A few weeks ago a comment was made on The Standard along the lines that the current US president has been better than most would have thought, and the predictions that he would do all these terrible things haven’t come to pass.
There was solid push back from the lefties in the room around things like stealing children from new immigrants, and the expected push back against the push back.
The things I want to highlight here are the social and cultural changes being manufactured by 45’s administration, that just happen to be the things you would do if you wanted to create an authoritarian/fascist regime. See here and here.
This was being analysed by experienced writers and commentators before the 2016 election (examples of writers below). It’s social engineering, it’s deliberate, and it’s tied into tactics such as causing political and administrative chaos, black is white, fake news and relentless assaults on values and norms, all of which create an atmosphere of tension and emotional exhaustion that makes resistance harder. Under those conditions it becomes easier to then do the legislative and political changes required to advance an agenda that sets up much bigger change later on.
Given it’s election year I thought it a good idea to start highlighting examples. Here’s one from yesterday,
When the guardian and protector of facts blurs or alters them, then the truth itself is under threat. It was Stalin who famously had people blurred or removed from official photographs. Let's not go that route. https://t.co/JztFfaA9bd— Richard Stengel (@stengel) January 18, 2020
Four parts of the photo were blurred. “God Hates Trump” became “God Hates.” “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women” became “GOP — Hands Off Women”.
Then women’s political views about their bodies were obscured,
“If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED” has “vagina” blurred out. And another that says “This Pussy Grabs Back” has the word “Pussy” erased.
Those two sets aren’t going to be coincidence.
The National Archives gave a few rationales for what they did, but crucially,
Archive officials did not respond to a request to provide examples of previous instances in which the Archives altered a document or photograph so as not to engage in political controversy.
In another era this would have been satire – the juxtaposition of removing criticism of a rapey president alongside censoring the rude bits about women’s bodies – but in 2020 I’m anticipating the arguments that it’s not a big deal, it’s a one off, it’s probably just an overly moralistic employee. I’d say more to the point is we don’t know why and that should be worrying us given the wider context.
We have plenty of excuses and ways to pretend it’s not happening. But for over three years I’ve been watching people in the US talking about the daily assault on cultural norms and how no-one can keep up and there is no way to combat them all and piece by piece they are replaced with new norms that people either excuse or are too overwhelmed to deal with. And this too is part of the play, because it sounds like politics as normal. But it’s not.
The point here is that in addition to the obvious examples like stolen kids or abandoning climate action, the big shifts in culture towards authoritarianism are incremental and based in part on making consistent, small changes that are normalised over time. We don’t go from women in the US having a legal right to abortion to that right being removed in one action. If that was tried, there would be the risk of too much protest translating into votes, and it becoming harder to convince people to settle for the new norms.
Instead what you do is chip away at conventions until such a larger act seems reasonable and/or people are too exhausted, shell-shocked or fearful to organise to prevent it. This is why abortion rights are at risk. Not because it’s new that religious conservatives have political power, but because now there is a whole society wide change that makes that agenda much more likely to happen.
That’s what that little, no big deal action of the National Archives is about. Another small incremental removal of democracy-protecting convention, in the long line of other removals and changes.
It’s the Frog in a Pot theory and it’s about the US being unprepared constitutionally, legally, politically, and socially for a modern authoritarian takeover of the US. I’m just naming it. If you want to read expert opinion on the process that is underway in the US try Sara Robinson or Sarah Kendzior.
Here’s Ad’s list of predictions of what will go in the next three years if there’s no change of President this year.