Just before the November 2020 presidential election, Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University and author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them was on NPR discussing how the U.S. was losing its democratic status, and mostly because of Donald Trump. He hit on some points that really gave me pause, particularly when he defined fascism as “a cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of humiliation brought on by supposed communists, Marxists and minorities and immigrants who are supposedly posing a threat to the character and the history of a nation.”
It was hard to read that definition and not think about Trumpism, a relatively new term that only came into light four years ago. Regardless of the scandals, or the tell-all books from family and former associates, Trump’s base is ready and willing to put blinders on. I remember hearing Stanley’s interview and being fearful that we might very well have four more years of Trumpism.
Now it’s late November, and Joe Biden won the election, but Trump has refused to acknowledge this fact. Early this week, he finally (and grudgingly) accepted the decision made by Emily W. Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, to begin the process of transition. However, he made sure to tweet that he would continue to “keep up the good fight” — a.k.a., keep up with his failed and laughable attempts to change the election outcome in his favor.
Trump has tried to cling to the presidency through any legal means possible. Sowing seeds of distrust in our election system, calling every state that didn’t turn red a fraud — and literally millions of people were (and still are) willing to buy into his false arguments. And for the life of me, I can’t figure that out.
How could so many people buy into Trump’s accusations of voter fraud with so many credible news organizations and state election officials contradicting him? Professor Stanley had a pretty interesting explanation as to why those debunked claims of voter fraud continue to persist. And you guessed it, much of it is a result of Trump using fascist moves.
“Fascist politics transforms politics into a battlefield. And in the battlefield … you don’t care if your opponent is speaking truth or not. They’re the enemy. They want to kill you,” Stanley said in a subsequent interview with NPR. “If your leader says false things, it doesn’t matter. He’s trying to win the battle, win the war for you. So that’s the structure. And then you delegitimize the media by connecting them to your opponent, saying it’s one big conspiracy to undermine the nation, and then only you are the savior. Only you can save things. People have to have blind faith in you. And Trump has created that kind of connection between him and his supporters.”
This right here is why — regardless of Trump’s lies, or his crazy late night tweets, or his lawyers holding press conferences at Four Seasons Total Landscaping — his followers back him up. They refuse to take their Trump flags off their trucks, and now believe that the whole election was a sham. They view politics like a war, and it is that rhetoric which is the most damaging to America and its long history of free and fair elections.
Honestly, it was pretty easy to see this all coming. Before the election, Trump refused to say he’d concede if he lost. And according to Stanley, by not committing to a peaceful transition of power, Trump was setting the groundwork for a contested election. And once again, this was a move associated with fascism.
“As far as President Trump is concerned, he has had a clear plan to deny the results of the election, should they fall against him, for many months. He’s been very clear about that plan,” said Stanley. “It was to use COVID denialism among his supporters to rack up a large lead on Election Day, declare victory on election evening, and then do the tactics that we are now witnessing. That plan didn’t work.” And for that reason, we’re seeing his desperate last-ditch attempts to overturn the election.
Think back to the night of November 3rd, 2020. Many states that eventually flipped blue because of absentee votes were initially coming in red. And then in the early morning hours of November 4th, Trump went ahead and declared victory in the election despite the fact that millions of absentee votes were yet to be counted. And like so many Americans, I went to bed that night with a pit in my gut, fearful that we would have four more years of Donald Trump.
Now here we are, with Trump still refusing to officially concede, still throwing legal challenges at election results like spaghetti at a wall, hoping something will stick.
What gives me the most pause is that despite all major news organizations and state governments reporting that there is zero evidence of election fraud, there are millions of Americans who believe Trump’s baseless accusations. And it’s because Trump has made this not about a free and fair election held in a united nation, but an election run like a war, where the enemy cannot be trusted even if they speak the truth.
The sad reality is, that “enemy” is not some foreign government. It is not some outsider trying to do you harm. It’s your fellow American. It’s your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. And that’s exactly why Trump, and his attempts to overthrow the election, is so dangerous. It is pitting fellow Americans against each other in the middle of a pandemic, when what we need above all else is unity.
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