Yes, It Can Happen Here

From the time of Mussolini and Hitler there has been a playbook pursuant to which authoritarians and despots have taken and maintained power —think of the governments and leaders of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran, the Philippines, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and more than three dozen other countries around the globe.

The the rules, if you will, are always the same. Authoritarians and despots:

+ Draw up an enemies list — you are either for us or against us; we govern for the party in power, not for all the people; we intimidate, bully, marginalize and crush the opposition.

+ Systematically trash the press—a free press is the enemy of the people; the truth is fake news; we delegitimize the press or control and use it as a propaganda tool.

+ Lie, lie, lie — the bigger the lie the better, because people believe that the most outrageous and improbable lie must be true, or else no one would say it in the first place. We trash the truth in favor of alternate facts, fiction, or fantasy; we trash science and substitute religion; we propagandize with false information and conspiracy theories.

+ Trash the Courts—we bully, intimidate and politicize the judiciary and control judicial elections and appointments so only those loyal to the party line become judges; we take control of the judicial making process and control the courts to eliminate constitutional checks and balances.

+ Trash the Rule of Law — we use laws to reward supporters and punish opponents; we ignore laws not in accord with the party line; we ignore court orders, disrespect civil authority and ignore the Constitution.

+ Politicize the civil service, military and domestic security.

+ Involve government in surveilling the press, reporters, political opponents and those on the enemies list.

+ Fearmonger and demonize racial and religious minorities, LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, and immigrants; we make them the scapegoats for societies’ social and economic ills.

+ Trash civil rights and liberties in favor of partisan and religious ideology. We marginalize women and their gender-specific rights and needs. And,

+ Trash the right to vote and elections — we promote spurious conspiracy theories and lies claiming election fraud, stolen elections and voting irregularities; we demand recounts and audits of elections held and certified in accordance with governing laws; we sue on false claims without evidentiary support; we suppress the vote and make it harder and more inconvenient to vote; we gerrymander and do everything possible to rig the system so that only the party faithful are elected; we empower the legislature to ignore the popular vote and change the results of elections; we hold on to power at all costs; we lie, lie, lie.

The goal of all authoritarians and despots is to control all branches and functions of government; to conform those and the minds of the people to the party line and ideology. The people do not count, the Constitution does not count; the Rule of Law becomes the Rule of Lie.

It has been said that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” And John Maynard Keynes observed that, “Perhaps it is historically true that no order of society ever perishes save by its own hand.” Sadly, history has shown that to be true, time and time again.

The authoritarian playbook ensures that democracy will die from within, not from without.

And, if you think “it can’t happen here,” I am telling you it already is.

James C. Nelson a retired Montana Supreme Court justice. He lives in of Helena.