First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller
By Jonathan Lee Gibson—Niemöller, a German Lutheran Pastor, said these words in a sermon as a rebuke the cowardice of German intellectuals after the rise of the Third Reich. America is now in a similar state as Nazi Germany was in the first half of the 20th century. A fascist was elected to power in 2016 and now that power is consolidating. The time has come for us to call America what it has become, a proto-fascist state.
Just as in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, extreme right-wing ideology has a stranglehold on American Democracy. These fascist elements took power using the democratic systems that were supposed to protect America from the fate of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Our democratic systems have failed us and the time for conciliation, compromise, and deference to political norms is over.
The blame cannot be put on our democratic institutions solely. Yes, they are there to protect us, but only if we Americans stay vigilant. The Republican Party has masked its fascist proclivities in the warm embrace of “fiscal responsibility,” “freedom from taxation,” and other seemingly mundane ideologies.
Simultaneously, the American people are too busy playing video games on their phones and watching “reality” TV in a perpetually untethered state, oblivious to the reality that we now face: the fascist takeover of American Democracy.
Some have put the fall of Rome at the feet of a distracted body politic. The Emperor held game after game in the Coliseum and while the people were busy watching gladiators kill each other for their enjoyment while Rome in time burned, and the empire fell. Whether this is history or allegory, the point is the same. If we remain distracted by the games and showmanship that Trump and the Republicans are perpetrating, then America will fall to the fascists. If we remain uneducated and unengaged in our political life, America will fall to the fascists. If we remain seduced by social media and remain distracted from the facts, engaging robots rather than our fellow citizen, America will fall to the fascists. If we continue to refuse to call Trumpism what it is in the name of civility, America will fall to the fascists. If we give up essential liberty for temporary security, or entertainment, America will fall to the fascists.
The time has come for America to decide what its values are. Are we for freedom or fascism? Are we for free speech or authoritarianism? Are we for plurality or theocracy?
I say American values are freedom, liberty, and plurality. But, if we remain distracted by the assault on these fundamental American values by the Republican Party and simultaneously unwilling to call Republicans what they are: The American Fascist Party, then we are lost. If we remain unwilling to take to the streets and protest regularly and loudly even though our lives may be in the balance, then we are lost. If we do not stand up to the fascists who would destroy America for the pure race theocracy the so-called Grand Old Party have been championing for decades, then we are lost and we can prophesize our fate with a good hard look at the pictures and video of the American liberation of Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
Fighting fascism used to be the American way; it used to be the quintessence of our values, the bedrock of our soul as a country. We glorify our landing in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, our liberation of Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and our success over European fascism in World War II. We have erected monuments to the fallen American heroes who defended the world against fascism with what Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion.” Have our fallen heroes given their last full measure of devotion in vain? Will America be remembered as the country that fought off fascism the world over only to succumb to its temptation of easy answers to our problems by scapegoating the vulnerable within our society? Will we allow fascism to ensnare American values in a crucible of animosity and hatred not even a century after our victory over it?
The pendulum has swung as close to completely as it can. The Supreme Court has been taken over by right-wing activist judges who will erode fundamental freedoms. What was the essence of America will be chipped away at piece by piece. Bigotry and hatred for our fellow Americans will be codified and justified as the rule of law once again. A feckless Congress will continue to give carte blanche to a fascist demagogue. Will we continue to allow the erosion of the very institutions that made America great while simultaneously blaming racial minorities for the racial majorities problems while doing nothing to fix the problems these people face?
Now that we have crossed the Rubicon, following in the footsteps of the rise of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and the score of other would-be authoritarian states and dictators who have reared their ugly head at humanity over the past century? The question is: can we live up to our American history, our bravery, our values, our soul? Or, will we remain distracted and apathetic because they are not coming for us – yet.
Jonathan Lee Gibson is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.