Everyone who reads knows that historians who specialize in the twentieth-century totalitarian regimes are split on whether the new so-called populism of the once-and-future American dictator, and autocrats like him such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, is properly deemed “fascism” or not. Most say no, because their profession is given to a praiseworthy caution and a demand for evidence in drawing conclusions. But there are those moments when you don’t need to have a doctorate in history — or numbers burned into your arm — to be alarmed. Like in 2016 when the white mob in Alabama, led by a woman whose eyes are bugging out of her head with excitement, tries to touch the dictator. Someone holds up a sign: THANK YOU JESUS FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP. At another rally that same year, he asks his followers to hold up their arms and swear allegiance to MAGA, and the giggling masses comply, producing a perfect fascist salute even though they are dressed like slobs and not uniformed stormtroopers. It’s a moment full of knowingness — if this doesn’t “trigger the liberal snowflakes,” nothing will — but something more, besides. Or later, during the Leader’s disastrous presidency, at a rally in Florida when he asks rhetorically what’s to be done with the refugees at the Mexican border, and someone in the crowd yells to shoot them, and the Great Dictator smiles fondly. Back in the day, George Wallace used the same trick: coax his followers into saying something monstrous, so he doesn’t have to.
Which leads us to the unanswerable chicken-and-egg koan of populist authoritarianism: which comes first, the Leader or the Led? Who is more responsible for the horrors unleashed? When it’s all over, if some rough form of justice prevails, you can put the top toadies on trial for the midnight executions, the concentration camps, the external wars of aggression, the dirty war against vast swaths of the country’s own population. You almost never get the chance to try the Leader himself; he is fled, he is dead, or the deal that led him to surrender power says you can’t touch a hair on his head. In America, Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon set a precedent almost half a century ago: former presidents have impunity no matter what crimes they may have committed. Besides, the once-and-future dictator has spent a lifetime gaming the American legal system and flaunting his outlaw status. We will never see him in handcuffs, not in this lifetime. And as for the masses who supported the dictatorship, there’s really nothing to be done except educate the next generation not to fall into the same traps.
Meanwhile, the final crumbling of the American republic continues apace. It may not even matter much if the Leader dies before 2024, because in his so-called “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party, he in fact seized on and catalyzed longstanding malign trends, going all the way back to Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of using “coded” racist appeals to coax formerly solid-Democratic Southern whites into changing their party affiliation, a strategy that was honed to perfection by Poppy Bush advisor Lee Atwater and culminated earlier in this century in the “birther” attacks on Obama’s legitimacy and the rise of the frothing-at-the-mouth Tea Partiers. Therefore, the Party will never “recover” from the dictator and go back to its sometimes-moderate, country club, Main Street small business persona of yore, except in occasional nostalgic appeals. It is now wide open to the dangerous delusions of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorn, who make the Tea Partiers look like President Eisenhower. Far from being rejected by the Party for their extremism, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has promised these proponents of psychotic antisemitism, Sandy Spring massacre denialism, and threats of violence against Democrats prominent committee seats after the expected Walpurgisnacht of sweeping Party victories on Election Night 2022.
For the student of history, very few of these ominous developments are wholly new. Yes, twenty-first century “social media” has proven to be a marvelous catalyst for spreading lying propaganda, just as the new technologies of radio, film and TV were in the twentieth century, but so what? Goebbels would have known exactly what to do with Twitter and Facebook. Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán may fancy himself a genius who has invented a brand-new form of government called “illiberal democracy,” but is this really a new beast, or just a transitional stage on the road to full-on dictatorship? Election manipulation such as the Wisconsin Party’s arrogation to itself of all power to decide who wins future votes in the state is not exactly unheard of in the historical record, either. Perhaps most dismally of all, we can seen both from history and from current events in enormous regions of the Middle East and South Asia that once a society starts a cycle of ever-increasing extremism, the downward spiral is very difficult to break.
What is necessary is that all of us who believe in free and fair elections and freedom of conscience not let down our guard just because the dictator was vanquished in one election and his attempt at a coup was narrowly defeated. MAGA is not an invincible army with a mythical “wind of history” at its back any more than the various and sundry Islamist movements around the world are. There are weak points at which the movement can be attacked, such as by prosecuting the dictator’s aforementioned toadies and lower-level Party officials who have broken the law, confronting the “activists” who are attempting to intimidate school boards and local governments, and organizing now to win the “off-year” election of 2022. Anyone can go to a meeting of their local school board, or collect signatures to get the names of decent people on the ballot. It’s time to get off Twitter and Facebook and out into the real world, if the brave slogan ¡No pasarán! is not to fail a second time.
2 thoughts on “The MAGAs and the Man”
Reblogged this on Some View on the World and commented:
The world today has their gods whom they allow to lead their country in division. But their followers are convinced they might by the power of those leaders come to live in one great country where they are all united under one flag and one religion, having all those with another faith and other lifestyle thrown out.
Slowly, populism and national socialism are crawling underground through the earth of many states and know how to spout their poison in many countries that are going to join that crowd.
We really need to be aware of this and be on our guard before we are completely surrounded by the emerging danger that many did not see or wanted to see in the 1930s. This time, let the blind see better by dismantling these fascist ideas more quickly.