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Where we’ve been and the road ahead

We should acknowledge the history we have lived through in plain terms.

In 2016, a far right populist was elected president despite losing the popular vote. He sought to withhold defense funding from Ukraine in exchange for dirt on his chief political rival leading to his first impeachment trial. As president, he directed federal law enforcement to use violence against peaceful protesters to stage a photo op. He refused to concede the election and attempted to stop the peaceful transfer of power by sending a lynch mob after his Vice President, leading to his second impeachment trial. All of this occurred with the backdrop of COVID-19 and the protests over George Floyd’s murder, which fueled the then-ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, making it the largest protest movement in American history, soon spreading around the world. As an ex-president, he has continued to fan the flames of political violence and called for the suspension of the U.S. Constitution. He had dinner with an avowed neo-Nazi and said during their meal: “I really like this guy. He gets me.”

Today, we are still in a pandemic and are still battling far right elements which seek to undermine basic principles of American democracy. Russia has invaded Ukraine at the behest of Vladimir Putin, launching the largest war in Europe since World War II, in an effort to eliminate Ukrainian sovereignty, end their democracy, and destroy their cultural history.

To ignore these cascading crises is to ignore the obvious historic nature of our moment.

“There’s an alarming rise in the number of people in this country condoning political violence or simply remaining silent,” Biden said in early November. “In our bones we know democracy is at risk, but we also know this: It’s in our power to preserve our democracy.”

To understand our present moment, we need to understand news fatigue, information overload, and how fascism undermines reality in an attempt to spread disillusionment among the masses. Fascists use chaos to exhaust the population, as they consolidate power, knowing we are less likely to engage in solidarity amid chaos.

But we need to be clear that we are currently in the middle of a very real battle. A battle of ideas and of principles, and indeed, as President Biden has said, a battle for the soul of the nation.

Many Americans, in light of the unrelenting firehose of information and misinformation directed at us, have become numb to the very real and present dangers which threaten democracy. We have become, understandably, disillusioned. We have, in our existence as the most powerful nation on Earth, come to believe ourselves immune from the tides of history. But we cannot ignore history. History tells us there is an active need to defend democracy and voices throughout history have warned us against the naive assumption that the problem of autocracy is a problem which resolves itself.

We must, as citizens of this nation, be prepared to defend democracy. 

Making Sense of the Chaos

In an era where White supremacy is on the rise and fascistic tendencies have emerged within the American conservative movement, how do you make sense of the chaos while remaining positive?

First, we must remain aware of the world around us. We must combat the urge to remove ourselves from the discourse, which is becoming increasingly polarized, so that voices of positivity and hope remain available for those who find themselves lost in the present moment. That is the point of fascism: to advance feelings of isolation, of loneliness, of nihilism, and supplant those feelings with anger and fear, in order to consolidate power among a small ruling class of elites while oppressing minority out-groups like migrants, ethnic minorities, and the LGTBQ+ community.

Taking a look at our current political environment, we can see the deep impact that the spread of fascism has had on our discourse. We can see the attempts to slowly break reality, create confusion, and fill the vacuum with fear and darkness.

It may be easier for some to conceptualize fascism as a virus rather than a coherent political ideology, since it is not and has never been a coherent political ideology. Indeed, the contradictory nature of fascism allows it spreads like a virus, infecting susceptible individuals who have retreated into themselves as they reject reality around them for one reason or another. The virus infects indiscriminately, but society has found an effective vaccine against fascism in education and hope. That is why fascists seek to ban books while sowing despair. They target these elusive cures so that the virus continues to spread. They combat any attempt to quarantine the virus by undermining our institutions and reality itself, so that naming the virus becomes a polarizing and political act. But combatting a virus should not be seen as a political act, it should instead be seen as the obvious and morally correct thing to do.

I have found that the best way to stay positive throughout this darkness is to engage in reflection, to map out your values and beliefs, and to understand how those values and beliefs connect to the future you hope to help create for the next generation. As I have previously written, engaging in solidarity is also central to staying positive while being engaged. 

So, much like a virus, combating fascism requires both public vigilance and acts of individual grace. It requires remaining educated and aware, while asking those we love how they are doing. It requires listening to their answer and engaging with them in a meaningful way, to make sure that during this dark period, some light remains in their lives.

The people who are infected, who consume conspiracy theories and watch Tucker Carlson are, it is clear, not happy with their present condition. They are lost and confused because the country they felt they were promised did not come to be. 

Their sense that the United States is in decline may not be wrong. Just examine the living conditions of the rural and urban poor in the United States, or the treatment of veterans and the homeless. Consider the racism and xenophobia. Think about the global consequences of our greed-fueled industrialization, which has wreaked havoc on the planet.

The United States has never been perfect and we are not the only nation experiencing these crises or contributing to global instability. Indeed, there are far right movements emerging around the world. But we are uniquely positioned as Americans, given our nation’s wealth and power, to respond these these crises and stand in solidarity with those who are suffering, in this country and around the world. This will be difficult, but it is necessary.

The Next Phase

Meanwhile, we should be prepared for right wing violence to continue in the United States, as we have seen an increase in lone wolf attacks, hateful online rhetoric, and incitement to violence. We have seen organized attacks by right wing groups against power stations, in an attempt to create chaos and spark civil unrest. We must be clear about the threats we face if we are going to successfully forge a path forward.

We must continue acknowledging the reality of our moment, and presently, we have entered a new phase of this battle with Elon Musk’s recent acquisition of Twitter. 

We do ourselves no favors by ignoring that one of the richest people in the world is currently aligning with the far right and authoritarian leaders: domestically with neo-Nazis and White supremacists, and internationally with Vladimir Putin and the Saudis. 

Musk’s actions may just be the actions of a single, deranged man that have no deeper meaning or intention. Or, as some experts believe, it could be part of an orchestrated attempt to, among other things, move the global economy toward an asset-based currency, which would strengthen the Russian and Saudi economies while weakening Western economies. The primary motive being, of course, to further personal wealth and power. 

Quick sidebar to remind everyone that Elon Musk believes we are in a simulation. He views our reality, and this world, as if it’s a video game. We should assume, then, that he does not seriously consider the impact of his actions on other individuals. This should be deeply concerning as it matches the nihilistic approach to life that we have seen in past autocratic leaders and their enablers. The lack of meaning is the point. The darkness is the point. 

Fascism is so antithetical to the values we have come to take for granted that it is difficult to fathom such a hateful movement has reemerged. 

Call to Action

Our present moment requires our involvement. We must not turn away from these threats to our democracy. We must be willing, as American citizens, to stand up for and defend the values we hold central to our view of the world: freedom, equality, sovereignty, individualism, and so on.

Americans can sense, as Joe Biden suggested, when these values come under assault.

These American values are under assault once again, as they have been in the past, and we must be prepared to defend these values in our time, just as generations past have done. We must, you and I, fight to preserve our democracy for future generations.

Nick Butler

Smithville Flats, NY
December 2022

“A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1859

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