Thursday, June 28, 2018

The stages of fascism

A woman I work with is Muslim American. As she sat among fellow parents at her daughter's graduation on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it had upheld the third iteration of Trump's Muslim Travel Ban by a margin of 5-4. Devastated, the woman watched her daughter graduate from middle school through tears. This was not the country she had been born and raised in. Her children were definitely not having the carefree upbringing she had known.

There have been a raft of other troubling SCOTUS decisions this season—the weakening of unions, the roll-back of pro-life protections, upholding a baker's right to discriminate against a gay couple, allowing states to gerrymander their voting maps at will. Then yesterday came the news that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a centrist, is retiring, giving Trump the opportunity to place yet another Handmaid's Tale extremist on the bench, one who will be committed to eroding reproductive rights and gutting health care for all. Why couldn't it be Clarence Thomas who was retiring? The man is an absolute waste of judicial space, and has been for decades. So now, the progressives in Congress are gearing up for a fight to delay seating a new justice until after the midterm elections, citing the GOPs refusal to even hold hearings on Obama's Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland in the eight months before the 2016 elections. The hope is that Congress will be very different in January, with a lot more women and progressives and people of diverse experiences, which might allow a more centrist jurist to be appointed, rather than another Neil Gorsuch, which would sink us all.


In December of 2016, a month before Trump was inaugurated, Evan Osnos wrote a piece in the New Yorker that asked this heart-stopping question: "What is the precise moment, in the life of a country, when tyranny takes hold? It rarely happens in an instant; it arrives like twilight, and at first, the eyes adjust."

In her post yesterday Sabine addressed exactly that question, recalling her own family's existence in Nazi Germany and posting an excerpt from an Irish Times piece on how fascism takes hold. I could hardly breathe as I read the excerpt, which I've posted below. It so fully describes this moment. Let us not be sheep.

Fintan O'Toole writes in The Irish Times:

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

But ... there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages.


  1. I tremble when I realize that yes, this is all really happening. When Trump got elected, I prayed with my heathen heart that he was seriously just a complete bumbling idiot who had happened to get elected by chance and by a series of unfortunate events and would not be, well, evil with purpose. Obviously, he is absolutely evil with purpose. And who is behind all of this? I think so many of the Republicans are merely spineless and without any morals or ethics and are not masterminding this rapid descent into Fascism. But someone is. That's all there is to it. And Trump is their dunce, their puppet, their enthusiastic figurehead. A figurehead with power. And let's not even go into his supporters.
    We are all terrified. We should be. And what do we do?

  2. This may be the answer (or one answer) to Ms. Moon's question of who is behind Trump's policies:

    Stephen Miller is a scary person.

  3. If you google "stephen miller trump" it will bring up a whole series of very recent news articles on this man and his influence on the president. It has raised the hair on the back of my neck and put a rock in my stomach. This man has been in training for what he is doing since he was very young. He has the ear and approval of Trump, Bannon, and Sessions. I do believe he is the one we need to be watching.

  4. It's happening again. Human beings don't seem to learn, or learn so slowly that the same things keep happening. I want to cry but it does not good.

  5. I've been thinking about this post all day. It's so disturbing. For the first time, I am actually afraid of my government. Do you think mass protests will say to the administration, that no, you may not trespass on these norms? Honestly, I just don't know how to stop any of this from happening.

  6. That Irish Times piece was a heart-stopper. I posted it to Facebook and had a Trump-supporting friend say, "You DO realize that baby-in-a-cage photo was taken in 2014"? To which I replied, no, it was actually 2018 (fact-checked) and even though it came from a demonstration, those holding pens are real. Furthermore, the piece isn't about that photo. The piece is about Trump's use of language -- saying illegal immigrants "infest the nation, for example -- to slowly bring people somewhere they would not ordinarily go.

    She hasn't replied yet, but I found it interesting that her argument back to me minimized the point of the piece and also included blatantly false information. Trump's supporters are being led down a garden path (a saying that, by the way, gives an unjustly bad name to garden paths) by disinformation and a message that it's OK to consider large segments of the population as, essentially, parasites.

    (Sorry I'm commenting here so late -- I missed this post until Jenny-O alluded to it in a comment on my blog.)

    I'm still struggling with my own personal responsibility in this. I don't want to blog about politics and in fact I resist it, but at the same time, I feel I MUST oppose this dangerous Trumpian movement any way I can. I'm hoping Dave will want to accompany me to the upcoming anti-Trump protest in London.

  7. Yes we cannot sleep on this or become sheep. I agree with the others about Stephen Miller. Pure evil. I shied away from any new media for nearly 2 days upon hearing of Justice Kennedy's impending retirement. It was too much to hear on top of all the other cruelty. I pray for strength to keep on writing, calling and calling out injustice as doing nothing is unthinkable. Many of my postcards are inspired by 100 postcards Instagram account, Elisabeth Egan. Thanks for posting this!