Echoes of 1933 Europe: The effort to install authoritarian is closer than most Americans think
History shows that most democratic nations do not realize how serious their fascism problem is until it overtakes them altogether.
We saw it in the 1930s in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan. Today it is happened in Hungary, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, the Philippines, and Brazil, and is well underway in Poland, India, and multiple smaller countries. Here in America, the GOP has a serious fascism problem, and it is endangering all of us. It is closer than most of us realize.
Fascism isn’t just about the merger of oligarch and state interests; it also requires a repudiation of the rule of law and the institutions of democracy itself. This is exactly what is happening deep within the Republican Party at this very moment. Trumpism was always about fascism.
Those few Republicans who voted to impeach and convict Donald Trump are finding their local and state parties repudiating them, fueled by the rage of people who’ve bought into false beliefs of a Jewish- or Black-controlled “deep state” that’s working against their savior, Donald Trump.
We’ve seen this movie before, and, tragically, history tells us most countries only recognize their fascism problem in the rear-view mirror after it’s consumed their democracy.
This is very much how Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany a decade after he was arrested and imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the government of Bavaria in 1923. It took his movement and his political colleagues ten more years to worm their way into power in 1933.
They did it by spreading books like Mein Kampf and pamphlets proclaiming deep state socialist and Jewish conspiracies and a Lugenpresse or “lying press,” promoting them with a particular emphasis in right-leaning southern states like Bavaria and the economically hard-hit rural parts of the country.
What took the German fascists a decade is happening in a matter of a few short years here in the United States because of the velocity of social media.
It’s being amplified by oligarch-owned media and the cowardice or opportunism of senior Republican officials, unwilling to honestly and openly confront the lies pushed by fascist conspiracy theorists or willing to embrace Trump’s fascism so they can win elections in 2022 and 2024.
Last January, Democratic senators voted to convict Donald Trump of incitement to insurrection, while Republican senators representing about 40 million fewer voters blocked his removal from office.
Nonetheless, the message in rightwing media and across the fascist underground on social media, often echoed by mainstream media, was that the Senate voted to “exonerate” or “acquit” Trump.” In fact, the vote merely “failed to remove” him, although a majority of the Senate voted to convict.
To see how pervasive this fascism crisis is within conservative media, just check out the daily newsletter tracking them over at therighting.com. These are all symptoms of a political party taken over by a fascist element. For six years now, this element has been nurtured and fed online by foreign governments, a small number of American oligarchs, and angry white supremacist Americans.
A country slides into an oligarchy when its legislature ceases to attend to the needs of the majority of the people, and instead only passes laws or promulgates policies that help the oligarchic class.
As several studies have documented, particularly the work of Gilens and Page, this process began with the Reagan Revolution in 1981 and by the early 2000s was so solidified in our national politics that Congress had ceased to pass laws and policies that bore any resemblance to what the majority of Americans wanted, shown by national public policy polling.
Prior to the Reagan Revolution of 1981, Congress typically did what the majority of Americans wanted. That’s how we got Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, housing supports, Pell Grants for college, long-term unemployment, a minimum wage, food and drug safety, and laws and agencies protecting our clean air and water.
Since the Reagan Revolution, however, Republicans in Congress have been largely fixated on deregulating industry and unleashing predatory bankers and industrial polluters on the American public. Their singular focus has been tax cuts for morbidly rich people, which have driven tens of trillions of dollars out of the pockets and wealth of the American working class and into the money bins of this nation’s oligarchs.
This is extraordinarily dangerous. Oligarchy rarely lasts more than a generation; it’s an unstable form of government, because the people are not getting what they want or need.
Typically, oligarchies flip in one of two directions within that generation: either back to democracy, or into a full-blown fascist police state. Twice before in American history, oligarchies have risen up and challenged our government itself, and both times we defeated them.
The first time happened in the 1830-1860 era in the South, when southern plantation owners consolidated power in those states and ended any semblance of democracy, rigging elections and imposing a police state. They finally reached out to destroy that bothersome democracy to the north in what we call the Civil War.
We defeated those oligarchs and broke up their political and economic fortunes. The plantation of Robert E. Lee, for example, is now known as Arlington National Cemetery and the Parchman plantation in Louisiana is now a state prison.
Fascist oligarchs rose up again in America in the 1920s and 30s, and in 1933 put together a “businessman‘s conspiracy” plot to kidnap or kill President Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace him with a “good Republican.”
President Roosevelt got ahead of that curve, after Marine General Smedley Butler blew the whistle on the conspiracy, and declared open war on the oligarchs he referred to as “economic royalists.”
“These economic royalists,” FDR said, “complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power.”
Back then, oligarchs funding the Republican Party also complained that helping the average person instead of just giving tax cuts to the rich was “unconstitutional,“ and cluttered their stages with American flags when they gave political speeches, as if to demonstrate their uber-patriotism.
FDR called them out: “In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.”
FDR called together the American people with his regular fireside chats, and the American people rejected the Republican’s fascist oligarchs. As a result, the GOP never controlled Congress for more than a two-year period from 1933 to 1996.
Today, using the cloak of social media that allows their most virulent and poisonous lies to spread invisibly and unchecked, fascist oligarchs, foreign trolls and an authoritarian-loving group within the Republican grassroots are again denigrating democracy and the rule of law in America.
Some Democrats, watching this process and its consequence, are delighting in the internal battles within the GOP. We should be careful what we root for. Both psychology and history show that about a fifth of the population of any country are people who lean toward authoritarianism. Rather than valuing democracy, debate, and the rule of law, their highest value is safety and stability.
Therefore, they will embrace any oligarch who points to an “other” and provides even the weakest evidence that those “others” are responsible for the country’s current crisis.
This is exactly the dynamic we’re seeing play out right now. The “others” these fascists are identifying specifically include “socialist” Democrats; Black people in large cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia who Republicans say were engaging in widespread “voter fraud”; and wealthy Jews like George Soros who, they say, are funding them.
This bizarre claim is at the foundation of Donald Trump‘s “stop the steal” movement, and represents the greatest threat to the future of democracy in America. Fascist Republican politicians are, at this moment, using it to craft and promote increasingly draconian voter suppression legislation; over 100 such laws have been passed in about two dozen states just since Trump lost the election.
As former Congressman Riggleman told CNN, the GOP‘s plan for 2022 is to run on “stop the steal” and “ballot integrity.”
These are code for making it harder for all but middle-class white people to vote, and represent a direct assault on the very foundations of American democracy.
Most authoritarians are “authoritarian followers,” so they’re primed to rapidly follow any competent “authoritarian leader” demagogue who claims that he alone can save them.
The spread of this fascist movement within the Republican Party, and its embrace by powerful and high profile people like Senators Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Rick Scott and Josh Hawley, represents the greatest threat America has faced since the 1930s.
All genuinely patriotic Americans must unite to repudiate this quick-spreading cancer in the Republican Party.