If Fascism is a ten-step program, you’re at number seven now. I used to think you’d progressed no farther than five, but that was before the internment camps.
Personally, I am always equal parts amused and terrified when I hear people wondering out loud, in conversation or in writing, how the horror that Nazi Germany is universally understood to be could ever have happened. Amused, because people apparently cannot see the truth when it stares them in the face, and terrified for the very same reason. You want to know how it happened? Look around. It is happening right here, right now, and nowhere as obviously as in the United States of America.
I am well aware of Godwin’s Law that says that whoever brings up Hitler in an argument loses said argument. Never has this attitude been more dangerous than today. Hitler and the Nazi regime have been elevated to such a supreme kind of evil, one of a kind, almost mythical in its proportions, that we have convinced ourselves that, under normal circumstances, such a thing could never happen. But evil is trivial, and commonplace. The Hitler who murdered 6 million Jews was not the same guy who was rejected at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts; he first had to grow into his role, to become what we see in our history books today. No one is born that kind of monster: some have more potential than others, but it is always something we become. And in the beginning, nobody took Hitler seriously, either. He was ridiculed by the political elites the same way Trump is. This timeline shows some of these instances.
As a side note, Mr. Godwin is with me on that.
Nor was Hitler the only monster of this magnitude. The reason why Hitler is so much better known for his atrocities than, say, Mao, is a matter of the people he killed. Jews are predominantly white people. They were Europeans. Nobody cares that 10 million Congolese died under Leopold II; black lives don’t matter. The collective and casual crimes colonial Europe visited upon the world at large are generally accepted as a collateral damage of sorts, something that just, you know, happened. I don’t want to wander off topic too far, but if you could put yourself in some African shoes for a second, you might get an inkling that Hitler might not have been the worst thing that ever happened to humanity.
Now gimme back those shoes before you appropriate them.
Clearly, Trump is not Hitler, but as stated above, not even Hitler was Hitler when he started. It bears saying, though, that Hitler was actually pretty smart, something that nobody but himself says about Trump. Also, while Hitler was out to kill all the lesser races from the get-go, Trump sees racism as an opportunity rather than a goal in and of itself. But it would be rather short-sighted to disregard the similarities not just between the two men, but their „style“ of leadership; after all, they both read the same manual. Or rather, somebody must have read it to Trump.
In the following, I will be saying „Trump“ a lot, but obviously, Trump is not the only one to blame. He is surrounded by a cabinet of enablers and profiteers, some of which are probably more responsible for things than him. He is the figure head. But he is an effective one.
How to Establish a Totalitarian Regime for Dummies
Step 1: Nationalism
This is the foundation upon which Fascism is built. Your nation is the best. In the whole world. Your people come first. Your race is pure. You must triumph over everybody else, because you are the Greatest Nation on Earth. Does this sound familiar at all?
Step 2: Use the Fear
People are scared all the time, and in an economic crisis, they are exponentially more scared. Germany was left in ruins and unimaginable debt after World War I and the reparations stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. The US, on the other hand, are kind of a Third World country by choice: homelessness, working poor, a vanishing middle class, all home-grown and completely avoidable, but there you go. Poverty is the single most fertile soil for the seeds of fear. Cultivate the fear; make it grow until it chokes your people – and then…
Step 3: Show Them Who’s to Blame
Your great nation has enemies that seek its downfall. For Hitler, it was the Jews, for Trump, it’s… everybody who’s not a white American, I guess. But he has reserved a special place in his heart and diatribe for Muslims and Mexicans. Not that he can necessarily tell a Mexican from any other Latin American person, or a Muslim from a Sikh, but that’s beside the point. The point is, „others“ are to blame for the misery of hard-working, church-going Americans. These others can be completely legal migrants, illegal aliens, or those ungrateful black people refusing to stand for the national anthem. They should be happy they no longer have to pick cotton, amirite.
Demonizing one or several groups of others is a necessary step to solidify your base of followers. By showing one part of the electorate that you are on their side while creating an enemy for them – or even just inflating an existing bogeyman – gives „your“ people a sense of belonging and purpose. Us versus them, because they are to blame for everything that went wrong. If we eliminate them, all will be well.
Step 4: Destroy the Institutions
On the 24th of March of 1933, the German Reichstag passed the „Ermächtigungsgesetz“, the Enabling Act, which transferred all legislative power to then Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, and his cabinet. Effectively eliminating the separation of powers, the cabinet could now enact legislation without the need of a parliamentary majority. One of the provisions of the law also freed them from the necessity to heed the constitution when creating those laws.
Trump’s government is a bit subtler. Now, that’s two words I never expected to use in the same sentence, „Trump“ and „subtle“. Trump does not need to abolish Congress, because Congress is in his pocket. However. Do you think the appointment of the absolutely least qualified person for any given job is a coincidence?
Betsy de Vos is not just not qualified to be the Secretary of Education according to every hearing she ever attended on the subject, she is also decidedly anti-public education. Among her achievements so far in that sector are the roll-back of protections for LGBT students and students with disabilities.
Rick Perry, the Secretary of Energy, is on record for saying he wants to abolish the Department of Energy and Natural Resources. He is also a big fan of fossil fuels.
Steven Mnuchin, a former investment banker for Goldman-Sachs, and current Secretary of the Treasury, from the beginning of his tenure intended to strip back the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform, legislation created in the wake of the 2007/8 financial crisis. The law foresaw greater regulation of the financial market and increased consumer protection. It was partially repealed in May 2018, when Congress passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act.
Trump is putting foxes in charge of every single hen house he has. There have been jokes about him appointing Bill Cosby as Secretary for Women’s Rights.
Step 5: Change Reality
A free press is the enemy of any despot worth his salt. While Hitler still had the wherewithal to outright imprison dissenting voices (or having them killed, later on), the United States pride themselves on their First Amendment, which makes jailing journalists impractical. Therefore, the next best thing is to destroy their credibility. Call them Fake News, blatantly lie in the face of even the most obvious of facts, and employ a solid Minister of Propaganda. Of course, you can’t call her that. Instead, call her a „counsellor to the president“ and have her offer „alternative facts“ on TV. George Orwell could not have written it better.
Speaking of propaganda, it is now time to change the very fabric of reality. It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? And yet, what we’ve come to accept as „normal“ has changed a great deal over the last few centuries, and never as quickly as in the last year and a half.
One of the best-known figures of Nazi Germany is Paul Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda. Renowned for his rhetoric prowess and his impeccably executed public spectacles, involving marches, chants, and the new medium of film, he convinced an entire people that exterminating the Jews was right and necessary; he made the thought of genocide normal and acceptable.
Years later, we are officially living in a post-factual reality, where facts do not matter as much as truthiness: the truth you feel in your gut. Originally created as a joke by comedian Stephen Colbert, truthiness has become the default setting for a large part of the American electorate. Since it is based completely on feelings as opposed to actual evidence, it is easily manipulated by whoever shouts the loudest. Currently, the President of the United States is the loudest person on earth.
This is also where you establish that any kind of criticism towards the nation or its glorious leader is treason.
Step 6: Send Out Your Goons to Terrorize the People
Mussolini had the blackshirts, the so-called „Voluntary Militia for National Security“, Hitler had the Sturmabteilung, and Trump has… well. Tiki-torch-wielding Neo-Nazis, it seems. While their official designations and responsibilities vary – the former two were paramilitary troops in Italy and Germany at the time, tasked with „protecting“ meetings and rallies, while the Charlottesville mob has not official standing – their main purpose was to terrorize the general populace into compliance. Note that, while the White House has certainly no official legal connection to the Neo-Nazis (or the Klan), the President has made it clear that there are „very fine people“ in that group. Also, the police tend to turn a blind eye to their activity, making it clear to the population that they have no recourse against this arbitrary violence.
Step 7: Target Your Enemies
Now you round up your nation’s enemies and put them in clearly designated and easy to supervise spots. Like, I don’t know, maybe a concentration camp?
Yes, you heard me.
I’m not going to explain to you what those were in World War II. Germany had them for the Jews and all other undesirables (gay people, leftists, Roma, disabled people, you name it), the Americans put their citizens of Japanese descent there. So, you know, it’s not your first rodeo. But children? Actual children? Without their parents? What the fuck is seriously wrong with you?
Look, if you didn’t see this coming two years ago, that’s fine. Not entirely fine, of course, but we know your public school system sucks and you didn’t know much about WWII, except that you won.
But by now you should understand where this is going. And you still have time to act. The points left on the Totalitarian shopping list are, roughly:
- The abolition of the democratically elected institutions, of the separation of powers.
- The abolition of the constitution, the current code of law, and human rights.
- Complete lawlessness and arbitrary employment of violence by the regime. This is where people disappear and die.
It won’t go that far, you say? Well, did you anticipate the current state of affairs, up to and including internment camps? I thought so. You know what struck me the most when I visited the concentration camp in Buchenwald? The mass grave of the German dissidents. What they can do to others, they can do to you. And while I personally think you should stand up for the rights of others even if you, yourself, are not the target, I’ll settle for your sense of self-preservation to compel you to do the right thing.
While you still can.