I could tell from his heavy accent and dark skin that my cab driver in Washington, DC, a few weeks back was an immigrant. I could also tell he was a hard-working guy and eager to please, when I explained that I was in a hurry to get to Reagan Airport, and we assessed the best routes for beating rush-hour traffic.
“Where you from?” I asked after we had settled on the best route.
“How long you been here?”
“How do you like it here?”
“I like it. There is lots of opportunity if you are willing to work hard.”
I couldn’t resist detouring into politics. “Are you worried that our president seems to dislike immigrants, is having many immigrants deported?”
He hesitated, and peered into his rear-view mirror as if he was looking me over more closely. “Not so much,” he began. “Where I come from, there aren’t clear rules. The president can rule for many years. Here, you have a constitution. You know the president will only be in office four years or eight years. Then he is finished.”
I decided against pouring out my fears that our president was pushing mightily against the American Constitution’s rules on separation of powers and checks and balances, and thereby against the rule of law. That he would love to bring us much closer to the Kenya model.
I didn’t want to destroy the cab driver’s rosy view of his new country. Nor did I want to let him know how deeply the threat of fascism has disturbed my own clarity of thought. How I’ve been having a difficult time writing, either this blog or other things I’ve had in process. It’s as if my mind is obsessing on politics more than ever before in my life.
While many other Americans share my fears, there seemed no need to dump them on this innocent sincere man.
But I realized in my hesitation to “educate” the cab driver that I have been obsessing not just about Trump, but that America’s long-standing rule of law could be coming to an end. I can handle policy differences over Obama Care and tax cuts and even the climate change treaty. I obsess that if Trump sabotages Robert Mueller’s investigation—such as by firing Mueller or by undermining its credibility via conspiracy theories about the investigators—then the rule of law, which has distinguished America from much of the rest of the world for nearly 250 years, would be called into question.
The rule of law is what attracts not only immigrants like my Kenyan cab driver, but deep-pocketed foreign investors to the U.S., and allows us to avoid financial crises like those now wracking Turkey, Venezuela, and Argentina. Not that we don’t have cracks in the rule of law, such as via racial abuse and criminal convictions of innocent individuals, but invariably there are law enforcement and regulator investigations to make sense of the injustices. And where possible, violators of the law are prosecuted, sometimes years after the event.
Once the rule of law is directly and publicly undermined at the highest levels, it becomes like Humpty Dumpty–very difficult to put back together again. Instead, we nearly inevitably move down a slippery slope where the rule of men/women substitute for the rule of law—a situation we had in this country prior to our Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The problem for us today is that the rule of law goes against everything fascism is about. Fascism is about one-person rule through the cult of personality. It depends on diversion, fantasy, conspiracy theories and, above all, humiliation and even cruelty by those in power toward scapegoats. It is the exact opposite of fairness and objectivity and humanity.
It is positioned by the would-be dictator to champion the underdog, and thus captivates many people. A literary agent recently bemoaned all the badly done would-be novels he is seeing about Trump, writing on his blog: “It is one of fascism’s goals to monopolize our attention. It would like to shrink our imagination; it would like for us to peer wide-eyed at its harsh restrictions and be able to think of nothing else. And it is tempting to stare like this, because fascism and its precursors are rife with contradictions that seem to beg to be pointed out by Reasonable People. But that’s one of its tricks. Fascism welcomes our attempts to play logical ‘gotcha’ with its inconsistencies because it knows we will lose—not because we won’t find a fallacy but because the fallacy won’t matter.”
Can the rule of law prevail in such an atmosphere? We may find out not only via the Mueller investigation, but also via a series of unlikely legal cases filed by the families of students murdered in Newtown, CT, more than five years ago. They have filed three defamation suits against one of Trump’s main propaganda lieutenants, Alex Jones, of InfoWars fame.
In reporting the suits, the NY Times said that “the families are seeking society’s verdict on ‘post truth’ culture in which widely disseminated lies damage lives and destroy reputations, yet those who spread them are seldom held accountable. The suits filed on Wednesday emphasizes Mr. Jones’s reach and connection to Mr. Trump. On his show last year, Mr. Jones called himself and his listeners ‘the operating system of Trump.’ Later he said, ‘I’m making it safe for everybody else to speak out just like Trump’s doing, on a much bigger scale.’ “
Since the first lawsuit by Sandy Hook parents was filed in April, Jones has backtracked from his contention the massacre was “fake” to saying it actually did happen. It is clear that the only thing convincing him to change his tune has been the legal action, and the threat it might cost him millions in damages as well as undermine his business interests, which include millions in annual sales of nutritional supplements.
Jones isn’t alone in such fascist activities. Other conspiracy theorists have taken to harassing parents of victims in similar massacres elsewhere, including the Florida school shooting and Texas church massacre.
The rule of law is key to fighting back against the hypnotic trances spun by charismatic fascist leaders. Because once the rule of law is gone, fair elections are eliminated, political opponents jailed, the media muzzled, and the legal system obliterated. Fascism flourishes.
Fascist regimes nearly always end badly. Germany had to be nearly flattened by Allied soldiers and bombers before the Germans finally let go of the hypnotic trance Hitler held them in for a dozen years; similar with Italy and Mussolini. World War II was a war fought by the U.S., Britain, and others against fascism, It was a war fought on behalf of the rule of law.
But fascist regimes also tend to cause huge amounts of damage in pursuit of the demagogue’s craziness. It’s especially appropriate on this Memorial Day to remember the millions killed and murdered during World War II because of the horrors of fascism.