Nation’s democracy never totally secure
Fascism. It involves power and control. So do Authoritarianism, Totalitarianism, Dictatorship, and Tyranny. They are all the antithesis of democracy and a democratic republic’s worst nightmare.
While we sometimes use these words interchangeably, they don’t all mean exactly the same thing. Power and control can happen quickly, as in a military coup or assassination, or slowly by erosion of the fabric that holds a democracy together from forces outside, or within, its government.
In some instances, the citizens are irrelevant, in others, they are the reason a tyrant can take control. Any student of 20th century world history, or any of us who lived through some of it, knows the major authoritarians who emerged during that time, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini. The upheaval caused by the first world war and the demise of monarchial rule, the struggle to form some sort of egalitarian governments was fertile ground for strongmen to gain control.
It’s times of uncertainty that the people will turn toward a leader who makes bold promises, who says they can lead them out of their misery, and beyond that, can destroy all their perceived enemies, or the strongman’s enemies, which he manages to convince the people are their enemies too.
Germany, after World War I, had formed a democratic republic, the Weimar Republic. Hitler rose to power as a member of a party in that government, a party that was there through election by the people. Hitler, personally, had a rough life, and a score to settle, a pathologic need for power. He wrote a book, Mein Kampf, my fight or struggle.
He knew how to tap into the weaknesses of the population and get them to follow, he had a certain charisma. But he didn’t act alone, he had the backing of a party that decided to abandon their democratic republic and follow him.
Now let’s get back to the definitions. Fascism is a far-right political ideology based on ultra-nationalism. A country under fascism is led by a dictator with centralized authority held in power by militarism, forcible suppression of opposition, and violence as a means of control. Fascism practices racism, discrimination, and removal of an “other” who is deemed inferior and who threatens the unification of the fascist regime.
Totalitarianism basically is a form of government where the state permits no individual freedom and exercises extreme control over all aspects of the lives of its citizens. Totalitarianism incorporates an ideology, where Authoritarianism usually does not and is not held in place with nationalistic goals, but by the expectation of blind submission to authority. That is why the fascist ideology can best flourish in a totalitarian government. Tyranny brings in the element of cruelty and oppression.
A dictator, while having centralized power, may not necessarily be a tyrant, but a tyrant must have a totalitarian or authoritarian government to rule in.
That being explained, what is the reason we should be concerned about all this? No country, even with a democratic form of government that has survived a couple centuries, is safe from these nightmares. Democracy requires investment, involvement, and work on the part of all citizens. Giving that up to a strongman who purports to be a hero is not a dream come true, but the opposite.
Democracy that benefits all citizens requires paying attention to, and taking seriously, the expressed plans of a man who also has an uncanny ability to mesmerize and a pathologic need for power; and how much those plans fit the descriptions of undemocratic forms of government. A man who has already proven his willingness to do whatever is necessary, even an attempted coup, to stay in power. Someone who has – allegedly, since he has not yet been convicted in a court of law under a democratic process – committed crimes against the government he has sworn to defend, with nothing but his own ego driving him for revenge against those trying to uphold the law, and with no regard for the minions who he would otherwise never give the time of day but for them being easy marks to use to carry out his dirty work.
Robert Reich, renowned professor and lecturer, former Secretary of Labor, has been warning us ever since that man symbolically rode downstairs to declare for the presidency eight years ago. There have been many other respected voices saying the same. Most of us in our wildest dreams would not have seen this coming, but there were signs even then that some of us picked up on, and have not been too far off the mark so far.
Most of us didn’t know how much the Christian Nationalist movement, the Neo-Nazi movement, the antisemitism and the fear of Muslims and other immigrants was growing in our country. Naively we thought that the election of President Obama was setting us on the right path to acceptance and heterogeneity. Somehow all these factions coalesced around a single leader who was willing to do or say anything in order to get their support.
A video that Reich put out enumerates the basic tenets of fascism, and it is eye-opening. Called “Is Trump a Fascist?” it answers that question and then some. Reich breaks down fascism into five elements: the rejection of democracy in favor of a strongman who is regarded as the voice of the people; rage and revenge against cultural elitists, the encouragement of violence against them; nationalism based on a superior group defined by race, religion, or bloodlines, and using “others” as a scapegoat; organized bullying, war and violence, glorification of heroics; Disdain for women and LGBTQ which are seen as a threat to traditional male dominance.
Also, a book called “On Tyranny” by Professor Timothy Snyder, gives a series of short lessons on how democracy fell to fascism in various instances around the globe during the 20th century, and it should be a bible for anyone who loves democracy, freedom, and civil rights.
Pay heed. Cracks in our democratic process can start small. Wherever non-participation results in one party controlling the reins of government, even locally, there is a sizable section of the population that is not being represented. When opposition disappears, democracy disappears. It isn’t impossible if good candidates step up to run and everyone votes. And on a national level, recognize the signs; it’s not just a bad dream, it is real.
Talk about recurring nightmares.
Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org