GOP authoritarianism and fascism

Author, historian, and culture critic Ruth Ben Ghiat was on The New Abnormal to answer the question nobody is asking: What stage of the fascist takeover are we in right now?

President Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021 rally before the White House. Three large screens show a close-up of Trump’s face, looking like Big Brother from Orwell’s “1984.” (John Minchillo, Associated Press)
The GOP Is an Autocratic Cult

Ruth Ben Ghiat: The GOP is a political party and an autocratic entity. It is in thrall to its Leader and is a cult. Authoritarian dynamics are the only way to make sense of January 6 and how the Party reacted to that.

The GOP was hollowed out by the time of the 2020 election. It’s so pathetic, in 2020 the Republican Party couldn’t even come up with a platform beyond supporting Trump.

A state of exception happened between November and January 6, a testing ground about illegality, what [Republicans] would do for the Leader. January 6 hugely radicalized the Party, because they saw that they could get away with trying to overturn the election with a violent coup.

Two years later the hands of justice are moving toward the head of the coup and the elite enablers. We’re in a weird stage where the media and others are still trying to pretend that Republican candidates are normal. But the Party has been transformed into fanatics and criminals. Fani Willis’s indictment all but called it a criminal organization.

Support for the GOP

There is a popular reaction and resistance to parties that are so egregiously devoted to repressing our rights. The GOP has nowhere to go but more extreme. That is why Vivek Ramaswamy is reviving conspiracy theories.

They also have to hide from the public. They’re getting into the bunker stage that dictators get to. They can’t have transparency. During the pandemic GOP legislators were running away from their constituents.

All of that will cause a reaction. We don’t hear enough about this, but there is a global renaissance of protests: China, Iran, Belarus. We are ripe for another round, because the GOP is so out of step with popular desires. Republican women don’t necessarily agree with gun policies and abortion policies. It’s only 30% of the hard core that will never desert.

I think as things get more dire, denying climate change in the middle of hurricanes and other natural disasters, none of this is going to benefit the GOP. This is what Trump calls the final battle. They’re going to try to get back in the White House to shut down democracy, because they won’t able to legally win again. Being so extreme, they’ll alienate more Americans. We will get through this, and our democracy will be strengthened.

The Problem of Those 30%

Danielle Moodie: The 30% wield a lot of power and have an echo chamber. Moms for Liberty has been able to manipulate school boards and libraries. When we look at city councils and state houses they are still at the levers of power. What do the people do when the hopelessness is suffocating?

Ruth Ben Ghiat: Hope is not just foolish idealism. All over the world dissidents who have been resisting in far more difficult conditions than we have all underscore the importance of hope. Hope is essential to thinking you can change things because it presents the horizon as open, that history can go in a different direction.

So we have to reach out to the 70% of Republicans and independents and show them the outcomes and the future, the economic fallout of Republican policies, the life expectancies in Red vs. Blue states. But if you only believe the negative, you’ll never change anything.

We just had the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington. Authoritarians are very leery of dreaming because aspirations and hope are very powerful.

The Global Rise of Authoritarianism

Over the last hundred years societies have been attracted to authoritarians when there’s been a lot of social progress: workers’ rights before original fascism, Spain in 1931, women’s emancipation. We were primed for a Trump, because we had the first African American President, the legalization of same-sex marriage, women admitted to combat.

These and other things cause a backlash. Strong men influence each other. This wave of authoritarianism was already going on, in part because of the enormous progress that’s been made toward racial emancipation, gender and racial equity.

Many people have found democracy unfulfilling, and people become susceptible to these populist authoritarian parties that promise community. They traffic in tribalism and scapegoating, but they also promise positives. Although they’re founded on excluding and hating others, people feel they’ve found a sense of belonging. Liberal democracy has not been as forthright in providing that.

Denial of Authoritarianism

A lot of people are in denial and scared. They’re not ready to hear certain things because of their myth that “It can’t happen here, America has alway been a democracy.” From a foreign history perspective, this has only been a democracy since the 60’s. What kind of democracy can it be when there are no civil rights for a large part of the population?

Speaking truth in a blunt way is so important to getting the message out and helping others to wake up to what we face.