Richard Heydarian, political scientist, in his Horizons column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (January 12, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
“America, the rock against which fascism crashed in the last century, may have begun to slide,” former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright cautioned a few years back. But despite its political troubles, America’s formal democratic institutions have remained largely intact. This is not a Weimar Republic.
Yet, one cannot fully discount the prospect of a “second civil war” in a country with a long history of civil strife; not to mention, notorious levels of gun violence and heavily armed far-right militia groups, who recently descended on Washington, DC. And when combined with toxic partisanship, where up to 40 percent of the electorate sees the other side as downright “evil”, you get a particularly precarious situation.
For the past four years, outgoing President Donald Trump has been largely described as a “populist”. His liberal critics, however, have gone so far as to portray him as a fascist. The circumstances of Trump’s rise to power are telling. For years, he skillfully established a cult of personality combined with his unique brand of “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) nationalism. But the element of para-military violence was largely missing. Nor did Trump employ the kind of state-sponsored violence seen in post-Weimar Germany or its Italian counterpart. Courts and the opposition-controlled Congress also remained functional.
However, the violent assault on the Capitol, the ultimate symbol of American democracy, has raised serious questions as to whether Trump is just another “populist”. Perhaps a better way to understand what is happening is to refer to a much older concept: demagoguery. Demagogues like Trump do not go gently into the night. They fight back, often at the expense of the whole nation.
America is a flagship democracy; the world has a direct stake in hoping that ultimately the better angels of America’s nature prevail.