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As Authoritarianism Sweeps the Globe, Will the U.S. Follow?

ColumnJuly 03, 2024
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

In the final day of its term Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its opinion in the case of Donald Trump v. United States. By a 6-3 partisan vote, the court granted the former president immunity for “official” acts he committed while in office, as he seeks to avoid prosecution for attempting to subvert the 2020 election results and illegally cling to power.

In a scathing dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote,

“The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the country, and possibly the world. When he uses his official powers…he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution. Orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune…In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

King. Autocrat. Totalitarian. Authoritarian. Dictator. Take your pick. Donald Trump admires dictators. He publicly stated, in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, that he would choose to be a dictator, but only for a day:

“I love this guy. He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I say, ‘No, no, no — other than Day One.’”

Dictators from Julius Caesar to Adolf Hitler have risen to power through legal means before seizing absolute power.

In 1990, internet policy and free speech attorney Mike Godwin, later with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Wikipedia, posted his humorous “Godwin’s Law” on what was then the brand new internet, writing, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler “ is certain to occur, leaving the discussion increasingly meaningless.

But in the political climate that now exists, with authoritarian governments on the rise globally and a wave of right-wing populists winning elections in the world’s dwindling number of democracies, fresh comparisons to the rise of fascism a century ago are no longer irrelevant nor irresponsible, but, rather, are urgently needed.

Look at Europe. Far-right parties are growing in popularity, and are currently in power in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia. On July 1st, Holland’s far-right Party for Freedom, led by anti-Islamic agitator Geert Wilders, successfully formed a government after a year of political wrangling. France is closer now than ever to embracing the far-right, following similar victories for extremists in the European Parliament elections last month. And the long-time rightwing, xenophobic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has just assumed the European Union’s rotating presidency.

Since World War II, the European political establishment has been dedicated to blocking the resurgence of the far-right. Now this “cordon sanitaire” against fascism in Europe appears to be falling.

In 1935, renowned independent journalist George Seldes published “Sawdust Caesar,” his political biography of Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini. “Il Duce” ejected Seldes from Italy a decade earlier for his critical reporting. But Seldes still managed to complete the book, detailing Mussolini’s rise to power using the press, populism and violence, all backed by financiers, including Wall Street banks.

In the foreword, titled, “To Americans Facing Fascism,” Seldes warned, “Fascism not only exists in America, but it has become formidable and needs only a Duce, a Fuehrer, an organizer, and a loosening of the purse strings of those who gain materially by its victory, to become the most powerful force threatening the Republic.”

Ninety years later, we are faced with an election many predict will be won by Donald Trump, a man who in 2016 retweeted a Mussolini quote, “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep,” then defended his tweet. Trump told NBC’s Meet the Press, “I know who said it. But what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote.”

What institutional checks exist on Trump’s authoritarian ambitions? The Supreme Court has repeatedly demonstrated, as recently as this week, its endorsement of the imperial presidency. The Democrats, expected to lose control of the Senate, are desperate to win back the House, as the sole means of countering Trumpism.

Meanwhile, to capitalize on a potential second Trump presidency, the right-wing Heritage Foundation has brought together over 100 like-minded organizations to form Project 2025–a 922-page blueprint for radically reshaping the federal government along what critics describe as “authoritarian” and “Christian nationalist” lines, while attacking unions, climate action, universal healthcare, abortion access and more.

Another book published in 1935 was Sinclair Lewis’ dystopic novel, “It Can’t Happen Here,’’ about fascism coming to America. We now see that it can happen here. The question is, will we let it?

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