Warnings From Weimar

Without a doubt, the people who stormed the US Capitol on January 6th are not ashamed. They have been emboldened. Egged on by a wannabe proto-fascist, his endless stream of lies about a stolen election, and driven by a relatively new cultish religion called QAnon, this mob breached the Capitol of the wealthiest and most powerful imperial power in human history. This mostly white crowd, already coming from a place of enormous privilege, did something no Black or Indigenous person could ever dream of in America. Yet there they were, being allowed into the historic building by members of the Capitol police, who some would later take selfies with. At the end of the day, four people would be dead, including a woman who was trying to break into the building. She is being referred to by some on the far right as a “martyr for the revolution.” A police officer would be dead a short time later from his injuries.

What occurred at the Capitol was not an insurrection. It wasn’t a coup either. But it was most certainly an attempt at both. Trump, himself, has already tried this several times. He only recently agreed to a peaceful transition of power; but has doubled down on the lie that the election was stolen, sans evidence. On the far right, however, Trump is only a symbol of their cause. With or without him, they have pledged to “retake” the republic.

In some sense, this is all rather karmic. After all, how many democratically elected governments have been overthrown via coups orchestrated by American intelligence agencies in concert with corporations? How many mass graves, massacres and atrocities have been committed by rightwing militias and death squads armed and trained by the United States military and the CIA?

But there is no reason to celebrate what happened at the US Capitol, not even smugly. What the world witnessed was a visible resurgence of overt fascism. A Confederate flag waved in the corridors of power. People proudly wearing “Camp Auschwitz” or white supremacist symbols took selfies as they sought out lawmakers. A mock gallows was erected outside. And make no mistake, these people are not ready to stop any time soon. As Trump was banished from Twitter and Facebook, far right groups like the Proud Boys have been organizing on Parler and other places on the so-called “dark web.” They are openly talking about a “second revolution,” and Inauguration Day may be the time they put this to the test. Censoring them, as in most cases, will only alienate and enrage them further.

All things considered, it is unlikely that Trump will succeed at a coup given the fact that the military establishment does not appear to support him. Their job is to protect the American brand. They safeguard the economic interests of corporate America, aka the coffers and trading status of the ruling class. And a coup, or the hint of one, within the world’s most powerful empire would be bad for business. But regardless of this, there were many members of the military and police officers amongst the fascist mob that stormed the Capitol. And the damage to that American brand has been done.

Attempts to remove Trump via impeachment or the 25th amendment should proceed, but these efforts face enormous obstacles and must be done quickly to have any meaningful effect. Thanks to sweeping powers granted to the executive branch, mostly by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, it is extraordinarily difficult to remove or curtail the powers of a sitting president. And Trump still has some rather terrifying tricks in his bag. A strike on Iran? North Korea? Even China? None of this is beyond his capacity and can be done with little to no authorization from either military brass or Congress.

Even as Trump faces his last days in office, he still has the power to start a nuclear war. This is a man who took the so-called “nuclear football” or briefcase with the nuclear codes, to a cocktail party in Mar-a-Lago. And just this month, the USS Nimitz was ordered to return to the Persian Gulf as tensions rise between Washington and Tehran. This comes as a US war ship was sent to menace China in military operations, and nuclear capable B-52 bombers were sent to the Middle-East, prompting one senior Iranian military adviser to warn the president in a tweet: “not to turn the New Year into a mourning for Americans.” Recently, the governments of both Iraq and Iran have issued arrest warrants for Trump, for his illegal use of drone strikes that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last year. If there is one thing the last four years have demonstrated, it is that Trump does not take threats of arrest calmly.

The next few days will undoubtedly be tense. And even if the Trump presidency ends without incident or he is removed, we should not be ready to rest. Fascism has always simmered just below the surface in American society and within its economic and political institutions. But what is rapidly unfolding in the United States has precedent. History is replete with tragic examples of how fascism is born and nurtured; as well as how it spreads. And there is one solid lesson: we cannot afford to get comfortable with it, or collaborate with it, or even negotiate with it. It didn’t work in Weimar Germany, or in Franco’s Spain, or Pinochet’s Chile, or anywhere else that it reared its ugly head. Its root causes, which lie squarely in economic, material privilege and its deprivation, must be met head on. Empty platitudes like “this is not who we are,” or “we must embrace a spirit of bipartisanship” are nonsensical and dangerous, because they ignore the societal maladies responsible for fascisms’ rise.

To be sure, if things go as planned and Biden takes control of the American Empire, we should not expect any massive shift to the left either. The Democratic Party establishment is still staunchly neoliberal. Diverse in color and gender as his cabinet might be, it is almost completely beholden to military and corporate interests. In fact, Biden has made it clear that he will reach out to Republicans even more than progressives or leftists. We will undoubtedly see more money allotted to an already bloated military industrial sector. And following recent events, we can count on increased surveillance and brutal crackdowns on dissidents and protesters, most of whom will be people of color, Indigenous, environmentalists, and antiwar activists.

In addition to this, we cannot forget the fact that over 70 million Americans voted for Trump, almost half of the voting public. In fact, Trump received 10 million more votes than in 2016, which is astonishing given his atrocious record with the pandemic. And a huge swath of these people fervently believe that the election was stolen from them. Biden and elite Democrats, who have spent enormous time and money deriding anyone left of them in their ranks, will not enter into office with any strong mandate. In fact, if they continue to alienate their base, they will risk becoming irrelevant in a very short space of time.

And leftists should not kid themselves that by continually attacking liberals they will somehow succeed in swaying most disenfranchised voters on the far right. This is the mistake that Ernst Thälmann, chief of the German Communist Party (KPD), made in the final years of the Weimar Republic. His hatred of liberals only distracted him from an ever strengthening Nazi party. And he, along with many of his comrades, were among their first political victims as a result. After years in a concentration camp, Thälmann was killed on Hitler’s order in 1944.

There are many similarities of current day American politics to the final years of the Weimar Republic of the early 20th century: a bureaucratic plutocracy governed by out of touch liberal capitalists, incapable of understanding, let alone meeting, the needs of ordinary working people, in a nation where factions of the left foolishly downplayed the looming threat of the far right. This terrible recipe created the conditions that led many Germans to feel increasingly alienated from public life, and thus easily manipulated by nationalism, racism and the scapegoating of all of their problems.

In the coming months and years, we will likely see more platitudes about unity, all while civil liberties are ruthlessly crushed by an already bloated surveillance state in the name of stopping “domestic terrorism.” It is not likely, however, that we will see any meaningful economic reforms, or the radical change that is needed to stem the rising tide of fascist sentiment, from the incoming administration either. No living wage. No universal healthcare, even in the midst of a pandemic. We will also likely see erstwhile or confused leftists attempting to align with elements of the far right. A venture which will only lead to tragedy. And without a mass movement to disrupt this trend, a reincarnated Weimar Republic may serve as a handmaiden for a more terrifying fascism to come.

Kenn Orphan is an artist, sociologist, radical nature lover and weary, but committed activist. He can be reached at kennorphan.com.