion, with Russia recently rolling out new restrictions designed to prevent “80 percent” of abortions by white Russian women. New anti-trans legislation is being voted on by the Duma (the Russian parliament) this week.
As the Associated Press reported, this is similar to the tactic Republican governors are taking across America:
“Hungary’s right-wing governing party last year banned the depiction of homosexuality or sex reassignment in media targeting minors under 18. Information on homosexuality was also forbidden in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisements accessible to minors. The governing Fidesz party argued the measures were meant to protect children from pedophilia.”
Seven months ago, CNN reported on Putin’s similar efforts:
“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed into law a bill that expands a ban on so-called LGBTQ ‘propaganda’ in Russia, making it illegal for anyone to promote same-sex relationships or suggest that non-heterosexual orientations are ‘normal.’”
Putin and Orbán have both encouraged volunteer Brownshirt-, Blackshirt-, and Proud Boys-types of vigilante groups that harass liberals and minorities both online and on the streets of those nations. They also often hire them for security and offer them free legal counsel.
With Putin’s blessing, for example, men who call themselves Aktivisky (activists) patrol the streets looking for “deviants” and racial minorities who “shouldn’t be here.” They film and selectively edit their harassment to create online content, which is then shared on YouTube (one channel has over 1.7 million subscribers), Telegram, and other social media sites, both to encourage others to do the same and to make money.
Here in the United States, fascist leaning billionaires are now openly supporting rightwing groups devoted to “protecting” America’s schoolchildren from “deviance.”
While these Republican-aligned organizations have no interest in protecting our kids from easily accessed sex on the internet or gun violence — the leading cause of childhood deaths in America — they’re all about banning books that positively depict Black or queer people or discuss America’s history of racial violence, calling them “pornography.”
Donald Trump is telling his followers that if he was reelected he would pardon the January 6 traitors and that China was right to “crack down” on their largest racial minority group, the Uighurs, by building concentration camps to house them.
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrote in her book Fascism: A Warning:
“Decades ago, George Orwell suggested that the best one-word description of a Fascist was ‘bully.’”
Trump played the bully when he tore families apart at the border: around a thousand children are still missing, having been trafficked into so-called “Christian” private adoption systems that failed to track them or how much money they were paid.
DeSantis and Texas Governor Abbott are both getting a pull-the-wings-off-the-fly delight out of kidnapping and deporting to Blue states vulnerable asylum-seeking families; with the GOP, the cruelty is the point.
Republican followers are similarly responsible for the majority of terror attacks and politically motivated murders over the past 20 years, and their bullying continues apace. Domestic terrorists killed 25 people in the U.S. last year in 12 separate incidents. All were Republican-aligned rightwingers and white supremacists.
3. Use selective prosecution to punish those who speak out
Trump flaunted the rule of law while President, and now promises to be as corrupt as Putin and Orbán if he was reelected. Other MAGA Republicans, particularly Ron DeSantis, are echoing his corrupt rhetoric, even going so far as to promise to pardon Trump if he’s convicted of his crimes.
In Russia and Hungary, dissidents who aren’t murdered by private-sector or volunteer Activiskys face arrest and imprisonment for speaking out against government corruption and fascism.
Both countries have transformed their police and judicial systems into instruments of state oppression in ways Trump and MAGA Republicans are now saying we should emulate here in the US.
Two years ago Orbán cemented control of his nation’s supreme court with the appointment of András Zs Varga as its chief justice. Varga had never before served as a judge and describes the rule of law in the European Union as “tyrannical” and “totalitarian.”
This sort of projection — accusing your political enemies of exactly what you are doing or intend to do — is also a hallmark of contemporary Republican political rhetoric.
Across the Atlantic, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) this month published a new report highlighting how Hungary’s criminal justice system has been so badly corrupted by Orbán and his Fidesz party that his cronies routinely walk free even when convicted of the most egregious crimes — while political opponents rot in prison for minor offenses.
Here in America, we had a brush with this sort of takeover of the criminal justice system when Richard Nixon and his Attorney General, John Mitchell, weaponized the Department of Justice against Nixon’s perceived enemies.
Following his resignation and Mitchell’s imprisonment, the DOJ instituted new rules creating a sort of political “wall of separation” between the DOJ and the White House, a policy that was respected from the 1970s right up until Bill Barr took the helm as AG under Donald Trump.
Barr ignored that policy and made sure Trump cronies Mike Flynn and Roger Stone got light sentences, bowed to Trump’s demand to investigate and try to imprison Hillary Clinton, and tried to discredit the Mueller Report’s finding that Trump and his campaign had numerous corrupt entanglements with Russia and Putin’s agents.
The ever-brilliant Mark Sumner posts a lengthy summary of Trump’s most corrupt pardons over on Daily Kos so I won’t repeat it here, other than noting that most people are at least familiar with his forgiving serious crimes by Flynn, Stone, Steve Bannon, Dinesh D’souza, George Papadopoulos, Joe Arpaio, three Republican congressmen, two participants in the Bundy uprising, and various murderers whose violence, in every case, was racially or politically motivated.
Meanwhile, Trump last week outright declared that if he was elected he would appoint prosecutors who will nakedly pursue political prosecutions of people hostile to Republicans, including Democratic politicians and the prosecutors and FBI agents who’ve ensnared Trump himself:
“I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family,” Trump said, along with a promise to “totally obliterate the Deep State.”
Not only have Republicans not called him out for this purely fascist proclamation, it’s been essentially endorsed by Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and the editorial pages of major rightwing publications.
Pence went so far as to assume that Garland has not been following DOJ policy and has colluded with President Biden to initiate a political persecution of Trump:
“Attorney General Merrick Garland, stop hiding behind the special counsel and stand before the American people and explain why this indictment went forward.”
Rhetoric like this tears apart Americans’ confidence in the impartiality of our system of justice, which is exactly what the Republican fascists want. Just like their yelling about “voter fraud” to justify their own rigging of our elections, if they can convince us our justice system has always been corrupt then nobody will object — or even get what’s going on — when they completely compromise and fatally corrupt it.
An early warning came two years ago when Nancy Pelosi successfully pushed the Protecting Our Democracy Act through the House. It would have turned the DOJ policies instituted post-Nixon that insulated the DOJ from political influence into laws the department must follow regardless of who heads it up, including a requirement for the Justice Department to disclose to Congress all contacts with officials from the White House.
The united GOP opposition to the law — that led to it dying from a Senate filibuster — is only explicable when you consider how many Republicans are today supporting Trump’s call to turn the DOJ into an armed enforcement operation for the party of whichever president is in office. That, of course, is the main thing the Act would have made a crime.
Orbán — who also takes Putin’s side — was feted when he was the keynote speaker at a Republican-aligned convention in Texas last year, declaring to cheers that Hungarians “do not want to become peoples of mixed race.” CPAC also recently completed their second convention in Budapest, bringing Republicans to see the “modern miracle” of Hungary.
Orbán got a standing ovation when he read the part of the Hungarian constitution that declares marriage exclusively between a man and a woman, and said America needs “less drag queens and more Chuck Norris.”
He called for an overthrow of the American form of government and the European Union, replacing both with Putin-aligned systems and policies. The starting point, in his mind, is the American 2024 election.
“We must take back the institutions in Washington and in Brussels,” he told the Republican audience. Warming to Trump’s calls for an alliance between the US, Putin, and Hungary, he added, “We must co-ordinate the movement of our troops, because we face the same challenge. You have two years to get ready.”
Our democratic republic is facing serious challenges from Orbán’s international rightwing coalition, the fascist wing of the GOP, and the billionaires who support both.
This is not something office-holding Democrats — particularly lacking control of the House or the power to break a Senate filibuster — can deal with alone.
To paraphrase the author of the Declaration of Independence, the best defense against those who seek to tear down our rule of law and replace it with fascist tyranny is an informed and activated populace.
The White House, the DOJ, and the Senate — all in Democratic hands — can’t stop American fascism given the level of Republican opposition, Trump-MAGA GOP control of the House, and the funding behind the movement.
The Supreme Court will not stop it, either: if anything they have made the situation worse by handing control of the GOP to rightwing billionaires, decriminalizing voter suppression, and legalizing political bribery.
Neither Canada nor the EU are planning to ride to our rescue, either. It is up to us to save this nation by waking up friends, neighbors, and co-workers — and by registering and showing up to vote this November and next.
While President Biden may have the bully pulpit, we are literally the only ones who can bring about the political change necessary to reclaim American democracy.
Editor’s Note: The MAGA movement has split into several factions, one led by Trump, another by DeSantis, another by Pence. “Trump-MAGA” was to distinguish the Trump-led faction from the others.
Bianca Stock Photos (via Pixabay)
© Thom Hartmann, used with permission. Originally published on The Hartmann Report as Revealed: The MAGAT* Republicans’ Three-Step Plan for Classic Fascism
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