I think I now know how fascism begins.
I watched the mob in its destructive rampage through our nation’s Capitol last week, beating people, breaking doors, and looting artifacts. I was struck at how reminiscent this seemed to Germany in the early 1930s, when Hitler and his Nazis seized power.
Like then, this mob was goaded on by a megalomaniac with a megaphone spewing hate. It was obviously organized. Rioters had brought tools to break down doors. I watched a video of the mob beating a Capitol policeman and heard his anguished cries. It sickened me.
Fascism comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to come in a uniform. It can be a mob. Rioting Parisians lined up political opponents for the guillotine in 1798, until mob leaders themselves went to the blade. Last week we saw rioters erect a noose for Vice President Mike Pence.
Fascism involves extreme nationalism and is typically built around a strongman-type leader who often beats a racist drum. “Make America Great Again” sounds innocent, but when it’s combined with White Supremacy and exclusion of “others” (people of color and immigrants) it rings of Germany 1933 when Hitler attained power.
Some will say I overstate. I acknowledge we are not the 1920s and early 1930s Weimar Republic with its hyperinflation, economic stress and weak democracy. But there are similarities, and enough to be worrying.
Start with the mythology of the wronged. Trump’s “They stole it from me” echoes “Stabbed in the Back,” the myth felt in Germany that its army was not defeated in World War I but undercut on the home front by Communists, Jews, socialists, and trade unions.
We all now know it was the arrival of fresh American troops in 1917 that did in Germany’s exhausted soldiers (British and French soldiers were equally exhausted), but Hitler was able to play on the myth.
Another parallel is how Hitler could spew falsehoods and get away with it. He had Joseph Goebbels and Nazi-controlled radio and newspapers. Trump had Twitter and Facebook until they cut him off, but he still has access to hate media.
Hitler also had tacit support of Germany’s industrialists and the military (they thought they could control him) believing he would contain Communists who wanted a 1917-style revolution in Germany.
Hitler was actually elected, which enabled the Nazis to stage a coup. Trump was elected too, and had and may still have, support of the Republican Party. Its leaders wanted the support of Trump’s base, including White Supremacists, to gain power at the ballot box. Now Trump has turned on his party as Hitler turned on Germany’s industrialists and army leaders.
Another disturbing echo from the 1930s: The Washington Post reported Saturday that off-duty police officers several states are facing termination or suspension possible involvement in the riots.
Police departments in Washington, California and Texas have launched investigations, Post reporter Kim Bellware wrote. Nazi sympathizers in Germany’s police provided crucial support for Hitler during his ascendancy to power.
Our democracy is frayed but appears to have survived Trump. Narrowly. But the genie is out of the bottle.
Trump won’t go away and his White Supremacist backers won’t crawl back into the sewers anytime soon. Right-wing media is promoting another assault when President-elect Biden is sworn in Jan. 20 as well as attacks on state capitols. This isn’t over.
Had Trump been reelected, and he almost was, I believe his authoritarian strongman style of government would have been set after four more years, and the Constitutional balance of power would be hugely weakened. We’d be on the road to fascism.
I’m still struggling to understand where all this came from. Americans
pride themselves for openness, inclusivity, and tolerance. World War II veterans thought that’s what they fought for against fascist Germany and Japan.
Maybe we’re not as open, inclusive and tolerant as we thought. Is there a darkness in the American psyche that gets sparked by some undercurrent?
I think this started when Barack Obama was elected as our first Black president. I saw racist cartoons began to appear in right-wing media. That an educated articulate Black man could be our president was a shock, and it cracked open the grates to the sewers. Christian White America has been slowly shrinking for years in numbers and influence as Americans of color increase. That was the beginning of the countertrend that led ultimately to Donald Trump.
Trump didn’t start this. It was there already. He accelerated it. It culminated in the attack on the capitol Jan. 6.
Not everyone who voted for Trump is racist or fascist. There can be legitimate doubts about President-elect Biden’s policies, and worries about whether he can control powerful countercurrents developing in the wake of Trump.
Where does this leave us? Civil war? Far fetched? I hope so.
Most Germans in the 1920s and early 1930s were not Nazis, so where did all that come from? What is the wellspring of that, or tribal ethnic cleansing, in Africa, the Balkans and Myanmar?
The swift reaction of many Americans to the carnage at the capitol is reassuring, but we need soul searching and some true law enforcement. For starters we need something aimed at this insurrection like Bobby Kennedy’s unleashing of the FBI on the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s which drove the Klan underground, at least for a while.
I never thought we could be where we are today. The video and cries of that capitol policeman being beaten by the mob hang with me. I will never forget it.
I will never forgive it.