In 2020, HBO telecast a series entitled “The Plot Against America,” based upon an alternative mythical history of the United States in the late 1930s and early 1940s, written by Phillip Roth. In the series, supporters of fascism, antisemitism, and Nazism combined to foment a movement that captured the Republican Party and propelled Charles Lindbergh to victory over FDR in the Presidential election of 1940.
As a historian, I knew that Roth’s alternative history was lacking severely in credibility. Lindbergh never attained anywhere near the popularity within the GOP necessary to capture the presidential nomination. The person who did win the 1940 GOP nomination, Wendell Willkie was one of my great heroes of American history.
Yet what terrified me was that the plot of that series has been playing out in real time in 21st century America under the fascist leadership of Donald Trump, a non-genocidal fascist, but a fascist all the same, a Mussolini, rather than a Hitler. If Donald Trump is elected president again in 2024, it may be the last free presidential election in the history of the United States of America.
Today is one year after the Insurrection in the nation’s capitol where we saw Trump and his fellow authoritarian lowlife thugs display their fascism at its ugliest: an attempt to prevent, by force and intimidation, the certification of the election of Joe Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president. America owes a great debt of gratitude to former Vice President Mike Pence, who in the face of a Trump-inspired violent mob threatening his life, courageously proceeded to certify the election.
In order to understand the fascism of Trump, it is first necessary to understand what fascism is. One can glean a thorough knowledge of the rudiments of fascism by reading the monumental work, How Fascism Works, by Yale professor Jason Stanley.
Stanley’s most basic point is that fascism is not per se a governing ideology but rather a technique for obtaining power by individuals seeking dictatorial authority. It is characterized by 1) authoritarian leadership by an individual who inspires cult-like devotion; 2) propaganda for a false message, in the case of Donald Trump, the Big Lie that the presidential election of 2020 was stolen ; 3) the subversion of election results if the voters elect anti-fascist candidates; 4) the use of violence against opponents of fascism, as we witnessed on January 6, 2021; 5) destruction of the powers of democratic institutions; 6) the suppression of the right to vote and all civil liberties; and 7) virulent racism, in order to reinforce in the fascist followers the notion of us-versus-them.
All these fascist themes played out during the year since Trump left office in the form of a Republican Party war against democracy. And I deliberately use the words “Republican Party” and not just “Trumpists.” The GOP war against democracy is one which, as shown by polls, the great majority of rank-and-file Republicans support.
As an example, a new USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that a majority of GOP voters continue to believe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected to the White House, despite the total absence of evidence for Trump’s stolen election allegation, while an even larger majority of Republican voters believe the Jan. 6 rioters “went too far, but they had a point.”
An even more appalling example of rank- and-file Republican slavish fealty to Trump and Trumpism is to be found in two other polls. In the Quinnipiac Poll, fully two-thirds of Republicans say they don’t view the riot at the Capitol as an attack on government. And according to a CBS poll this week, although Republicans largely disapprove of the actions of those who forced their way into the Capitol, they were more likely to describe what happened that day as an act of “patriotism” or “defending freedom” rather than an insurrection. What a perverse definition of “patriotism!”
The ultimate GOP Big Lie event is a “Stop-the-Steal” rally. The New Jersey Republican nominee for governor, Jack Ciattarelli participated in such an event.
The Republican attack on Critical Race Theory is a clear appeal to the racism basic to fascism. There is not a single public school district in America teaching Critical Race Theory, so it is clear that the Republican utilization of this issue has everything to do with race and nothing to do with education. Yet the victorious GOP gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, made this racist dog whistle the centerpiece of his campaign, and New Jersey State Senator Michael Testa, Jr. has used it to shamelessly play the race card. Furthermore, Republican claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election were heavily targeted towards cities with largely African-American populations.
And the New Jersey Republican Party in 2021 enthusiastically joined with Republican Parties in other states to suppress the African-American vote by making it more difficult for People of Color to cast ballots.
Over the past year, Republican members of the House of Representatives, with the laudable exceptions of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have done everything in their power to obstruct the investigation of the House Committee investigating January 6. And Donald Trump continues to do everything possible to reject cooperation with the committee.
Yet the most deplorable aspect of the Republican war against democracy has been what is now being labeled as the “slow motion insurrection.” This is the national Republican effort to prevent election results with Democratic winners from being certified in the future.
Throughout the nation, Republicans have attempted to achieve this goal by advancing new laws to shift authority over elections from governors and career officials in the executive branch to the legislature.
A classic example of this was described by Barton Gellman in an article in The Atlantic in a new Georgia law enacted last March that undercuts the power of the county authorities who normally manage elections. Now a GOP-dominated state board, beholden to the legislature, may overrule and take control of voting tallies in any jurisdiction—for example, a heavily Black and Democratic one like Fulton County. The State Election Board can then suspend a county board if it deems the board to be “underperforming” and replace it with a handpicked administrator. The administrator, in turn, will have final say on disqualifying voters and declaring ballots null and void.
The other component of the “slow motion insurrection” is a continued effort throughout GOP controlled states to purge election officials and canvassers who refused to cooperate with Donald Trump in disenfranchising Democratic voters while promoting the Big Lie in the 2020 election. This effort is ongoing.
It must be emphasized that the Republican war on democracy, while an essential component of Trumpist fascism, is totally antithetical to the classical conservatism that was the core of Republican ideals for the second half of the twentieth century. Fascism is not conservatism.
Classical conservatism has been best defined by the leading American conservative academic, Andrew Bacevich, as a commitment to liberty without license, respect for the free market while being aware of its abuses, limited government, veneration of institutions, fiscal responsibility, and the rule of law. Trumpism incorporates none of these values but instead is a fascist, anti-intellectual mode of politics dedicated to the promotion of power and enrichment from government by a wealthy elite in a Hobbesian society.
And finally, there is the Republican Party that opposes the passage of the two major voting rights bills presently pending, For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. For classical conservatives, the right to vote is a fundamental value. For Trumpists, it is an annoying hindrance in their fascistic quest for absolute power.
For my entire adult life prior to the advent of Trump in the 2016 election, outside of my family and my practice of traditional Judaism, the advancement of the Republican Party of classical conservatism was my major priority in life. Trump’s nomination for president in 2016 constituted a hostile takeover of the GOP by the forces of Trump fascism.
From that time forward, I have supported in most elections the Democratic candidate. I cannot vote for any Republican who supports, or even temporizes with, Trump fascism. At least the Democratic Party rejects fascism and racism.
I still never changed my registration from the Republican Party, however. My hope was that the Republican Party would return to the classical conservative philosophy that had served it so well. I continue to have significant differences with the Democratic Party on certain economic and foreign policy issues.
I am now convinced beyond any reasonable doubt, however, that the hold of Trumpist racist and anti-democracy forces on the Republican Party is irrevocable. Accordingly, I will be changing my party registration from Republican to Independent.
In elections, I will for the time-being continue in most cases, national and state, to support the Democratic candidate. I will work with Democrats and other disenchanted Republicans, wherever possible, to form and promote fusion tickets.
I will not, however be changing my party registration to the Democratic Party. Instead, I am hoping for something else.
As a center-right political advocate, I wish for the advent of a new centrist political party, one that embraces classical conservatism, passionately defends democracy, and emphatically rejects racism. Two current Republicans who would be ideal leaders of such a party would be Congresswoman Liz Cheney and outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
The famed Viennese journalist and founder of the modern Zionist movement in the 19th century, Theodor Herzl, was famous for saying, “If you will it, it is no dream.” If enough centrist individuals have the will to establish a new political party, upholding the best values in the American political tradition and rejecting the toxicity of Trumpism, it will not be a dream.
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.