Trickle-Down Authoritarianism Must Stop

Unless we soon hold them accountable for their damage to America and the Constitution in a way they will understand and take seriously, this will continue and get worse. If we fail, G-d help us.

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Trickle-down authoritarianism is both making life miserable for and killing Americans, and it needs to stop.

America has always had a dark undercurrent of authoritarianism, stretching from the slave owners going to war with the North over their right to own and control other human beings to Joe McCarthy’s demented (and false) rants about “communists in the State Department” to Nixon’s “War On Drugs.”

But Donald Trump and his acolytes have taken it farther than ever before in this country, and the result is over 660,000 dead Americans — most of whom would still be alive today if Trump had simply listened to scientists — and now everyday Americans from schoolboard members to election volunteers to retail clerks are quitting in droves to avoid having to deal with Trump-inspired authoritarian bullies.

Trump and his fellow sociopaths in much of the Republican Party’s elected class see a clear advantage to themselves in encouraging threats of violence against public officials and volunteers involved in running voting in the states and tabulating the vote.

If they can get enough of them to resign and put in their place people who the new voter suppression laws empower to purge voter rolls and throw out the votes of precincts they “suspect of fraud” (aka Black neighborhoods and college towns) they can shave enough points to rig elections to keep Republicans in office in Red states for years.

But how does that justify Florida Governor Ron DeSantis replacing his state’s Surgeon General with a guy who openly suggests Covid vaccines can kill you and instead says that people should expose themselves to the virus so, after tens of thousands of deaths, the state can acquire “herd immunity” and, if there are any problems left, just treat them with hydroxychloroquine?

What does that have to do with Trump-devotee anti-maskers trying to run a Michigan county health director off the road at 70 MPH and kill him just because he supports schoolkids wearing masks indoors during a deadly pandemic? Or yell at him, “Hey mother******, I hope someone abuses your kids and forces you to watch”?

This isn’t just about how to deal with a pandemic or Trump’s failed attempt to stage a coup on January 6th.  This is about the transformation of America from a land of civility and democracy into a neofascist state.

Chicago journalist Milton Mayer went to Germany after World War II and spent almost a year getting to know a group of 10 “average Germans” (from bakers to college professors ) who’d simply kept their heads down and done their jobs throughout the period from the 1930s when the bully boys first showed up on the streets pushing people around, right up to the end of the war. He tells the story in his book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945.

One of the men he interviewed, a college professor, told him how difficult it is to stop authoritarianism once it gets really rolling along. 

“You see,” the professor told him, “one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.”

We all watch as DeSantis takes actions that he knows will kill thousands of his own citizens, but they’re also actions that he believes will get him the votes of authoritarian Trump followers in his state, which could launch him into the White House in 2024. 

We watch as Texas outlaws abortion in open defiance of Supreme Court precedent for similar political reasons for Greg Abbott and perhaps to help keep an allegedly corrupt Attorney General out of prison.  

We watch as Georgia changes their voting laws so the state GOP can functionally take over and administer polling places in largely Black counties, thus ensuring another generation of White/GOP Rule. 

We watch as Republicans nationwide change laws to allow “poll watchers” and then openly recruit armed militia members to come into polling places — something never before allowed — to intimidate minority voters by looking over their shoulders for “fraud.”

We watch as they criminalize and try to psychologically devastate Trans youth across the nation with their so-called “bathroom bills.“

We watch as Trump-supporting bullies hold armed intimidation rallies that echo the Brownshirts and Blackshirts of the 1920s and 1930s, and Trump-humping thugs terrorize store clerks and teachers just for asking them to wear a simple facemask.

"And one day, too late,” the German college professor told Milton Mayer in 1949, “your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jew swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in - your nation, your people - is not the world you were in at all.

“The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed.

“Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God.”

Unless we hold them accountable for their damage to America and the Constitution, and do so both soon and in a way they and the world will understand and take seriously, this will continue and get worse. And if we fail, G-d help us.

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