×

On the brink of fascist tyranny?



For the Monitor
Sunday, July 08, 2018

The scariest book you will read this year was not written by Stephen King. Before I tell you which book, consider this: How close have we come – truly – to a world dominated by fascists?

Here’s what such a world would look like if fascism takes hold: the most powerful fascist dictator would be Russia’s Vladimir Putin, ruling an empire – “Eurasia” – that stretches from Europe to the Pacific. His enemy is the West, portrayed in state-controlled media as the source of all evil, riddled with sexual perversion. Russia, by contrast, is the one pure, saintly nation, ordained by God to redeem His fatally flawed Creation.

The European Union will be no more. Many, if not most, of its former member nations will be ruled by Putin wannabes busy creating kleptocracies of their own with active support from the kind of populism that championed Hitler and Mussolini (and, now, Putin and Trump). The study of history is banned. Democracy, the rule of law, and individual rights are reviled as decadent and unholy, and those who support these ideas are locked up, tortured and murdered.

Anti-Semitism will return with new fervor, as Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and civil libertarians are made scapegoats of whatever societal ills the dictators allow to be recognized. Unrecognized is a horrific inequality whereby a few rich men – the Oligarchs – steal at will from the public and feed the populace an unending stream of lies, false piety, jingoism and fear.

I don’t use the term “fascist” lightly. Decades ago, people on the right liked to call people on the left “communists,” and people on the left called people on the right “fascists.” Fascism today means one-man rule, fake elections, constant propaganda, continuous warfare against manufactured “enemies,” and public rituals that glorify the dictator and surround him with patriotic and religious symbols.

This kind of fascism is openly, publicly, and continuously proclaimed by Putin’s closest advisors and exalted by Putin himself, who celebrates the writings of an avowed fascist philosopher named Ivan Ilyin. All Putin’s instruments of foreign policy – his armed forces, his legions of cyber warriors, his diplomatic emissaries – are mobilized to undermine democracy and the rule of law. An example is Putin’s decision to bomb civilian populations in Syria and send hundreds of thousands of frightened refugees to seek asylum in Europe, undermining democratic governments by provoking anti-immigrant sentiments that lead to far-right power grabs. Another is his invasion of the Ukraine – in total violation of international law – because he considers it part of his “Eurasia.” It’s just what Hitler did to Czechoslovakia in 1938, and with a similarly twisted rationale.

All of this exists today – right now – and the Western world is pathetically slow to acknowledge it. The one person who most clearly sees this is Yale University’s Timothy Snyder. His recent book, The Road to Unfreedom, meticulously documents this menace and is the most frightening book since Mein Kampf. It makes George Orwell’s 1984 look like prophesy.

In Putin’s quest for a fascist world, Donald Trump is his most celebrated apostle, but hardly his only one. The leaders of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and now even Italy are rushing to his side, as are radical anti-democratic leaders like France’s Marine Le Pen, Britain’s Nigel Farange, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the avowed American neo-Nazi, Richard Spencer. All – beginning with Trump’s “Miss Universe” pageant (Putin’s answer to LGBTQ) – were invited to Moscow to commemorate Putin’s rise to dictatorship.

If you’re still skeptical, and have not yet read Snyder’s book or Paul Krugman’s column, “Blood Libel,” in the June 21 issue of the New York Times (where he accurately compares Trump’s vilification of immigrants to Hitler’s of the Jews), ask yourself this question: if Donald Trump were privately offered the choice of becoming a Franklin D. Roosevelt or a Benito Mussolini, can you guess whom he’d choose to be?

And if you realize with horror, as I do, that Trump is more comfortable in the company of dictators like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jung Un, Xi Jinping, and Rodrigo Duterte, than with democratically-elected leaders of Canada, France and Germany whom we used to count on as our friends and allies, what are we going to do to keep America from falling into the kind of populist-stoked tyranny that entraps the Russian people? How can we avoid joining their domain of falsehood, egomania and kleptocracy?

We cannot count on the Republican Party to rein in our would-be dictator. Too many have already drunk his Kool-Aid and are ready to follow Trump into the abyss, despite what they know in their hearts is despicable and dangerous about him. The answer, it would seem, is to elect Democrats in November. But first we have to acknowledge the magnitude of the threat that envelops us.

(Robert L. Fried of Concord is a retired educator who is now a writer, gardener and tinkerer. He can be reached by email at rob.fried@gmail.com.)