by Gordon Adams
The Brett Kavanaugh battle is just the tip of the iceberg. I am watching my country going through a slow motion disintegration into civil war, conflict, and the rise of authoritarianism. It’s a velvet coup d’état that controls the means of enforcement: the police, the courts, the political assemblies, the reins of corporate power, advertising and public relations.
Random outposts of media remain open—a tiny part of NPR which is otherwise busy normalizing authoritarian views on virtually every show; The New York Times gray lady still giving space to anti-authoritarian resistance actions. The networks are lost. All have caved to the shit-show that is Donald Trump. He’s the façade behind which the progressive legacy of the last 70 years is being dismantled: EPA regulations, civil rights protections, equal opportunity, health care (miserable as it is), the right to vote, citizenship itself.
I can complain, as many do on Facebook. I can scream and yell. Nobody is really listening. The right is treating the resistance to rising authoritarianism as “chaos,” “mob rule,” and extremism on the left. They have succeeded in portraying authoritarianism as, itself, under threat. The latest version of this unreality is the myth that young white men, that privilege itself, are now under siege.
This “looking glass” reversal of truth is the hardest thing to combat. A nation with more guns than people is suddenly at risk of having arms taken away. Police too easily and regularly abuse the civil rights and take the lives of minority young men, but any response is a threat to the “men in blue” who protect themselves with a code of silence. Regulations that save thousands from the side effects of toxic waste and chemistry threaten the future of investment and profit. The inevitabilities of age and disease receive no respect and those that get sick or die in the absence of affordable national health care become greedy consumers, costing the nation money. Attempts to give voice to the oppressed challenge the free speech rights of would-be authoritarians. The human rights of people whose gender or sexual orientation makes them different from the “majority” are suddenly a menace to religious liberty or the “right” to be biased and prejudiced. The right to assemble and speak out is described as “anarchy.” And the media gives voice to all these distortions in the mirror in the interests of “fairness.”
Black is regularly and repeatedly portrayed as white, night becomes day because the authoritarians say so, and truth has become “fake media” because the authoritarian accusation is repeated so often. Politicians glibly distort the record, cast aside the experience of an abused woman, and pretend that the rise of authoritarians in the courts is “normal.” When these and many more reversals of reality become the norm, it becomes almost impossible to right the ship of state, let alone have decent dialogue in the streets, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants of America.
When fiction is marketed repeatedly as truth, an overwhelming pall settles over the country. It becomes harder and harder to see clearly, even to grasp the mike for enough time to make the point. The media is obsessed with the need to hand the mike to the authoritarians, in order to appear “balanced.”
White, male, religious extremism, backed by big money, is warping that mirror. This authoritarian extremism, cloaked in the language but not the reality of American history, has captured state houses, legislatures, courts, security forces, and, for now, the Congress of the United States and the White House, with all the executive power that office can control. It is a semi-visible, gradual coup d’état that’s well on its way to success.
In these times, I am starting to think, it is important not to listen, not to give respect to the siren songs of authoritarians. They are the distortions in a fun-house mirror. It is important to gather together, find common strength, to assert truth in the face of authoritarian fake news—starting now, with this election, which may be one of the last in which democracy can reassert itself as voting rights and citizen rights are slowly taken away.
Speak up. Support the anti-authoritarians. Get tough and real about this political battle. Start spreading the message everywhere it needs to be heard, at all levels. Reach out to those who are preoccupied with television shows and sporting events and have their eyes off the ball or are just plain tired of the political game.
At the dinner table, in social settings, remind them that this is not normal.
Gordon Adams is professor emeritus at American University’s School of International Service and a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. From 1993-97 he was senior White House budget official for national security and foreign policy.