The Clock Is Ticking on the Post-World War II Liberal International Order

Uncategorized March 6, 2017 1

U.S. president Donald Trump speaks at the Department of Homeland Security in January 2017. Photo via Wikimedia Liberals are losing badly by BRIAN E. FRYDENBORG...
U.S. president Donald Trump speaks at the Department of Homeland Security in January 2017. Photo via Wikimedia

Liberals are losing badly


This is part two of a two-part essay. Read part one.

By the standards discussed, Donald Trump is clearly a democratic fascist — with the differences between the fascism of old accounted for by the new, at least outwardly milder and far less violent democratic iteration.

Trump and a core of his team have campaigned and are now governing on much of the traditional fascist political platform — demonization of immigrants, refugees, Muslims and other minority “others,” a promise to “return” to the glorious past and “destroy” ”enemies.” They have created an atmosphere of permanent conflict while cultivating a sense of national victimhood, hatred of elites and contempt for diplomacy.

They also take much from the fascist style playbook — bullying, bellicosity, fantasy, the dramatic and theatrical, the exaggeration of threats and dumbing-down of language. In short, the consequences of this will be disastrous and far worse than even the considerable damage the George W. Bush administration was able to inflict upon America and the world.

The New Yorker’s Gopnik, writing in May of 2016, echoed the term “democratic fascism” to describe Trump’s campaign and presidency:

There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist [quoting George Packer’s description of Trump as “a celebrity proto-fascist with no impulse control”], or American-variety fascist — one of that kind, all the same.

For some experts, the term fascism can’t fit movements that are not overtly anti-democratic or violent. But writing two months later, Gopnik correctly noted that it is myopic to argue that Trump is not fascist because of one or a few major differences between historical fascism and Trump’s version:

…to call him a fascist of some variety is simply to use a historical label that fits. The arguments about whether he meets every point in some static fascism matrix show a misunderstanding of what that ideology involves. It is the essence of fascism to have no single fixed form — an attenuated form of nationalism in its basic nature, it naturally takes on the colors and practices of each nation it infects.

In Italy, it is bombastic and neoclassical in form; in Spain, Catholic and religious; in Germany, violent and romantic. It took forms still crazier and more feverishly sinister, if one can imagine, in Romania, whereas under Oswald Mosley, in England, its manner was predictably paternalistic and aristocratic. It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on, since that is as much our symbolic scene as nostalgic re-creations of Roman splendors once were Italy’s.

Social theorists of the mid-20th century Frankfurt School noticed the danger of an American mass media that stifled diversity of thought — something Alexis de Tocqueville noted long ago when he observed the power of the press to influence public opinion but also its subservience to public opinion — to combine with an authoritarian leader and “large numbers of people … susceptible to … psychological manipulation” who were also “potentially fascistic individuals.”

Reacting to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, these academics predicted the rise of fascism in America in their own time, and while their predictions were then premature, the dynamics they predicted are far more present today. Like others mentioned earlier, they saw a particular danger in the mass blurring of fact and fiction.

To quote Andrew Sullivan in a seminal piece written in 2016:

…[Trump’s] movement is clearly fascistic in its demonization of foreigners, its hyping of a threat by a domestic minority (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews), its focus on a single supreme leader of what can only be called a cult, and its deep belief in violence and coercion in a democracy that has heretofore relied on debate and persuasion. This is the Weimar aspect of our current moment. Just as the English Civil War ended with a dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell, and the French Revolution gave us Napoleon Bonaparte, and the unstable chaos of Russian democracy yielded to Vladimir Putin, and the most recent burst of Egyptian democracy set the conditions for General el-Sisi’s coup, so our paralyzed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.

Sullivan continued:

Those who believe that Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism has no chance of ever making it to the White House seem to me to be missing this dynamic. Neo-fascist movements do not advance gradually by persuasion; they first transform the terms of the debate, create a new movement based on untrammeled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events … Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.

Sullivan’s nightmare having come true, he remarked the night of the election: “This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image.”

He further elaborated that:

…the now openly revanchist right — far more radical than the Tory government in Britain — [will have] total control over the levers of power. They will not let those levers go easily. They will likely build a propaganda machine more powerful than Fox and Breitbart — and generate pseudo-stories and big lies that, absent any authoritative or trusted media, will dominate the new centers of information, Facebook or its successors. We will be in a new political and media universe in which an authoritarian cult will thrive. This is how fascists tend to govern.

William Saletan, writing for Slate, noted how, without equating the two, Trump was thematically and stylistically “sound[ing] more and more like Hitler,” albeit approaching the younger Hitler of the early 1920s.

Michael Kinsley, writing in The Washington Post, focused on Trump’s corporatist tendencies that resemble fascism’s past corporatism, that “Donald Trump is a fascist,” and while “[i]t’s ridiculous to compare any living person to Hitler or Mussolini … I mean ‘fascist’ in the more clinical sense.”

For Kinsley:

[Trump’s] seemingly erratic behavior can be explained — if not justified — by thinking of Trump as a fascist. Not in the sense of an all-purpose bad guy, but in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world.

The realization that Trump is something of a fascist hardly comes from the left or the media class alone. Counter-terrorism expert Peter Bergen also labeled Trump a “proto-fascist,” while conservative academic Max Boot tweeted all the way back in late 2015 that “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.”

One of Boot’s fellow conservative academics, Robert Kagan, wrote in May 2016 that Donald Trump:

…is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.

They are not alone on the right, with even the fairly restrained Ross Douthat noting, all the way back in December, 2015, that, “[w]hether or not we want to call Trump a fascist outright, then, it seems fair to say that he’s closer to the ‘proto-fascist’ zone on the political spectrum than either the average American conservative or his recent predecessors in right-wing populism,” and that “Trump may indeed be a little fascistic.”

Later, in May 2016, when it was long clear to all but those bingeing on denial that Trump would be the nominee, he referred to Trump as “a proto-fascist grotesque with zero political experience and poor impulse control.”

These respectable commentators calling Trump out for his fascistic tendencies are not lunging toward the far left, and are not part of some intelligentsia that has suddenly already found itself there.

No, it is not a symptom of the problems of the left that fascist is being applied as a label for Trump and his agenda. It is simply a product of the man and that agenda and where the right now finds itself, and while it is not common to use the label fascism or some sort of prefixed-fascism, those doing so are not members of an extremist minority who have lost their moorings.

And that is why these moments are are so terrifying.

While Trump is clearly a democratic fascist, then it’s important to clarify that Trump is all the way on one end of a spectrum, an end that overlaps slightly with democracy, while Hitler is all the way on the other end of that spectrum.

Yes, Trump, is a very serious threat that could very well destroy American democracy, Western democracy, the West and the international order as we know it, but we must also not exaggerate his threat, as it seems he would not do these things through genocidal mass killing and world war or generally use violence the way the 20th century fascists did.

Thus, those who would correctly call Trump out for his democratic fascism must take care not to equate or appear to equate Trump with Hitler or his movement with Nazism, for doing so only plays into Trump’s hands and diminishes the chances both of those calling out Trump for what he is to be taken seriously and, in turn, that he and his movement can be stopped — in this effort, the prefixing of democratic before fascism is eminently useful.

Obviously, this brings little comfort, but if Western civilization is to remain intact, we must defeat Trump by being fastidious in our distinctions and accusations and make those distinctions, however nuanced, clear, because Trump’s war on civilized values is also a war on truth. Those opposing him by making facile, lazy, even just somewhat inaccurate comparisons and accusations weaken our best weapon against him — the truth.

For if those fighting democratic fascism embrace a twisting of the truth to try to beat Trump, they will be trying to use a tactic that their opponent has already mastered. Republicans who tried to out-insult Trump in the primary failed miserably, and others wishing to out-Trump Trump in other ways will also fail spectacularly.

In the end, sacrificing the truth to win short-term attention and political points will lessen the distinctions between the democratic fascists and those opposing them. This is not politics as normal, and the opposition can’t afford to turn more of the people more likely to oppose Trump away from politics by creating more apathy and cynicism in behaving more like him.

Alternative für Deutschland leader Frauke Petry. Olaf Kosinsky/ photo

Democratic fascism — a global problem

In Sullivan’s election-night piece, he began by quoting Orwell:

We are witnessing the power of a massive populist movement that has now upended the two most stable democracies in the world — and thrown both countries into a completely unknown future … In the U.S., the movement — built on anti-political politics, economic disruption, and anti-immigration fears — had something else, far more lethal, in its bag of tricks: a supremely talented demagogue who created an authoritarian cult with unapologetically neo-fascist rhetoric. Britain is reeling toward a slow economic slide. America has now jumped off a constitutional cliff. It will never be the same country again. Like Brexit, this changes the core nature of this country permanently.

Sullivan places Trump squarely in a broader global movement. And that movement is one set out to destroy Western democracy as we know it, one that is far larger and far more organized than most people in the West have realized thus far.

If America was seeing the rise of a leader like Trump, that would be catastrophic enough. But when one takes into account similar trends all over Europe, in Russia, Turkey, Israel, India and the Philippines, to name the most salient examples, there is a worldwide trend in important democratic centers of charismatic leaders of right-wing parties playing on hatred, fear, and division and pushing agendas that go against core democratic, liberal values.

In a Europe already seriously weakened by Brexit, these rising or newly empowered rightist democratic fascist parties that are enjoying successes across the continent exhibit a hostility and unequal application of the system that applies mainly to immigrants, in particular but not limited to Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

Recent polls now show anti-E.U., anti-immigrant far-right populist parties in the lead in the Netherlands, Italy, and, perhaps most alarmingly, in France, while Germany’s election, perhaps the most important test for Europe’s future, remains fluid and uncertain, even if, for now, prospects seem much better for saner heads to prevail there than in the Netherlands, Italy, and France.

To add to the growing concern, in a recent survey of over 10,000 Europeans in 10 E.U. countries, 55 percent agree on having a Trumpian travel ban that would stop all migration from Muslim-majority countries. Only two of 10 countries did not have a majority approve, and the disapproval rate in none of the 10 countries exceeded 38 percent. Poland had the highest approval at 71 percent, and France, Germany, and Italy all had majorities that also approved, all of this boding ill for centrist, pro-E.U., pro-tolerance candidates.

Meanwhile, the Slovakian prime minister directly called the far right party that is his country’s fifth-largest and is on the rise fascist; “[s]ome people say that fascism is creeping here in Slovakia. It’s not creeping here, it’s present here,” he said. And rather presciently, at the end of 2015, The Economist worriedly noted the progress of these movements, with the title of the relevant article saying it all: “The march of Europe’s little Trumps.”

In Russia, this hostility, sometimes lethal, is directed toward ethnic minorities that try to assert their rights or protest their treatment and any sort of organized political or media opposition to Putin and his party, especially those speaking out against Russian actions in Ukraine.

But the lack of protections hardly stops there — a bill with apparently robust public support partly decriminalizing wife-beating and child-beating easily passed the Russian Duma and was signed into law by Putin. Additionally, the only politician who had any kind of serious chance of beating Putin in the next presidential election — Aleksei Navalny — was convicted of fraud and barred from running against Putin.

In Turkey, this hostility has broadened not only to Kurds, the main Kurdish political party, and political opposition, but to purging journalists and news outlets and entire swaths of civil society and thousands in the government bureaucracy that Erdogan and his AKP party feel they cannot control or will not be loyal or silent in their opposition.

That comes even as Erdogan seems poised to transform the country’s constitution to give himself dramatic, sweeping new powers with an upcoming referendum.

In Israel, the hostility is generally against Arabs but includes other groups. While Benjamin Netanyahu is not an authoritarian in the mold of Putin, Erdogan or even Trump, the trendlines under his extensive watch are clear.

Netanyahu is a huge part of the problem himself, with a penchant for playing fast and loose with facts and an aptitude for even weaponizing history, perhaps most notably when he claimed a Palestinian had inspired the Holocaust, resulting in strong condemnation from Israeli and German historians and a subsequent retraction.

He is a champion of settlements — illegal in the eyes of the entire rest of the world — and their expansion, among the most extreme parts of Israeli policy, and he continually engages in demagoguery designed to incite ethnic and religious division that empower him and his Likud Party.

Yet Netanyahu is hardly alone, and is often pressured to move even further to the right by other politicians and public opinion, for not only many politicians, but many Israelis themselves are embracing racism and illiberal undemocratic values.

Even mob violence inside Israel, not just settler-instigated violence in the Palestinian territories, is not rare enough, and punishment of Jews who commit violence is comparatively mild when compared to punishment of Arabs who commit violence.

Israel’s rightist government is also cracking down on liberal NGOs and has a racist immigration policy. And while Israeli courts, to their credit, have pushed back against the legitimization and establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that were illegal even under Israeli law, Israel just adopted a law that basically negates the court rulings.

In India, the world’s largest democracy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling right-wing populist BJP party have sought to curb free speech, encourage police abuse and to sometimes violent religious nationalism on the part of right-wing Hindus who target minorities, and are cracking down on civil society groups critical of the government and its human rights record.

In the Philippines, anyone involved in illegal drugs — now subject to state-sponsored vigilante killings — has essentially lost the protections of due process and equal application of the law, with president Rodrigo Duterte himself bragging about killing criminals when he was mayor.

A Filipino senator who criticized the drug war was removed from her investigative committee role, part of an increasing trend of the government using its power to limit criticism of Duterte and his government. Experts fear the longstanding Filipino democracy, one of Asia’s oldest, may be in trouble.

And in the United States, we have a government that at the very least seems unenthusiastic about or unwilling to protect minority rights, whether African-Americans who are grossly mistreated by police and the criminal justice system, members of the LGBT community worried about losing their newly won rights, Muslims who saw anti-Muslim hate groups rise from 34 to more than 100 last year, or women worried about losing both access to contraception and their ability to decide on pregnancy without government interference.

Russian president Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. Kremlin photo

Putin’s assault on democracy

And right now, the Russian government is by far the most skilled and prolific weaponizer of information — of spreading fake news, false history, and false facts — in the world, and this is where things get even scarier.

I wrote about a year ago that Western democracy was on trial, little did I know that Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, would lead a campaign to exacerbate and accelerate these trends.

With the very latest revelations that multiple Trump campaign officials were in constant contact with Russian intelligence operatives, there is even less of an excuse not to realize that Putin and his people acted to help Trump’s campaign. Traditional U.S. allies are facing difficult choices.

“The most realistic alternative among all the possibilities available to America’s longtime allies may be to move away from a values-based system of international alliances,” Yascha Mounk wrote in Foreign Policy.

“In a world in which there is no reliably liberal democratic hegemon left, smaller nations will be very tempted to scurry for protection wherever it might be on offer. And if that comes to pass, then the Western liberal order may disintegrate more quickly than we might have imagined a few short years ago.”

By the time Trump is out of office, it’s entirely possible that there is no more E.U. and no more NATO. It is at least likely that they will be substantially weakened.

Putin is certainly imagining this possibility and acting to make it a reality. “We’re on the verge of a new global order,” to quote one spokesperson for a movement within Putin’s own political party that is trying to help France’s far-right candidate triumph in the upcoming elections.

Russia has a history of actively meddling in elections and votes in other countries. In Bulgaria and Moldova, the meddling has been longstanding and finally paid off with the victories of new pro-Russian leaders over the last few months. In other cases like Sweden and the Baltic States, there is a constant effort as well, though these countries are still very much on the alert and seem unlikely to shift to overall favor Russia in their politics anytime soon.

With other cases like Italy’s recent election, it’s hard to argue that Russian meddling made the difference, even though it seems Russia was still quite active in trying to hurt pro-E.U. centrist parties with fake news. With elections early last year in Germany, it seems Russian propaganda efforts did hurt the ruling party in regional elections.

Some support and cooperation has been far more overt and public, though, than the shadowy hacking, fake news dissemination and covert funding programs. Putin, his government, and Russian-government-dominated media has offered praise — sometimes even formal audiences in Moscow or political alliances with Putin’s own ruling party, United Russia.

Coupled with disinformation, Russia is clearly trying to manipulate public opinion and offer direct support to specific parties in Europe in an effort to change the politics of the whole continent. And even when these democratic fascist movements do not succeed in winning, they are still increasing their support and representation in parliaments.

Putin’s efforts here are not a random or haphazard one. After years of exerting influence, he has sympathy and supporters spread over one-quarter of the European Parliament, and Russia’s efforts are, as before, pinpointing countries with upcoming elections, with the Netherlands, France and Germany the big tests for 2017.

Dutch officials are nervous enough about hacking and interference that they are going to be counting all ballots by hand amid increased Russian cyberactivity targeting Dutch entities and suspicions Russians might have been involved in swaying an eventual Dutch “no” vote in a referendum on a free-trade pact between the E.U. and Ukraine last April, likely derailing the whole agreement.

The party of the man called “the Dutch Donald Trump” — Geert Wilders — is leading in the polls and there are serious worries he may win, especially with so many Dutch voters still undecided. The rise of so many new, tiny parties will make forming the next coalition much more unpredictable.

One thing is quite predictable, though. Wilders wants to hold a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the E.U. and very clearly wants to leave it, and some of Wilders’ policies are even more extreme than Trump’s, including banning the Quran and shutting down mosques. And some of his tactics are quite Trumpish — he recently caused an uproar when he tweeted a fake photo of a rival with a “Shariah for the Netherlands” sign.

France votes in two rounds in late April and early May. So far, France’s race has been incredibly tumultuous. First, starting late in January, a French newspaper published a series of damning revelations that conservative and moderately pro-Russian candidate François Fillon had used his position in France’s National Assembly to pay nearly $1 million in public funds to his wife and children for “bogus” positions, which seems now to have knocked him from the lead to on track to miss the runoff.

This seemed to make France’s independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron the favorite. But now it seems Russia is trying to hack his campaign much like it did Hillary Clinton’s, and Russian-controlled media like RT and Sputnik are slamming him — going so far as to spread rumors that he is gay — while praising his rival, the far-right and pro-Russia candidate Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen is similar to Trump. She is extremely anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim and is pledging to remove France from the euro currency, even NATO, and possibly the E.U. entirely.

Also like Trump, Le Pen has a globally-spread army of internet trolls engaging in shadowy tactics to boost her and hurt her rivals. She is furthermore like Trump in that she has not disclosed her campaign fundraising or spending, though her rivals have. This is a particular issue because her party, the National Front, had been funded back in 2014 to the tune of a €9 million loan by a Russian bank with strong ties to the Kremlin.

At the same time this happened, a €2 million loan was given to a political fund named Cotelec run by Le Pen’s father from a mysterious Cyprus-based company run by ex-K.G.B. agent Yuri Kudimov — who is known to run “the financing arm of the Kremlin.” The funding went on to bolster the National Front for the 2015 regional elections.

This past December, the National Front received a €6 million loan from Cotelec, and after her 2014 Russian lender was shuttered by the Central Bank of Russia — possibly because of an embezzlement scandal — she may be may be seeking another loan from a Russian entity to cover a €20 million shortfall in her campaign war chest.

While Le Pen is leading and has for a while now in the first-round polling, conventional wisdom holds that she won’t be able to get enough support to triumph in the second-round-runoff. And yet, conventional wisdom said Donald Trump had no chance of beating Hillary Clinton.

The thing is, once a candidate starts winning — be it Trump in the primaries or possibly Le Pen in the first round of voting — that has a way of changing how people think and vote.

With scandals and propaganda efforts embroiling her rivals, the confidence that Macron should triumph in the second-round of voting against Le Pen is weakening, with at least one just-released credible big-data analysis from an investment firm predicting she will pull off a Trumpian upset. The French bond market is already showing negative effect from its worries about the possible outcome of a Le Pen victory that seems less remote now than before.

France’s foreign intelligence chief expects Russian internet bots to make millions of posts to help her candidacy and also fears that there will be releases of hacked private e-mails of her rivals.

Government officials are worried that Russia will be working actively to alter the outcome of the French election, and there is also concern that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks — Russia’s stooges, be they unwitting or witting — will have an effect, as they are already teasing thousands of documents related to the candidates, with indications that it will be trying to help Le Pen and hurt her rivals.

Germany’s next elections are this fall. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party have already been a target of Russian fake news and WikiLeaks. While the far right Alternative for Deutschland party has gained in polls overall in recent months, it remains far behind both Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and the Social Democratic Party.

Still, an E.U. task force has noted in the past few weeks that Merkel is a specific target of Russian fake news, and German government officials, like their French and Dutch counterparts, are worried about Russian attempts to alter the outcome of their election.

What is certain is that, with precision, Russia and WikiLeaks are targeting the opponents of the far-right in Europe and proponents of centrism and the E.U., including its NATO military alliance formed to check the USSR during the Cold War.

And it’s not just Putin and Russia seeking to support these democratic fascist movements and undermine the E.U. — Trump’s strategist, right-wing nationalist and disinformation master Steven Bannon wants to link up and partner with these movements, too, as well as see his former fake news factory Breitbart expand into Europe, in particular, France and Germany.

E.U. President Donald Tusk recent wrote a letter to all 27 E.U. national leaders stating that the Trump administration was a “threat” to the E.U., one of the most dangerous it has ever confronted, along with Russia.

On top of this, another top E.U. official flat-out said that Trump and Bannon were existential threats to the E.U. — which he said they were seeking to break up — along with two other such threats: Putin and “radicalized political Islam.”

In fact, applying the analytical framework outlined in NATO’s recent Handbook of Russian Information Warfare, Donald Trump is doing the Russians’ work for them, for:

As the Handbook emphasizes, Russian information warfare thinking anticipates that trolls and bots not under Kremlin control will amplify the messages and effects of Russia’s own information operations. However, having a U.S. president, his administration, and his own networks of disinformation playing these roles is probably beyond the wildest dreams of Russian strategists and tacticians of information warfare. Putin will not squander this opportunity.

This point is echoed by Saletan and, in fact, some European allies are so nervous about Trump’s relationship with Putin that they are spying on Team Trump’s communications.

Yes, Russia under Putin now is succeeding in projecting its power and influence in ways way few Soviet or Czarist leaders could ever realistically envision, not with troops and tanks, but with a strategy that plays on and exploits the flaws and vulnerabilities in Western democracy and the very worst in human nature, with the media and cyberwarfare as its main weapons of war.

Red hats. Photo via Flickr

This is an emergency

Again, in light of my old piece published about a year ago, I write with a sad and terrified heart now. I never imagined so much damage would be done in so short a period of time. At the time, I saw the threat, but thought it more distant and thought we’d be beating it back more successfully at this point; instead, we — the West, Western democracy, liberals who believe in liberal values and multiethnic democracy — are losing, and losing badly.

Revolutions tend to have far-flung roots and can spread in unpredictable ways, but the beginning of this wave of massive populist discontent on the right was the Tea Party protests that began early in 2009.

If 2009 can be thought of as the global democratic right’s 1789 French Revolution Bastille-storming moment, we are now in something of the beginning of a political Reign of Terror, much as the initial French people’s uprising of 1789 gave way to a far more extreme ideology.

More polite efforts directed at limiting or rolling back the power of the governments in Washington and Brussels, over taxation and regulation, have now exploded into outright culture wars — in which aggrieved dominant group on both sides of the Atlantic felt like other groups gaining rights and increased diversity were assaults on their status.

“Kick them out!” no longer applied to mainly the current politicians in power, but to whole groups of people — Hispanics, Muslims, even other European immigrants. A similar spirit in the United States was directed at kicking disadvantaged minorities off of government assistance, even as their economic plight had worsened.

People were… angry, and they were going to punish not only the political elites, but people who looked and dressed and prayed and spoke differently than they did, denying them either a physical space in their country or resources from the government, even if they were, at times, fellow citizens.

The political systems which governed America arguably since the Founding but at least clearly since the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act are now to be overthrown in America, just as the E.U.-centered systems in Europe are also to be overthrown if Trump and his Bannon-led crew — and their allies in Europe — succeed in their endeavors.

If we think Western civilization is not capable of some sudden collapse, then we are deluding ourselves. As Adam Gopnik noted in July, 2016:

Those who think that the underlying institutions of American government are immunized against [fascism] … fail to understand history. In every historical situation where a leader of Trump’s kind comes to power, normal safeguards collapse. Ours are older and therefore stronger? Watching the rapid collapse of the Republican Party is not an encouraging rehearsal. Donald Trump has a chance to seize power.

And seize power he did.

I have a hard time believing many Democrats really switched from Obama to Trump, and the evidence is that Trump’s popular-vote-losing, historically very narrow Electoral College victory came largely at the hands of white rural conservatives who voted in larger-than-usual numbers, and white centrists and white liberals — and Millennials of all stripes — staying home or voting third party.

Because of that, there may only be one way to stop the collapse and self-destruction of Western civilization and Western democracy as we know it — the left as a whole uniting behind the center-left faction with the broadest support.

Whatever qualms the far-left may have with this compromise towards the center, if we — and yes, I include myself — do not unite, if too many on the left who claim to care about liberal causes and values and other human beings don’t step up and actually do what is necessary to prevent democratic fascism from becoming the new modus operandi of the West, if many leftists — Bernie Sanders supporters included — embrace myopia, impatience, and narcissism as their approaches to politics, then we won’t need jackboots marching down the Champs-Élysées or Pennsylvania Avenue to know that democracy is losing or defeated.

Worst of all, the defeat will have come at the hands of our own stupidity, because if Trump and his ilk aren’t enough to make the liberals of the world unite under whichever factions get the most votes in their elections, then perhaps we don’t deserve the democracy we inherited, and perhaps we deserve democratic fascism instead.

Even as I write this, I am watching Trump talk to a crowd in South Carolina at a Boeing facility to talk about Boeing military-industrial-complex products and ordering billions in new weapons systems.

Yes, a day after the worst and most unintentionally farcical press conference in American history — and after his new choice for National Security Advisor declined the job offer after the previous one had to resign amid an exploding scandal after less than a month on job — Trump is going to his base to offer platitudes and fetishize the idea of American greatness by appealing to militarism and weapons fetishism.

“God bless Boeing,” he said while finishing his speech — which came after “God bless America” — with a CNN panel playing right into his game by saying it’s a great speech compared to his press conference, complimenting Trump after he set the rhetorical bar lower than any president since 1789. Democratic fascism is here — the question is, what do we, what can we, do now?

The choice is clear and limited. Liberals can stand united against democratic fascism and halt its progress before it’s too late, or stand divided in the face of its systemic, Putin-backed onslaught and empower fascism in spite of their unwitting selves and professed values.

Brian E. Frydenborg is a freelance writer and consultant based in Amman, Jordan. You can follow him on Twitter at @bfry1981. This is a condensed and edited version of the original story. The full version with expanded analysis is available in two parts — part one here and part two here, and a Kindle edition, aNook edition and an EPUB edition are available with previously unpublished content.

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