Since Trump’s been democratically booted, anxiety levels have plummeted, well, at least for now.
Claiming victory would be naïve, we have only experienced the 21st century’s version of Hitler’s 1923 Putsch when he failed to seize power. Unfortunately, this did not prevent his 1933 accession to the German Chancellorship. Like a passage from a DC or Marvel Comic, evil has to only win once. If we wish to foil other attempted Putschs, we have to take the fight to the rabble-rousers and not give them ammo. We have to soul-search, shore up our democracies’ and be proactive in addressing the economic and cultural root causes. This starts with every one of us. By labelling someone a racist, an authoritarian, or a Nazi only adds noise to a screaming match and only scratches the surface of the complexity.
As history shows us authoritarian movements are persistent beasts that gain power through attrition, inflicting death by a thousand cuts. They break us down, echo fringe urban myths and conspiracies to create an illusion of truth. This is similar to chief Nazi propagandist Goebbels’ ‘Big Lie’, that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This resonates well, as we are now in a post-truth era, that philosopher Nietzsche predicted, seen in the interwar period (1919-1939), and what is currently manifesting. Nonetheless, there has always been a variation of post-truth in fringe groups before authoritarianism’s historical rise and in post-WWII societies. What has changed, is it’s now becoming the mainstream again, from the shadows to the bully pulpit. The Covid-19 pandemic has only brought gasoline to the fire.
Authoritarianism, like a disease, is treated when our societies’ are resilient, whereas, when the disease becomes mainstream it’s a symptom of societal degradation. That is the big picture. Authoritarianism, populism, cultural, and economic backlash are symptoms of a system that is not working for everyone. Since the 1980s and the rapid expansion of economic globalization income inequality has skyrocketed, deindustrialization has hit blue-collar folks hard, all the while cosmopolitan elites have made off with large swathes of money. This is the spark.
Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhythms”. WWI had devastating effects, especially in Europe and in particular, Germany. This was then followed by the greatest economic collapse ever recorded, creating a tsunami of populist and authoritarian forces across the world. The powder was set, and the eruption resulted in the greatest war ever recorded. Not many historians will deny that an overwhelming factor in the surge of authoritarianism in the 1930s is tied to the economic crisis, but also the perception that the future prospective was shrinking.
After WWII the Western world built an ambitious democratic and liberal system that created a resilient societal structure and a generous welfare system. This was there to maintain a level of economic mobility and stability. Ultimately, this structure pushed the would-be authoritarians to the sidelines and back into their basements. However, this system was continually under-attack through little cuts. These cuts have increasingly morphed into a Frankenstein movement through issues with economic globalization, cultural change, and a broken political system. We are now looking down the barrel of mainstream authoritarian forces again.
With recent demilitarization after the Cold War, the failures of the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and the long-term trend of deindustrialization, outsourcing, and surging costs of living, the fringe festers in this fertile environment. This is occurring more than ever with the introduction of social media and the misinformation campaigns by state and non-state actors. And although MAGA wearing skirmishers have been forced to retreat, there will be more, especially if we do not address the symptoms of this disease.