A vintage answer to fascism denialists who saw January 6 and still claim that “it can’t happen here.”

“Unite the Right” members preparing to enter Emancipation Park holding Nazi, Confederate Battle, Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me,” League of the South, and Thor’s Hammer flags. Photo by Anthony Crider.

There is a way of thinking — namely, “reason” — that can synthesize certain conditions, phenomena, events, rhetoric, public opinion and the influence of political and/or economic expediency to conclude that fascism is on the march. Those elements are:

  • A) Insecurity. Anxiety in the population about the economic present or future, combined with a sense of humiliation or emasculation at the hands of a sinister Other or Others.
  • B) Demagogy. A charismatic, bellicose politician, pundit or clergyman speaking simplistically to simpletons, vilifying supposed enemies and offering illusory solutions to complex problems.
  • C) Complicity. A conspiracy of actions (or negligence or craven silence) by powerful individuals and institutions forsaking their responsibilities toward the commonweal in favor of political or economic benefit.
  • D) Ignorance. A vacuum of understanding, whether from native stupidity or arrogant disregard, of the underlying issues, the functions of government, the lessons of history, the trustworthiness of information and the evaluation of evidence.
  • E) Bigotry. A worldview constructed upon a foundation of misinformation, disinformation, superstition, rumor, hateful assumptions and resentments — all reinforced by those like-minded within the community, physical or virtual.
  • F) Identity. The human desire to belong, and to stand out, for a personal sense of meaning, value and recognition.
  • G) Nationalist militancy. The willingness among a subsection of the anxious and aggrieved to inflict violence in support of the demagogues and in defense of the perceived attacks on their values, security, traditions, dignity and national identity.
  • H) Attacks on the free press.
  • I) Indoctrination and suppression. Banning books deemed a threat to illiberal values and propaganda.
  • J) Scapegoats. Foreigners, immigrants, racial Others, and Jews, Jews, Jews.

Those are the 10 principal elements. If you wish to throw in K) a long pre-existing cult of military, L) a zealous army of religious fundamentalists who believe they are the embodiment of Christ’s will in an explicitly Christian nation, and M) easy access to 300 million firearms, be my guest. In any event, you can see why any fully sentient being would fear for our democracy. In the worlds of the philosophers, “Duh.”

Oh, and by the way, N) the dictators will be duly voted into power. Like Putin. Milošević. Bolsonaro. Erdoğan. Orbán. And Hitler.

Yet some who live amid the depravity of Donald Trump and the toxic ravings of Kari Lake, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ron DeSantis, Gregg Abbott, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, Doug Mastriano, Tucker Carlson, Jim Jordan, Josh Hawley, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, Roger Stone, Lauren Boebert and countless other far-right creeps — not to mention the violence of Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and many a lone-wolf murderer — scoff at the notion that democracy is under assault.

Perhaps they should do some reading. In my last non-fiction book, American Manifesto, I argued that the rise of Trumpism was not only understandable, but inevitable — not because it’s duck soup to overturn two centuries of the American Way, but because it’s alphabet soup. (See above.)

It is a chilling notion to write about, but not necessarily new ground. Here are some passages of note from another book I’ve just finished reading, a novel that eerily dramatizes the path toward tyranny:

On paramilitaries: “He noticed a number of stray imitation soldiers … They swaggered so brazenly, shouldering civilians out of the way … Yet the craftiest thing about the [militia men] was that they wore no colored shirts, but only plain white when on parade, and light khaki … [They] considered him their general and their god, and [when he defied the law] … the militia rose to [his] orders as though they were his private army and occup[ied] the legislative chambers …”

On expanding presidential power: “The Executive has got to have a freer hand and be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tied down by a lot of dumb shyster-lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates …”

On vilification by populist loudmouths: They “shouted more; agonized more; reviled more enemies by name”

On demagogy: “All that [the demagogue] wanted was for 130 million people to obey him, their Priest-King, implicitly in everything concerning their morals, their public asseverations, how they might earn their livings, and what relationships they might have to other wage-earners.”

On attacking the press: “Almost all the editors hide-away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or jaunts out of doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their own greedy pocketbooks by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good …”

On book banning: “… he saw Alice in Wonderland and Omar Khayyam and Shelley and The Man Was Thursday and A Farewell to Arms all burning together.”

On anti-Semitism: “And the Jew Communists and the Jew financeers plotting together to control the country.”

Yes, when he arranged the letters floating in his soup, Sinclair Lewis saw it all spelled out. This was in 1935. The book was titled It Can’t Happen Here.

Editor’s note: It Can’t Happen Here bdgins in a fictitious Minnesota town.


America is at risk. Rise Up. Turne In. Turn on. RESISTImage by One More Time

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