Here’s How Totalitarianism Happens Here
How It’s Been Happening Already
Let’s start when and where Donald Trump made his fascist proclivities public.
In announcing his bid for president on June 16, 2015, Trump called for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
One of the first fascist acts of an authoritarian or totalitarian dictator wannabe, one of the first checkboxes, is to label a group “enemies of the state.” As fascists did in the previous century, Trump was defining a “common enemy” for the people who would quickly become his base.
These enemies of Bizarro TrumpWorld were not limited to Mexicans, but included immigrants from anywhere who weren’t white Europeans. It’s a page from the playbooks of demagogues like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin. To quote Britannica, for them, “Jews, immigrants, leftists, and other groups became useful scapegoats. Redirecting popular anger toward these people would, in theory, rid a country of its ailments.”
It doesn’t really matter what group the “other” is, just so there is an “other” to blame for the problems the authoritarian’s supporters believe they face.
Shortly thereafter, Trump labeled members of the press that didn’t report positively on him as enemies of the state, too, and banned some of them from White House press briefings.
This not only defined another “other” for Trump’s hoards, but undermined the integrity of the news media, which is also high up on that Authoritarian Checklist. Controlling the media is next, and if he doesn’t outright control outlets like Breitbart and Fox News, he might as well. Let’s not even get started on Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated radio show (emphasis on “show,” as in “infotainment,” not news).
Even before Trump applied his “enemies of the state” label to legitimate journalists and news outlets, he began asking Americans to accept something as truth that was contrary to what we saw with our own eyes – that the size of his inauguration crowd was bigger than the crowd that showed up for Barack Obama’s inauguration. Absurd? Yes. In line with dictatorial tactics? Yes.
This was on his first day in office. The very first day.
Soon people were bandying about terms like “alternative facts.”
Where I come from, an alternative fact has a much more straightforward name: it’s a goddamn lie.
Between the lines, Trump and his mouthpieces – people like Limbaugh, Kellyanne Conway and Tucker Carlson – were saying, “Don’t pay any attention to what those ‘fake news’ peddlers are telling you; we’ll tell you what’s true. We’re the only ones who know what’s really going on, and Trump is the only one who can fix it.”
Trump said that last bit literally. Multiple times. It was his favorite theme in the summer of 2016. “I alone can fix it,” he said, and the people who form his base believed him.
He went so far as to say those who oppose or even disagree with him are treasonous. That’s on the Authoritarian Checklist, too.
There are so many examples, too many from the past three and two-thirds years, to go into here. There are more. Lots, lots more. Each represents an incremental fascist step toward authoritarianism and potentially totalitarianism.
As Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale, explains, “Fascist politics is about identifying enemies, appealing to the in-group (usually the majority group), and smashing truth and replacing it with power.”
What More Experts Say
In “How Democracies Die,” Harvard University Government Professors Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt lay out the signs of authoritarian wannabes.
(Read the book, by the way. If you believe in the Constitution and protecting the viability of our democratic republic, it’s a serious wake-up call.)
“To prevent authoritarians from taking power and begin dismantling democracy, it is important to be able to identify them first. There are four warning signs of authoritarians,” Levitsky wrote in the Shortform summary of the book. “Such politicians:
“Reject the generally accepted rules of democratic competition, often by refusing to accept the results of democratic elections if they are unfavorable to them or their movement.” – Trump says he’ll “have to see” about accepting results of the Nov. 3, 2020 election.
“Refuse to accept the legitimacy of their democratic opponents, accusing them of being traitors or criminals.” – “Lock her up!” Trump and his followers chant.
“Endorse or encourage violence by their political supporters against their political opponents.” – “Knock the crap out” of protesters, he’s said.
“Express a willingness to crack down on civil liberties, especially those of their political opponents.” – see “kids locked in cages,” “Portland peaceful protests” and “federal agents in U.S. cities.”
Trump checked off every one of those boxes, and I do not believe he has any intention of waiting and seeing about accepting election results, either. I believe he’s going to take advantage of the pandemic and strategic positioning of federal agents throughout the United States to call off the election altogether.
He’s already suggesting it –
The New York Times called the Tweet “More Than Just a Tweet: Trump’s Campaign to Undercut Democracy.”
As if the already-massive and continuously growing mountain of evidence and red flags weren’t enough, Portland made it plain that Trump will stop at nothing, not just to win re-election, but to become “president for life.” He’s said as much.
He’s also already used federal agents to vilify and attempt to control part of our population. He’s declared war on U.S. cities, and since the targeted cities are controlled by Democrats, it’s logical to take the next step and say he’s declared war on the opposition.
How It Goes From Here
To continue his war, Trump uses so-called Operation Legend, which sends agents into multiple cities around the nation, like Albuquerque, N.M., Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., Milwaukee, New York and Philadelphia.
Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr want us to believe Operation Legend is about quelling out-of-control violence in these cities. Malarkey. They also want us to believe the operation is named after LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old boy who was shot and killed on June 29, 2020, in Kansas City. I am deeply saddened about what happened to LeGend, and I don’t say this to take away from the loss of his life or the grief his family must feel… but I’m not buying it.
I strongly suspect the name mirrors Trump’s narcissistic vision for how he truly believes people here and around the world view him, now and in the future – as a legend. Or, to put it in a more Urban Dictionaryish manner, the man is already a legend in his own mind.
So Trump and Barr unleash federal agents in major U.S. cities, which also happen to be transportation hubs, places that make it easy to move people, equipment and other resources in and out. They continue to expand into more cities.
In the meantime, Trump continues to do everything in his power to ensure the coronavirus pandemic spirals even further out of control across the nation.
And remember, he’s already planted the seed for delaying the November 3 election for safety reasons. As things get worse, his reasoning for delaying (calling off) the election is bolstered, at least among Trumpsters. They swallow it whole.
People argue it doesn’t matter, that by law if a president is not duly elected by Jan. 20, 2021, the speaker of the House becomes president. President Nancy Pelosi.
Trump does not allow that to happen.
He cancels the election, citing a national public safety emergency due to coronavirus. Barr backs him, and Republicans in the Senate stand aside to watch. Legal arguments reach the Supreme Court, which has a conservative, i.e., Republican-appointed, majority. They uphold Trump’s actions, and even if they don’t, he’s already set a precedent for defying the Court.
Comrade Trump delays the election further, if not because of the pandemic then for additional reasons he and his enablers dream up. Barr, the Senate and the Supreme Court continue to side with him.
Suddenly, due to circumstances that have developed not-so-suddenly, there isn’t anyone or any institution left to stop him. Trump is effectively a dictator, and he manufactures or exacerbates military, health and economic crises so he can decree that no election can be held.
Heavily armed federal agents are well positioned to put down any too-late insurrections in U.S. cities and surrounding rural areas, and to respond to calls for reinforcements from each other when necessary.
Then come the lists. Dissidents. Their families and friends. People who have spoken out or written criticisms of the autocrat. People who may know any of those people. Trump and his minions seize Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok and uses their data to glean all the information needed to justify accusations of treason or potential domestic terrorism.
(I’ll be on one of the lists. How about you?)
Soon jackbooted thugs kick down doors in the dead of night, drag people away without any justification or concern for their rights. Those rights no longer exist. Everyone is suspected and suspicious. We’re encouraged to spy on and report one another. No one makes eye contact on the street anymore. We stay off the streets as much as possible, anyway.
From the totalitarian’s point of view – Doubleplusgood.
Trump establishes more camps. They’re not just for immigrants and their children, anymore, but for dissidents, scientists, college professors, independent thinkers, people of color, people who practice the “wrong” religions or no religions…. No one dares call the camps a Gulag, not out loud, not even to their spouses or partners. But they are.
The knock comes on the door. And that’s the last anyone hea–
It Could Go Down Other Ways, Too
This could play out in dozens of different ways with the same results. There are a few wild cards that could come into play, too:
- Republicans in the U.S. Senate finally realize that keeping their jobs is less important than preserving the republic, and they finally take formal action to remove, or at least censure, Trump. This is the least likely.
- John Roberts decides he does not want to go down in history as the chief justice who allowed democracy to degrade into dictatorship. He votes against Trump’s devotees on the Supreme Court to protect the republic.
- The military as a whole decides it will protect the Constitution and the nation, and takes action to keep Trump from becoming the totalitarian he wants to be.
- Individual members of the military live up to their oaths to protect the Constitution and U.S. citizens and head off efforts by anyone – military or otherwise – that would allow Trump to take the nation by force.
Do Not Believe It Cannot Happen Here
This is not about whether Trump can or cannot legally do what I’m describing. It’s about what he dares to do and who – people and institutions – will actively back him or passively stand by and let it happen.
It’s about that old nugget of universal wisdom –
Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.
This has happened in many places around the world throughout history, and you know what they say about history.
The United States of America is no longer immune. Our form of democracy has always been an ongoing experiment, and the jury is still out.
Trump has been pushing the boundaries since Day 1, and his brashness grows with each passing day and every new poll that shows him trailing Joe Biden.
Trump is arrogant enough to attempt to make himself a dictator. Question is, if he tries, will we be patriotic enough to stop him?
Thank you for reading.
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Featured photo by Stocksnap via Pixaby.
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