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.
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.
The "they" whom we should hold most accountable, at this moment of greatest "Peril" (another Bob Woodward must-read), comes down, really, to just one little man: DONALD JOHN TRUMP. He is certainly not the only despicable bastard -- God, there are so many! -- who deserves the modern-day equivalent of the medieval pillory and public-square-humiliation "remedy" (within the law), but he is certainly the de facto figurehead and primary inspiration for the true enemies of America -- fanatical domestic fascists -- and it would be a significant and necessary blow not only to their perverse personal psychology but also to their perverse political ideology to hold him personally accountable.
The "moral arc of the universe bends toward justice" ...mostly by giving it a mighty shove now and then. Taking down the whitest and most sacred symbol of authoritarianism -- the man himself -- will go a long way in educating future generations of small-d democrats on the correct response to an insurrection. Think of the iconic Nazi emblem blown to pieces on the roof of the Reichstag. Don't worry about the usual refrain about making Trump, the sad-mad-crazy clown that he is, a martyr for their "lost cause" and the champion of their pathetic resistance; let them wallow in their defeat.
Our laws absolutely MUST spell out a bright red line that cannot EVER be crossed no matter the circumstance or perpetrator! Let democracy's detractors fume and spit all they want; let them show their true colors for all to witness. The ugly truth of the Republican Party must be fully recognized and confronted head-on -- no more wishful thinking and happy talk about some bygone world of bipartisanship that no longer exists.
We're in the middle of a new civil war started by one-party, evangelical, white-nationalist, REPUBLICAN insurgents -- i.e., "the base" (al-Qaeda in Arabic). It is way past the time for every single citizen in this dying democracy who cares about their children to wake up, face the truth, and act responsibly.
And it is also way past the time for our justice system to step up to the plate and act responsibly -- NOW! -- before the timing of the next election season once again makes going after a front-runner legally and politically unviable. Rinse-and-repeat, kicking-the-can never solves a damn thing. How many times must DC politicos prove that axiom to the American people, Charlie Brown?
The phenomenon described so well in this piece is what has become known as “The banality of Evil”, which most of the readers and viewers here will recognize as the book by Hanna Arendt who also examined how the German people were lulled, lured, and progressively guided into accepting the unacceptable.
In a spectacular speech on “Our Greatest Antidote to Evil” Joseph Brodsky said in 1987,
“What we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good.”
That quote, along with a lengthy discussion are included in my book. I will copy a short section here:
Hannah Arendt wrote the book entitled, “The Banality of Evil” in which she describes the creeping and unobtrusive nature of inchoate, innocent appearing, and incubating evil. This was brought home by Dr. Edna Friedberg, a speaker on a recent C-SPAN panel on combatting the increasing rate of hate crimes in the US. (Edna S. Friedberg is a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. I failed to record the date of the C-SPAN panel).
Dr. Friedberg stated that studies of the Germany prior to the Holocaust reveal that racial hatred was NOT the most prominent reason for the conditions which ultimately allowed the Nazi party to undermine social values and norms and to virtually obliterate all conscience and tolerance for cultural differences. Long before there were crimes against the people who were considered the out group, there were more subtle ‘crimes against nature’ within the social order. There was an unmistakable erosion of spirit and of connections to others in the larger group, for example, which inexorably weakened the moral fiber of the populace. Obsequiousness and blind obedience had been drilled into the students, workers, and military personnel for decades prior to the ultimate rise of fascism. (End of excerpt).
While I am not one to quibble over semantics and do not disagree with the premise of this rant, I would highly recommend, as I have previously, that ‘trickle-up authoritarianism’ is no less a part of this equation than trickle-down authoritarianism. The most efficient and effective way to predispose and precondition a society and a nation for either good or evil is to assemble youth into scheduled, organized, and ordained groups for “socialization”, “training”, “education”, “preparation”, or indoctrination.
I have been over-zealous in this if the response is any indication. Therefore, I will take time to give some essential background. The truth is that this is all very personal for me for a variety of reasons. The most significant reason is outlined in my chapter on school phobia in the second book, and in the dedication of both of my books. (The following is an excerpt from page 97).
There is a hint of cruelty in the rush to push children who are clearly not emotionally prepared for immersion into this foreign environment. It is only because of attendance law that parents are forced to ignore or minimize the anxiety and dread these children face. The same dynamic is operating with students who have found the courage to go to school but who also have the bravery to signal that they want no part of the place.
For this author, this is a personal issue. I am ashamed to admit that I physically carried my son to the car in his underwear and drove him to the school parking lot where I made him get dressed and took him into the school. I was a single parent with a full-time job and classes and felt that I had no better choice. He had not been diagnosed as phobic, but after losing his mother at age four, he avoided school anytime he could and had refused to go or had skipped. Bradley was about nine at the time. I cannot apologize to him now. He died in a tragic accident on September 23, 1981, at the age of 13 after skipping school that day (exactly forty years ago tomorrow). This book is dedicated to his memory. (End of excerpt).
Fifty years ago, everyone told us, “Be positive. Don’t discourage the people working for change.” They said, “Forget about changing the laws and work within the system”. They warned, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”.
Yet the “system” is not in the least systematic and never has been. It is at best controlled chaos. Change did not come unless it was for the worse. The baby, referring to compulsory attendance laws, was stillborn. It was never a viable entity. And, not to be vulgar, but that was not bathwater.
Now. optimists in the field of “education”, otherwise known as Polly Annas, have adapted Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” theory to their domain. It is tempting to apply it in politics, as well.
I confess that, while I have seen Gladwell speak many times and greatly admire him, and while I do not doubt that his theory has a high degree of relevance in various technological, economic, or even social realms, it definitely does not apply in education, and probably does not apply to politics, either. Critical mass cannot be reached when fully half of the citizenry still labors under the illusion that “original sin” or some variation on that cynical theme is somehow valid and that schoolwork is just bad tasting medicine that will effect a cure (of what? Native intelligence?).
Some of the most prominent critics of schooling and alternative education/school boosters have for a very long time blithely assumed that progressive and liberal ideas for school reform will become irresistible in their success and appeal because they are superior in every imaginable way. Great ideas and successful experimental programs inevitably inspire and are bound to spread like wildfire, ostensibly. Their “movement” has grown in certain places, and they have exciting networks, TED Talks, conferences, homeschooling, Unschooling, and De-schooling groups in the US and around the globe. Yet, the mirage is not turning into the oasis that they have so enthusiastically awaited. The clock ticks. Children sit in the same desks, languishing by the millions.
One will have to read my books to learn why the ground has not shifted, the waters have not parted, and the miracles are on hold for another century. The cliff notes version is, as I have so often stated, that attendance laws are an impermeable barrier to change. Deeply held beliefs and conceptions, much more unconscious than conscious are not amenable to change via word of mouth and popular opinion metrics. (The following items are also excerpted from my book).
Banality IS the Evil (Chapter heading)
The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.
…But the Prussian military style academies for children from the earlier German history are famous for their egregious abuses and an iron fist in disciplining and programming students from a very tender age.
Education is good, by definition, but it is ineffable. It is antithetical to force and duress. School has the potential to be a good as well, but it automatically devolves into banality and mediocrity when forced upon unwilling or unenthusiastic participants. (End of excerpts).
This is a hard pill to swallow for people who have believed so fervently in education. What must be understood, and soon, is that school not only is NOT education; it is often anti-intellectual and the exact opposite of education. The consequence is 70 million people following a fascist, authoritarian demagogue wherever he leads and believing they are doing god’s work.