Closing argument: Banyai for Congress, democracy for America

The Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nov.4, 2022

Election Day is no longer the deciding day for elections; it’s really the day that votes are counted.

By the time the polls close on Tuesday night, large numbers of people will have already cast their ballots or mailed them in. Locally, as of this writing, 39 percent of voters have voted in Collier County, 38 percent in Lee County and 38 percent in Charlotte County.

So an argument made on the eve of Election Day is intended more for the record than the ballot box, more a monument for history than an effort to sway anyone still undecided. It may only be a warning. Nonetheless, it needs to be made.

This is even more important in the absence of any debate between congressional candidates. In Southwest Florida’s premier congressional race, that of the 19th Congressional District covering the coastal towns from Cape Coral to Marco Island, there will be no face-to-face encounter between the contenders, Democrat Cindy Banyai and incumbent Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Debates, whatever their flaws, highlight politicians’ policies and records and force them to defend their actions and put forward their positions. Voters can evaluate them side-by-side. Due in large part to Hurricane Ian, Southwest Florida voters will not have the benefit of this kind of discussion.

But more broadly than any local race, as President Joe Biden pointed out in a speech on Tuesday, Nov. 2, this year’s election is a referendum on democracy itself.

While Americans may have legitimate differences of opinion expressed in this year’s election, Biden said, “there’s something else at stake, democracy itself. I’m not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they’re deeply concerned about it.”

Banyai for Congress and the Donalds record

Cindy Banyai has been fighting for the people of Southwest Florida since she first declared her candidacy in July 2019. She fought then and continues to fight for women’s choice, a clean environment, pure water, secure Social Security, affordable housing and fact-based, sensible education for all school-aged children.

Importantly for a role in Congress, Banyai knows how to reach out to those of different opinions. She’s a coalition builder. She’s demonstrated this time and again. She knows and understands the federal government and would be an effective advocate for the people of Southwest Florida, especially now that they need an advocate in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Ordinarily, an endorsement accentuates the positive in a candidate and ignores or minimizes the opponent. But in this instance it’s critical that Southwest Floridians understand and appreciate the nature of their current congressman and what they’re likely to get in the future if he’s reelected.

Donalds is one of the most unimaginative and ineffective members of Congress that this author has observed in over 30 years of watching and covering the Congress of the United States, both up close and from a distance.

Donalds comes across as a flat, two-dimensional ideologue who has sold his soul to Donald Trump and the MAGA movement in the pursuit of his personal ambition. He voted to overturn the 2020 election and deny its legitimate outcome. He has repeated Trump’s election lies. He opposed vaccinations and public health protections. He has supported voter suppression. He has mindlessly and vehemently regurgitated whatever Republican Party and Trumpist doctrines are being pushed at the moment without reflection or thought. He has no real interest in serving his district, the people in it or solving the problems that afflict it. He has pursued and advanced his wife’s anti-public education agenda and promoted private charter schools, involving himself, as a public official, in private litigation regarding that business.

Legislatively he is a failure. Not one of the 25 pieces of legislation he introduced advanced past the introductory phase. He couldn’t even get a commendation passed for the Everblades hockey team. Two of his most substantive pieces of legislation, the Protecting Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act and the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which really dealt with the environmental needs of the district, were reintroductions of legislation crafted by his predecessor, Francis Rooney. Under Donalds they went nowhere. Nor are his interests or prospects better for the 118th Congress.

If there is one core function representatives are expected to perform for their districts, it is to bring home the bacon. Constituents have every right to expect the people they elect to Congress to get them and the district something for the tax dollars they pay. No matter what their policy positions, no matter how they pose or expound on other matters, getting legitimate federal benefits is an essential responsibility of elected members of the House.

Donalds completely failed to pursue funding for the district through earmarks (funding designated for specific purposes) even though there was a proper, established, bipartisanly-formulated procedure for doing so. His neighbors to the north (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and east (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25 [since changed to 26] Fla.) both put in requests for $38 million and $12 million respectively. This money was requested to make critical infrastructure improvements. Donalds didn’t even ask.

Based on his past history and current practice the people of the 19th Congressional District have no reason to expect that Donalds will get them any of the funding they so desperately need or to which they are entitled. Indeed, in a Republican House of Representatives Donalds can be expected to be at the forefront of the attack on Social Security and any kind of funding and support for everyday people struggling to recover from disaster. He will likely vote against any kind of appropriations needed by the nation, any kind of help for its people, and any kinds of improvements or investments in its infrastructure. He will likely vote to shut down the government when such votes come up and he will likely vote to destroy America’s financial faith and credit in the world by holding the debt ceiling hostage.

He is also beholden to the very insurance industry with which hundreds of thousands of Southwest Floridians are contending, so they can expect no aid or comfort from him there.

Ideologically, Donalds thinks he’s going to ride the tiger of MAGA fanaticism and prejudice to higher positions within the Republican congressional caucus. But he’s fooling himself. History shows that extremist movements turn on their boosters—and fanatics always eat their own. For all his doctrinal slavishness, the day will come when Donalds is on the menu and he’ll wonder how he wound up on the plate.

That goes triple for Donalds’ patron, Donald Trump, who has never met an ally, supporter or friend he failed to betray.

Donalds will have to soon make a choice between Trump’s ambition and that of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), so he in his turn will likely have to decide which patron to forsake. Whichever way he goes, it won’t be pretty.

A man whose rise was made possible by such civil rights giants as the Rev. Martin Luther King and John R. Lewis and Supreme Court decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education and Loving vs. Virginia has sold his soul to those forces intent on rolling back women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights. They have other constitutional freedoms in their sights and will be pursuing them in the years to come. Donalds aided and abetted them in the past and likely will in the future but despite his complicity, these are the people who will crush him, sooner rather than later. And he doesn’t seem to know or care.

Donalds is bad for Southwest Florida, bad for its towns, cities and counties, bad for its people, bad for its seniors and bad for his district.

Voters have a vastly better alternative in Cindy Banyai.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Democracy on the line

One of the most profound democratic elections in American history occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

It didn’t occur in a polling place or on a national stage. Rather, it occurred in the body of United Airlines Flight 93, scheduled to go from Newark, NJ to San Francisco, Calif.

The plane was taken over by Al Qaeda hijackers. The pilots were killed or incapacitated. Two terrorists took over the controls and locked themselves in the cockpit. Another stood outside the cabin door, wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest that he threatened to explode.

The 33 passengers and crew had seen the mayhem. They were in touch with friends and family on the ground. They knew that other planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York (another would crash into the Pentagon). They knew they were likely headed for death.

They caucused in the back of the plane to weigh the alternatives. Should they attack the hijackers or sit tight? They knew they were facing a life or death decision.

So they took a vote. They took a vote because that’s how Americans make decisions.

They voted to fight back and so they attacked the terrorist in the cabin and then used a serving cart to batter their way into the cockpit. There they struggled with the hijackers at the controls.

The plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Everyone died.

But by their action, those passengers and crew probably saved the United States Capitol building, which was one of the hijackers’ likely targets, along with the White House.

In that regard, the vote on Flight 93 was probably one of the most consequential in American history.

But it also illustrates the depth and pervasiveness of American democracy. When Americans need to chart a course, or make a decision, when their very lives are at stake, they vote and abide by the majority results.

As Biden said in his speech, “Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy. Because we’ve enjoyed our freedoms for so long, it’s easy to think they’ll always be with us no matter what. But that isn’t true today. In our bones, we know democracy is at risk. But we also know this. It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”

When those passengers voted, no one called the vote a sham. No one said it was rigged. No one refused to accept the outcome. No one lied that it had gone otherwise. They acted on their own behalf but also on behalf of the country and they did so by voting.

In America, democracy undergirds absolutely everything, every activity, not just in government. It’s what governs Americans’ daily behavior. It’s what gives Americans their rights. It pervades American commerce (think of shareholder votes in corporations). Even families put choices to a vote. It confers legitimacy on decisions great and small. It’s a way of life.

This is what’s at stake in this year’s elections. It is a shame and a horror that 20 years after 9/11, the fanatical followers of a twisted president attempted to end American democracy by attacking the sacred building that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 gave their lives to protect.

To vote against democracy in this year’s election is to kill those Americans all over again and complete the work of the terrorists on that day. Voting for anti-democratic candidates is bringing down a curtain of darkness on light, imposing tyranny on freedom, and eclipsing good with evil.

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

Preserving democracy is the paramount issue this year—and every year to come. This year, when you vote, if you haven’t already, cast your ballot in memory of the passengers of Flight 93.

Do your part to preserve, protect and defend democracy, the Constitution and these United States. You’ll be preserving, protecting and defending yourself, your family and all that you hold sacred.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

2022, Florida and the future: Anticipating the political year ahead

A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)

Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.

What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.

That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.

Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.

Democracy vs. autocracy

Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?

Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.

Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.

DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.

These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.

The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?

The state of the pandemic

The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.

Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.

In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.

In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.

This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.

Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.

Choice and anti-choice

Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.

A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.

If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.

By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.

This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.

What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?

Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.

Elections and redistricting

All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.

The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.

In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.

DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.

Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.

The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.

On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.

In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.

The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.

If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.

Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.

Battle over schools

School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.

That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.

In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.

This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”

The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.

Climate change—natural and political

The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.

Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.

Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.

Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.

Nonetheless, on Dec. 7 at a Pinellas County event, DeSantis accused climate activists of trying to “smuggle in their ideology.”

“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.

“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.

This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.

Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.

Beyond the realm of prediction

It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.

In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.

But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.

The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.

That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

A riot, a putsch and the long fight ahead for American democracy

Rioters in the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: Roberto Schmidt)
Nazi stormtroopers in Munich during the 1923 putsch.

March 12, 2021 by David Silverberg

The date Nov. 9, 1923 doesn’t hold much meaning for most of the world, especially for Americans, but it’s a date that may gain a new infamy.

It was on that date that an attempt to overthrow the government of Germany failed when authorities and police stood up against Nazi radicals marching on Munich’s government building. That attempted coup, or “putsch” in German, was led by a ranting but charismatic former army corporal named Adolf Hitler.

On that November day in Munich, 16 Nazis and four police died when the police opened fire. Hitler and his closest compatriots were arrested. It all seemed like the end of Hitler and the Nazi movement.

But it was not. Instead, Hitler and the Nazis gave up the idea of a sudden, violent takeover and began playing a long game for power through legal means, which they ultimately achieved, with catastrophic results for the world.

This bit of history raises some disturbing questions for the United States today.

What if the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol was the not the end of the Trumpist menace to the United States and democracy but its beginning, as Nov. 9, 1923 was the beginning of the Nazi menace to Germany?

This is what Trump effectively said in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando on Feb. 28. As he put it in his usual scrambled and disjointed syntax: “Our movement of proud, hardworking, and you know what? This is the hardest working people, hardworking American Patriots, is just getting started. And in the end we will win. We will win.”

What can Americans who believe in democracy, justice, diversity, free thought and constitutional government do to ensure that America in the 21st century doesn’t go the way of Germany in the 20th century?

And to bring it to particulars: what can people who care about this country do about it here in Florida?

History repeating

Today, there are extremely disturbing parallels between Adolf Hitler after his failed putsch and Donald J. Trump after his failed insurrection.

Some of these are:

Turning to electoral politics

Hitler: After his failed putsch, Hitler gave up sudden, violent revolution for conventional, legal, electoral politics to take power. While not eschewing violence altogether, he and the Nazi Party commenced a long-term, nationwide effort to win elections at all levels and gain a majority in the Reichstag. Their aim was not to continue and maintain democracy once they achieved power but to end it.

Trump: In what may be a more important development than anything Trump said at CPAC, his followers are choosing to pursue elected office at all levels to enact the Trumpist (or as some prefer to call it, Trascist) program.

The Trumpiest Republicans Are At The State And Local Levels — Not In D.C.,”as Perry Bacon Jr. pointed out in an article on the FiveThirtyEight.com website. Another example is Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys chairman and FBI informant, who told CNN in a Feb. 25 interview: “I think right now is the time to go ahead and overthrow the government by becoming the new government and running for office.” Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor pardoned by Trump, told followers and QAnon adherents in a Telegram message on March 10: “As I recently said, we need to get involved in our communities & ensure our system functions the way it is supposed to BECAUSE it broke down. Let’s stop kidding ourselves with shoulda-woulda-coulda-and instead get involved in our communities.”

Equally striking are the already serving officials in Congress and in state and local governments who are attempting to advance Trumpism through voter suppression and election manipulation. (Much more about this later.)

Punishment—or non-punishment

Hitler: When Hitler’s ill-organized, chaotic and violent would-be revolution failed, he was jailed for nine months (out of a five-year sentence). He spent the time with his fellow prisoners writing his manifesto, Mein Kampf, which he would use to spread his message in the years that followed.

Trump: Today, Trump has retreated to the lavish cocoon of Mar-a-Lago—not exactly prison. He emerged at CPAC to announce that he might run for president again in 2024, that he will maintain his grip on the Republican Party and that he will purge, persecute and destroy any dissenters or heretics who doubt his infallibility.

Impunity

Hitler: After the putsch Hitler was threatened with long imprisonment and, worse, deportation to his native Austria. Full punishment might have ended the Nazi movement right then. Instead, Hitler was given a gentle sentence in a vacation-like setting thanks to the right-wing sympathies of judges and elements of the public. Ultimately, his sentence was commuted to nine months.

Trump: After being impeached for incitement to insurrection, Trump was acquitted by his subservient supporters in the US Senate. He remains free to plot a return to power and find ways to broadcast his message, feeling exonerated and immune from the consequences of his actions.

A foundation of lies

Hitler: Following the putsch, Hitler and the Nazis built a foundation of giant myths and fantastic conspiracy theories: that a Jewish cabal manipulated the world to its advantage and against Germany; that Germany had lost World War I because Jews stabbed it in the back; that Germans needed “lebensraum,” or “living room” they could only get by conquering other nations; and that Germans were a superior race to all others.

Trump: Trump’s big lie ever since the election is that he won by a landslide; that the election was “stolen” from him; and that the presidency of Joe Biden is illegitimate. Even before the election he was lying that the election was “rigged” against him and that mail-in ballots were fraudulent. And the absurd QAnon conspiracy theory spins even more bizarre delusions for those who believe it.

Trump lied about race in his very first speech as candidate when he called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals” and then became progressively worse as his presidency wore on. Today, as columnist Dana Milbank pointed out in The Washington Post: “Trump’s overt racism turned the GOP into, essentially, a white-nationalist party, in which racial animus is the main motivator of Republican votes.”

Fake news and the “lying press”

Capitol rioters attack media equipment. (Photo: AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Hitler: The Nazis used the term “Lügenpresse”—“lying press” to characterize all the media coverage they disliked and discredit all objective journalism. It actually had its origins during World War I when it was used to characterize foreign propaganda.

“At that time, the word was used more descriptively,” wrote reporter Nick Nolack in a 2016 Washington Post article. “The ugly history of ‘Lügenpresse,’ a Nazi slur shouted at a Trump rally.”

After World War I, he wrote, “it had turned into an explosive and stigmatizing propaganda slogan, used to stir hatred against Jews and communists. Critics of Adolf Hitler’s regime were frequently referred to as members of the ‘Lügenpresse apparatus.’”

From the time of the putsch to the time the Nazis joined the government in 1933, the Nazis built their own media ecosystem and started newspapers to propagate their message. They received a huge boost with the spread of the new medium of radio, which allowed Hitler to directly address the public.

Trump: Trump’s antipathy toward a free media is well known. The very first press conference of his presidency tried to promote the clearly absurd fiction that his inauguration crowds were the largest in history despite all evidence. He called journalists “enemies of the people,” tried to discredit independent reporting and promote subservient media outlets that would follow his dictates. Over the four years of his presidency the Trumpist mediasphere expanded considerably on Internet, cable television and social media.

Today, with Trump himself banned from Twitter and the social media outlets he most favored, the future of his media access and that of his followers remains an open question. However, it’s worth remembering that Hitler was banned from public speaking from the time of the putsch until 1927, leading to a decline in the Nazi Party’s fortunes. But that didn’t last.

Big smears

Hitler: Hitler had no small enemies and he had plenty of words to describe them. The Jews were “a parasite in the body of other nations,” the communists were “the scum of humanity,” non-Nazi Germans were “subhumans.”

Trump: As he put it in his CPAC speech, Trump says he is facing an “onslaught of radicalism, socialism, and indeed it all leads to communism once and for all.” All Democrats are “radical.” Anti-Trump, or even non-Trump Republicans are “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only). His history of personal insults and invective needs no recounting.

(For further reading: An excellent book about the early period in Nazi history is 1924: The Year that made Hitler, by Peter Ross Range. For a detailed account of how Hitler came to be named chancellor, see The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic by Rüdiger Barth and Hauke Friederichs.)

Vowing a comeback

Donald Trump addresses CPAC. (Image: C-SPAN)

After four years of a Trump presidency, it’s easy to draw these parallels. But the beat continues since his attempted insurrection and fall from power.

“With your help, we will take back the House,” Trump vowed at CPAC. “We will win the Senate. And then, a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. And I wonder who that will be? I wonder who that will be? Who, who, who will that be? I wonder.” 

It needs to be remembered that this is not politics as usual. It is not competition in a constitutional spirit. Trump and his movement are devoted to imposing a totalitarian, one-man rule that will admit no independent thought, political activity or disagreement. It is not just Trumpism that threatens the future, it is absolutism.

That kind of absolutism was explicitly rejected by the Founders of the United States. When they declared independence and wrote the Constitution, they were not only rebelling against a distant king, they were making a clean break from 250 previous years of religious warfare, massacre and bloodshed. From the time of Martin Luther, Catholic and Protestant monarchs had sought to impose their visions of one true, absolute faith on the populations—and minds—of Europe and Britain.

Americans rejected the kind of absolutism that would not admit or tolerate dissent or free thought or reasoned argument. It’s why the very first clause of the First Amendment prohibits establishment of a national religion and allows free worship—and by extension free thought—for all.

Trumpism is a throwback to dark days of dogma and doctrine. It admits no other way, no loyal opposition and no reasoned discussion. It is absolute in its demand for loyalty and obedience, as evidenced by the censure and condemnation of Republican lawmakers who voiced dissenting opinions and followed their consciences in dealing with Trump. In its fascistic universe, only the gospel of Trump can be admitted and even if Trump himself steps down from leadership or passes from this earth, those who seek to carry forth this creed in his name are promoting a rigid authoritarianism.

In the years to come, as shown, Trumpists will try to carry out this program through the electoral and constitutional system. They will run for office at all levels of government, from dogcatcher to the presidency. They will introduce restrictive and anti-democratic laws and regulations. They will seek to impose their will on everything from school boards to county councils to Congress.

Suppressing votes

Under new Florida proposals, the number of ballot boxes would be reduced. (Photo: Author)

Voter suppression is an integral part of this effort. It is an attempt to end democracy.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of late February, Republican lawmakers in 33 states had introduced, filed or carried over more than 165 bills to restrict voting through various devices. This was well over four times the number of such bills last year. These include limiting mail-in voting, imposing stricter identification requirements, slashing voter registration opportunities and more aggressively purging voter rolls.

But it even goes beyond voter suppression. In his article on state and local Trumpism, Bacon points out that Trumpers have more power in state legislatures, face less scrutiny, and are stronger than traditional establishment Republicans based in Washington, DC. They can gerrymander at will, censure or recall heretical officials and crush non-Trumper challengers at the state level.

Anti-Democratic voter suppression efforts are not just aimed at winning the 2022 elections by reducing Democratic or minority turnout. Nor are they just a response to Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was tainted or fraudulent or improper. They are part of a holistic movement aimed at ending democracy and imposing authoritarian autocracy over the United States.

“A Republican Party that seems increasingly unwilling to abide by democratic norms could install officials in key swing states who basically won’t allow a Democrat to win any election. That possibility is real, and would present an incredible threat to American democracy,” wrote Bacon.


When winning just isn’t enough

Rep. Byron Donalds adjusts his mask while denouncing HR 1, a bill to prevent voter suppression. (Image: C-SPAN)

Florida, by all accounts, had perhaps the smoothest and most trouble-free election of all states in 2020. Mail-in ballots were counted early, in-person voting ran efficiently, and results were reported swiftly and accepted as accurate. There were no reports of voter fraud. It is a point of pride for the governor and the state.

What is more, Republicans swept virtually every office they contested. The entire state government—executive, legislative and judicial—is in Republican hands.

But winning is not enough; Republicans, and especially Trumper Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in particular, want to ensure that there is absolutely no chance of losing power in 2022—or ever.

In the state Senate Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-12-Sumter County) introduced Senate Bill 90 in February to reduce the time Floridians would have to apply for mail-in ballots. The bill is currently under consideration.

DeSantis, while lauding the state’s successful 2020 election, has called for a variety of measures to restrict voting, like outlawing ballot “harvesting” (collecting numerous mail-in or absentee ballots by an outside party to submit them in one batch) by volunteers (collection by paid professionals is currently illegal), reducing the number of ballot collection boxes, and restricting mail-in ballots only to voters who specifically request them rather than sending them to all voters in a jurisdiction (which does not happen anyway in Florida).

For all this, Florida is not the most voter-suppressive state. According to the Brennan Center, “Arizona leads the nation in proposed voter suppression legislation in 2021, with 19 restrictive bills. Pennsylvania comes in second with 14 restrictive policy proposals, followed by Georgia (11 bills), and New Hampshire (10 bills).”

As if the onslaught on voting in Florida was insufficient, in the US Congress one Florida member, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the Southwest corner of the state, fought the For the People Act, (House Resolution  (HR) 1), which seeks to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy.”

Donalds, whose congressional campaign was heavily funded by right-wing super political action committees like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, took to the House floor and in a one-minute speech (with an added 15 seconds because his mask kept slipping off his face), called HR 1, “really just a takeover of elections by Washington, DC.”

While lauding Florida’s voting system as “the very best election laws in these United States,” Donalds concluded: “the people of the State of Florida definitely do not want the things that are in this bill. Our system is the best. Frankly, leave Florida alone.”

Donalds’ speech raises the question: If Florida’s voting system is the best in the country, why are the governor and Republican state legislators trying so hard to change it—and in a restrictive, suppressive manner, no less?

Perhaps the best answer came from Manny Diaz, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party: “This is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, but instead an issue of Republicans versus democracy. Florida Republicans keep showing us that when given a choice between defending the rights of voters, or suppressing voter access, disturbingly they will all too gladly suppress, harm and sacrifice our most sacred constitutional right on the altar of preserving power for the sake of power.”


Recognizing the danger

Attendants wheel a golden idol of Donald Trump into CPAC. (Image: William Turton/Twitter)

Fortunately, the danger to American democracy is well recognized and countermeasures are starting up.

On Saturday, March 7, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the federal government “to promote and defend the right to vote for all Americans who are legally entitled to participate in elections.” The federal government, states the order, will “expand access to, and education about, voter registration and election information, and…combat misinformation, in order to enable all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.”

The order was issued in light of the likelihood that HR 1 would fail in the Senate without a two-thirds majority to pass.

Elsewhere, lawmakers are introducing voter expansion bills in their state legislatures. But in states like Florida where Trumpers dominate, they are unlikely to succeed.

Nonetheless, those who favor democracy—democrats with a small “d” of whatever political allegiance—can take action. They can:

  • Fight voter suppression at the state and local levels by lobbying, pressuring their legislators and protesting against any anti-democratic measures;
  • Immediately challenge such measures in court if they pass in the legislature;
  • Run for all available elected offices at all levels;
  • Stay alert to Trumpist efforts to undermine democracy, promote authoritarian conspiracy theories and spread big lies and expose them to the light of day by whatever means available;
  • Report illegal, seditious or criminal activities to relevant law enforcement agencies;
  • Volunteer to aid voter registration efforts and serve in local election offices and at polling stations;
  • Organize to actively assist candidates who support democracy and voting access.

Most of all, people need to be aware that the struggle to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and democracy is now a long game. It’s been going on since the Constitution was ratified but currently it’s in a new, domestic, post-Trump, post-insurrection phase. It is going to play out over many election cycles and decades.

People should not be lulled into thinking that because Trump and his cultists are in remission at the moment, that they are finished. That’s what Germans thought after the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch. Instead, the Nazi movement entered a new phase of steady effort until it achieved a breakthrough 10 years later (and, by the way, Nazis never actually won over a majority of Germans prior to 1933).

This is not to minimize the major differences between Germany in 1923 and America in 2021. There are also significant differences between Hitler and Trump (not least that Hitler was 34 years old at the time of the putsch with a full career ahead of him and Trump is 74). But still, the similarities are worrisome.

However, being aware of history can give true patriots the tools to determine a better course for the United States.

People are fond of quoting the aphorism, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

The phrase, though, holds within it the solution to the problem it poses—because those who do know history can keep it from happening again.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg