Trump and Xi Have Hitler Beat in Race to Bottom
How to Save American Democracy - In One Incredibly Hard Lesson
Some of the mainstream commentary is catching up with reality.
They’re sounding the alarm, writing story after story about democracy in crisis and the rise of authoritarianism. “Trump’s Next Coup has Already Begun” declares Barton Gellman in The Atlantic. “What Would The End of American Democracy Look Like?” asks Raw Story. Absent a massive change in the way we respond to the current crisis, we won’t have to wait too long to find out.
Alarmism without action benefits no one. That’s why we’re doing everything we can just to analyze the current crises and predict likely outcomes; we’re putting our know-how to bear on strategizing the most effective response to counter the rise of the right.
Long time readers will recognize our “Just Nation Movement” strategy document, a starting point in the conversation about how we can come together, across organizations and across the country, to push back against the rising authoritarian movement with a clear objective and winning strategies.
Today’s newsletter expands the strategy document with a new section detailing the first steps for a proposed national coalition, focusing on the pursuit of justice. This immediate strategy will allow us to go on offense against the right, as well as provide messaging that will motivate and mobilize both the base and fence-sitters. Give it a read. Share it with everyone you know.
We hope you also appreciate the newsletter’s second piece: “What the Holocaust and U.S Democracy Have in Common.”
And if you’re interested in participating in the planning for the Just Nation Coalition, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line!
We look forward to hearing from you. Best, Corey and Mark Hill
Just Nation Movement
Winning requires a sufficient mass to prevail over the enemy. Mass is generated via a movement and a compelling strategy. The winning strategy for a movement compels the mobilization of people who are currently fence sitting. It also requires a vectoring of the mobilized mass towards a common objective.
No single existing progressive movement, or the Democratic Party, has or can mobilize sufficient mass to preserve American democracy by itself. Thus, we propose that they come together under the banner of the Just Nation Movement, putting aside their policy disputes until the danger has subsided.
Fear is the primary reason people remain immobilized. Major fears include loss of: employment, status, “place” in community and family, and the perceptual construct known as ‘society.’
The right has brilliantly characterized every progressive movement in a manner that precludes substantially higher mobilization levels – and has also deployed brilliant tactics to isolate each from each other -- the bad guys understand the concept of mass.
Only a movement and objective that removes the element of fear to enable mobilization of the un-mobilized will generate the additional mass required to preserve democracy.
What’s in it for existing progressive organizations that already have their own momentum? First, their very existence is at stake. The ACLU, for instance, will not survive the turn towards totalitarianism. In fact, the freedom and even lives of its membership may be at stake. Second, they don’t lose anything through this combinatorial effort – they are basically capped out recruiting wise already. Finally, post-mobilization and post-vanquishing of the right, this new group of more fearless, mobilized Americans will be good recruits for the more single-issue organizations. Thus, we frame this as a necessary step in the near term, and a prudent investment in the future. Progressive organizations must come to see that the lack of an overarching movement and strategy is not their fault – but its establishment should now be their overriding concern.
Now back to strategy for a minute. A strategy has many purposes; it indicates a seriousness of purpose; it serves as a rally point for mobilization of resources and energy; it serves as a powerful amplifier of resources and energy through focus and the reduction of waste; it indicates perseverance to adversaries, and it bolsters that of its adherents. But most importantly, it signals worthiness of the cause and the single-minded intent to fight for it no matter the opposition -- and this same signal is a hologram messaged slightly differently to adversaries, to third parties, and most important of all, to its own ‘troops.”
Republicans have a strategy, Democrats do not. The Republican strategy is replete with achievable objectives, campaign plans, resourcing options, communications plans, and flexible tactics. Republicans even have a long-term, if hidden, meta objective known as an “ideality.” Their ideality is the maximum possible accrual of power and money for its elite with the least possible accrual of responsibility, transparency, and accountability. Achieving this has been their utopian objective for over fifty years, and they have all but achieved it with the left firing nary a shot in defense.
It is long past time to stop waiting for the Democratic Party to develop a strategy, indeed, to lead in any meaningful manner. They are welcome as members of the Just Nation Movement coalition but cannot be allowed to usurp or retard it.
Proposed Action: We posit the requirement for a new American progressive movement combining the resources, goodwill and aspirations of extant liberal, progressive, human rights, democracy advocacy groups, and the Democratic Party. We suggest the Just Nation Movement is a useful placeholder name. The organization type will be multi-leader cellular network.
Approach: We envision a phased approach, each with its own over-arching objective:
Phase 1 – “Save and Preserve.” Phase 1 objective is to live to fight another day. It is characterized by actions that: establish the movement as a strategic entity and power base; ensure the safety, security, and rights of citizens; halt the right’s momentum and seize initiative for the movement. Massive, continuous ecumenical protests, economic boycotts and work stoppages must figure prominently in this phase.
Phase 2 – “Stabilize.” Phase 2 primary objective is to establish a societal framework preventing erosion of progress. It is characterized by a transition from representative to participative democracy; a new Constitution; a new framework for justice; mutual accountability of citizens and officials to national commitments, agreements, laws, and objectives with justly enforced sanctions.
Phase 3 - “Flourish.” Phase 3 primary objective is to optimize the wellbeing of citizens and our global ecosystem. It is characterized by: the establishment of mutually reinforcing objectives and their relentless pursuit through all societal mechanisms.
Call to Action:
What does the journey to save American Democracy look like?
First order of business is standing up the Just Nation Movement. We recommend that the leaders of the ACLU, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter, and Women’s Rights Movements, rapidly: establish a coalition including themselves and other key progressive organizations; develop a strategy; mobilize resources in support of the strategy; and act decisively.
Second is establishing a near-term objective and plan of action that all Movement elements can align to, and whose achievement most signals real change, momentum, and the potential for ultimate victory over the forces of evil. Our analysis and modeling indicate that the most appropriate of these, in terms of both efficacy at retarding the momentum of the right, and exciting and mobilizing action, is the swift pursuit of actual justice and accountability and the implementation of TRUE rule of law.
While we leave most specific actions to the Movement leadership, at the National level special attention must be given to Trump Administration legal violations, because it is the continued impunity from accountability that fuels the sense of hopelessness among progressives and emboldens the right. This intentional focus on the worst, most brazen criminal activities of the previous administration will shift the terrain from defensive to offensive, send a strong message of deterrence for future criminal activity, and provide a much-needed rally point for the beleaguered base of opposition.
As a component of this initial organizing point, we demand that the Justice Department, National, State and Local Law Enforcement begin swift and equitable enforcement of all laws already on the books. What we demand is action that establishes that no one is above the law, that criminals will be pursued vigorously and equitably regardless of their personal characteristics or the difficulty of securing a conviction, and that there be a defendable balance between the pursuit of white- and blue-collar criminals.
Why is this the best near-term Course of Action?
This objective will enable the movement to more effectively mobilize existing, frequently siloed movement bases towards a unifying, strategic objective. We posit a significant reserve of energy. Further, by focusing on something as unassailable as accountability, justice, and rule of law, we posit an opportunity to expand the pool of potential movement participants, including ‘independents,’ former Republicans, and some white men.
This is a cause they can get behind without fear, that aligns with the long history of cause advancement, that is safe from all but the most subtle retribution from employers, friends and family. It is, in essence, a “soft way in” for large numbers of Americans who want to fight but are reluctant to throw down with existing progressive organizations that have been unfairly characterized by the right.
This cause is wholly righteous and not tainted by special interests. This factor fuels movements and prevents fatigue. The initial focus point is unassailable and unattackable from the right. Who can push back against a request that laws be enforced vigorously? This steals the march from the right on the issue of crime – where the left is often most vulnerable.
This Course of Action aligns with our analyses and modeling results indicating that the rigorous pursuit of Justice is the vector most likely to blunt the right’s momentum and enable preservation of the American democratic system.
Finally, what we are demanding can get done right now. No need to wait for legislation, next year’s budget, Congressional directives, etc. The additional incentive – we’re demanding accountability to what we’ve already agreed to as a nation. Our message to the DOJ and Law Enforcement: If you are not going to do what we’re paying you to do, we’re coming for you next.
Third, we’ve got to come to agreement on what we stand for -- our principles. To simply stand against Republicans, authoritarianism, and neoliberalism -- does not generate the right or sufficient energy to prevail. We remember fondly the “Arsenal of Democracy” World War I slogan, but probably not the “Stop the Mad Brute” anti-German poster of the same period, right? It is also important to lay down what we really want beyond simply overcoming the reactionary forces now plaguing us --because it is just this lack of faith in and focus on the future that has opened the door to creeping authoritarianism.
Here’s what we stand for, which can hopefully serve as a rally point and organizing principle:
Declaration for Democracy: “We the People of the United States: affirm life; embrace our civic responsibilities; and declare our support for Democracy, the United States as a democracy, the inalienable rights of people, and the enumerated Constitutional rights of American citizens. To honor those on whose shoulders we stand, preserve that which we have built, and leave the world a better place than we found it, we will defend all transgressions of our principles to the last full measure of devotion.” You can read the full Just Nation Movement strategy here…….
What the Holocaust and U.S Democracy Have in Common
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the Holocaust, going so far as to take a class devoted specifically to it in college, despite a stuffed academic and extra-curricular schedule. I have been fascinated with the question so many others have asked about it: why would so many Jews go willingly to certain death?
I am ashamed to admit that it took voluminous research to the point where I no longer blamed the victims to any degree. Yet even then I could still not get my arms around a satisfactory answer to the key question of apparent acquiescence to mass murder on the part of the victims -- individually and collectively.
No, what it took for me to fully understand how it could have happened is by analyzing what is happening in real time: in the United States with sacrificing democracy on the altar of capitalism and self-interest, and internationally with endangering the future of mankind with global warming.
We have, collectively and willingly, acquiesced to a consortium of authoritarian political leaders, amoral technologists, oligarchs, petty bourgeois strivers, and mercenaries who constitute a small minority of global citizens but wield a preponderance of power due to the acquiescence of the majority. There always have been and always will be such people – it is far easier to seize and wield power amorally. They can only be checked by counterforce willingly and energetically applied – and this is precisely what is not happening now. Although the circumstances differ, this is the same sociological phenomenon that occurred with the Holocaust – the bad guys have succeeded in creating a narrative in which every next step appears inevitable – and thus resistance futile.
Now admittedly this is a powerful, indeed near compelling phenomenon. How do we conclude thus? For one data point, note the so-called ‘liberal press’ characterization of what is occurring. “Biden is slipping in the polls,” “Dems likely to lose 2022 elections,” “time is running out, we need to move to the center politically so we don’t antagonize the right,” “the best we can to with technology is to break up large companies,” “the Supreme Court is becoming political,” yada, yada, yada. What defeatist tripe!
For another data point, we note the dearth of protests against the Trump Administration’s multiple humanitarian outrages, and the continuing failure of American citizens to push back meaningfully against draconian anti-abortion laws, anti-masking efforts, exploding gun sales, mass killings, and voting restrictions. Collectively these actions constitute appeasement and a dereliction of democratic duty. Lack of robust response to these erosions of democracy differ by degree -- but not kind – with that of German citizens under Hitler and European governments in response to Hitler. The American right has declared war on democracy, democratic voters and national values, conducted a failed coup, and declared its intentions to conduct total war until it has achieved its objectives. Yet still we slumber, check our 401ks continuously, and wait for a miracle.
You know I’ve also been thinking a great deal lately of the contingency of history – how but for one specific action the world heads in a totally different direction. So, for instance, suppose Woodrow Wilson dos does not get the U.S. into World War I. Then likely we don’t have a President Roosevelt, Europe has turned totalitarian under German rule, there is no New Deal or World War II. And in such a scenario, we do not experience the post-war growth that enables the flourishing of rights at home and support for them abroad. Perhaps we then would have already taken the current dark turn towards totalitarianism – and seen an end to American Exceptionalism a century ago.
Need a more tangible example of contingency? Science Magazine estimates there are now 15 million deaths from the Covid virus. In addition, there have been hundreds of thousands of additional deaths - and will be millions more over time – caused by the diversion of limited health resources to Covid – particularly vaccine programs. Now let’s consider the emergence of Covid as inevitable for purposes of this scenario, in other words, no human being is responsible for the onset. In contrast, just two human beings – Chinese Premier Xi and former President Trump – could have taken actions that reduced deaths by 50% or more but did not because it was not in their self-interest to do so. Actually, if
Xi had acted expeditiously to lock China down and inform the world what was happening, deaths would likely have been reduced by more than 90%.
So what? These two authoritarians killed more people in 18 months than Hitler did in 6 years (current Holocaust death estimate is 11 million)! This effortless amplification of effect is a feature of the modern world, as we see every day with social media. Everything bad can spread more quickly now – there is a science to it that authoritarians leverage strategically. To some degree the pace of bad events and the scaling of their impact knocks the good guys back on their heels, admittedly. But we’ve observed the phenomenon long enough now to do something about it.
Where the rest of us enter this picture is precisely here: Xi would be retired now if not for the cowardice of the Chinese Communist Party – who made him Dictator for Life, and the less than 100,000 American Democratic voters who couldn’t bother to vote in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016. In this age of scaling and network effects, such seemingly minor actions can change history. The right knows this, and has been pursuing such small advantages, and leveraging their system effects, since the late 1960s.
The shame of it all is that American history has been a struggle to achieve something singular, for us and others – and it is being wasted by people who dishonor this struggle through their indifference. That struggle is full of sacrifice and foregone opportunity – the young men who gave their lives in war, the people who fought through fear for civil rights, the people who attempted to escape from slavery and those who aided them, the people who fought for economic justice, the courageous barrier breakers like Jackie Robinson and the Little Rock Nine, the common ordinary everyday people who raised good children and paid their taxes so that others might have enough. We dishonor ourselves by failing to honor those who came before us and on whose shoulders we stand. We dishonor ourselves doubly by not only failing to strive for more and better – but to utterly fail to even protect that which we have been given at so much cost to our predecessors.
As a white man, I find it telling and shameful that white men are the most of this problem. We make up the majority of the national ‘bad guy’ contingent, and we are the least active element of the good guys. Good God, the first anti-Trump protest was the Women’s March, and the most effective large-scale progressive movement has been Black Lives Matter. If white men and Catholic priests (yes, they used to do this sort of thing) came out in force in support of democracy, we wouldn’t be in the trouble we are. But we’re by and large sitting on the fence waiting for Walter Cronkite to tell us what we already know re democracy in America -- we’re losing this fight.
How did we get here? “Gradually, then suddenly” to quote Hemingway. We watched as the New Deal and the post-War expansion of the middle class -- both the result of the sacrifices and striving and risk-taking of millions of Americans – got clawed back by oligarchs and the Republicans. We conveniently glossed over or ignored the near-extermination of Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans and their subsequent subjugation, a criminal justice system that provides no justice for the majority of Americans and prevents the wealthy and connected from being held accountable, unjust tax and healthcare systems, organized crime, government subsidized obesity -- the list is near endless.
Gradually the grand national idea of building a “Shining City Upon a Hill” became the grubby little individual idea of having a house on the hill. I don’t believe in collective or national guilt, nor am I big on apologies or reparations. I’m an action person – who from hard experience understands that words without action are worse than no words at all. We never built the last mile of democracy – it’s long past time to do so.