Authoritarianism: favoring blind submission to authorities, favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people. So no labor unions, no strikes, power lies with corporations, police, government.
In the last post in this series I gave a short history of the police in the Netherlands, and of the basic police training when I was the librarian at one of the police training schools from 1984 to 1992. That should help to put what I have to say about the police in America and American authoritarianism in general in context.
It seems to me that Americans have given too much authority to institutions, thereby relinquishing their rights they’re so proud of.
Take the president: The president has also been given too much authority, voluntarily and informally, usually by Republicans when the president is Republican. Notice how they revere the president almost like a god and how hysterical they can get when someone does or says something that they find insulting to the president. Although he (so far) is voted into office, he is then treated by many like a king. Look at Trump. If anyone does not deserve respect, it’s the guy who doesn’t have a respectful bone in his orange body, but he’s the president, so he’s untouchable. The thing is, the president should not be an unchallenged authority figure. He’s an elected official–he answers to the people.
And the police: The police should have the authority to stop you when you’re breaking a law, and the authority to arrest you when necessary, and to use force if needed in the process of said arrest. That force should always be the absolute minimum required–that’s what people in most democratic countries would agree on. But the majority of Americans–white Americans, anyway–seem to accept that the police use way more force than necessary. American police have the right to shoot to kill whenever they feel threatened, and since they’re so poorly trained, they feel threatened a lot. And that’s accepted. That the police have the authority to kill you if you scare them. Think about that. I’ve written more about this here.
Compared to police shootings, police officers asking you where you’re going when they stop you for speeding might seem trivial, but in what kind of countries, other than America, do you think the police have the right to randomly ask you where you’re going? Where you’re coming from? What you do for a living?
And then the school system: In most American public schools the children are treated like prisoners. I worked in a public school for about eighteen months, and I discovered that the middle school kids got paddled, I observed high school kids needing a hall pass to go to the restroom, I watched the principal get up from a meeting (with me, about the library) to storm out of the room and stop a student in the hallway, yank at his shirt and yell, “What’s this? What’s this?” because said shirt was not tucked into his trousers (and then wander off, completely forgetting about the meeting, because he was ADHD). Honor roll students who skipped a class because they felt they could afford to had to spend an entire day in a closet-sized room without windows, and with the janitor, as punishment, and there was always a row of kids on chairs by the principal’s office, usually for the offense of having used the f-word. Well, FUCK me for thinking schools were about educating children.
In my daughter’s public school, she has to ask permission to go to the restroom. She’s a junior (11th grade). I assumed that was a matter of politeness, but I was wrong. Some teachers actually answer that question with a no. I’ve told her that her teachers don’t get to have that kind of power over her seventeen-year-old body, and that the next time she asks and a teacher says no, she can just announce that she’s going. And if the teacher has a problem with that, he or she can take it up with me. She did it once; I haven’t heard from that teacher yet.
And who thought it was a good idea to put cops in schools? Especially considering the behavior of American cops? The NRA is promoting having guns in schools, supposedly to protect children in case a school shooter appears, but how long would it take before one of those guns was used against one of the children? Against one of your children? This is authoritarianism, on a smaller scale than the central government, but authoritarianism nonetheless. Allowing this kind of abuse and power over your children–I just don’t have words.
This attitude, this normalization of officials overstepping their boundaries, this handing over your human rights can lead to fascism. Trump said during his campaign, “Only I can fix it” and he got elected. Trump says that the NFL owners should fire kneeling players and half the country roars in agreement, freedom of speech and the limits of presidential powers be damned. A poll (sorry, can’t find it, but I know I saw it, months ago) showed that the majority of Trump voters wouldn’t have a problem with him staying in power beyond his term limit, and clearly the Russian interference in the election is a non-issue for most of them. That’s a dangerously large portion of the country that doesn’t give shit one about democracy. At all.
How to change it all? First of all, let me refer you to a post where I make some suggestions on how to change the police training in America. That would be a beginning.
Second, I read in an article in the New York Times a couple of days ago that in America any comparison of anyone to Hitler has always been a no-no in debate because Hitler killed six million Jews and nobody else has done that, therefore the comparison is ludicrous and it kills the discussion. That certainly explains the reactions I’ve been getting the past two decades, but it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Hitler didn’t kill six million Jews, the German people did, under Hitler’s leadership. The Germans by and large bought into the ideology of the great German Reich, the superiority of the German people, they readily accepted the Jews as scapegoats and they allowed themselves to be whipped into a frenzy at rallies until they adored Hitler like a god and would do anything for him, for the Nazi Party and for the German Reich. Including killing Jews by the trainload and making lampshades out of their skin.
My point, as always, is that the Holocaust and the other horrors of fascism didn’t just happen overnight, and they weren’t carried out by a few monsters. Germany was at the height of what the western world considered “civilization”. It had always had problems with antisemitism, just like America historically has always had and still has problems with antisemitism, racism and anti-immigrant sentiments.
Fascism rose in Europe, especially in Germany, as the result of national humiliation, economic depression and the desire to feel great again. Germany was defeated in WWI, which ended in 1918. The Treaty of Versailles determined that Germany had to repay the allied countries for their losses. So Germany was suffering tremendously post-WWI, and they felt humiliated from the defeat and the punishment. Here in America many white Americans feel existentially threatened and humiliated after eight years of having a black president. They want to feel great again.
The Weimar Republic (the German government post-WWI) was a weak democracy. It was relatively new and it was seen by many as ineffective. There are many things about American democracy that make it weak and ineffective, and not even that democratic. That leads to disillusion.
In Germany, a strong man, Hitler, rose up and promised to make Germany great again. He used nationalistic language, talking about the Germanic people, the Aryan race, the Übermenschen, and he used Jews as the scapegoats. Trump, though democratically elected (although that is coming more and more into question), poses as a strongman—”Only I can fix this”—he also uses nationalistic language, talks about making America great again, putting America first, he uses dog whistle terminology aimed at racist whites who feel under attack. He uses undocumented immigrants and others as scapegoats.
Americans, you can’t stick your heads in the sand and repeat the mantra that America is the greatest democracy in the world over and over, and comfort yourselves with the fact that nobody here has killed six million Jews. In order to stop fascism, in order to prevent someone like Hitler from rising, you have to recognize the warning signs, and the warning signs are loud and clear.
The next post will be about totalitarianism.