Seldom do you come across a man who changed so much in so little time. His efforts normalised authoritarian tendencies, legitimised fascism, and shaped the future of one of America’s two political parties. With the GOP focused on its quest for voter suppression, Trump’s increase in popularity, and the party’s adoption of Naziism, America’s future hangs on the outcome of the midterms. But in order to fully understand where it’s going, America must first understand where it’s been.
And that starts with 2016. Pundits falsely put Trump’s win down to him being a “wildcard.” He wasn’t. His win was tactical. He tapped into a part of the American electorate that hadn’t been appealed to. And he realised if he was ever going to be successful in his attempts to label himself as a “man of the people,” he needed to find someone the people could be afraid of first. Why? Fear is one of the strongest human emotions. It’s enough to override logic and rational thought come election time. So like a true fascist, he blamed Mexicans and Muslims for the problems Americans were facing. And then — and here’s the crucial bit — he told Americans he’d keep them safe. He’d build a wall. He’d stop them from coming to America. He’d be the one who’d “protect them.” And just like that — he became their man.
What that does is — well, three things. First, it creates hatred. When people are told foreigners are coming to their land and destroying it, it’s inevitable. But when the woes of the average American are so severe, the hatred becomes embedded in society. And that’s good for fascists. Why? Because scapegoating doesn’t fix a country’s problems. If anything, it diverts attention from the real cause. That leads to continual decline. What happens then? The emotions that drove them to victory the first time round are even stronger.
Second, hatred becomes mainstream. You see it on the news, on social media and in political discourse. With that level of hatred, society becomes a ticking time bomb — waiting to explode. Sure enough, with Trump and Rudy Giuliani adding some fuel to the fire on the morning of January 6, it exploded. America saw what it thought it would never see. I called it a coup, others chose the word “insurrection.” The consequences of choosing either aside, what is undeniable is that the events of January 6 announced to the world that fascism was now a political force in America — and a violent one at that.
Seeing the people — ordinary citizens — take up arms at the call of a demagogue is what gives authoritarians confidence. It tells them their task of undermining democracy is easier than they had first imagined. Because they don’t need the military on their side. They need your local real estate agent. What you’re left with then is a society that faces its greatest threat from within. It turns a country into a soft battleground where no one is safe; where anyone could be “the enemy.” It changes the divide between the Left and the Right from being one that’s ideological to one you’d see between two warring factions. In short, it “divides and conquers.”
Third, America was divided to the point where it provided just the right conditions for authoritarianism to flourish. You see, when fascism has a vote bank large enough to win, and its supporters are banded together in unison against everyone else, the fascist at the helm can’t compromise. Anything less than the extreme and he runs the risk of losing the voters that put him in power in the first place. What you see then is the rhetoric get dialled up, the lies become even grander, and political violence become a reality. That incessant ramping up only serves to stir the pot even more. It fuels anger until it turns into rage. Stir the pot long enough, and you turn society into a volcano that’s itching to erupt. What happens then? The emotions that drove fascism to power become stronger, more deep-rooted. And in order to keep them that way, fascists continuously add fuel to the fire. And so the cycle continues.
While that nearly guarantees electoral victory, it also undermines democracy. Especially in a country like America — where you’d never have expected to see what you’ve seen — it turns people like Trump into pioneers. What’s being pioneered however is dictatorship. The divide in American society and the votes it brought Trump allowed him to do as he pleased. And once he went beyond the norm, broke unwritten rules, tested the limits of power, and then got away with it, he set a precedent in the process. “This is how much I was able to do and get away with.” It’s common in the developing world. But in a Western democracy, where this is rare, you can safely expect every other politician to be paying close attention.
Why? Power. They all want it. And if you can come along, break the rules everyone was too scared to break, you open the floodgates. Suddenly, it’s all achievable. The mountain the next ones will have to climb just got a little bit smaller. And you showed them they don’t have to pay a price on the way up.
That message, mind you, has been received by the Republican party. The young blood — Boebert, Greene, Hawley — are in many ways a spitting image of Donald Trump. And in others, even worse. Again, it’s not a coincidence. Ask yourself, are they really the first of their kind in American politics? So why didn’t the ones before them spew the same kind of hatred?
Because the limits of power hadn’t been tested. Codes of decency hadn’t been trampled. Being like this would’ve been stepping into the unknown. And for all they knew, it could have cost them their careers. But the young blood in the GOP doesn’t have that problem. Trump showed them hate, fear, violence and conspiracy theories are a route to power. And with a vote bank of 74 million, it’s almost guaranteed.
It’s only once you combine the two — the cycle of fear and hate that fuels fascism that started with Trump with the fascists of tomorrow not only acknowledging it but being shown how to perpetuate it — that you realise how bleak America’s future can truly be. It’s like a lab experiment where the perfect conditions for authoritarianism, evangelical extremism, and white supremacy to flourish are being maintained.
Whether America realises that going into the midterms depends on its willingness to look beneath the surface. Whether it’s willing to confront the cracks in its own society. Because the alternative — taking the GOP’s actions in isolation and at face value — is exactly what they want. Americans will still see them as the same Republican Party, albeit with a few more quirks. What that does is transform the level of threat to democracy and decency from being one that’s existential to one that’s, at worst, inconsequential. Add in the innate fear millions of Americans have of any policy with the words “public spending” in it and you realise how quickly that “inconsequential” threat turns into a plausible electoral choice to “protect” American capitalism.
And that mindset will only see fascism getting stronger. Because taking the GOP’s actions at face value comes with the tendency to overlook what it truly is. It’s only when you connect the dots, see where you’ve been, how it informs where you’re going, and that the people in power realise how to ensure it only gets worse do you realise how much is at stake in 2022.