By Roger Chambers | Columnist
In the short book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” Timothy Snyder outlines tactics used by would-be autocrats to overturn a popularly elected democracy. These trends were frequently used in the 20th Century, though often not recognized until too late.
Malcolm Nance’s newest book, “They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency” reviews the recent history of the right-wing white supremacist activities that led in part to the insurgency of January 6, 2022.
The January 6th Committee has connected the dots of these groups and their ties to President Trump and several of his intimate (often unofficial) advisors, sitting Congressional Republicans and conservative personalities on Fox News hiding behind claims of being “journalists.”
Most Americans had gradually rejected white supremacy beginning with the abolition of slavery, but it took over a century to affirm the rights of non-white residents by banning Jim Crow laws and legalized segregation with Supreme Court decisions and national civil rights legislation from the mid-1950s to the 1970s.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 greatly accelerated the growth and acceptance by many of this white supremacist ideology that had gradually declined to the fringe status since the 1970s.
How to recognize and respond to often subtle clues of a rising tyrant in the early stages is important. If untreated, the symptoms of a democracy at risk grow like a cancer.
Snyder clearly describes methods used by German Nazis in the 1930s. Similar trends are apparent today in various forms in many countries, the rise of Putin in Russia, and similar trends in Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, the Philippines and Venezuela, among others.
To resist this evolution before it actually becomes an entrenched dictatorship requires a positive response. Important points include: believing in truth; being calm when the unthinkable arrives; be wary of paramilitaries; be leery of single party government; remember professional ethics; establish and live a private life.
Malcolm Nance’s review of modern America reveals similar trends that evolved into a violent attempt to overthrow of the United States government. Ironically, many occurred out in the open stimulated by some 30,000 lies by former President Trump since his 2016 election and amplified by Fox News. These misinformation, innuendo and overt lies continue to threaten the very survival of our constitutional government.
White supremacy, racism, and sexual and other exploitation of women have existed throughout our history. Donald Trump’s overt misogyny and anti-democratic and anti-institutional comments, with racism against Mexicans, Hispanics, Arabs/Muslims led to white supremacists greatly expanding their influence among the general public. Trump’s frequent lies led to the sometimes-overt support, but usually tacit silence of most Republicans. These threats are far from over.
Trump attacked and insulted many essential institutions (and individuals with integrity) simply because they disagreed with him. Over 30,000 documented lies finally led to his suspension from Facebook and Twitter, but only after much damage was done. He blatantly continues lying on “Truth Social.”
Early on December 20, shortly after an “unhinged” meeting with official advisors refusing to sanction seizing voting machines nationally, Trump tweeted, “Big demonstration in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Many Q-anon and white supremacist groups following his tweets interpreted this as a call to arms, and organizations and individuals began to organize an armed rebellion via social media.
Trump early on convinced millions that credible news outlets are “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” These were first steps in subverting the truth, leading many to totally distrust factual “mainstream media.” Further clues were obvious with Trump’s vagueness on supporting a peaceful transition of power and claims of a rigged (later “stolen”) election weeks before the election occurred.
Right wing extremists including Steve Bannon (just convicted on two counts of Contempt of Congress) and Alex Jones still share these extremist views on largely unregulated social media including Parler and various podcasts and articles on Newsmax, Brietbart News, and the One America News Network, all well known for promoting right wing conspiracy theories and other lies.
Perhaps the greatest “big lie,” other than a “stolen election” are attempts to “delegitimize” the Congressional January 6th Committee. This committee has carefully collected and skillfully presented truly historic findings that an armed insurrection was at least in part attributed to the bombastic and persuasive lies of the President of the United States.
Several Republican House members attended a White House meeting on December 21, 2022 focusing on ways to pressure Vice President Pence to refuse to certify the votes of the Electoral College. Many of the ten Representatives present at this meeting expressed interest in receiving a Presidential pardon before Inauguration Day. Several have been subpoenaed by the January 6th Committee but have thus far declined to testify
Some Senators also overtly supported the idea of overturning the election. Senator Jim Johnson of Wisconsin apparently to give a list of false electors to Vice President Pence, but this was averted by a staff member.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is being subpoenaed by a Georgia grand jury to explain two conversations with Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger about ways of changing the outcome of the election in Georgia. Indeed, it is these activities in Georgia, including a phone call by Trump where he was asking for “11,780” votes to overturn the election was clearly illegal
Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri clearly supported the protestors with a raised fist just prior to the assault on Congress. Trump also spoke with several Republican Senators during the hours when an armed mobbed was attacking the Capitol.
Perhaps the largest tragedy in this political crisis is the tacit support by most Republicans in the House and Senate of Trump’s obvious lies and insults in fear of losing the graces of Trump’s base. Senator McConnel gave a rather scathing speech against Trump yet voted against his second impeachment. If he and other spineless Republican leaders had firmly acted in support of their oath to protect and defend the Constitution, Trump would have rightfully been convicted on his second impeachment.
Any candidate, in any local, state or federal election who refuses to affirm the fair election of President Biden or seeks out or accepts Trump’s endorsement must be opposed. This is especially true of any sitting members of Congress as noted above, including two regional Congressional Representatives, Claudia Tenney and Elise Stefanik.
A Republican domination of national or state elections would certainly hasten the pace on the road to autocratic government of a minority party. Both Timothy Snyder and Malcolm Nance emphasize the importance of voting in large numbers as essential to firmly oppose this Republican pathway to tyranny
There are two very difficult bridges yet to cross this year. The mid-term elections are crucial. Trump followers will try to deny the results if they lose in key seats. Litigation, instability, and Federal or State Constitutional crises could well evolve into violence.
Even more difficult is possible indictments of many (including a former President) for numerous misdemeanor and felony charges implicated by overwhelming evidence.
A major party hijacked by white-supremacist and believers in ridiculous Q-Anon conspiracy theories has no coherent plan to address global warming, racism, gun violence, abortion and women’s rights, religious bigotry, and health care, not to mention a stable foreign policy. Most Republicans seem to care only for maintaining power at any cost.
If these Republicans dominate the elections of 2020 or 2024 may be our last. Prepare for instability and multiple constitutional crises, likely leading to more violence if not civil war or ultimate dissolution of our constitutional republic.
The most important action an individual can do to prevent this from happening is to vote in the mid-term elections this November 8th.