WHEN FASCISM COMES TO AMERICA, IT WILL BE WRAPPED IN A FLAG AND CARRYING A CROSS. (This quote is often attributed to Sinclair Lewis. However, there is no evidence he actually said these words. But see below.)
POLITICS IS THE LAST REFUGE OF A SCOUNDREL. (George Bernard Shaw)
PATRIOTISM IS THE LAST REFUGE OF A SCOUNDREL. [Samuel Johnson: The 18th century Scottish biographer James Boswell maintained that Johnson was referring to “false patriotism.” In other words, if you are a scoundrel, it helps to have a flag (or a Bible?) to wave when people see through you.]
We will have to repent in this generation not only for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in his prophetic 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”)
Elsewhere on this blog you will find an article entitled “Is There a Straw that Can Break the Camel’s Back?” In that entry I asked what it would take for white Evangelical Christians to abandon their support of Trump. I referred to many of the words and deeds of this demagogue to illustrate his evil, deceitful, and heartless nature. He not only betrays the teachings and character of Jesus; he does not even display any admirable qualities as a human being.
Trump’s words and actions this week in light of the death of yet another black man at the hands of racist police mark a new low for the president.(I am not calling all police racist. Many police officers have condemned the slaying of George Floyd.) Instead of speaking to this appalling continuation of violence directed against blacks, Trump seeks ways he can use the events surrounding this tragedy to fire up his base and to promote his own chances for reelection in November. “Shooting,” “the most vicious dogs,” and “the most ominous weapons” are among his solutions to the demonstrations and rioting following the murder of George Floyd. He even spoke of using the military to put down peaceful protests—protests which are guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution he vowed to “protect and defend” on the day of his inauguration. (According to some of his own aides, he has never even read the Constitution. Consequently, he has no idea what he has sworn to protect and defend.)
His latest display of hypocrisy was posing in front of an Episcopal church holding a Bible (which I’m sure he also has never read). To carry out this stunt, he ordered police to clear the streets of peaceful protesters. Police carried out his order using clubs, teargas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets. The horrible irony of a man using violence just so he can have a photo opportunity showing him holding a Bible to shore up support among white conservative Evangelicals is not only reprehensible—it is also dangerous. This is the kind of conduct we would expect to see in dictatorships like Communist China, the former Soviet Union, fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany. What if Trump chooses to repeat this despicable approach to opposition to his administration during his remaining time as President? What might he do should he be voted out of office? He has already predicted another “Civil War” should he lose in November. How many of his rabid followers see that prediction as a “dog whistle” inviting violence? Readers of this article may think I am exaggerating, but the long and tragic litany of examples demonstrating how he has disregarded the law and basic human decency should give all of us reason to pause and realize how critical it is that he be voted out of office in November. What are the limits of his depravity, paranoia, greed, and arrogance?
The stunt he pulled in front of a Christian house of worship should be enough to constitute the final straw to break the back of the white conservative Evangelicals’ support of this despicable man.But I seriously doubt if this will be the final straw. I’m not sure there will ever be a final straw which can bring these people to their senses. His supporters seem hell-bent on following him no matter how much his words and deeds are contrary to the life, teachings, and example of Christ. The type of cross they carry and the flag in which they wrap themselves (a flag which was meant to represent “liberty and justice for all”) could reinforce and expand a movement and ideology which could reap disastrous results not only in this country but throughout the world. If you think this is also an exaggeration, just be aware that more than 2 out of 5 citizens in this country still support a totally unfit man to be the leader of the free world. If we become a fascist nation, it will not only be because of the actions and wicked determination of a percentage of Americans who are blind to truth, goodness, and love. As Dr. King reminds us, it will also be because of the appalling silence of the good people.
I began this article with several insightful quotes. I pointed out that the quote regarding the coming of fascism in America has been falsely attributed to Sinclair Lewis. Lewis may not have said those words, but he certainly understood and accepted the warning behind them. In 1935, he wrote a novel entitled “It Can’t Happen Here.” The following is a description of this novel:
“It Can’t Happen Here” was published during the heyday of fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany. A demagogue named Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip is elected President of the U. S. His election is the result of his fomenting fear and making economic and social promises while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After he is elected, he disregards the checks and balances provided by the Constitution and takes complete control of the government as he imposes totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force following the examples of Hitler and Mussolini. The principle character of the novel is a journalist Doremus Jessup who is opposed to the ruthless regime and struggles against it.
I despair of anyone who cannot see parallels between our current national crisis and Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.” I suggest the time has come for followers of Jesus Christ to speak out in every way they can to stop this lethal threat to our democracy and human decency. If Trump is reelected, can you imagine what he might do in the next four years when he would not have to worry about reelection? After all, he has already hinted that he might “serve” more than two terms. I shudder when I try to think of how that eventuality could even be possible.
If Trump’s words and actions this past week are not the final straw to break the back of white conservative Evangelical support of Trump and to lead the 40% plus who still back him to repentance, I fear for our future and the soul of America. Even if Trump is defeated in November, it will take years if not decades to repair the damage he has done on so many fronts. Four more years of such destructive lunacy is unthinkable.
The continuing existence of our democracy is possible only through the vigilant efforts and dedication of the electorate. During these days and the next five months, history will record whether we as Americans are committed to the proposition that all people are created equal and that our flag legitimately symbolizes the ideal of freedom and justice for all. What is decided in November may be the most critical and definitive decision made in American history.
[I am aware there are conservative Evangelicals who do not support Trump and are appalled by his words and behavior. Sojourners is such a group. But the polls still show strong support among white (and it’s always white) Evangelicals for Trump. Black Evangelicals have never supported the President.]
(I wrote this article on the morning of June 3, 2020. Little did I know that former Secretary of Defense and General Jim Mattis would issue a statement calling Trump a threat to the Constitution of the United States and to American democracy.)