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  • Nick Woods

Don’t Panic, but We are Sleepwalking Toward a Nightmare

America is hanging on to democracy. Unlike in the past, the looming danger is inconspicuous. The menacing fangs of authoritarianism bite into an all-too-indifferent population. Its terror is preying on an unconcerned public. An antidote, if it exists, proves costly. The country and democracy have already been divided. How much longer will they hang on?

The creeping sting of autocracy has not gone unnoticed. Worried political scientists postulate in concerned volumes. I have read several, each as dire as the last, consumed by harrowing flashbacks of the author's former life in Communist Russia, Castro’s Cuba, or whatever other far-flung “Stan” they had to flee for education and different varieties of bread

The authors mechanically and robotically rehash the repeated failings of institutions, politicians, and journalists under authoritarianism. The academic analysis turns a blind eye to the people most impacted by such a grave change in governance. Lost in piles of scholastic language and coffee-stained empirical data are the people of America. People, going about their everyday lives, picking the kids up from school, or getting ready to turn on that new show that everyone is talking about. 

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross,” a famous quote reads, falsely attributed to the novelist Sinclair Lewis. Fascism filters into our society almost through osmosis, like plumes of smoke aerating a locked room. Longer voting lines, restrictions on bodily autonomy, politicized courts, that one neighbor who will not stop talking about the 2020 election. It’s impossible not to breathe it in. 

The days of sickles and hammers have long since passed. You probably don’t have a picture of the President hanging in your living roomToday, in the world of social media, things happen more discreetly.

It’s Already Happening Here in unseen ways. Political shouting matches interrupt Thanksgiving dinners. Family members cut off their loved ones after seeing a disgusting tumult of reposted lies on Facebook. The ‘reposter’ ignores the truth because it doesn’t share their agenda, no matter how many concerned, choked-up rebuttals from worried relatives follow. We are marching willingly toward fascism. You just have to look around. 

Trump flat-out admits it - I will be a dictator on day one. I will root out radical left thugs who live like vermin. He wants retribution, and he will abuse power. It might not impact your life that much, at least in the beginning. If you keep your head down, you should be okay. But if you are here as a non-citizen or a woman considering an abortion, your odds are a lot worse. 

I’m not saying there will be cops on the street frisking people for documents. It won’t be that bad. Instead, it will resemble the regimes in Russia and Hungary, where freedom languished. They have only one-party rule. Dissension is heavily punished. If Trump is elected again, the United States will follow that model almost certainly. Trump wants only loyalists to serve in his administration. If convicted, he will follow up on his threat of retribution. Political opponents will be charged. Academics, writers, and intelligentsia might have the Internal Revenue Service knocking on their doors. Even if a court throws out some phony charges, it’s still disruptive. More importantly, it is no longer a democracy. 

Fascism will not succeed in America through violence alone. The secret ingredient is apathy. In a media environment dominated by clicks and headlines, the information isn’t accessible. People know something is not right, they just don’t know what. We aren’t doing a good enough job telling them. Instead of waiting for a Reichstag fire, a revolution, or some divine intervention (Trump counts Jesus as a would-be supporter), it’s important to meet the moment’s gravity before it passes. If the antidote is information, then the vials are sitting, dusty, in half-empty newsrooms, buried in the bottom of corrugated cardboard boxes underneath discarded job titles and those tacky Word of the Day calendars. 

You read this article. That proves you, at least, care. You have the antidote. Share it with your people. Maybe not with the uncle you can’t stand, but with the friend who doesn’t usually read this stuff. The one who doesn’t vote. The one who watches The Golden Bachelor. Autocracies bank on a disaffected majority who just don’t care. Care. Read. Vote. It’s the only reason why they haven’t succeeded, yet.


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