It Can Happen Here; It Already Is3/17/20
Nearly a century ago, as fascism was taking hold in Europe as epitomized by Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany, renowned author Sinclair Lewis wrote his classic work “It Can’t Happen Here”, a warning to America to remain vigilant to prevent fascism from coming onto our shores. We successfully defeated fascism by winning WWII, but recently let our guard down by allowing it to gain a foothold in the U.S. The question for us is can we reverse it before it takes over completely and destroys our country.
Fascism is on the march again worldwide, taking hold in countries such as Russia, North Korea, China, Turkey, Hungary, and The Philippines. The greatest difference now from a century ago is that alarms are sounding that fascism is taking hold in our own country, accelerated by the advent of Donald Trump and the capitulation of the Republican Party to support him no matter what he says or does. So it’s no wonder that several books have been published since 2016 warning us that fascism threatens our constitutional democratic republic, including “Fascism: A Warning” by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “How Democracies Die” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblett, “If We Can Keep It” by Michael Tomasky, and “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder, or that renewed interest in George Orwell’s “1984” and Mr. Lewis’s epic work has skyrocketed since Trump was elected.
Donald Trump’s presidency has exhibited all of the classic characteristics of tyrants that have overturned democracies in other countries and replaced them with authoritarian dictatorships, with the resulting erosion of democratic principles and norms, increasing violations of laws and our Constitution, and the steady progression of unmistakable features of authoritarian rule beginning to appear in our country. This is extremely alarming to us who love our country and our Constitution and our leadership in advancing democracy and human rights throughout the world. It’s equally alarming that he has coerced the entire Republican Party through intimidation, threats, and incessant lies into blindly supporting him with unquestioning loyalty.
Trump immediately began attacking and demeaning our democratic institutions and pillars of our constitutional democratic republic including the free press, Congress, the courts, and his own Executive Branch protecting our national security and rights (including all of our intelligence agencies, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI) and the Environmental Protection Agency. He has sought to sow division and distrust of our government, proclaiming that we shouldn’t believe anything we hear or see – but should believe only him. He has even called our free press the “Enemy of the People”, a charge used by despots Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. He insults, demeans, and hurls racist comments at the segments of our society he despises, especially those of people of color. He has treated desperate migrants and refugees attempting to enter our country with a level of cruelty not seen before, including separating little children from their parents and throwing them in cages. His rhetoric and actions are designed to divide us as a people and turn us against one another while appealing to people’s darker sides. He’s embraced white nationalism even calling Neo-Nazis “fine people”.
Trump has turned against our international democratic allies and organizations such as NATO who join with us to keep the world safe from despots, while embracing authoritarian strongmen like Vladimir Putin (Russia), Kim Jung Un (North Korea), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey), Viktor Orban (Hungary), and Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), many of them murderers of their own people. His total embrace of Putin and his agenda has been embarrassing and dangerous to our national security, with his disgraceful performance at Helsinki last year being the low point when he sided with Putin’s denial of interfering in our elections over the unanimous conclusions of all of our intelligence agencies as well as the Mueller investigation. Trump still maintains Russia didn’t do anything, and pushes the false conspiracy theory that Ukraine did. He continues to corrupt and weaponize the Justice Department and his subservient Attorney General William Barr to attack his perceived enemies and help his convicted criminal friends escape justice while attempting to discredit the Special Prosecutor investigation of Russian meddling in our 2016 election. Recently he and Barr intervened to reduce the recommended sentence of his buddy Roger Stone, resulting in the four prosecutors quitting in disgust and 2,000 former DOJ employees cosigning a letter condemning the action.
For three years he has intimidated and trashed anyone who does not swear an oath of total loyalty to him (rather than our Constitution, country, and the rule of law). He has systematically subjugated Executive Branch employees and the entire Republican Party, including Congressional Republicans, demanding they do his will and punishing those who don’t. He rules by fear of retribution and vengeance if anyone strays from total allegiance to him. Recent examples include the intelligence agencies requesting Congress excuse them from giving their annual Threat Assessment Report for fear Trump might disagree with them, the National Archives and Library of Congress distorting displays of the Women’s March in January 2017 for fear Trump might not like the protest signs in the crowds. He fired Director of National Intelligence Admiral Joseph McGuire for doing his job reporting briefing Congress on Russia’s meddling in the 2020 elections to help Trump, replacing him with a partisan loyalist hack with no relevant experience. He intimidated all Republican Senators into refusing to consider relevant evidence in his impeachment trial even though the case against him for flagrant abuse of office and obstruction is overwhelming.
Equally horrific is Trump’s refusal to protect our election integrity, destruction of our air and water quality, his refusal to acknowledge and address disastrous climate change, elimination of health insurance and protections for those with pre-existing conditions for tens of millions of Americans, massive cuts to Medicare and Social Security (breaking his campaign promises), and his dangerous actions to undue all things Obama did to improve our lives based strictly on his hatred for him.
Like so many tyrants, Trump lies incessantly about big important things as well as little things. The Washington Post has been tracking public statements and counted an astonishing 16,251 “false or misleading statements,” as they call them (we call them lies) in just his first three years in office, with their frequency increasing at an alarming rate, from 6 per day (2017) to 16 a day (2018) to 22+day last year.
The recent impeachment proceedings provide a stark demonstration of Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and Republicans’ cultish obedience and blind unthinking loyalty and fear of him. Since his “acquittal” in the Senate, he has begun his vengeful and vindictive punishment of those American patriots who were witnesses in the House hearings. Trump and Congressional Republicans believe that he can do anything he wants to win reelection, even extort a foreign government to interfere in our elections to help him cheat to win.
This is all alarming to those of us who love our democratic republic and the Constitution. The warnings we’ve been hearing for nearly a century, even more recently, are becoming a reality. Fascism has indeed landed on our shores and threatens our country in fundamental ways.
National hero Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw Seal Team Six taking out Osama bin Laden, wrote “If good men like Joe McGuire can’t speak the truth, we should be deeply afraid”. He quoted Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” McRaven said: “In this administration, good men and women don’t last long. Joe was dismissed for doing his job. As Americans, we should be frightened – deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security – then there is nothing to stop the triumph of evil.”
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a lady asked Benjamin Franklin: “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He replied “A Republic, if you can keep it.” We are losing it right now! This is a 10-alarm fire calling for all hands on deck to stop this dictator wannabe and our slide into a third world authoritarian state. All people of good will who value our freedoms and democracy and still wish us to be that “Shining city on the hill” that President Reagan spoke of are called to do all they can in 2020 to stop this insanity and remove him and his enabling Republicans from office in November before they make things far worse.
Mike Brown is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum. He writes from Cambridge.