Let’s begin by defining terms. The majority of Democrats are no more Communists than the majority of Republicans are Fascists. The parties are pretty mainstream. They are also shrinking, losing affiliations to independents, who are not conveniently defined by our normal right/left buckets. There are some raging liberals for whom the Democratic Party is too conservative, and some devout right-wingers who have no use for the Republican Party. They refer to the remaining members of their former party as RINO’s—Republicans in name only.
Back in 2017 I was alarmed by some of the moves the Trump administration made, like the Muslim travel ban, but mostly I was alarmed by the authoritarian, racist, and violence-prone individuals that were attracted to the movement like moths to a flame. It’s interesting that the right spends a lot of time calling the left Communists, an accusation without factual support, and still today, should one say that a lot of what the right suggests smacks of fascism, the outrage is palpable. Former Senator Al Franken (D-Common Sense) made such an observation on his SiriusXM radio show, and the Hate Industrial Complex kicked into high gear denouncing him as a Communist (he is in fact, a very successful capitalist—I know, I paid him a lot of money to host a radio show before he ran for the Senate). The term is inaccurate, but rhetorically loaded, a totem, a catchall, used in much the same way as they use CRT.
Recently, I was with some retired Army and Marine Corps officers who said, “This is just like 1939,” Indicating to me that it’s finally safe to characterize this moment as analogous to Germany invading Poland at the start of World War II. In 2017, I wrote that we were seeing the sorts of events that hearkened back to the 1930s when Fascists in Italy and Nazis in Germany came to power. You’d have thought I’d called Lee Greenwood unpatriotic by the way I was chastised and told that as soon as you invoke the words Nazi, or Fascist, you will be discounted.
My, how times change.
Mazars, the Trump Organization’s long time accounting firm, disavow the last ten years’ worth of tax returns because the Former Guy over- and under-stated the value of his assets depending on the goal, understate for tax purposes; overstate for purposes of obtaining a loan at favorable rates. Mazars execs obviously don’t want to go to jail for tax fraud. To change the subject, the Former Guy reminded us that Hillary should be in jail, or hanged for treason. It’s both important and a little scary because violence in language and deed has become a hallmark of the radical right.
It is one thing for the entire Republican Party to adopt Rush Limbaugh’s dismissive, and disrespectful term, “the Democrat Party” (just listen to cable TV hosts, Congress Critters, senators, and columnists who can’t resist insulting Democrats in the most juvenile way possible—what is this, seventh grade?), and you’ll see where they stepped onto the slippery rhetorical slope that led from infantile disparagement to outright violent threats. Words matter, and when the escalation of political speech takes you from schoolyard taunts to threats of physical violence, something is very wrong.
From Reuters, we find rhetorical escalation that threatens deadly assault against a schoolboard member and her family: “The letter came to the home of Brenda Sheridan, a Loudoun County, Virginia school board member, addressed to one of her adult children. It threatened to kill them both unless she left the board: “It is too bad that your mother is an ugly Communist whore,” said the hand-scrawled note, which the family read just after Christmas. “If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you!” These are the people, our neighbors, perhaps, who would rather kill community-minded volunteers than see our kids get vaccinated, wear masks, read books they disagree with, or be taught disturbing facts from our history.
Now what do you suppose could have made this type of anti-social behavior broadly acceptable? (Here’s a hint, it has orange hair.)
Sarah Repucci and Amy Slipowitz authored “Freedom House 2022,” this year’s version of an annual look at how democracy is faring around the world: “Democracies are being harmed from within by illiberal forces, including unscrupulous politicians willing to corrupt and shatter the very institutions that brought them to power.” Notably, they added that the U.S. “has fallen below its traditional peers on key democratic indicators, including [presidential] elections, freedom from improper political influence, and equal treatment of minority groups…Undemocratic leaders and their supporters [are] warping the institutions in their care so as to prolong their rule.”
The worst part? We’re doing it to ourselves.
©2022 Jon Sinton
VOL. 112, NO. 17 - April 27, 2022