Category Archives: Fascism

The Left’s Long History of Militant Resistance to Fascism  – Sarah Jaffe.

Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) when Oswald Mosley’s supporters were gathering in Great Mint Street for a march through the East End of London in what is now called the Battle of Cable Street. In this image, anti-Fascists are pushed back by police on October 4, 1936.

A conversation with historian Mark Bray about the origins of modern anti-fascist movements.

Antifa is an abbreviation for anti-fascist or anti-fascism. Anti-fascism is a movement that goes back a hundred years. But when we talk about antifa today, we are talking about modern militant anti-fascism, which predominantly grew out of movements in Great Britain and Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

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These were movements of leftist immigrants, punks and all sorts of people who were targeted by a neo-Nazi backlash, a xenophobic wave that spread over these countries and others. It is essentially a pan-socialist radical politic of collective self-defense against the far right.

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Going back to the beginning, we can certainly look to the Arditi del Popolo, The People’s Daring Ones, which was an anti-fascist militia formed by various different kinds of leftists in Italy in 1921 to fight back against Mussolini’s Blackshirts. These were anarchists, socialists and communists who took up rifles and defended small villages and towns from fascist attack. It was too late by the time they were formed, because much of the left movement had already been destroyed by that point. Then, the Socialist Party and then the Communist Party pulled out of it. So, it ended up being mostly anarchists and rank-and-file leftists. It wasn’t up to the task of stopping Mussolini.

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In the 1920s and 1930s, there were several different left formations in Germany. The Red Front Fighters’ League is one of the more important ones. The Iron Front, formed by the socialists, and Anti-Fascist Action, formed by the communists, were more oriented towards electoral work than anti-fascist confrontation, though the popular impression of them was that they were a paramilitary formation. There was a wave of conflict between Nazis and left forces across the spectrum in Germany in the 1920s and into the 1930s. Many were killed on all sides of this.

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But the Socialist and Communist Party leadership didn’t really take Hitler especially seriously, or at least not as seriously as they wish they had in retrospect. This is evident in the Communist Party slogan “First Hitler, Then Us,” whereby they believed that Hitler would get into power, do such a poor job that he would be out quickly, and then they would take over government. Of course, that never happened.

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The first moment of conflict when the European Left realized that they were facing an existential threat in the fascist menace was 1934 in Vienna, when socialists rose up against the right-wing government. From that point onward, the anti-fascist struggle in Europe was seen as not just street fighting, but a war for survival for the Left.

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That fed into the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. The International Brigades are perhaps the most iconic anti-fascist image in history. The Spanish Republic did fall. Then, you have World War II. In the book, I focus on anti-fascism when fascist regimes are not already in power. There is plenty to be said about Italian and Yugoslav partisans and all sorts of resistance in France and the Netherlands throughout World War II. Certainly, there was armed resistance to Franco in Spain.

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But as far as a militant antifa model in the post-war period, maybe the prototypical example was the 43 Group in London, that organized commando units to shut down fascist speakers and meetings on street corners around London in the 1940s. Perhaps the next biggest moment is the Battle of Lewisham in 1977, when the National Front organized an anti-mugging march in an immigrant neighborhood. All sorts of immigrant groups, left groups and feminist groups showed up to block their path and successfully shut it down, preventing the National Front from intimidating the community. Some of the participants of that action likened it to the earlier Battle of Cable Street.

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Other examples include the Battle of Waterloo in 1992, when Anti-Fascist Action in Britain confronted some skinhead groups and essentially had a battle in a train station. Then, you can also look at the blockades of different white supremacist marches.

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continued at In These Times.com

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How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S. – David Frum. 

How to Build an Autocracy.

The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.

It’s 2021, and president Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.

Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Most Americans intuit that their president and his relatives have become vastly wealthier over the past four years. But rumors of graft are easy to dismiss. Because Trump has never released his tax returns, no one really knows.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

Meanwhile, social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true.

Nobody’s repealed the First Amendment, of course, and Americans remain as free to speak their minds as ever—provided they can stomach seeing their timelines fill up with obscene abuse and angry threats from the pro-Trump troll armies that police Facebook and Twitter. Rather than deal with digital thugs, young people increasingly drift to less political media like Snapchat and Instagram.

Trump-critical media do continue to find elite audiences. Their investigations still win Pulitzer Prizes; their reporters accept invitations to anxious conferences about corruption, digital-journalism standards, the end of nato, and the rise of populist authoritarianism. Yet somehow all of this earnest effort feels less and less relevant to American politics. President Trump communicates with the people directly via his Twitter account, ushering his supporters toward favorable information at Fox News or Breitbart.

Despite the hand-wringing, the country has in many ways changed much less than some feared or hoped four years ago. Ambitious Republican plans notwithstanding, the American social-welfare system, as most people encounter it, has remained largely intact during Trump’s first term. The predicted wave of mass deportations of illegal immigrants never materialized. A large illegal workforce remains in the country, with the tacit understanding that so long as these immigrants avoid politics, keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, nobody will look very hard for them.

“The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

African Americans, young people, and the recently naturalized encounter increasing difficulties casting a vote in most states. But for all the talk of the rollback of rights, corporate America still seeks diversity in employment. Same-sex marriage remains the law of the land. Americans are no more and no less likely to say “Merry Christmas” than they were before Trump took office.

People crack jokes about Trump’s National Security Agency listening in on them. They cannot deeply mean it; after all, there’s no less sexting in America today than four years ago. Still, with all the hacks and leaks happening these days—particularly to the politically outspoken—it’s just common sense to be careful what you say in an email or on the phone. When has politics not been a dirty business? When have the rich and powerful not mostly gotten their way? The smart thing to do is tune out the political yammer, mind your own business, enjoy a relatively prosperous time, and leave the questions to the troublemakers.

In an 1888 lecture, James Russell Lowell, a founder of this magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.

Everything imagined above—and everything described below—is possible only if many people other than Donald Trump agree to permit it. It can all be stopped, if individual citizens and public officials make the right choices. The story told here, like that told by Charles Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is a story not of things that will be, but of things that may be. Other paths remain open. It is up to Americans to decide which one the country will follow.

No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the United States has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.

The exercise of political power is different today than it was then—but perhaps not so different as we might imagine. Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished. Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated.

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s rule over Hungary does depend on elections. These remain open and more or less free—at least in the sense that ballots are counted accurately. Yet they are not quite fair. Electoral rules favor incumbent power-holders in ways both obvious and subtle. Independent media lose advertising under government pressure; government allies own more and more media outlets each year. The government sustains support even in the face of bad news by artfully generating an endless sequence of controversies that leave culturally conservative Hungarians feeling misunderstood and victimized by liberals, foreigners, and Jews.

If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.

You could tell a similar story of the slide away from democracy in South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s successors, in Venezuela under the thug-thief Hugo Chávez, or in the Philippines under the murderous Rodrigo Duterte. A comparable transformation has recently begun in Poland, and could come to France should Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s candidate, win the presidency.

Outside the Islamic world, the 21st century is not an era of ideology. The grand utopian visions of the 19th century have passed out of fashion. The nightmare totalitarian projects of the 20th have been overthrown or have disintegrated, leaving behind only outdated remnants: North Korea, Cuba. What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao. Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.

The United States is of course a very robust democracy. Yet no human contrivance is tamper-proof, a constitutional democracy least of all. Some features of the American system hugely inhibit the abuse of office: the separation of powers within the federal government; the division of responsibilities between the federal government and the states. Federal agencies pride themselves on their independence; the court system is huge, complex, and resistant to improper influence.

Yet the American system is also perforated by vulnerabilities no less dangerous for being so familiar. Supreme among those vulnerabilities is reliance on the personal qualities of the man or woman who wields the awesome powers of the presidency. A British prime minister can lose power in minutes if he or she forfeits the confidence of the majority in Parliament. The president of the United States, on the other hand, is restrained first and foremost by his own ethics and public spirit. What happens if somebody comes to the high office lacking those qualities?

Over the past generation, we have seen ominous indicators of a breakdown of the American political system: the willingness of congressional Republicans to push the United States to the brink of a default on its national obligations in 2013 in order to score a point in budget negotiations; Barack Obama’s assertion of a unilateral executive power to confer legal status upon millions of people illegally present in the United States—despite his own prior acknowledgment that no such power existed.

Donald Trump, however, represents something much more radical. A president who plausibly owes his office at least in part to a clandestine intervention by a hostile foreign intelligence service? Who uses the bully pulpit to target individual critics? Who creates blind trusts that are not blind, invites his children to commingle private and public business, and somehow gets the unhappy members of his own political party either to endorse his choices or shrug them off? If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” With those words, written more than 200 years ago, the authors of the Federalist Papers explained the most important safeguard of the American constitutional system. They then added this promise: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” Congress enacts laws, appropriates funds, confirms the president’s appointees. Congress can subpoena records, question officials, and even impeach them. Congress can protect the American system from an overbearing president.

But will it?

As politics has become polarized, Congress has increasingly become a check only on presidents of the opposite party. Recent presidents enjoying a same-party majority in Congress—Barack Obama in 2009 and 2010, George W. Bush from 2003 through 2006—usually got their way. And congressional oversight might well be performed even less diligently during the Trump administration.

The first reason to fear weak diligence is the oddly inverse relationship between President Trump and the congressional Republicans. In the ordinary course of events, it’s the incoming president who burns with eager policy ideas. Consequently, it’s the president who must adapt to—and often overlook—the petty human weaknesses and vices of members of Congress in order to advance his agenda. This time, it will be Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, doing the advancing—and consequently the overlooking.

Trump has scant interest in congressional Republicans’ ideas, does not share their ideology, and cares little for their fate. He can—and would—break faith with them in an instant to further his own interests. Yet here they are, on the verge of achieving everything they have hoped to achieve for years, if not decades. They owe this chance solely to Trump’s ability to deliver a crucial margin of votes in a handful of states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—which has provided a party that cannot win the national popular vote a fleeting opportunity to act as a decisive national majority. The greatest risk to all their projects and plans is the very same X factor that gave them their opportunity: Donald Trump, and his famously erratic personality. What excites Trump is his approval rating, his wealth, his power. The day could come when those ends would be better served by jettisoning the institutional Republican Party in favor of an ad hoc populist coalition, joining nationalism to generous social spending—a mix that’s worked well for authoritarians in places like Poland. Who doubts Trump would do it? Not Paul Ryan. Not Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. For the first time since the administration of John Tyler in the 1840s, a majority in Congress must worry about their president defecting from them rather than the other way around.

A scandal involving the president could likewise wreck everything that Republican congressional leaders have waited years to accomplish. However deftly they manage everything else, they cannot prevent such a scandal. But there is one thing they can do: their utmost not to find out about it.

“Do you have any concerns about Steve Bannon being in the White House?,” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Ryan in November. “I don’t know Steve Bannon, so I have no concerns,” answered the speaker. “I trust Donald’s judgment.”

Asked on 60 Minutes whether he believed Donald Trump’s claim that “millions” of illegal votes had been cast, Ryan answered: “I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.”

What about Trump’s conflicts of interest? “This is not what I’m concerned about in Congress,” Ryan said on CNBC. Trump should handle his conflicts “however he wants to.”

Ryan has learned his prudence the hard way. Following the airing of Trump’s past comments, caught on tape, about his forceful sexual advances on women, Ryan said he’d no longer campaign for Trump. Ryan’s net favorability rating among Republicans dropped by 28 points in less than 10 days. Once unassailable in the party, he suddenly found himself disliked by 45 percent of Republicans.

As Ryan’s cherished plans move closer and closer to presidential signature, Congress’s subservience to the president will likely intensify. Whether it’s allegations of Russian hacks of Democratic Party internal communications, or allegations of self-enrichment by the Trump family, or favorable treatment of Trump business associates, the Republican caucus in Congress will likely find itself conscripted into serving as Donald Trump’s ethical bodyguard.

The Senate historically has offered more scope to dissenters than the House. Yet even that institution will find itself under pressure. Two of the Senate’s most important Republican Trump skeptics will be up for reelection in 2018: Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Texas’s Ted Cruz. They will not want to provoke a same-party president—especially not in a year when the president’s party can afford to lose a seat or two in order to discipline dissenters. Mitch McConnell is an even more results-oriented politician than Paul Ryan—and his wife, Elaine Chao, has been offered a Cabinet position, which might tilt him further in Trump’s favor.

Ambition will counteract ambition only until ambition discovers that conformity serves its goals better. At that time, Congress, the body expected to check presidential power, may become the president’s most potent enabler.

Discipline within the congressional ranks will be strictly enforced not only by the party leadership and party donors, but also by the overwhelming influence of Fox News. Trump versus Clinton was not 2016’s only contest between an overbearing man and a restrained woman. Just such a contest was waged at Fox, between Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly. In both cases, the early indicators seemed to favor the women. Yet in the end it was the men who won, Hannity even more decisively than Trump. Hannity’s show, which became an unapologetic infomercial for Trump, pulled into first place on the network in mid-October. Kelly’s show tumbled to fifth place, behind even The Five, a roundtable program that airs at 5 p.m. Kelly landed on her feet, of course, but Fox learned its lesson: Trump sells; critical coverage does not. Since the election, the network has awarded Kelly’s former 9 p.m. time slot to Tucker Carlson, who is positioning himself as a Trump enthusiast in the Hannity mold.

A president determined to thwart the law to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

From the point of view of the typical Republican member of Congress, Fox remains all-powerful: the single most important source of visibility and affirmation with the voters whom a Republican politician cares about. In 2009, in the run-up to the Tea Party insurgency, South Carolina’s Bob Inglis crossed Fox, criticizing Glenn Beck and telling people at a town-hall meeting that they should turn his show off. He was drowned out by booing, and the following year, he lost his primary with only 29 percent of the vote, a crushing repudiation for an incumbent untouched by any scandal.

Fox is reinforced by a carrier fleet of supplementary institutions: super pacs, think tanks, and conservative web and social-media presences, which now include such former pariahs as Breitbart and Alex Jones. So long as the carrier fleet coheres—and unless public opinion turns sharply against the president—oversight of Trump by the Republican congressional majority will very likely be cautious, conditional, and limited.

Trump will not set out to build an authoritarian state. His immediate priority seems likely to be to use the presidency to enrich himself. But as he does so, he will need to protect himself from legal risk. Being Trump, he will also inevitably wish to inflict payback on his critics. Construction of an apparatus of impunity and revenge will begin haphazardly and opportunistically. But it will accelerate. It will have to.

If Congress is quiescent, what can Trump do? A better question, perhaps, is what can’t he do?

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who often articulates Trumpist ideas more candidly than Trump himself might think prudent, offered a sharp lesson in how difficult it will be to enforce laws against an uncooperative president. During a radio roundtable in December, on the topic of whether it would violate anti-nepotism laws to bring Trump’s daughter and son-in-law onto the White House staff, Gingrich said: The president “has, frankly, the power of the pardon. It is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ And technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

That statement is true, and it points to a deeper truth: The United States may be a nation of laws, but the proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

The power of the pardon, deployed to defend not only family but also those who would protect the president’s interests, dealings, and indiscretions, is one such means. The powers of appointment and removal are another. The president appoints and can remove the commissioner of the IRS. He appoints and can remove the inspectors general who oversee the internal workings of the Cabinet departments and major agencies. He appoints and can remove the 93 U.S. attorneys, who have the power to initiate and to end federal prosecutions. He appoints and can remove the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and the head of the criminal division at the Department of Justice.

There are hedges on these powers, both customary and constitutional, including the Senate’s power to confirm (or not) presidential appointees. Yet the hedges may not hold in the future as robustly as they have in the past.

Senators of the president’s party traditionally have expected to be consulted on the U.S.-attorney picks in their states, a highly coveted patronage plum. But the U.S. attorneys of most interest to Trump—above all the ones in New York and New Jersey, the locus of many of his businesses and bank dealings—come from states where there are no Republican senators to take into account. And while the U.S. attorneys in Florida, home to Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties, surely concern him nearly as much, if there’s one Republican senator whom Trump would cheerfully disregard, it’s Marco Rubio.

The traditions of independence and professionalism that prevail within the federal law-enforcement apparatus, and within the civil service more generally, will tend to restrain a president’s power. Yet in the years ahead, these restraints may also prove less robust than they look. Republicans in Congress have long advocated reforms to expedite the firing of underperforming civil servants. In the abstract, there’s much to recommend this idea. If reform is dramatic and happens in the next two years, however, the balance of power between the political and the professional elements of the federal government will shift, decisively, at precisely the moment when the political elements are most aggressive. The intelligence agencies in particular would likely find themselves exposed to retribution from a president enraged at them for reporting on Russia’s aid to his election campaign. “As you know from his other career, Donald likes to fire people.” So New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joked to a roomful of Republican donors at the party’s national convention in July. It would be a mighty power—and highly useful.

The courts, though they might slowly be packed with judges inclined to hear the president’s arguments sympathetically, are also a check, of course. But it’s already difficult to hold a president to account for financial improprieties. As Donald Trump correctly told reporters and editors from The New York Times on November 22, presidents are not bound by the conflict-of-interest rules that govern everyone else in the executive branch.

Presidents from Jimmy Carter onward have balanced this unique exemption with a unique act of disclosure: the voluntary publication of their income-tax returns. At a press conference on January 11, Trump made clear that he will not follow that tradition. His attorney instead insisted that everything the public needs to know is captured by his annual financial-disclosure report, which is required by law for executive-branch employees and from which presidents are not exempt. But a glance at the reporting form will show their inadequacy to Trump’s situation. They are written with stocks and bonds in mind, to capture mortgage liabilities and deferred executive compensation—not the labyrinthine deals of the Trump Organization and its ramifying networks of partners and brand-licensing affiliates. The truth is in the tax returns, and they will not be forthcoming.

Even outright bribe-taking by an elected official is surprisingly difficult to prosecute, and was made harder still by the Supreme Court in 2016, when it overturned, by an 8–0 vote, the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. McDonnell and his wife had taken valuable gifts of cash and luxury goods from a favor seeker. McDonnell then set up meetings between the favor seeker and state officials who were in a position to help him. A jury had even accepted that the “quid” was indeed “pro” the “quo”—an evidentiary burden that has often protected accused bribe-takers in the past. The McDonnells had been convicted on a combined 20 counts.

The Supreme Court objected, however, that the lower courts had interpreted federal anticorruption law too broadly. The relevant statute applied only to “official acts.” The Court defined such acts very strictly, and held that “setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event—without more—does not fit that definition of an ‘official act.’ ”

Trump is poised to mingle business and government with an audacity and on a scale more reminiscent of a leader in a post-Soviet republic than anything ever before seen in the United States. Glimpses of his family’s wealth-seeking activities will likely emerge during his presidency, as they did during the transition. Trump’s Indian business partners dropped by Trump Tower and posted pictures with the then-president-elect on Facebook, alerting folks back home that they were now powers to be reckoned with. The Argentine media reported that Trump had discussed the progress of a Trump-branded building in Buenos Aires during a congratulatory phone call from the country’s president. (A spokesman for the Argentine president denied that the two men had discussed the building on their call.) Trump’s daughter Ivanka sat in on a meeting with the Japanese prime minister—a useful meeting for her, since a government-owned bank has a large ownership stake in the Japanese company with which she was negotiating a licensing deal.

Suggestive. Disturbing. But illegal, post-McDonnell? How many presidentially removable officials would dare even initiate an inquiry?

You may hear much mention of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution during Trump’s presidency: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

But as written, this seems to present a number of loopholes. First, the clause applies only to the president himself, not to his family members. Second, it seems to govern benefits only from foreign governments and state-owned enterprises, not from private business entities. Third, Trump’s lawyers have argued that the clause applies only to gifts and titles, not to business transactions. Fourth, what does “the Consent of Congress” mean? If Congress is apprised of an apparent emolument, and declines to do anything about it, does that qualify as consent? Finally, how is this clause enforced? Could someone take President Trump to court and demand some kind of injunction? Who? How? Will the courts grant standing? The clause seems to presume an active Congress and a vigilant public. What if those are lacking?

It is essential to recognize that Trump will use his position not only to enrich himself; he will enrich plenty of other people too, both the powerful and—sometimes, for public consumption—the relatively powerless. Venezuela, a stable democracy from the late 1950s through the 1990s, was corrupted by a politics of personal favoritism, as Hugo Chávez used state resources to bestow gifts on supporters. Venezuelan state TV even aired a regular program to showcase weeping recipients of new houses and free appliances. Americans recently got a preview of their own version of that show as grateful Carrier employees thanked then-President-elect Trump for keeping their jobs in Indiana.

“I just couldn’t believe that this guy … he’s not even president yet and he worked on this deal with the company,” T. J. Bray, a 32-year-old Carrier employee, told Fortune. “I’m just in shock. A lot of the workers are in shock. We can’t believe something good finally happened to us. It felt like a victory for the little people.”

Trump will try hard during his presidency to create an atmosphere of personal munificence, in which graft does not matter, because rules and institutions do not matter. He will want to associate economic benefit with personal favor. He will create personal constituencies, and implicate other people in his corruption. That, over time, is what truly subverts the institutions of democracy and the rule of law. If the public cannot be induced to care, the power of the investigators serving at Trump’s pleasure will be diminished all the more.

The first task for our new administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens our communities.” Those were Donald Trump’s words at the Republican National Convention. The newly nominated presidential candidate then listed a series of outrages and attacks, especially against police officers.

“America was shocked to its core when our police officers in Dallas were so brutally executed. Immediately after Dallas, we’ve seen continued threats and violence against our law-enforcement officials. Law officers have been shot or killed in recent days in Georgia, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, and Tennessee.

On Sunday, more police were gunned down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three were killed, and three were very, very badly injured. An attack on law enforcement is an attack on all Americans. I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police: When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country.”

You would never know from Trump’s words that the average number of felonious killings of police during the Obama administration’s tenure was almost one-third lower than it was in the early 1990s, a decline that tracked with the general fall in violent crime that has so blessed American society. There had been a rise in killings of police in 2014 and 2015 from the all-time low in 2013—but only back to the 2012 level. Not every year will be the best on record.”

A mistaken belief that crime is spiraling out of control—that terrorists roam at large in America and that police are regularly gunned down—represents a considerable political asset for Donald Trump. Seventy-eight percent of Trump voters believed that crime had worsened during the Obama years.

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want to enflame more of it.

In true police states, surveillance and repression sustain the power of the authorities. But that’s not how power is gained and sustained in backsliding democracies. Polarization, not persecution, enables the modern illiberal regime.

By guile or by instinct, Trump understands this.

Whenever Trump stumbles into some kind of trouble, he reacts by picking a divisive fight. The morning after The Wall Street Journal published a story about the extraordinary conflicts of interest surrounding Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Trump tweeted that flag burners should be imprisoned or stripped of their citizenship. That evening, as if on cue, a little posse of oddballs obligingly burned flags for the cameras in front of the Trump International Hotel in New York. Guess which story dominated that day’s news cycle?

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing antipolice slogans—these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.

Calculated outrage is an old political trick, but nobody in the history of American politics has deployed it as aggressively, as repeatedly, or with such success as Donald Trump. If there is harsh law enforcement by the Trump administration, it will benefit the president not to the extent that it quashes unrest, but to the extent that it enflames more of it, ratifying the apocalyptic vision that haunted his speech at the convention.

At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in December, Trump got to talking about Vladimir Putin. “And then they said, ‘You know he’s killed reporters,’ ” Trump told the audience. “And I don’t like that. I’m totally against that. By the way, I hate some of these people, but I’d never kill them. I hate them. No, I think, no—these people, honestly—I’ll be honest. I’ll be honest. I would never kill them. I would never do that. Ah, let’s see—nah, no, I wouldn’t. I would never kill them. But I do hate them.”

In the early days of the Trump transition, Nic Dawes, a journalist who has worked in South Africa, delivered an ominous warning to the American media about what to expect. “Get used to being stigmatized as ‘opposition,’ ” he wrote. “The basic idea is simple: to delegitimize accountability journalism by framing it as partisan.”

The rulers of backsliding democracies resent an independent press, but cannot extinguish it. They may curb the media’s appetite for critical coverage by intimidating unfriendly journalists, as President Jacob Zuma and members of his party have done in South Africa. Mostly, however, modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist. All reporting serves an agenda. There is no truth, only competing attempts to grab power.

By filling the media space with bizarre inventions and brazen denials, purveyors of fake news hope to mobilize potential supporters with righteous wrath—and to demoralize potential opponents by nurturing the idea that everybody lies and nothing matters. A would-be kleptocrat is actually better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers with false beliefs: Believers can be disillusioned; people who expect to hear only lies can hardly complain when a lie is exposed. The inculcation of cynicism breaks down the distinction between those forms of media that try their imperfect best to report the truth, and those that purvey falsehoods for reasons of profit or ideology. The New York Times becomes the equivalent of Russia’s RT; The Washington Post of Breitbart; NPR of Infowars.

One story, still supremely disturbing, exemplifies the falsifying method. During November and December, the slow-moving California vote count gradually pushed Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump in the national popular vote further and further: past 1 million, past 1.5 million, past 2 million, past 2.5 million. Trump’s share of the vote would ultimately clock in below Richard Nixon’s in 1960, Al Gore’s in 2000, John Kerry’s in 2004, Gerald Ford’s in 1976, and Mitt Romney’s in 2012—and barely ahead of Michael Dukakis’s in 1988.

This outcome evidently gnawed at the president-elect. On November 27, Trump tweeted that he had in fact “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He followed up that astonishing, and unsubstantiated, statement with an escalating series of tweets and retweets.

It’s hard to do justice to the breathtaking audacity of such a claim. If true, it would be so serious as to demand a criminal investigation at a minimum, presumably spanning many states. But of course the claim was not true. Trump had not a smidgen of evidence beyond his own bruised feelings and internet flotsam from flagrantly unreliable sources. Yet once the president-elect lent his prestige to the crazy claim, it became fact for many people. A survey by YouGov found that by December 1, 43 percent of Republicans accepted the claim that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.

A clear untruth had suddenly become a contested possibility. When CNN’s Jeff Zeleny correctly reported on November 28 that Trump’s tweet was baseless, Fox’s Sean Hannity accused Zeleny of media bias—and then proceeded to urge the incoming Trump administration to take a new tack with the White House press corps, and to punish reporters like Zeleny. “I think it’s time to reevaluate the press and maybe change the traditional relationship with the press and the White House,” Hannity said. “My message tonight to the press is simple: You guys are done. You’ve been exposed as fake, as having an agenda, as colluding. You’re a fake news organization.”

This was no idiosyncratic brain wave of Hannity’s. The previous morning, Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary in George W. Bush’s administration, had advanced a similar idea in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, suggesting that the White House could withhold credentials for its press conferences from media outlets that are “too liberal or unfair.” Newt Gingrich recommended that Trump stop giving press conferences altogether.

Twitter, unmediated by the press, has proved an extremely effective communication tool for Trump. And the whipping-up of potentially violent Twitter mobs against media critics is already a standard method of Trump’s governance. Megyn Kelly blamed Trump and his campaign’s social-media director for inciting Trump’s fans against her to such a degree that she felt compelled to hire armed guards to protect her family. I’ve talked with well-funded Trump supporters who speak of recruiting a troll army explicitly modeled on those used by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Putin to take control of the social-media space, intimidating some critics and overwhelming others through a blizzard of doubt-casting and misinformation. The WikiLeaks Task Force recently tweeted—then hastily deleted—a suggestion that it would build a database to track personal and financial information on all verified Twitter accounts, the kind of accounts typically used by journalists at major media organizations. It’s not hard to imagine how such compilations could be used to harass or intimidate.

Even so, it seems unlikely that President Trump will outright send the cameras away. He craves media attention too much. But he and his team are serving notice that a new era in government-media relations is coming, an era in which all criticism is by definition oppositional—and all critics are to be treated as enemies.

In an online article for The New York Review of Books, the Russian-born journalist Masha Gessen brilliantly noted a commonality between Donald Trump and the man Trump admires so much, Vladimir Putin. “Lying is the message,” she wrote. “It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself.”

Mass movements of the 20th century—communist, fascist, and other—have bequeathed to our imaginations an outdated image of what 21st-century authoritarianism might look like.

Whatever else happens, Americans are not going to assemble in parade-ground formations, any more than they will crank a gramophone or dance the turkey trot. In a society where few people walk to work, why mobilize young men in matching shirts to command the streets? If you’re seeking to domineer and bully, you want your storm troopers to go online, where the more important traffic is. Demagogues need no longer stand erect for hours orating into a radio microphone. Tweet lies from a smartphone instead.

“Populist-fueled democratic backsliding is difficult to counter,” wrote the political scientists Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz late last year. “Because it is subtle and incremental, there is no single moment that triggers widespread resistance or creates a focal point around which an opposition can coalesce … Piecemeal democratic erosion, therefore, typically provokes only fragmented resistance.” Their observation was rooted in the experiences of countries ranging from the Philippines to Hungary. It could apply here too.

If people retreat into private life, if critics grow quieter, if cynicism becomes endemic, the corruption will slowly become more brazen, the intimidation of opponents stronger. Laws intended to ensure accountability or prevent graft or protect civil liberties will be weakened.

If the president uses his office to grab billions for himself and his family, his supporters will feel empowered to take millions. If he successfully exerts power to punish enemies, his successors will emulate his methods.

If citizens learn that success in business or in public service depends on the favor of the president and his ruling clique, then it’s not only American politics that will change. The economy will be corrupted too, and with it the larger culture. A culture that has accepted that graft is the norm, that rules don’t matter as much as relationships with those in power, and that people can be punished for speech and acts that remain theoretically legal—such a culture is not easily reoriented back to constitutionalism, freedom, and public integrity.

The oft-debated question “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” is not easy to answer. There are certainly fascistic elements to him: the subdivision of society into categories of friend and foe; the boastful virility and the delight in violence; the vision of life as a struggle for dominance that only some can win, and that others must lose.

Yet there’s also something incongruous and even absurd about applying the sinister label of fascist to Donald Trump. He is so pathetically needy, so shamelessly self-interested, so fitful and distracted. Fascism fetishizes hardihood, sacrifice, and struggle—concepts not often associated with Trump.

A would-be kleptocrat is better served by spreading cynicism than by deceiving followers.

Perhaps this is the wrong question. Perhaps the better question about Trump is not “What is he?” but “What will he do to us?”

By all early indications, the Trump presidency will corrode public integrity and the rule of law—and also do untold damage to American global leadership, the Western alliance, and democratic norms around the world. The damage has already begun, and it will not be soon or easily undone. Yet exactly how much damage is allowed to be done is an open question—the most important near-term question in American politics. It is also an intensely personal one, for its answer will be determined by the answer to another question: What will you do? And you? And you?

Of course we want to believe that everything will turn out all right. In this instance, however, that lovely and customary American assumption itself qualifies as one of the most serious impediments to everything turning out all right. If the story ends without too much harm to the republic, it won’t be because the dangers were imagined, but because citizens resisted.

The duty to resist should weigh most heavily upon those of us who—because of ideology or partisan affiliation or some other reason—are most predisposed to favor President Trump and his agenda. The years ahead will be years of temptation as well as danger: temptation to seize a rare political opportunity to cram through an agenda that the American majority would normally reject. Who knows when that chance will recur?

A constitutional regime is founded upon the shared belief that the most fundamental commitment of the political system is to the rules. The rules matter more than the outcomes. It’s because the rules matter most that Hillary Clinton conceded the presidency to Trump despite winning millions more votes. It’s because the rules matter most that the giant state of California will accept the supremacy of a federal government that its people rejected by an almost two-to-one margin.

Perhaps the words of a founding father of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater, offer guidance. “If I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ ” Goldwater wrote in The Conscience of a Conservative, “I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.” These words should be kept in mind by those conservatives who think a tax cut or health-care reform a sufficient reward for enabling the slow rot of constitutional government.

Many of the worst and most subversive things Trump will do will be highly popular. Voters liked the threats and incentives that kept Carrier manufacturing jobs in Indiana. Since 1789, the wisest American leaders have invested great ingenuity in creating institutions to protect the electorate from its momentary impulses toward arbitrary action: the courts, the professional officer corps of the armed forces, the civil service, the Federal Reserve—and undergirding it all, the guarantees of the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights. More than any president in U.S. history since at least the time of Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump seeks to subvert those institutions.

Trump and his team count on one thing above all others: public indifference. “I think people don’t care,” he said in September when asked whether voters wanted him to release his tax returns. “Nobody cares,” he reiterated to 60 Minutes in November. Conflicts of interest with foreign investments? Trump tweeted on November 21 that he didn’t believe voters cared about that either: “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”

What happens in the next four years will depend heavily on whether Trump is right or wrong about how little Americans care about their democracy and the habits and conventions that sustain it. If they surprise him, they can restrain him.

Public opinion, public scrutiny, and public pressure still matter greatly in the U.S. political system. In January, an unexpected surge of voter outrage thwarted plans to neutralize the independent House ethics office. That kind of defense will need to be replicated many times. Elsewhere in this issue, Jonathan Rauch describes some of the networks of defense that Americans are creating.

Get into the habit of telephoning your senators and House member at their local offices, especially if you live in a red state. Press your senators to ensure that prosecutors and judges are chosen for their independence—and that their independence is protected. Support laws to require the Treasury to release presidential tax returns if the president fails to do so voluntarily. Urge new laws to clarify that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president’s immediate family, and that it refers not merely to direct gifts from governments but to payments from government-affiliated enterprises as well. Demand an independent investigation by qualified professionals of the role of foreign intelligence services in the 2016 election—and the contacts, if any, between those services and American citizens. Express your support and sympathy for journalists attacked by social-media trolls, especially women in journalism, so often the preferred targets. Honor civil servants who are fired or forced to resign because they defied improper orders. Keep close watch for signs of the rise of a culture of official impunity, in which friends and supporters of power-holders are allowed to flout rules that bind everyone else.

Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

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David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic. In 2001–02, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush

The Atlantic

The 1930s were humanity’s darkest, bloodiest hour. Are you paying attention? – Jonathan Freedland. 

Even to mention the 1930s is to evoke the period when human civilisation entered its darkest, bloodiest chapter. No case needs to be argued; just to name the decade is enough. It is a byword for mass poverty, violent extremism and the gathering storm of world war. “The 1930s” is not so much a label for a period of time than it is rhetorical shorthand – a two-word warning from history.

Witness the impact of an otherwise boilerplate broadcast by the Prince of Wales last December that made headlines. “Prince Charles warns of return to the ‘dark days of the 1930s’ in Thought for the Day message.” Or consider the reflex response to reports that Donald Trump was to maintain his own private security force even once he had reached the White House. The Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman’s tweet was typical: “That 1930s show returns.”

Because that decade was scarred by multiple evils, the phrase can be used to conjure up serial spectres. It has an international meaning, with a vocabulary that centres on Hitler and Nazism and the failure to resist them: from brownshirts and Goebbels to appeasement, Munich and Chamberlain. And it has a domestic meaning, with a lexicon and imagery that refers to the Great Depression: the dust bowl, soup kitchens, the dole queue and Jarrow. It was this second association that gave such power to a statement from the usually dry Office for Budget Responsibility, following then-chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement in 2014. The OBR warned that public spending would be at its lowest level since the 1930s; the political damage was enormous and instant.

In recent months, the 1930s have been invoked more than ever, not to describe some faraway menace but to warn of shifts under way in both Europe and the United States. The surge of populist, nationalist movements in Europe, and their apparent counterpart in the US, has stirred unhappy memories and has, perhaps inevitably, had commentators and others reaching for the historical yardstick to see if today measures up to 80 years ago.

Why is it the 1930s to which we return, again and again? For some sceptics, the answer is obvious: it’s the only history anybody knows. According to this jaundiced view of the British school curriculum, Hitler and Nazis long ago displaced Tudors and Stuarts as the core, compulsory subjects of the past. When we fumble in the dark for a historical precedent, our hands keep reaching for the 30s because they at least come with a little light.

The more generous explanation centres on the fact that that period, taken together with the first half of the 1940s, represents a kind of nadir in human affairs. The Depression was, as Larry Elliott wrote last week, “the biggest setback to the global economy since the dawn of the modern industrial age”, leaving 34 million Americans with no income. The hyperinflation experienced in Germany – when a thief would steal a laundry-basket full of cash, chucking away the money in order to keep the more valuable basket – is the stuff of legend. And the Depression paved the way for history’s bloodiest conflict, the second world war which left, by some estimates, a mind-numbing 60 million people dead. At its centre was the Holocaust, the industrialised slaughter of 6 million Jews by the Nazis: an attempt at the annihilation of an entire people.

In these multiple ways, then, the 1930s function as a historical rock bottom, a demonstration of how low humanity can descend. The decade’s illustrative power as a moral ultimate accounts for why it is deployed so fervently and so often.

Less abstractly, if we keep returning to that period, it’s partly because it can justifiably claim to be the foundation stone of our modern world. The international and economic architecture that still stands today – even if it currently looks shaky and threatened – was built in reaction to the havoc wreaked in the 30s and immediately afterwards. The United Nations, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, Bretton Woods: these were all born of a resolve not to repeat the mistakes of the 30s, whether those mistakes be rampant nationalism or beggar-my-neighbour protectionism. The world of 2017 is shaped by the trauma of the 1930s.

The international and economic architecture that still stands today was built in reaction to the havoc of the 1930s

One telling, human illustration came in recent global polling for the Journal of Democracy, which showed an alarming decline in the number of people who believed it was “essential” to live in a democracy. From Sweden to the US, from Britain to Australia, only one in four of those born in the 1980s regarded democracy as essential. Among those born in the 1930s, the figure was at or above 75%. Put another way, those who were born into the hurricane have no desire to feel its wrath again.

Most of these dynamics are long established, but now there is another element at work. As the 30s move from living memory into history, as the hurricane moves further away, so what had once seemed solid and fixed – specifically, the view that that was an era of great suffering and pain, whose enduring value is as an eternal warning – becomes contested, even upended.

Witness the remarks of Steve Bannon, chief strategist in Donald Trump’s White House and the former chairman of the far-right Breitbart website. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bannon promised that the Trump era would be “as exciting as the 1930s”. (In the same interview, he said “Darkness is good” – citing Satan, Darth Vader and Dick Cheney as examples.)

“Exciting” is not how the 1930s are usually remembered, but Bannon did not choose his words by accident. He is widely credited with the authorship of Trump’s inaugural address, which twice used the slogan “America first”. That phrase has long been off-limits in US discourse, because it was the name of the movement – packed with nativists and antisemites, and personified by the celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh – that sought to keep the US out of the war against Nazi Germany and to make an accommodation with Hitler. Bannon, who considers himself a student of history, will be fully aware of that 1930s association – but embraced it anyway.

That makes him an outlier in the US, but one with powerful allies beyond America’s shores. Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale and the author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, notes that European nationalists are also keen to overturn the previously consensual view of the 30s as a period of shame, never to be repeated. Snyder mentions Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who avowedly seeks the creation of an “illiberal” state, and who, says Snyder, “looks fondly on that period as one of healthy national consciousness”.

The more arresting example is, perhaps inevitably, Vladimir Putin. Snyder notes Putin’s energetic rehabilitation of Ivan Ilyin, a philosopher of Russian fascism influential eight decades ago. Putin has exhumed Ilyin both metaphorically and literally, digging up and moving his remains from Switzerland to Russia.

Among other things, Ilyin wrote that individuality was evil; that the “variety of human beings” represented a failure of God to complete creation; that what mattered was not individual people but the “living totality” of the nation; that Hitler and Mussolini were exemplary leaders who were saving Europe by dissolving democracy; and that fascist holy Russia ought to be governed by a “national dictator”. Ilyin spent the 30s exiled from the Soviet Union, but Putin has brought him back, quoting him in his speeches and laying flowers on his grave.

European nationalists are keen to overturn the view of the 1930s as a period of shame, never to be repeated.

Still, Putin, Orbán and Bannon apart, when most people compare the current situation to that of the 1930s, they don’t mean it as a compliment. And the parallel has felt irresistible, so that when Trump first imposed his travel ban, for example, the instant comparison was with the door being closed to refugees from Nazi Germany in the 30s. (Theresa May was on the receiving end of the same comparison when she quietly closed off the Dubs route to child refugees from Syria.)

When Trump attacked the media as purveyors of “fake news”, the ready parallel was Hitler’s slamming of the newspapers as the Lügenpresse, the lying press (a term used by today’s German far right). When the Daily Mail branded a panel of high court judges “enemies of the people”, for their ruling that parliament needed to be consulted on Brexit, those who were outraged by the phrase turned to their collected works of European history, looking for the chapters on the 1930s.

The Great Depression

So the reflex is well-honed. But is it sound? Does any comparison of today and the 1930s hold up?

The starting point is surely economic, not least because the one thing everyone knows about the 30s – and which is common to both the US and European experiences of that decade – is the Great Depression. The current convulsions can be traced back to the crash of 2008, but the impact of that event and the shock that defined the 30s are not an even match. When discussing our own time, Krugman speaks instead of the Great Recession: a huge and shaping event, but one whose impact – measured, for example, in terms of mass unemployment – is not on the same scale. US joblessness reached 25% in the 1930s; even in the depths of 2009 it never broke the 10% barrier.

The political sphere reveals another mismatch between then and now. The 30s were characterised by ultra-nationalist and fascist movements seizing power in leading nations: Germany, Italy and Spain most obviously. The world is waiting nervously for the result of France’s presidential election in May: victory for Marine Le Pen would be seized on as the clearest proof yet that the spirit of the 30s is resurgent.

There is similar apprehension that Geert Wilders, who speaks of ridding the country of ‘Moroccan scum”, has led the polls ahead of Holland’s general election on Wednesday. And plenty of liberals will be perfectly content for the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel to prevail over her Social Democratic rival, Martin Schulz, just so long as the far-right Alternative Fur Deutschland makes no ground. Still, so far and as things stand, in Europe only Hungary and Poland have governments that seem doctrinally akin to those that flourished in the 30s.

That leaves the US, which dodged the bullet of fascistic rule in the 30s – although at times the success of the America First movement which at its peak could count on more than 800,000 paid-up members, suggested such an outcome was far from impossible. (Hence the intended irony in the title of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here.)

Donald Trump has certainly had Americans reaching for their history textbooks, fearful that his admiration for strongmen, his contempt for restraints on executive authority, and his demonisation of minorities and foreigners means he marches in step with the demagogues of the 30s.

But even those most anxious about Trump still focus on the form the new presidency could take rather than the one it is already taking. David From, a speechwriter to George W. Bush, wrote a much-noticed essay for the Atlantic titled, “How to build an autocracy”. It was billed as setting out “the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path towards illiberalism”. He was not arguing that Trump had already embarked on that route, just that he could (so long as the media came to heel and the public grew weary and worn down, shrugging in the face of obvious lies and persuaded that greater security was worth the price of lost freedoms).

Similarly, Trump has unloaded rhetorically on the free press – castigating them, Mail-style, as “enemies of the people” – but he has not closed down any newspapers. He meted out the same treatment via Twitter to a court that blocked his travel ban, rounding on the “so-called judge” – but he did eventually succumb to the courts’ verdict and withdrew his original executive order. He did not have the dissenting judges sacked or imprisoned; he has not moved to register or intern every Muslim citizen in the US; he has not suggested they wear identifying symbols.

These are crumbs of comfort; they are not intended to minimise the real danger Trump represents to the fundamental norms that underpin liberal democracy. Rather, the point is that we have not reached the 1930s yet. Those sounding the alarm are suggesting only that we may be travelling in that direction – which is bad enough.

Two further contrasts between now and the 1930s, one from each end of the sociological spectrum, are instructive. First, and particularly relevant to the US, is to ask: who is on the streets? In the 30s, much of the conflict was played out at ground level, with marchers and quasi-military forces duelling for control. The clashes of the Brownshirts with communists and socialists played a crucial part in the rise of the Nazis. (A turning point in the defeat of Oswald Mosley, Britain’s own little Hitler, came with his humbling in London’s East End, at the 1936 battle of Cable Street.)

But those taking to the streets today – so far – have tended to be opponents of the lurch towards extreme nationalism. In the US, anti-Trump movements – styling themselves, in a conscious nod to the 1930s, as “the resistance” – have filled city squares and plazas. The Women’s March led the way on the first day of the Trump presidency; then those protesters and others flocked to airports in huge numbers a week later, to obstruct the refugee ban. Those demonstrations have continued, and they supply an important contrast with 80 years ago. Back then, it was the fascists who were out first – and in force.

Snyder notes another key difference. “In the 1930s, all the stylish people were fascists: the film critics, the poets and so on.” He is speaking chiefly about Germany and Italy, and doubtless exaggerates to make his point, but he is right that today “most cultural figures tend to be against”. There are exceptions – Le Pen has her celebrity admirers, but Snyder speaks accurately when he says that now, in contrast with the 30s, there are “few who see fascism as a creative cultural force”.

Fear and loathing

So much for where the lines between then and now diverge. Where do they run in parallel?

The exercise is made complicated by the fact that ultra-nationalists are, so far, largely out of power where they ruled in the 30s – namely, Europe – and in power in the place where they were shut out in that decade, namely the US. It means that Trump has to be compared either to US movements that were strong but ultimately defeated, such as the America First Committee, or to those US figures who never governed on the national stage.

In that category stands Huey Long, the Louisiana strongman, who ruled that state as a personal fiefdom (and who was widely seen as the inspiration for the White House dictator at the heart of the Lewis novel).

“He was immensely popular,” says Tony Badger, former professor of American history at the University of Cambridge. Long would engage in the personal abuse of his opponents, often deploying colourful language aimed at mocking their physical characteristics. The judges were a frequent Long target, to the extent that he hounded one out of office – with fateful consequences.

Long went over the heads of the hated press, communicating directly with the voters via a medium he could control completely. In Trump’s day, that is Twitter, but for Long it was the establishment of his own newspaper, the Louisiana Progress (later the American Progress) – which Long had delivered via the state’s highway patrol and which he commanded be printed on rough paper, so that, says Badger, “his constituents could use it in the toilet”.

All this was tolerated by Long’s devotees because they lapped up his message of economic populism, captured by the slogan: “Share Our Wealth”. Tellingly, that resonated not with the very poorest – who tended to vote for Roosevelt, just as those earning below $50,000 voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 – but with “the men who had jobs or had just lost them, whose wages had eroded and who felt they had lost out and been left behind”. That description of Badger’s could apply just as well to the demographic that today sees Trump as its champion.

Long never made it to the White House. In 1935, one month after announcing his bid for the presidency, he was assassinated, shot by the son-in-law of the judge Long had sought to remove from the bench. It’s a useful reminder that, no matter how hate-filled and divided we consider US politics now, the 30s were full of their own fear and loathing.

“I welcome their hatred,” Roosevelt would say of his opponents on the right. Nativist xenophobia was intense, even if most immigration had come to a halt with legislation passed in the previous decade. Catholics from eastern Europe were the target of much of that suspicion, while Lindbergh and the America Firsters played on enduring antisemitism.

This, remember, was in the midst of the Great Depression, when one in four US workers was out of a job. And surely this is the crucial distinction between then and now, between the Long phenomenon and Trump. As Badger summarises: “There was a real crisis then, whereas Trump’s is manufactured.”

And yet, scholars of the period are still hearing the insistent beep of their early warning systems. An immediate point of connection is globalisation, which is less novel than we might think. For Snyder, the 30s marked the collapse of the first globalisation, defined as an era in which a nation’s wealth becomes ever more dependent on exports. That pattern had been growing steadily more entrenched since the 1870s (just as the second globalisation took wing in the 1970s). Then, as now, it had spawned a corresponding ideology – a faith in liberal free trade as a global panacea – with, perhaps, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer in the role of the End of History essayist Francis Fukuyama. By the 1930s, and thanks to the Depression, that faith in globalisation’s ability to spread the wealth evenly had shattered. This time around, disillusionment has come a decade or so ahead of schedule.

The second loud alarm is clearly heard in the hostility to those deemed outsiders. Of course, the designated alien changes from generation to generation, but the impulse is the same: to see the family next door not as neighbours but as agents of some heinous worldwide scheme, designed to deprive you of peace, prosperity or what is rightfully yours. In 30s Europe, that was Jews. In 30s America, it was eastern Europeans and Jews. In today’s Europe, it’s Muslims. In America, it’s Muslims and Mexicans (with a nod from the so-called alt-right towards Jews). Then and now, the pattern is the same: an attempt to refashion the pain inflicted by globalisation and its discontents as the wilful act of a hated group of individuals. No need to grasp difficult, abstract questions of economic policy. We just need to banish that lot, over there.

The third warning sign, and it’s a necessary companion of the second, is a growing impatience with the rule of law and with democracy. “In the 1930s, many, perhaps even most, educated people had reached the conclusion that democracy was a spent force,” says Snyder. There were plenty of socialist intellectuals ready to profess their admiration for the efficiency of Soviet industrialisation under Stalin, just as rightwing thinkers were impressed by Hitler’s capacity for state action. In our own time, that generational plunge in the numbers regarding democracy as “essential” suggests a troubling echo.

Today’s European nationalists exhibit a similar impatience, especially with the rule of law: think of the Brexiters’ insistence that nothing can be allowed to impede “the will of the people”. As for Trump, it’s striking how very rarely he mentions democracy, still less praises it. “I alone can fix it” is his doctrine – the creed of the autocrat.

The geopolitical equivalent is a departure from, or even contempt for, the international rules-based system that has held since 1945 – in which trade, borders and the seas are loosely and imperfectly policed by multilateral institutions such as the UN, the EU and the World Trade Organisation. Admittedly, the international system was weaker to start with in the 30s, but it lay in pieces by the decade’s end: both Hitler and Stalin decided that the global rules no longer applied to them, that they could break them with impunity and get on with the business of empire-building.

If there’s a common thread linking 21st-century European nationalists to each other and to Trump, it is a similar, shared contempt for the structures that have bound together, and restrained, the principal world powers since the last war. Naturally, Le Pen and Wilders want to follow the Brexit lead and leave, or else break up, the EU. And, no less naturally, Trump supports them – as well as regarding Nato as “obsolete” and the UN as an encumbrance to US power (even if his subordinates rush to foreign capitals to say the opposite).

For historians of the period, the 1930s are always worthy of study because the decade proves that systems – including democratic republics – which had seemed solid and robust can collapse. That fate is possible, even in advanced, sophisticated societies. The warning never gets old.

But when we contemplate our forebears from eight decades ago, we should recall one crucial advantage we have over them. We have what they lacked. We have the memory of the 1930s. We can learn the period’s lessons and avoid its mistakes. Of course, cheap comparisons coarsen our collective conversation. But having a keen ear tuned to the echoes of a past that brought such horror? That is not just our right. It is surely our duty.

The Guardian

Back To The Future. How Bad Can It Get? Prepare For Economic Nationalism – Kurt Huebner. 

2016 was already quite miserable in so many respects; 2017 promises to get even worse. Looking at the chamber of horrors President-elect Trump is putting together and assuming that he will indeed prove at any price that he is the maverick President he promised to be during the campaign, then Washington D.C. will turn into the capital of evil, kind of.

The scripts for a policy turn from forms of neoliberalism to economic nationalism are already drafted – not only in the US but also across Europe. At this point, economic nationalism is only openly active in Hungary and, one can argue, in the making in Poland. In most European societies, economic nationalism has not yet arrived and, so far, is the hymn of populist opposition parties alone. An optimistic scenario could make the case that this will also be the state of affairs during 2017. The victory of Alexander Van der Bellen in Austria’s presidential election is the lightning rod for ways in which political populism and economic nationalism can be stopped from becoming official policy. Others make the point that this outcome should be seen as an exemption from the emerging populist trend, and that the Freedom Party in Austria may benefit from Van der Bellen’s victory as voters will be stick to their policy preferences when it comes to general elections where the victor has real power to make political and policy changes.

Let me outline my nightmare scenario. It probably needs no further terrorist attack on Nice or Berlin lines to make the Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders the strongest party in the Netherlands in March. The PVV may not win a majority but will be in position to form a new government that will leverage on the widespread rejection of the EU in general and of the Euro in particular. The path will be prepared for a referendum in 2018 about membership of the Eurozone, and during 2017 a PVV-led government will start to introduce those parts of its project of economic nationalism that can be put in place by pure national decision-making.

Encouraged by this victory and supported by the lack of alternative political offers from the left, voters in France will eventually make Marine Le Pen their first female President, and thus prepare the ground for a true shift towards economic nationalism that will change the French Republic as well as 60 years of European integration. The Euro will be put to a referendum, and at the same time a President Le Pen will start with her moves to protect French workers from international competition. Anti-Islamist policies will provide the public support for this project of path change. In Italy, we will see political fights between the European Council and the Italian government about dealing with the ailing banking industry. The attempt to circumvent strict EU rules will only add fuel to the anti-EU fire, and a snap election eventually will see the Five Star Movement emerge as the strongest party. Economic populism and strict anti-Euro sentiments will prevail and Italy will join the queue of countries who want to give up the Euro.

All those developments will generate second thoughts in Germany – one of the most EU-friendly countries – and will turn the campaigns for both Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as for the Social Democrats into a delicate balancing act as voters see that the country is losing all its European partners and may be left as the sole net contributor to a shrinking EU. The European pillar of Germany’s political economy will gradually crumble. As soon as March, negotiations with the UK about the details of the divorce will heat up, and the Commission strategy of putting a high price on the exit-option will run into difficulties as the fault lines in the EU are getting worse. The more countries question the Euro and the EU, the lower the price for the UK – and the less attractive the project of European integration becomes.

These internal developments come hand in hand with the challenges posed by the dramatic policy changes in the US. The Trump administration will interpret the sliding exchange rate of the Euro as a further proof of European mercantilism and retaliate with trade policy measures that put export-oriented economies like Germany and the Netherlands under intense external pressure. Retaliation will become the policy of the day. All this will result in a disintegration, at the global as well as at the regional level. The emerging trade and currency war will be a further push towards economic nationalism (if any were needed).

Fortunately, all this need not happen. Voters may come to their senses. Evidence may return to become the base for political decisions. Political alternatives for dealing with the implications of twenty years of forms of neoliberalism may emerge. I keep on dreaming…

——-

Kurt Huebner is Professor of European Studies and the Jean Monnet Chair at the Institute for European Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Social Europe

The Berlin Attack Has Sealed The Political Fate Of Europe – Nathan Gardels. 

The worst thing that could have happened, the shoe waiting to drop, was a terror attack at Christmas time in Germany by an asylum-seeker linked to Islamist terror groups. It is just that which took place in Berlin this week. 

That the inevitable has now occurred likely seals the political fate of Europe. Public opinion will surely turn decisively against the open-arms refugee policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — the most prominent defender of the troubled European project of integration and the free movement of people.

Alternative for Germany party and other anti-immigrant groups are already capitalizing on the incident.

Huffington Post 

Reborn Social Democracy As ‘Progressive Communitarianism’ – Justin Reynolds. 

The new authoritarianism sweeping through liberal democracies increasingly justifies parallels with the 1930s.

Now, like then, electorates face multiple insecurities: a lack of decent work, crumbling welfare systems, widening inequalities and rapidly changing migration patterns.

And now, like then, there is little faith in the capacity of governments to address those issues, seeing them commonly as ‘elites’ content to trust in the creative destruction of the market or the ability of communities to sustain social solidarities even as their shifting populations wax and wane. This enervation has left a void into which the nationalist right has stepped with crude agendas for economic protectionism and closed borders.

But a closer study of that fateful pre-war decade suggests opportunities as well as dangers. The turbulent years in which fascism flourished also gave shape and momentum to the political ideology that went on to underpin the prosperous and peaceful post-war era: social democracy. Understanding how social democracy emerged, and why it proved successful, can help progressives meet today’s challenges.

Fascism and social democracy are usually considered radically different ideologies, but both emerged from a small circle of socialist intellectuals attempting to respond to the unsettled social conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a sense, fascism is social democracy’s dark twin.

Social Europe 

A Momentary Setback for Europe’s Right-wingers. 

The Italian referendum would have removed checks on executive power, making it easier to enact economic reforms but also making it easier for an extremist government to take less savory actions. Mindful of a past that includes Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi, many Italian voters simply did not think it wise to concentrate power in the country’s executive.

Meanwhile, it’s premature to conclude that right-wing extremism has suffered a definitive defeat in Austria. Mr. Hofer received 46.7 percent of the vote against Mr. Van der Bellen’s 53.3 percent. Mr. Hofer says he will now turn his attention to Austria’s parliamentary elections in 2018, where his Freedom Party stands a good chance of winning more seats than its rivals. That prospect was not lost on France’s far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, who tweeted, “The next legislative elections will show their victory!”

The battle for Europe’s future will soon shift to national elections next year in France, Germany and the Netherlands, where right-wing populist parties are hoping to make historic gains. It would be perilous for Europe’s centrists to assume that these movements will retreat anytime soon.

New York Times