23 June 2021
Godwin’s Law, coined in 1990, says that as a discussion on the Internet grows longer, the likelihood of somebody being compared to Hitler or the Nazis rises inexorably towards 100%. But once in a very long while the comparison is correct.
Patrick Cockburn is a well-known Irish journalist, currently writing a column in ‘The Independent’. Now that Bob Fisk is gone, he is the best foreign correspondent writing on the Middle East, but he has always covered other subjects with considerable insight as well. Last week he broke the greatest taboo in English-language journalism.
Writing just after the G7 summit, he warned that “the most dangerous threat (facing the world) is the transformation of the Republican Party in the US into a fascist movement.” Almost every journalist alive has toyed with this analogy – and then avoided it because it sounds like partisan rhetoric rather than hard analysis.
I have done that myself, and felt guilty about it even at the time. Now Patrick Cockburn has stood the analogy up and made it talk. So rather than pretend that I had my own belated conversion on the road to Damascus, I’m just going to tell you what he said. Every word of which I agree with.
Cockburn points out that Trump’s presidency had many of the attitudes and behaviors of a fascist regime – extreme nationalism, racist hatred of minorities, disregard of the law, and constant denial of the truth – but that it failed one crucial test. It did not include automatic re-election, and so Trump lost control.
As a result, says Cockburn, “two strategies…never entirely absent from Republican behaviour have become far more central.” One, obviously, is a greater willingness to use or tolerate violence against opponents, epitomised in the invasion of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters on 6 January.
The other, more sinister and significant, is “the systematic Republican take-over of the machinery that oversees elections and makes sure that they are fair.”
It’s common knowledge that Republican-run states are passing new voter suppression laws – ID requirements, restrictions on postal or Sunday voting, etc. – that target groups, mostly ethnic minorities, that tend to vote Democratic. It’s less well known that they are also going after the minor officials who run the election machinery and keep the system fair.
These were the people who refused to cave in to Trump’s threats and prevented him from flipping the outcome in key states after last November’s vote. Now, Cockburn notes, many of those officials in Republican-governed states are being intimidated or forced from their posts.
One-third of all county election officials in Pennsylvania are already gone, as are numerous others in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Many have been replaced by “conspiracy-theory zealots.”
Republican officials who refuse to say that Trump won the 2020 election are being removed by their own party. In a bid to frighten independent officials into quitting their jobs and creating openings for yet more Republican appointees, Republican-run state legislatures are imposing heavy fines (up to $25,000) on election officials who make even minor technical mistakes.
The intended result is to create a situation in which Democratic electoral victories in Republican-run swing states, crucial to Biden’s winning of the presidency last year, will simply be nullified by Republican-aligned officials.
“Authoritarian regimes across the world have found that it is much easier to announce the election result they would like than to go to all the trouble of suppressing votes and gerrymandering constituencies,” Cockburn concludes. “Once the electoral machinery is controlled, democracy poses no threat to those in power.”
The only available remedy for this would be a new voting law that overrides the Supreme Court decision of 2013 and reinstates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which declared that changes in state voting laws must have federal approval. (The Republican-majority Court claimed that the law was unnecessary as racism no longer prevented ethnic minorities from voting.)
If the Democrats do not use their narrow existing majorities in Congress to resurrect some version of the Voting Rights Act and stop these abuses (this is my own opinion now), then the new electoral machinery being installed by the Republican Party will guarantee that it wins the presidential elections of 2024.
Fascists do not have horns and a tail. They are mostly ordinary people who believe that they will lose something vitally important (their wealth, their status, their values) if they do not break the rules and take over. Those who lead and mislead them are usually not evil geniuses, but just ruthless chancers who have spotted an opportunity to hold great power.
The changing demography of the United States means that the Republicans will lose almost every election in the future if they don’t seize power now. They are not planning death camps or world conquest, but they have become fascists, and they will not be good neighbours.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 14. (“I have…with”; and “The only…voting”)