Americans just elected a president with a significant base of support among violent, xenophobic people who behave like fascists. In just four days since the election, the United States has experienced an eruption of hate crimes at a rate not seen since 9/11.
Donald Trump’s own campaign promises veered into the anti-constitutional, including promising to lock up his political opponent and deport millions. He arrives in office with a number of pending fraud cases against him, and his lawyers have already indicated they will try to push at least one of those cases back. As president, he is immune from ethics laws that apply to other federal office holders. He is shutting down his own press coverage and has promised to “open up” the libel laws. This morning, he went after the New York Times, personally, in an (presidentially) unprecedented series of tweets.
Many observers are concerned that if the new president-elect continues to egg on or tacitly condone violent supporters, and personally demonize journalism and his political opponents, Americans must consider the possibility that we might soon find ourselves living in a strange new land, one that we only recognize and understand from reading other nations’ histories.
We cannot assume our legislators will save us. The Senate in ancient post-Republican Rome was so abject before tyrants that one of the emperors, Tiberius, would mutter as he left their chambers: “How ready these men are to be slaves!”
One could argue that based on history, autocratic systems, and not democracies, are the norm in human organization. Billions of people in the last century have already lived and died under autocratic regimes that relied on the boot rather than on the law, and where civil liberties were dispensed with, if they ever existed.
More rare is the democratic nation that morphs into an authoritarian regime. In the West, this occurred most spectacularly in Germany. Many Latin American governments also slid from democracies to violent authoritarian regimes during the last century.
Will we recognize and resist such a shift if it happens here and will we remember how to find our way back if it does? Will educators teach us about parallels in history? Ominously, a California high school history teacher has already been suspended after comparing Trump’s and Hitler’s movements. Last night, WRAL in North Carolina censored parts of Saturday Night Live.
Writers alive during similar periods in other countries have left many powerful chronicles of life and resistance. Some of these brave men and women were exiled, imprisoned or murdered. And many American writers have already predicted the trend in our own society.
Here are some must-read stories about understanding, living under and resisting autocracy and fascism. Buy them before they are burned (kidding, of course, for now.)
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt: Arendt was a Jewish intellectual and refugee from the Nazis. In this classic, she traces the rise of “scientific racism” and colonial racism, and shows how those ideas led to “movements” which ultimately lifted themselves above political parties.
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America By Chris Hedges: Award-winning journalist Hedges, the son of a preacher, includes interviews and coverage of events such as pro-life rallies and weeklong classes on conversion techniques, and compares the movement to young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s.
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada: A novel based on the true story of a German conscientious objector husband and wife who launched a postcard campaign against Hitler and were killed for it.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn: First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, it tells the story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, struggling to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression.
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler: A novel published in 1940 that tells the tale of Rubashov, a Bolshevik revolutionary ultimately cast out, imprisoned and tried for treason by the Soviet government he helped create.
The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank: Written in Dutch, by a Jewish girl in hiding during the Nazi takeover of Europe.
1984 by George Orwell: Orwell tells the story of a man and a woman living in an authoritarian nation with an all-seeing surveillance system, legal torture and a media completely controlled by the government which presents itself in the nightmarishly benevolent face of “Big Brother.” This summer, the New York Times analyzed the ways in which the book has already become reality in the United States.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood: This dystopian novel depicts an America-like nation taken over by religious fascists who suspend civil liberties and create a theocracy in which women are impregnated against their will and forced to give birth.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Like Atwood, in this YA blockbuster, Collins sets her trilogy in a future North America, this one called Panem, run by an autocracy that sponsors a horrific annual competition, a televised fight to the death between teenagers representing starving regions.