Can It Happen Here?

We are witnessing a 21st-century style of dictatorial tyranny.

Take a dash of 1930s fascism, throw in a pinch of 21st century nuclear weapons technology, and heap a healthy dose of unfettered narcissism and you have a recipe for incomprehensible global mayhem. The unfolding scenario where a majority of America’s citizens and even a substantial number of ruling Republican legislators are fearful that the President is unsteady at best, insane at worst, but under any circumstance unfit for office demands decisive action. We have entered a real-life twilight zone where real life and death consequences could upend an imperfect but workable containment that has existed since the end of World War II. No sensible person would advocate the chaos that is likely to ensue. This is not hyperbole or a partisan political scare tactic. It is real and it is growing more threatening day by day.

In 1935 the American novelist Sinclair Lewis penned It Can’t Happen Here, a cautionary tale outlining the rise of fascism in America. It was inspired by the spread of fascism in Europe led by Adolph Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy. Domestically it was aided by the populism of former Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long, who was assassinated several months before release of the book. I sincerely doubt that Donald Trump knows who Sinclair Lewis is let alone has read his work but it is instructive to heed the cautions he outlined more than 80 years ago.

A quote often attributed but not verified to Lewis is that “when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Since the election of Trump many articles have been written suggesting an eerie similarity between the mythical rise of fascism in Lewis’ novel and what is emerging as a ruling philosophy in the current administration. This is particularly highlighted by his continuing feud with mainstream media, including increasingly strident attacks upon First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech. The similarities also extend to his push for restrictive immigration policies and a strong rejection of minority interests, and obsession with walling off access to our borders.

Interestingly, in the novel the mythical President comes to view Congress as a de facto “advisory body,” in direct circumvention of the Constitution and threatens to imprison dissenters. One can only now hear the all too familiar chants of “lock them up.” Congress, as John McCain has so eloquently stated recently is a co-equal branch of government. Yet under Republican leadership has exhibited no inclination whatsoever to flex its considerable muscle to check the dangerous entreaties this administration has made to neuter it. Not even a brass knuckled threat to challenge incumbents from the right seems to have raised the ire of elected officials seemingly comfortable in their gerrymandered cocoons.

We are at a historic crossroads in our democratic evolution or devolution depending upon how one sees the future. There are remedies, such as the 25th Amendment here that has been talked about widely since last November and or course impeachment. Ongoing investigations show signs of encouragement that the issues surrounding illicit, illegal, and possibly treasonous activities on behalf of the administration and the campaign will be thoroughly examined. However, the pace of thorough investigation is painstakingly slow and the pace of the unraveling of the President’s attitudinal, temperamental, and psychological imbalances is frighteningly rapid.

We are provocatively toying with two potential nuclear confrontations while testing the bounds of split relationships within the administration’s top officials that can only be characterized as contentious. Most importantly Trump is telegraphing to friends and foes alike that he has little or no use for diplomatic entreaties and is seemingly enamored with only military options as a show of “strength.” Further complicating foreign affairs issues he is in open conflict with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has saddled his own Secretary of State with an untenable budget and an appalling lack of diplomatic personnel support. This, of course, is on top of the fact that he is publicly rebuking and undercutting his chief diplomat who who has brashly referred to the President as a “effing moron.”

It can happen here and it is happening here. We are witnessing a 21st century style of dictatorial tyranny that harkens back to a period that precipitated the greatest global catastrophe in modern history and sadly presaged the development of nuclear weaponry. The President must be replaced and it will take somber bipartisan action to do so. It will most likely require courageous actions on the part of Trump partisans to put country above self-interest.

The President is unstable and prone to tantrums that could imperil millions upon millions of innocent lives. Either our elected leaders step up to the plate here and precipitate a peaceful transfer of power, as is the American gold standard for Presidential transitions, or we run the risk of a de facto coup d’etat, where internal strife could cause untold disruption to our economy and government. The longer we wait the greater the risks. The time to act is now.