December 18, 2019 JLP. Vol 1 12-18-19
In his book “On Tyranny,” the historian Professor Timothy Snyder states: “History does not repeat, but it does instruct.” As the framers debated American constitution, they took lessons from the history they knew. Worried that the democratic system they dreamed about would collapse, “they contemplated the descent of ancient democracies and republics into oligarchy and empire,” (Snyder p. 1).
As in Europe, history helped create the modern American democracy and its independence from a British monarchy deemed “tyrannical.” In Europe, the First World War of 1918, the Second World War of 1945, and the crack on Communism of 1989, led to the establishment of democracies. However, in the 21stCentury, those democracies shaped by history are beginning to fail.
Just as the chaos of the 18thand 19thcenturies are credited for the origin of democracies in the 21stCentury, same history is now responsible for the end of democracies in the Common Era. The maintenance of order and the rule of law are challenged by new visions of mass politics in which a leader or political party, claims sole power to represent interests of the people.
The gradual deconstruction of democracy in the U.S. as in Europe is in answer to inequality just as both Fascism and Communism were responses to globalization and the inequalities it created. Since democracies failed to address those inequalities, authoritarians took advantage of the helplessness of democracies, causing Europe to fall into right-wing fascism. Fascists created a form of far-right rule characterized by dictatorial power, while they denied truth in exchange for “glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people,” (Snyder p. 12).
If anything learned from history, it is that what happened in fascist Europe and Communist Soviet Union can threaten democracy in the United States. To think that American democratic history protects us from such threat is misguided. The current political chaos in the U.S. is a clear indication that, just as Europeans saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or Communism in the twentieth century, America may succumb to authoritarian rule and not even realize. Therefore, it is wise to take lessons from history.
This paper presents lessons from histories comparable to current political atmosphere in the United States. It creates insights into the signs of authoritarian rule that a citizen must beware of to avoid being slave to tyranny.
An autocratic leader targets his subjects and expects them to succumb to his orders. Anticipatory obedience is a tool used by such leaders to gain access to vulnerable citizens willing to submit to elections victories. After the German elections of 1932, the victory allowed Adolf Hitler to form a government. Also, in 1946, the Czechoslovak election victories propelled Communists to power and in both cases the citizens, voluntarily extended their obedience to the new leaders.
After Adolf Hitler gained full power in Germany in 1938, he threatened to annex Austria and as a result of anticipatory obedience by Austrians, Local Austrian Nazis persecuted Austrian Jews and forced them to remove symbols of independent Austria, while people who were not Nazis looked on without opposition. “The anticipatory obedience of Austrians in March 1938 taught the high Nazi leadership what was possible,” (Snyder p. 18-19).
The invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany in 1941 convinced the SS to engage in mass killing despite no orders from the invaders to do so. They anticipated what their leaders wanted and perpetrated the atrocities far more than Hitler envisioned, showing what was possible. They became receptive to the invasion and were prepared to submit to authoritarian personality of the invader.
When Donald Trump began his campaign calling Mexicans “ Criminals and rapists,” his base was quick and eager to believe him. After he won the election in 2016 his supporters became receptive to the new rules, there was a rise in hate crimes against immigrants, while his followers were surprisingly willing to harm and attack others in service of the new purpose to “Make America Great Again.” In fact, when Trump said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I won’t lose any voters,” his loyalists shouted in support. There was so much obedience as they went on to vote for him en masse in 2016.
Protect the Institutions
A defense of the institution is a threat to tyranny. Authoritarian leaders crave a break in any institution that informs the people or works as a check on the abuse of power. An institution cannot maintain itself against attacks unless protected by the people, a mistake German Jews made about Hitler and the Nazis. After Hitler and the Nazis formed a government in Germany, a leading newspaper for German Jews, wrote an editorial in opposition to Nazi proposal to deprive German Jews of their constitutional rights by enclosing them in ghettos. Unfortunately, the view did not gain support and was suppressed by the Nazis.
The same view of the German editorial is what reasonable people in the U.S. have today. The mistake is to assume that leaders who came to power through institutions cannot destroy the same institutions. Donald Trump became popular through the media and besides being a businessman his TV show “the apprentice” brought him to stardom and gave him a wide audience among viewers.
Today as President, he has declared the media enemies of the people calling them part of the deep state and anti-Trump. He encouraged his supporters to attack the press and just as some German Jews voted as the Nazi leaders wanted them to, in the hope that the show of loyalty would bind the new system to them, many in the Republican Party, have sworn loyalty to the President and joined him in the war against the American media.
Support a multi-party system
The idea of a one-party state is always the goal of most autocratic leaders. Ending all forms of opposition is a better way to maintain power, suppress intelligent thinking and any forms of political ideology that informs citizens to change course. The only way to avoid such oppression is to promote a multi-party state.
When the Nazis in Germany gained power in the 1930s and the Communists won in Europe in the 1940s, both governments engaged in a campaign to cripple all opposition parties, many people were imprisoned and others were brainwashed to submission. The election of the communist party to power in Czechoslovakia in 1946, led to the end of democracy in the country.
Those who voted to put communists in charge had no idea they were giving up their freedom for decades to come. Likewise, those who voted for the Nazis never envisioned the death of democracy but as it turned out, the Nazis remained in power until their defeat in the Second World War.
After dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian people saw an end to Communism. They were desperate for change but looked the other way and voted for oligarchs. Those who voted had no inclination they were giving up their freedom but as it turned out, Russia is yet to have a free and fair election ever since. Today, the oligarchy established since the 1990s remains functional and responsible for the disruption of democracies in Europe and the United States.
If anything learned from the history of tyranny, it is the fact that such is applicable to the United States. Those who voted for Trump were desperate for change and believed him when he promised to “make America great again.” However, since the election of Trump in 2016, there remains every attempt to suppress the Democratic Party. For two years, Democrats had no power of oversight until the mid-term elections of 2018. Had Democrats failed to take the House, the President would continue to act with impunity, while enjoying protection by the GOP Senate and the House.
Since coming to power, Trump has filled Federal Courts with conservative judges including nominating two conservative Justices of the Supreme Court who got confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate despite opposition. Meanwhile, the Senate ignored the nomination of Merrick Garland by a Democratic President.
The President has refused to answer to any allegations of wrongdoing including subpoenas by the courts, while hiding behind a party majority. He has called for members of the other party to be jailed for doing their constitutional duties of oversight and encouraged conspiracies to vote them out of office in order to maintain a one party control. Also, his own party the GOP, continues to engage in voters’ suppression and gerrymandering.
The constitution demands checks and balances but there is danger in the current situation “when the less popular of the two parties controls every level of power at the Federal level, as well as the majority of statehouses.” In other words, whenever one party enjoys total control and absolute power, it presents a threat to democracy, (Snyder p. 30).
The point is what led to the end of democracy in Nazi Germany and communist Europe, can happen here in the United States. The elections of 2016 should be seen much as the Czechs elections of 1946, the German elections of 1932 and the Russian elections of the 90s that put oligarchs in power.
Detest symbolic gestures
Tyrants are known to maintain symbols of hate. You must do your part to remove them. History has it that when Hitler began his propaganda and campaigns of exclusion, he employed the use of Swastikas. Many who later became accomplices of his hateful policies looked away when they could have removed the symbols.
When the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, they began a process of separating Jews and one of the methods used is placing symbols to identify businesses owned by Jews. Such businesses were marked “Jewish,” with paint and another as “Aryan.” Germans who marked shops were later responsible for the disappearance of Jews, many Jews got killed and their shops looted, while others looked on and did nothing.
Currently, Americans are being asked to display symbols of loyalty. At Trump rallies his supporters wear hats and shirts with the symbol “Make America Great Again.” Now that he is President, they have changed to another symbol “Keeping America Great.” The fact is that the symbol does not mean exactly what it says but instead, a statement of hate and exclusion. The statement is intended to mean America can only be great by keeping immigrants and people of color out but, unfortunately, many including some members of Congress have endorsed these symbols without learning from histories.
Maintain the code of ethics
Authoritarian leaders value absolute power. To further their needs, they hire those willing to follow orders and if possible, break all ethics rules to show loyalty. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Hitler’s Attorney Hans Frank became the governor-general of occupied Poland where millions of Jews and Polish citizens were killed. Frank once claimed that “law was meant to serve the race, and so, what seemed good for the race was therefore the law.”
Another appointee of Hitler to oversee the annexation of Austria Arthur Seyss-Inquart was also a lawyer who was hired to run the occupation of the Netherlands. In fact, most of those who carried out “mass murders of Jews, Gypsies, Polish elites, communists, the handicapped and others,” were lawyers (Snyder p. 39-40).
As President, Trump used the help of his personal Attorney Michael Cohen to cover his misdeeds by paying off Stormy Daniels a porn star, a move in clear violation of campaign finance laws. After his first Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself over the Mueller probe, the President ordered his removal and nominated Bill Barr, a man known to be a Trump loyalist as Attorney General.
Since becoming Attorney General, “Barr did not depart from what many feared, his belief in Presidential power and his determination to help Trump bypass the rule of law.” Besides writing a 19-page memo where he said Trump couldn’t be guilty of obstruction of justice, “his 4-page summary of the Mueller report in which he misinformed the American people, is a clear indication he abandoned his role as the nation’s Attorney General to be a defender of Trump,” (Adeyemi Oshunrinade).
Also, the ongoing investigation involving Ukraine on the President’ decision to withhold American aids in exchange for dirt on his political rival, revealed the President sought the help of another personal Attorney Rudy Giuliani, to convince the Ukrainian government to begin corruption investigations on his political opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in violation of U.S. election laws.
The point is, if the lawyers in Nazi Germany had maintained the norm of professional ethics and refused to carry out orders without trials, the Nazi regime would have exercised restraints before exterminating Jews. Likewise, the fact that an American President hired his personal Attorneys to engage in unprofessional practices, in order to further his abuse of power, should alarm every American who values history as a lesson.
Protect public authority
Agencies with violent intentions are known to take advantage of a chaotic situation and make it worse. Tyrants value the service of loyalists willing to bear arms if possible in support of their political agenda. Fidel Castro used his Paramilitary Organization, “The Movement” to fight for the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. After his first attempt failed, he formed a revolutionary force that later fought and took over Cuba. Till this day, Cuba remains a communist state even with the death of Castro.
It is impossible to conduct the functions of the state, when there are paramilitaries and right-wing organizations, willing to bear arms and engage in violence. The Iron Guard a paramilitary organization from Romania and the Arrow Cross another armed group from Hungary used their powers to suppress oppositions and intimidate rivals. As in Cuba, they monopolized violence, degraded the political system and made it impossible to establish democracy.
In Nazi Germany, the Nazi Storm Troopers became the SS and the SA paramilitary groups that played significant roles in Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Their primary duties were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of the oppositions and fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties, especially, the Red Front Fighters League (Rotfrontkampferbund) of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and creating a climate of fear in the Romani Trade Unionists, especially, Jews.
Through their campaigns of fear and intimidation, the SA and the SS were instrumental in the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses of 1933. Both groups helped the Nazi Party in the parliamentary elections of 1933 and by the time Hitler assumed power in January 1933, SA membership had increased to approximately 2,000,000-twenty times the number of officers in the Reichswehr (German Army).
Likewise, the preparation for the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938 was carried out by the SA, the group took advantage of the absence of local authority to loot, beat and humiliate Jews.
“It was the SS that ran the German Concentration Camps-lawless zones where ordinary rules did not apply. During the Second World War, the SS extended the lawlessness it had pioneered in the camps to whole European countries under German occupation,” (Snyder p. 44).
The SS would later become the organization that changed the laws in German occupied territories of Europe.
While that was the reality, the present political leaderships in the United States may have forgotten the harsh lessons from Nazi Germany. Since the election of 2016, violence has become normalized. Private citizens have taken up arms as paramilitaries to protect U.S. borders with Mexico. They have adopted a tradition of border vigilantism with the goal to crack down on immigrants who are not White.
Recently, a right-wing group known as the United Constitutional Patriots, emerged after its members were seen filming themselves detaining migrant families on the border with Mexico. “It turns out the F.B.I. had known about them at least since 2017 when it investigated tips that a group of heavily armed men at a trailer park in New Mexico were “training” to assassinate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros,” (Ryan C. Jones).
In 1977, the Ku Klux Klan created its own border vigilante in California and Texas, David Duke a White Supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the organization once said that the project was designed to do something about the “illegal alien problem.”
Also in 1986, an armed paramilitary group known as Civilian Materiel Assistance, or C.M.A. gained notoriety for detaining migrants including women and children in the Arizona desert, in the same way the United Constitutional Patriot did in 2019.
As the U.S. debates the fate of asylum seeking migrants from Central America, a group calling itself “anti- Communist,” C.M.A. made of American mercenaries who were active in the 1980s in Central America, were “wielding military-style rifles, clad in military fatigues and operating out of Southern Arizona, the group held 16 immigrants for about 90 minutes before handing them over to border patrol agents,” (Ryan C. Jones).
Despite widespread criticism of the illegal detention, local authorities in the U.S. have failed to prosecute the C.M.A. and till this day, David Duke remains a prominent advocate for White Supremacy in America. Others like Richard B. Spencer a neo-Nazi and White Supremacist are taking after David Duke to promote the exclusion of people of color. Spencer created the “alt-right” which he considers a movement based on “White identity.” He advocates “White European unity,” ethnic cleansing of nonwhites from America and the creation of a “White racial empire,” which he believes would resemble the Roman Empire.
After the election of Trump, at an alt-right rally in Washington, several followers of the movement had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. Spencer called out: “Hail Trump!” Hail our people and then, “Hail victory!” as a form of Nazi praise, while the audience shouted back in support, (Joseph Goldstein).
There is a grave danger by failing to act when there is ample evidence history may repeat itself. Hitler took advantage of the weakness of his followers and anticipated their obedience when he carried out the extermination of Jews. Likewise, the current U.S. President is taking advantage of the alt-right and White Supremacist groups in promoting the most anti-immigrants legislation of the 21stcentury. All done with the help of Stephen Miller, a nationalist responsible for Trump’ hardline immigration policies.
When Heather Heyer was murdered at the Unite the Right rally, in Charlottesville Virginia, by a White Supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. the President had no remorse. When asked to comment on the killing, he said, “You had people that were very fine people on both sides,” putting White supremacists and peaceful protesters on the same moral plane. The fact is, Heyer was protesting in support of a good cause, the proposed removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate soldier best known for supporting slavery.
White Supremacists are responsible for about 73 murders since the protests in Charlottesville, 39 of which were motivated by racist ideology. These killings include the shooting rampages in Pittsburg, Poway and El Paso, the deadliest White Supremacist attack in 50 years. In all the places where those killings occurred, the murderers acted on the chant made famous in Charlottesville, when members of the alt-right marched with torches shouting, “Jews will not replace us! You will not replace us,” A chant that signifies distaste for Jews and people of color.
Be a Lone-Wolf
You must defend what you believe is right even if you must stand-alone. It is better to be a lone wolf for a good cause than join the crowd to commit atrocities. Heather Heyer stood for what was right and, while it cost her her life, she accomplished the goal of removing a symbol of hate and slavery from Charlottesville. Tyrants only want those ready to follow orders, a stand-alone is a threat to status quo and the moment you set yourself apart for protest, you begin to break the chains of tyranny.
Before the Second World War, many European countries drawn by the promise of trade, abandoned democracy for authoritarianism and became allies of Germany, as it continued its expansion around Europe. Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria were among, while Italy also became the first Fascist state in 1922 and a military ally of Germany.
When Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of Britain in 1940, Great Britain was a stand-alone country and had no part in the war until the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, “Nazi Germany and its Soviet ally dominated the continent. The Soviet Union had invaded Finland in November 1939, beginning with a bombing of Helsinki,” while it also occupied Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, (Snyder p.53-54).
Standing alone, Churchill fought to defend his country when the German Luftwaffe started bombing British cities. He did what others had not done by refusing to concede thereby, forcing Hitler to change course and abandon the occupation of Western Europe.
Britain and the Soviet Union later became allies after Germany attacked the Soviets, a move that forced Germany to fight a two front war with Great Britain and the Soviet Union. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan in December 1941, the United States was drawn into the war and became ally of the Soviet Union and Britain. Together with other allies, they created a coalition that defeated Hitler and won the Second World War. Had Churchill failed to stand out, Hitler would have occupied more territories in the West.
Currently, in the United States only one party stands out as the lone wolf against hate, racism, and abuse of power. Despite widespread cases of hateful attacks since the election of 2016, the Republican Party has failed to act as a check on the President, abandoning its duty as a guardian of democracy. The Democratic Party on the other hand, remains the stand-alone and opposition, speaking truth to power in the midst of unprecedented abuse of office.
Had Democrats failed to stand out in their quest for oversight of the executive branch, it would be impossible to check a President who called himself the “chosen one” and acts as if above the law. There would be no impeachment inquiry, while the President takes the country down the part of tyranny.
Protect the Truth
One of the best ways a tyrant gets his message around is to misinform the public and dominate the news circle with falsehoods. To avoid becoming subject, you must follow the Facts wherever you can find it. In the age of social media, trolls are allover the Internet dumping lies to distract and sow discord. They post inflammatory and digressive off-topic messages to create political chaos that supports the leader of choice.
Facts do matter. To think otherwise or reject the truth is simply renouncing democracy and giving room to a collapse of the political system. The rejection of reality for alternative facts breaks all moral codes of a true democracy through manipulation of the weakness of those willing to accept whatever is presented.
Totalitarians have the habit of presenting lies as reality for political gain. One of the ways of achieving this end is by creating opposition to verifiable truth. As of October 14, 2019, the Washington Post reported that current U.S. President has made 13,435 false or misleading claims over 993 days. Since coming to power, the President is believed to have lied more than 30,000 times to convince his supporters to vote for him again.
During his campaign, President Trump promised to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it, but till this day a wall has not been built, while the President asked Congress to fund the wall with taxpayers’ money. The President claimed that the Russian probe was a conspiracy between the FBI and Democrats but on December 9, 2019 a Department of Justice investigation revealed no evidence of bias and ruled the Russia investigation “justified.”
Barely minutes after DOJ report ruled the Russia probe unbiased the President, appeared on national TV spinning the report as a success even with the facts so clear.
The President claims that Ukraine not Russia meddled in the 2016 elections, while investigation by 17 U.S. intelligence agencies showed Russia was responsible for election interferences and the hacks to Democratic email servers. He promised to cut taxes for every American but his tax cut only favor the wealthy, while leaving behind the Middle class. Trump promised to reduce the national debt and invest in social policies, but today, the nation is in a huge deficit, while social programs that help the poor are being cut.
Whenever the President goes campaigning, he presents these facts to his base as untrue and claims the opposite as true. By forcing such lies on his base, his followers blatantly abandon reason and accept the President as the “great one” who can deliver them from the outrage and invasion of the “others.”
The repetition of the same issue over and over again has become part of Trump’s strategy to distort truth continuously until his base accepts it as reality. In fact, he earned his worst Pinocchio ever with his repeated false claims that the Whistleblower complaint about his call to President Zelensky of Ukraine was inaccurate, though, the report accurately captured the content of his call to Zelensky.
The President falsely claimed about 204 times that current U.S. economy is the best in history. He started making the claim in June 2018, and soon became one of his signature talking points, but, while the United States economy may be on track at the moment, what is happening with the economy is a progressive growth that started during the Obama administration after the economic crisis of 2008.
By making a play for the history books on the economy, Trump definitely got his facts wrong since history shows there have been better economies. “The economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant.” Meanwhile, the economy is beginning a downward spiral, caused by the trade wars with China, with a possible recession in sight. (Glen Kessler, et.al.).
There is a clear and present danger when the President, disseminates falsehoods, calls the media enemy of the state and subject them to incessant attack by his supporters, because he’s being fact checked.
Historically, “fascists despised the small truth of daily existence, loved slogans that resonated like new religion and preferred creative myths to history or journalism.” They employed trolls and new media as a propaganda tool that steered emotions and anger before their targeted audience, had the chance to verify the facts. Presently, the nation has a President that fits the profile, a flawed leader with a distorted concept of reality, (Snyder p. 71).
Like authoritarians, the President has on many occasions criticized the media and banned some reporters from his rallies, while allowing only far-right media willing to further his falsehoods. He went beyond that by threatening to suppress free speech through legislation that will reshape American libel laws to make it easier for anyone to sue the media if they feel wronged. Just like Hitler in Nazi Germany, the President label facts as lies whenever such facts are not to his liking and he presents journalism as a deep state against his administration.
The point is to verify the story before accepting it as true. Avoid propaganda campaigns that are allover the Internet, by reading articles with genuine sources and employ the use of print media, while taking responsibility for the information you digest and publish.
Play a part
Tyrants don’t want others with better ideas to get involve in government. To bring change you must participate in politics and be the viable opposition against abuse of power.
The participation of former President Obama in politics brought the change we saw in 2008 that led to his election. The majority of women elected in 2018 as Democratic members of the House achieved such milestone because they took the courage to run for office. Likewise, be active in organizations with good causes that promote democracy in support of civil society.
One of the ways to keep you misinformed is to enclose you in a bubble. Authoritarians don’t want their subjects seeking educational information outside the country that triggers opposition or reveal the truth. The regime in North Korea remains in power by maintaining an iron grip on its citizens and closing the rogue state to the outside world. For decades, the former Soviet Union maintained Communism by restricting movement of its people and by banning literatures including all forms of democratic infusion.
To avoid being slave to fake news, you must seek verifiable and genuine information beyond your borders if necessary. When Russian propaganda machine made Ukraine a target in 2013, in an attempt to change the election results, Ukrainian journalists mounted a campaign that exposed the falsehoods. However, when Russian media falsely claim that Hillary Clinton was ill based on an article on “decision fatigue,” she mentioned in an email, Americans quickly accepted it as true and helped spread the misinformation.
The same strategy of cyber warfare and fake news was later used by Russia to meddle in the U.S. elections of 2016 that brought Trump to power. Though Russia was unsuccessful in changing the election results in Ukraine, Putin and his trolls were victorious in helping his leader of choice to the presidency in what is the most powerful democracy in the world, the United States.
The Patriotic Language
It is very common for leaders with autocratic personality to engage in the use of patriotic connotations to deceive their supporters, by creating the impression of the existence of a common cause, based on love of the country. Hitler did it in Germany. He advocated for the extermination of Jews by creating a sense of urgency and need to protect Germany from Jews and the rest of Europe. To convince Germans of his patriotism, Hitler invoked the doctrine of “people and fatherland,” through the use of inclusive language:
“What we have to fight for is to ensure the existence and increase of our race and our people, the support of our children and the maintenance of the purity of their blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland; so that our people may be able to carry out the mission assigned them by the creator of the universe,” (Nicolas Fairweather).
Hitler accused the press of teaching majority of Germans pacificism and internationalism thus defeating the will of the people to defend to the death their racial heritage. He said the only effective tool is the use of force:
“The press must be supervised by the state and kept out of the hands of strangers and enemies of the people. The present generation is less squeamish about using force than its fathers were: A 30 centimere grenade kisses louder than a thousand Jewish newspaper vipers.” In other words, Hitler manufactured a general conviction that the state of things was dangerous and as a result, required emergency solution and use of force, (Nicolas Fairweather).
Just as Hitler encouraged Germans to surrender freedom for safety, the U.S. President has times without number invoked words like invaders, terrorists and illegals to demean the undocumented, Muslims and people of color. By using such language, he intends to create a sense of urgency that necessitates safety and protection from the “others.” In other words, White Americans should be on their guards and be wary of “outsiders” or those who don’t look like them. Thereby, convincing his supporters to observe loyalty to him and trade their freedom for safety and “patriotism.”
When tyrants invoke the word extremism, they don’t mean what the word actually stand for, but instead, it is meant to denote people who don’t look like them especially, those they want to marginalize. Like traditional authoritarian regimes, President Trump uses demeaning and abusive language to punish opposition or those who disagree with him. Words like “Pocahontas,” “lying Ted,” “Little Marco” and “Crooked Hillary,” have no use than to insult. This is the language of a nationalist and the “extreme” right.
Modern day tyrants like their antecedents are opportunists who seize on misfortunes and unfortunate incidents to gain support. They are terror managers who anticipate a terrible situation and then transform such as a confirmation of the need for change.
When the Reichstag, a building housing the German parliament went in flames on February 27, 1933, Hitler saw an opportunity and used the tragedy for political gain. He called the fire “the work of Germany’s enemies,” “there will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in our way will be cut down,” he said. As a result, the Nazi Party won in the Parliamentary elections of March 1933. Hitler ordered the state police and Nazi paramilitaries to arrest members of the left-wing party and place them in Concentration Camps. On March 23, 1933 the Parliament passed an “enabling act,” giving Hitler the power to govern by decree. A move, that led, to a regime of terror and extermination of millions of people, (Snyder p. 104-105).
On September 1, 2004, hostage takers sent by the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, invaded a school in Beslan and took about 1,100 hostages including 777 children. The hostage situation took three days and on the third day, Russian forces, stormed the building with tear gas, tanks and heavy weapons. By the end of the standoff about 334 people including the terrorists, were killed.
As a result of poor management of the crisis, Putin seized the opportunity to inflict security and political repercussions. There was a Federal government reform consolidating power in the Kremlin and strengthening the power of President Putin.
A “terrorist hunt,” was put in place leading to detention of about 10,000 people without proper documents. The incidents also led to the elimination of two major institutions: elected regional governorships and private television, caused by invocation of questionable act of terror.
Just as in the cases above, the U.S. President also engage in tragedy management for political gain. Before running for President, he placed ads calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, young Black and Latino men accused of rape, who were later proved to be innocent. After isolated cases of terrorist attacks, his Presidential campaign proposed barring Muslims from entering the U.S., while calling Mexicans “rapists” at his rallies, to draw support.
In his 2019’s State of the Union address, the President told America that immigrants are coming over the US-Mexico border to kill them, intending, to create fear of foreigners. In June 2016, when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened, his response were the followings:
“We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.”
During a campaign speech, billed as a policy address in Phoenix, Arizona on August 31, 2016, he took advantage of the killing of another American:
“Also among the victims of Obama-Clinton open borders policies was Grant Ronnebeck, a 21-year-old convenience store clerk from Mesa Arizona, murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member previously convicted of burglary who had also been released from Federal custody.”
At a speech to law enforcement in July 2017, Trump said the followings, while endorsing police brutality:
“MS-13 gang members have brutally murdered 17 beautiful, young lives in this area on Long Island alone. Think of it. They butcher those little girls, they kidnap, they extort, they rape and they rob. They prey on children they shouldn’t be here. They stomp on their victims, they beat them with clubs, they slash them with machetes and they stab them with knives. They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quite neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They are animals. We cannot tolerate as a society the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people- sons and daughters, even husbands and wives. We cannot accept this violence one day more,” (Dara Lind).
Most tyrants believe a moment of tragedy or misfortune can be transformed into total submission and manipulation of their subjects. The use of “we,” “us,” “our country” and more are intended to create the idea of patriotism to incite a false notion that immigrants hate native-born White Americans.
To avoid being deceived, a citizen must recognize fear mongering and terror management strategies when initiated by a tyrant. This does not mean you shouldn’t be on your guard in the case of genuine emergency, but you must know when an unfortunate event is being used for political gain.
In the words of James Madison, “tyranny may well be apprehended on some favorable emergency.” Before becoming President, Trump saw a flaw in U.S. immigration and created an emergency out of it. Coming down a gold plated elevator at the Trump Tower, he called Mexican immigrants “rapist, criminals and drug dealers,” he vowed to deport them if he’s elected President. From that moment the battle line was drawn, his supporters believed him and hailed him as the one to “make America great again.”
The President remains far from a patriot but a nationalist, whose three years in office may have done irreparable damage to U.S. influence globally. The country is gravely divided along party lines. Neighbors don’t trust one another because of hate, political affiliations and fake narratives promoted by a leader who dwells in loyalty and obedience.
America must be wary of a leader whose actions so far, is taking the nation down the part of tyranny. The U.S. democracy that is a model for the world is being exposed by the President to outside interference that may alter election results in the future. A Democratic member of the House once said that: “the misuse of power is the essence of tyranny,” (Rep. Zoe Lofgren).
It is necessary to check and stop a President willing to betray his trust to foreign powers, engage in a scheme to corrupt U.S. elections and direct his administration to further his abuse of power. The President has refused to admit Russia meddled in the elections of 2016, despite overwhelming evidence by 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that it did. He has also labeled the FBI as part of the deep state out to get him though, no evidence to back the allegations, while the recent DOJ report concluded no bias on the FISA investigation of Russia’s meddling.
With the Russia probe still ongoing, the President invited another foreign country Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, his possible opponent in the 2020 elections. He held up almost $400 million in U.S. aids to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of the Bidens, all done for his political gain.
Since the beginning of impeachment proceedings, the President has blocked testimonies from former and current officials subpoenaed by the House Committees conducting investigations. He has refused to allow officials to testify about alleged acts of obstruction of justice, key among those officials was White House Counsel Don McGahn, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and his National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The House Judiciary Committee requested 71 documents and issued 12 subpoenas for testimonies but in defiance of Congress, the President blocked the subpoenas and refused to handover a single document. When he took office, he became the first President in modern U.S. history to refuse to divest from his businesses, in violation of the emoluments clause.
Trump campaigned in 2016 on a platform calling for the U.S. Military to commit more war crimes. On November 15, 2019, he pardoned two Army officers found guilty of war crimes and a Navy Seal on trial for war crime based on evidence provided by some members of his team. He jeopardized America’s standing in Syria by ordering Turkey to attack Syrian Kurds, a formidable ally of the United States. Even his own National Security Adviser John Bolton, said “Trump’s policy regarding Turkey is solely motivated by his personal financial interests.”
The President has declared himself above the law. History shows most authoritarian leaders are at first, democratically elected. Democracy then degenerates into tyranny where no one exercise discipline and society is divided by hate. In our quest for freedom, democracy is taken over and seized to establish order. A leader then comes along, experience power and becomes a tyrant. People will realize they made a poor choice and try to remove him but then, it becomes impossible, (see Plato’s Five Regimes).
The elections of 2016, is a wakeup call, while traces of tyranny are overwhelming. The Constitution clearly spells the only remedy as impeachment for a President who violates his oath. It is one of the greatest powers Congress has that must be used carefully and judiciously. Therefore, it remains the responsibility of Congress to defend the Constitution, protect democracy and prevent the abuse of power. The Democratic House, carried out its constitutional duties in good faith by passing the articles of impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Special credit to Professor Timothy Snyder, his book “ON TYRANNY” inspired this paper and considered as a guide, while writing.
Fairweather Nicolas, Hitler and Hitlerism: Germany under the Nazi(The Atlantic, April 1932)
Goldstein Joseph, Trump Election with Nazi Era Salute(New York Times, Nov. 20, 2016)
Jones Ryan, Cross Border Patrols, Mercenaries and the K.K.K.: The long history of border militias(New York Times, April 25, 2019)
Kessler Glen, Salvador Rizzo & Meg Kelly, President Trump has made 13,435 false or misleading claims over 993 days(Washington Post, Oct. 14, 2019)
Lind Dara, Trump has a long history of fearmongering about immigrants(Vox, February 5, 2019)
Rep. Lofgren Zoe, (D) California(House Judiciary Committee)
Madison James, Federalist Paper No. 48 (Yale Law School)
Oshunrinade Adeyemi, Not the Attorney General but a threat to the judicial system(Global News Post, May 2, 2019)
Plato’s Five Regimes: Understanding The Classical Forms of Government as Presented By Plato(Factmyth.com).
Snyder Timothy, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the twentieth century(Tim Duggan Books NY, 2017).
Adeyemi Oshunrinade is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations. He is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment,’ ‘Criminal Law-Homicide’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ available on Amazon. Follow on Twitter @san0670.
Categories: Academic Journal
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