The first few weeks of Trump’s presidency saw a continuous flow of decidedly undignified Tweets, lies described as “alternative facts,” and missteps from all directions. Trump’s rapid-fire policy making barely made headlines among all the circuses his administration was setting up and all the big-tops they set on fire. The term “resistance fatigue” was coined to explain the exhaustion activists were feeling with the sheer number of things that demanded engagement on a daily basis. Phone calls to Washington, protest marches, letter-writing campaigns, finding and joining political groups, and a rotating list of daily actions is a lot to accomplish for an average citizen who is also trying to, you know, have a life. By the end of January, lots of great information about balance and self-care started surfacing. Activists began to understand that this shock-and-awe campaign may be more than a series of fumbles and faux pas. But for what purpose? Is Trump merely shaking shiny objects at us, hoping we won’t notice as he rolls back crucial environmental and financial regulations? Or maybe Steve Bannon’s desire to “burn it all down” is the ultimate goal. If so, will liberal democracy fade in the U.S., giving way to some other type of rule? Maybe America is becoming an autocracy, a system of government by one person with absolute power. Or is it headed into fascism, a form of radical authoritarian nationalism? Maybe America is becoming a kleptocracy, a government ruled by thieves. Some might argue it always has been, and some think even asking these questions is a ridiculous over-exaggeration of our current circumstances. But is it? America’s democracy is almost 250 years old. It’s lasted much longer than many other forms of government, including other democracies. It may be naïve to think it could last forever.
Defining Characteristics of Fascism:
In his study of fascist regimes around the world, political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt has defined 14 specific characteristics of fascism. What do you think, are any of these markers visible in the current administration?
- Powerful and Continuing Nationalism — The use of patriotic mottos, slogans, and symbols.
- Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – People in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored if there is a “need.” Citizens look the other way or even approve of torture and other unconstitutional punishments.
- Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The need to eliminate a perceived common threat, such as terrorists, is a unifying call to patriotism.
- Supremacy of the Military – The military is given a disproportionate amount of funding while the domestic agenda is neglected.
- Rampant Sexism – A fascist government tends to be almost exclusively male. Divorce, abortion, and homosexuality are suppressed.
- Controlled Mass Media – The media might be directly controlled by the government or indirectly controlled by regulation, censorship, and media spokespeople who are sympathetic to the government.
- Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
- Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations use the most common religion in the nation to manipulate public opinion, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies.
- Corporate Power is Protected – The business aristocracy of fascist nations are the ones who put the government leaders into power.
- Labor Power is Suppressed – Because organized labor is the greatest threat to a fascist government, labor unions are eliminated or severely suppressed.
- Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education and academia. Professors and other academics may be censored or arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked.
- Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. Citizens overlook police abuses and even forego their own civil liberties in the name of patriotism.
- Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes are almost always governed by groups of friends, family, and associates who appoint each other to government positions.
- Fraudulent Elections – Elections are manipulated by smear campaigns, use of legislation to control voting numbers, and political district boundaries and manipulation of the media.
If American democracy is evolving or devolving into something else, citizens may not be able to stop it; but, they can survive it. Writer Masha Gessen has dedicated much of her to career to reporting on Vladimir Putin and his autocratic regime. She has lived and survived in autocracies most of her life and encourages Americans to prepare themselves for life under an autocrat. She offers these rules for survival:
- Believe the autocrat. When you find yourself or others thinking, “he is exaggerating,” understand this is our own human tendency to rationalize the outlandish.
- Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. History shows that political catastrophes unfold over time. Periods of calm and normalcy will continue to occur.
- Institutions will not save you. Many of our American institutions rely on good faith, not law. For example, there’s no law requiring the presidential administration to hold daily briefings or allow open media coverage of those briefings.
- Be outraged. It’s still possible to overreact or misunderstand, but it’s also possible you are reacting at the exact right level of shock and outrage. Don’t doubt that rapid-fire policy making and daily blunders are intentional tactics. Don’t stop being shocked when you hear or see something shocking.
- Don’t make compromises. During the campaign, there was a long parade of politicians denouncing Donald Trump’s behavior. Today, some of those politicians are his best defenders and dinner partners. Damage will not be minimized by cooperating with corruption.
- Remember the future. No leader lasts forever.