We are very lucky that Trump was so incredibly incompetent. If someone with his attitude but the intelligence of say, Putin, had won instead, there’s a small possibility we would be living in a fascist dictatorship right now. Even when being led by the least capable person imaginable, there is a large faction of American society willing to overthrow the government at the behest of a cult of personality. His supporters were ready to stage a coup on his behalf, and if their delusional belief that the military would support them were correct, they would have succeeded.
Of course, the military did not support them. Every member in the US Military is indoctrinated in the idea that their role is to defend the constitution of the United States, and generals have an institutional respect for the ideal of civilian control. The founding fathers of the United States were heavily influenced by the Roman Republic, and they made sure to implement safeguards against popular military leaders like Julius Caesar taking authoritarian control. Our government was tested and the political class received a pretty severe wake up call, but our institutions held and Trump has been left friendless with no political clout to speak of.
Now, about that wake up call. For years, the left has been called alarmist and hysterical for pointing out the obvious: Make America Great Again is a fascist movement. It is ultranationalist, reactionary, anti-truth, and authoritarian. It is based on “mobilizing passions” as opposed to specific policy goals or outcomes: a feeling of persecution, obsession with a plot, an electrifying leader, a return to a legendary sense of greatness, a heroic destiny, and so on. The involvement of white supremacists and other radical elements is not coincidental but by design. As I outlined in excruciating detail in an article to my friend who was thinking of voting for Trump prior to the election, Donald Trump has actively supported these elements prior to and throughout his presidency. Nobody who has been paying any honest attention was surprised by this outcome.
Although most pundits and politicians on the right have done a good job of recognizing the significance of this event, they do not always seem to recognize their own complicity in it. It is not easy to renew our sense of civic solidarity when commentators like Ben Shapiro have spent the last decade or so fabricating bad-faith arguments against intentional misrepresentations of leftist viewpoints. The alt-right pipeline does exist, and moderate conservatives are a part of that process whether they like it or not. Facts don’t care about their feelings, so to speak. It also doesn’t help that they push very similar narratives to those the fascists use: a leftist conspiracy to indoctrinate the people through the media and universities, imagined persecution of conservative viewpoints, the supremacy of “western civilization”, and so on. It would be pretty ridiculous to argue that Ben Shapiro, an orthodox Jew and victim of hate crimes, is fighting for the success of white supremacists. That being said, he has served a critical role in ruining the political discourse and creating echo chambers that foster radical viewpoints.
It is true that there are factions that align themselves with “the left” who favor totalitarianism and are willing to use violence to institute a Marxist-Leninist style regime. These people exist, and they are dangerous. They also do not represent a threat even close to the scale that genuine fascism does. Besides the obvious differences in ideology, the left does not have the unity, political will, or institutional control to pull off such a thing, nor would it be desirable to do so to achieve any genuine leftist goals. We can barely get social democrats elected; Americans are not vulnerable to Marxism-Leninism in remotely the same way they are to extremist right-wing viewpoints. It’s not like democracies are immune to fascism: Hitler legally obtained power from a conservative government in a Democratic Republic.
I somewhat doubt that anyone on the right has made it this far, unfortunately. Unitarian resistance against all styles of authoritarian thought is the first step to preventing the next iteration of Trumpism from taking hold. Those on the right are uniquely positioned to foster such a sentiment. However, there are still things the left can do. First, we need to foster open discourse and more inclusive environments in our political circles. The left is certainly not immune to groupthink, and puritanism is not something we can afford right now. Second, we should separate ourselves from Biden and be just as politically active when criticizing his presidency. This should not be too hard; he doesn’t represent our interests and most of us voted for him out of self-preservation anyway. People are far more politically active and aware after the Trump presidency, and we need to take advantage of that energy to make genuine change. Third, we need to align ourselves blatantly against authoritarianism and make it taboo and un-American to speak about such ideas. This means appropriating monikers like “patriot” and “libertarian” and aligning our movement with heroic figures people recognize like Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., Victor Hugo, and Leo Tolstoy.
Our country is at a turning point, and we are incredibly fortunate to have some space to work in. It is going to require hard work, and it will require that we work with people we would rather not. As Frederick Douglas put it, “I would unite with anyone to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” Black Lives Matter demonstrated that there are a lot of people willing to do right, and that Americans can fundamentally agree on a lot more than you would think based on politics or the media. Our solutions are going to have to be uniquely American, and built on a positive sense of communal identity. We need to get past the factionalism that has typified the past few decades and find common solutions. Political violence always hurts the weakest among us the most. When elephants play, it is the grass that suffers.