Once upon a time, political parties targeted their opponents’ views on economic issues like health care, or single issues such as abortion or marriage equality. But things have changed in recent years. Now Republicans are focusing on claiming that their opponents—particularly the Democrats—are not legitimate.
This is a troubling trend. Delegitimizing the opposition is, as author Noah Berlasky wrote in a CNN op-ed, “taking another step toward abandoning democracy altogether, and laying the ideological groundwork for an authoritarian agenda, no matter who wins in November’s midterms.”
President Trump is the chief mouthpiece of this trend. At a recent rally in Iowa, he told his rapt audience that “the Democrats have become too extreme. And they’ve become, frankly, too dangerous to govern. They’ve gone wacko.” At another rally in Pennsylvania, he said that Democrats were turning into “an angry left-wing mob.”
Civics Lesson: Could Fascism Come to America?
While calling President Trump a fascist may seem far-fetched, it honestly might not be far from the truth. Scholar Jason Stanley, who has spent the past decade studying fascism, from Mussolini to Duterte, says that if Americans are not vigilant, fascism could become a new reality in the United States. “If you use history and philosophy as a guide,” Stanley said in a recent video op-ed, “it’s easy to see parallels between Trump’s words and those of the most reviled fascists in history.”
“The formula for fascism is surprisingly simple,” Stanley said. It starts with conjuring up faith in a mythic past, which has supposedly been destroyed by liberals, feminists, and immigrants. The Trump campaign slogan, “Make America great again,” is an embodiment of this tactic. The second thing fascist governments do is to sow discord by turning groups against one another. Finally, fascists attack the truth—as can easily be seen by the president’s repeated statements about “fake news” and the “fake news media.”
“Fascists attack the truth, because truth is central to a free democracy,” Stanley explained.
Photo by Olga Steckel / Shutterstock
And in a meeting of evangelicals in the White House, the president is reported to have said that if Congress was taken over by the Democrats, who he called “violent people,” they would “violently” seek to reverse gains evangelical Christians have made under the Trump presidency. (Actress and singer Bette Midler famously mocked President Trump’s statement in a tweet that read, “Now Trump’s saying Democrats are going to be ‘violent’ if they win big in November? What are we going to do? Throw our PBS tote bags at them?”)
Humor aside, this isn’t the first time the president has tried to make dissent illegal and illegitimate. From wanting to forbid protests in public areas of Washington, D.C., to a constant stream of performative victimization, President Trump and the Republican party “have all agreed on a central message: Democratic protest is wrong and dangerous in itself.”
Why are the Republicans trying to make the Democrats’ views illegitimate? Berlasky suggested it’s because Republicans don’t have a lot of concrete accomplishments to brag about. The Trump tax cuts have proven to be unpopular. Separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border has been condemned by everyone from individual people to social justice organizations—and even the U.N. Commissioner of Human Rights.
Naturally, people all over the United States have been exercising their First Amendment rights to express dissent against government activities and to organize protests to raise awareness of human rights issues in our nation.
“Faced with public backlash, Republicans could try to pursue more popular policies. Or, alternately, they could abandon the democratic project, and attempt to enshrine minoritarian rule through procedural gimmicks and a rejection of accountability,” Berlasky wrote. “The Republicans have increasingly chosen the second path.”
In order to actually have a successful democracy, people need to believe that the opposition can still be loyal, even when they call the party in power out for their problematic initiatives or organize to win elections. “If those in power decide that protest and resistance are illegitimate, violent, and dangerous, then you no longer have a democracy.”
Although Republicans claim they aren’t opposed to all resistance, just to “disorderly or uncivil” resistance. That’s the beginning of a slippery slope: who decides what exactly constitutes “disorderly or uncivil” protests, and what distinguishes those protests from “orderly and civil” ones?
It remains to be seen whether Republicans will accept election results in the midterm elections if Democrats win the House, the Senate, or both chambers. But, Berlasky wrote, “We should be clear that Republicans are explicitly running on the platform that resistance is intolerable. They’re saying that they only support democracy if they win.”