Fascist poster boy Benito Mussolini said if you pluck a chicken one feather at a time, people don’t notice. His analogy spoke to the fact that a leader might consolidate power feather by feather and before you know it you have that scariest of bald chickens: fascism. The Trump campaign then Presidency saw outrageous words and actions elicit outlandish defensives or an equally heinous complicity of silence. The collective shrug of most Americans is in many ways the most disturbing, as they support a scary normalization of each of fascism’s feathers.
Donald Trump and his supporters, in and out of elected office, show a terrifying willingness to not only tolerate but also adopt each step toward fascism. Trump voters and allies turned their backs on widely accepted standards of decency. They ignored or cheered his juvenile mocking of a man with disabilities, his racist dog-whistles and outright racism, his embarrassing birtherism, sexually assaulting women, his bragging about sexually assaulting women.
Fascism has familiar forebears, and Trump embraces them all:
- Relentless attacks on a free press, including monitoring, intimidating and slandering journalists;
- Disrespect for our laws and democratic institutions;
- Equating one’s self with the state itself, saying any disparaging of him or his policies, or lawful investigation of him or his henchmen is unpatriotic and an “attack on America”;
- Attacks and lies thrust at other parties or those with divergent points of view;
- Holding rallies with no purpose but to rile people up and promote lies and disunity;
- Using politics and political office for self-interest, personal gain and the enrichment of cronies;
- Condoning torture and police brutality;
- Supporting the massive death of innocents through his policies regarding the NRA, hunting African wildlife, strip-mining, polluting our rivers, streams and oceans;
- Encouraging racism, bigotry, misogyny, and even violence, and;
- Undermining our laws, and vilifying our law enforcement agencies to shield his own corruption and treachery.
When Trump struts around with his puffed chest, pursed lips and personal attacks, he’s reminiscent of Benito’s bullying not Lincoln’s leadership. The inherently undemocratic Electoral College got us a leader much more reptilian than republican. Every day the news brings us more evidence of Trump’s treason, greed and dishonesty. As Madeleine Albright warns, “Those are the kinds of feathers.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Albright, who lost dozens of family members in the Holocaust, wrote a book, Fascism: A Warning. Her book looks at history and then turns to the terrifying scenes unfurling today in Hungary, Turkey, Venezuela, Poland, and the Philippines. She points out all these leaders were put there constitutionally or democratically elected, just like Adolf Hitler had been. In an editorial in the New York Times, Secretary Albright warns that “the possibility that fascism will be accorded a fresh chance to strut around the world stage is enhanced by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump”:
“Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident. We may be encouraged that most people in most countries still want to live freely and in peace, but there is no ignoring the storm clouds that have gathered. In fact, fascism — and the tendencies that lead toward fascism — pose a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.”
Albright has described herself as an optimist who worries a lot. She’s worried about “the relentless grab for more authority by governing parties in Hungary, the Philippines, Poland and Turkey — all United States allies. “ She worries about the growth of nativist movements, like the one in Germany, that oppose the idea of a united Europe. (Germany, don’t you ever get tired of this sh*t?) There’s the despotism and aggression of Putin in Russia while in China Xi Jinping persuaded their overly-docile Congress to lift the constitutional limit on his tenure at the top.
Meanwhile, Trump touts an “every nation for itself” isolationism (yeah, that has historically always worked well) and taken isolating, planet-punishing stances on climate change and environmentalism. “Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems,” warns Albright, Trump has “has insulted United States neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations and stripped the State Department of its resources and role. Instead of standing up for the values of a free society, Mr. Trump, with his oft-vented scorn for democracy’s building blocks, has strengthened the hands of dictators. No longer need they fear United States criticism regarding human rights or civil liberties. On the contrary, they can and do point to Mr. Trump’s own words to justify their repressive actions.”
President Trump’s lies and incoherence may seem like just the conflation of arrogance and ignorance (and they are), but they are also strategically used to buttress and aggravate bigotry, racism, and cultural divisions. He openly admires dictators and bullies like Putin, and boldly invites America’s enemies to hack our emails and undermine our elections. He uses wag the doggy-style sabre-rattling and old lies about political opponents as shiny objects to distract his base and tawdry scandals. “If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene,” writes Albright.
You know the slogan, “See something, say something”? Well, now is the time to see something and say something. DO something. Defend facts. Speak truth to power. Support the free press. Always speak up and remind everyone that a free press is not America’s enemy but rather one of our democracy’s strongest champions. Don’t allow anyone to be above the law or exempt from its consequences. Encourage and enlist voters. Support great candidates (like my friend, Eva Pearson!) Run for office yourself. Do not tolerate or turn the other way when confronted with bigotry, racism and sexism. Combat ignorance and lies. Support human rights, the environment, peace and justice.
Fight fascism and sound the alarm about its harbingers. We wait until the chicken is bald at our peril. Resist!