This is What Totalitarianism Looks Like Up Close
Where Do You Picture Yourself in the Battle for Democracy?
Republicans have worked for more than 50 years to systematically reduce the rights and affordances of non-elites at the expense of elites. Anti-labor “Right to Work” Laws, opposition to worker safety protection, efforts to control Women’s reproductive health, opposition to LGBTQ rights, gerrymandering, court packing, opposition to immigration, efforts to reduce and even eliminate corporate oversight, and implacable opposition to efforts to respond to climate change — capped off recently by attempts to restrict voting rights, enable white vehicle drivers to kill protestors and finally to overthrow the government -- are all linked to a worldview and yoked to a strategy to turn the United States into a managed democracy under the twin ideological guises of neoliberalism and capitalism.
The left and the press have enabled Republicans to transgress the human and enumerated rights of Americans under the expansive guise of Conservative politics, and given them a free pass as one of only two “permanent” national political parties. Within that dueling two-party framework, such policies and the fights over them are characterized as a “natural” and therefore legitimate part of a tug-of-war between political poles, refereed only by a broad yet vague agreement on core democratic principles and the way in which battles would be conducted.
The press and the left are slowly catching onto the fact that there is no longer an agreement on core democratic principles, and that Republicans are conducting a war on American Democracy and its supporting constituent groups. Cities, states, races, ethnic groups, the disabled, LGBTQ, immigrants, women and the Democratic Party are all declared enemies of the right. Together they constitute a large category of the ‘other’ for Republicans. The sheer size of the ‘other,’ which actually constitutes a super majority of the U.S. population, though, causes us to continue to underestimate the danger we are under from the right.
We reason that what happened in Nazi Germany couldn’t happen here, because: 1. the pool of German ‘others,’ constituting Nazism’s “natural” opposition, was so small compared to the size of the opposition to the Republican Party; 2. Americans are better people than the Germans; 3. We have a well-functioning democracy to protect us. But that reasoning is faulty.
Rebuttal 1. The internal German ‘others’ pool was indeed small, but Hitler’s ultimate target -- the Greater European ‘others’ pool -- which included all Slavs as well as Jews and the disabled, dwarfed the German population. Secondly, Russian and Chinese communists declared majorities of their populations -- mainly peasants -- to be the ‘other,’ -- before systematically eliminating large percentages of them through deliberate policy and practice. Stalin killed conservatively 6.5 million Russian citizens; Mao approximately 45 million; Hitler is believed responsible for the deaths of about 11 million non-combatants.
Rebuttal 2. German society prior to and during the age of Hitler was remarkably similar to that of the U.S. today. The Germans were innovative, technological leaders, had one of the largest and the most effective militaries, were a vibrant, pluralistic if somewhat chaotic democracy, and were world leaders in arts, culture, mass communication and entertainment. There is no evidence that as a people the Germans pre-Hitler were any more likely to support mass extermination than any other nation -- it only looks like that in the rearview mirror. The rest of the world was shocked and unprepared for what Nazi Germany became, and continually underestimated the depths of depravity to which it would ultimately sink.
Rebuttal 3. The U.S. has never had a fully functioning democracy in which all citizens’ rights were protected, and in which the ideality of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness replaced the sheer scramble to put food on the table and keep one’s children from being bullied or worse, killed by the police. It just looks like that from a white, middle class and history-book perspective. With the growing power of the right, even our previous sub-optimal governance system is rapidly degenerating into the farce we call ‘managed democracy’ -- an Orwellian euphemism that will shortly render the U.S. indistinguishable from Communist China. It’s amazing that Republicans always project their tendencies -- towards socialism and totalitarianism in this case, on the left, and get away with it! But Republican strategy is driving the U.S. towards a political system that is much closer in practice to that of Communist China than that which the Founders intended.
So while we’re “catching on to” or “catching up with” what the American right is doing, perhaps it is prudent to pay some attention to where they are headed. This is where things get really scary.
There is a developing body of evidence that current Republicans are not just selfish, uncaring, and indifferent to human suffering but are actually -- at a strategy and policy level -- murderous and genocidal. It appears plausible that Trump’s response to Covid went beyond elite indifference to suffering to actual desire for a reduced population of specific groups. Here is a sliver of that evidence:
Fired multiple health officials for telling the truth about Covid
Interfered with the CDC’s ability to react to and help save lives through the issuance of accurate guidance
Told people they didn’t need to wear masks, socially distance, change habits
Tried continuously to coerce state and local governments and school systems to reopen before it was safe to do so
Allocated vaccines inequitably to favor Republican officials and voters
Recommended dangerous, unproven treatments
Let’s look in detail at Trump’s words and policies regarding women, LGBTQ, immigrants, liberals, liberal allies, the disabled, the indigent and the innocent:
Calling white supremacists who killed Heather Heyer “very fine people”
Appointing Steven Miller
Instituting Muslim Travel Ban
Separating Immigrant Families
Breaking International Immigration Law
Repeatedly using insulting terms for women
Told police to rough up suspects
Attacked Senator, War Hero and ex-POW John McCain as a loser – for being captured!
Withdrew from Paris Climate Accords
Stopped Funding UN Population Fund
Cut Pandemic Preparedness Funding and Programs
Revealed Classified Information to Russian Officials
Tear gassed Black Lives Matter protesters
Each of these actions led/will lead to an increased number of deaths of innocent people, directly or indirectly. Don’t give Trump a pass by saying he was too stupid to understand the long-term or 2nd and 3rd order effects of his actions -- that was his job! Further, his advisors, especially those around for the first two years, would have made these outcomes explicit to Trump.
Related, support for expanded Gun Rights, failure to address mass shootings, failure to rein in white nationalist groups, etc., all point to the utility of these policies and their advocacy groups to Republican strategy. Coupled with support for police killing Black and Brown people we see an actual agenda of intention in which all the apparently random actions of the Trump Administration align.
So what? Our hypothesis is this: these policies are linked strategically in a long-term Republican line of effort to reduce not just the social supporting mechanisms for American citizens, but also the protections of non-elites and non-Republicans from violence of the state and state-protected groups, through a steady program of disinformation and increasing impunity modeled after Nazi and other totalitarian examples. There would be no need to demonize the ‘other’ otherwise -- they could just fight things out in normal politics -- because they are already winning all the battles that matter. The only reason to accelerate a march towards minority control is a desire to conduct policy actions that are anathema to the majority -- in fact, policies so execrable that they could not be considered without first prepping the battlespace through substantial demonization.
Continuing Republican support of Trump means substantial agreement with this aspect of Trumpism -- whether or not each individual Republican official or voter even yet grasps the desired Republican leadership end state -- an oligarchical, authoritarian, totalitarian, minority-ruled United States in which rights are concentrated within the elite and the rest of us serve their ends. Seems monstrous and fantastic -- borderline “Pentaverate” even -- but it’s the only hypothesis that fits the facts.
Isn’t Evangelical Christian support for Trump and Republicans clear evidence that our hypothesis is incorrect? I mean, aren’t they acolytes of Jesus Christ, against violence, caretakers of the poor, and so forth? Well, in actuality, Ralph Reed and others have molded Evangelical Christianity into a political machine that uses religion as a cover. Our hypothesis in this regard is that the hypocrisy at the core of Republicanism is a perfect value match for that of Evangelicals. Hypocrisy is “a,” perhaps “the” defining behavioral characteristic of each group. But here’s what we recently discovered that really matters in this regard -- neither group considers hypocrisy a fault or a logic error -- it is a deliberate tactic strategically deployed to erode its accountability to any external entity, and it is the strong mortar binding the bricks in the right’s wall of impunity. They don’t care that we find what they do hypocritical -- they just don’t want us finding out that they’re doing so on purpose.
Clearly, the agenda of Evangelical Christianity is not genocide or murder. But it has quite willingly thrown down with Republicans to get what it wants and, in so doing, become equally complicit and must be considered so in terms of characterization and treatment. They have been coopted in the eternal dance of totalitarianism, as did Catholics and anti-communists in Nazi Germany, technocrats in the Soviet Union, and political opportunists during Mao’s reign. Just how much culpability to assign to them will be up to historians.
Isn’t the “Never Again” post-Holocaust ethos -- adopted by the U.N and supported by the U.S. government -- so powerful as to prevent even the slightest movement towards the wanton yet organized killing of American citizens? Well, first, it did not stop us from nearly exterminating Native Americans, killing thousands of African slaves, and killing Black and mentally impaired people now without accountability. That heritage and cultural proclivity live on amongst the right -- and their collective will and concentrated political power is overpowering the diluted progressive, “Never Again” crowd. Second, as historian Hannah Arendt concluded -- the fact that Hitler, Stalin and Mao killed so many people actually had a counterintuitive effect: that instead of “Never Again” prevailing police-wise, that the large numbers of deaths would protect future perpetrators because people would be likely to minimize future events by reasoning “well, that wasn’t nearly as bad as what Hitler/Stalin/Mao did.”
I remember reading that as a young man and rejecting Arendt’s point of view as overly pessimistic. Then Pol Pot came along and “only” killed two million Cambodians -- and he got a pass just like she said. Of course that was fully one-third of the Cambodian population so you got to give him credit for fully incorporating lessons learned! For those of you who don’t know the history, America gave him a pass too. After losing nearly 60,000 young men and women in a futile effort (we now know that the government considered it futile as early as 1966, but continued to expand the war effort) to prop up the South Vietnamese government against all logic, we couldn’t muster the will to protect two million innocent civilians from their depraved leader.
Photo of Pol Pot Victims - he was proud of his work and, like the Germans, documented it.
Finally, what about the 40% of Americans who support Trump? They can’t all be cold-blooded killers, right? Well, let’s discuss. There is a spectrum or continuum with the people who are somewhat compassionate but whose fear wins out, those who are simply indifferent to others, those who are militantly supportive of Trump such as white nationalists, and those Republican officials who actually develop strategy and foment violence. Complicity scales along the continuum -- but all are implicated and all are culpable, and all are responsible for the situation we’re in.
Were the Germans all cold-blooded killers? The 40% of the German population (males eligible for military service) that engaged in combat were, and the civilians who turned a blind eye to systematic extermination were complicit in mass murder. As we noted earlier, there is no meaningful difference between World War II German civilians and U.S. Republicans -- any “bright line” we are making between them is the result of delusion, denial, and wishful thinking. It took the total destruction of Germany -- militarily, politically, socially, morally and economically -- to bring them to their senses. What will it take to stop Republicans and the march to totalitarianism here?
Is our hypothesis that Republicans and the American right intends to kill people systematically? When they can get away with it like with Covid, reduced health services, running over protestors, shooting Black people at will, stochastic mass shootings, or returning asylum seekers to near-certain death -- the answer is yes! Policy kills just as assuredly as do guns, and with impunity! This is what Republican opposition to gun control is about -- not even the stupidest white supremacist thinks the government is coming to seize his guns! They want to increasingly intimidate the left through a state-aligned acceptance of violence -- accelerating the march towards authoritarianism by systematically wearing down the will of the opposition.
We have a long history of policy killing as a nation, and the right is just following in that tradition. They overreached in the Civil War, and have been re-litigating it ever since because the rest of us let them. With managed democracy backed by neoliberalism and sacrosanct capitalism, they’ve found the perfect ideological cover for their long-term strategy of minority rule -- and we appease them daily. I mean, why are we debating the terms of a House investigation into the January 6 insurrection? The debate is the right winning. Just do it and damn the torpedoes! Why is the right doing this? This particular strategy is working, and is a lot less messy than extermination camps.
Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, his Appeasement of Hitler led indirectly to hundreds of thousands of needless deaths in World War II.
Hard as it is to believe, Republicans want to return to the feudal system, not realizing that freedom and democracy are the goose that laid the golden egg of modern prosperity upon which its neoliberal ideology rests. Proof? Republican governors cutting off their own citizens’ access to Covid relief money in an effort to force them back to work. That is a tactic deployed by Czarist Russia and other regimes against their serfs! Look, a narrow Republican elite (and what other kind could there be, really?) would be quite content to extract the best of what this country has to offer over the narrow time horizons over which they always look -- two to three generations at best. After that, who gives a shit! Now why their dumb shit supporters would accept continued servitude is another question -- one not totally resolved by the tribal explanation we are being force-fed. I mean, no matter your heritage, you can always join the other tribe in the U.S. -- God knows I did!
Trump is a demon to be sure. But the murderousness, nihilism, depraved indifference, cretinism, reactionary nature of Trumpism transcends and subsumes Trump himself. There is no wresting the Republican Party back from the crazies from within, there are no countervailing forces of history waiting to rebalance the nation, white nationalists are not going to surrender their weapons or ideology, demography isn’t going to save us, Democrats are not going to maintain both Houses and the Presidency for long, and it will be a very long time before, if ever, they control a majority of statehouses, and anyway the cavalry isn’t coming. There will be a lot more casualties. And more of us will have to get down off the fence -- and even then it’s a long war ahead.
I know this is a fantastic scenario I posit here -- it strains credulity as they say and I can hardly believe I’m writing this. But let’s get out in front of this for a change, accept the facts and their logical implications, and take Republicans at their words --history tells us misery results otherwise.