Now that we are safely bedded down between Thanksgiving and Christmas, not too close to either one to feel like a killjoy, allow me to share a fear with you. “Fear” may be a misnomer because I am not afraid so much as expectant, attentive, and resolved.
I came of age between 1968 and 1972, a period bookended by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Reverend King on one end, and the arrest of five Republican operatives for breaking into Democratic headquarters at the command of the President, on the other.
I have heard that the years from ages ten to eighteen are when we wake up from childhood and begin to notice the world beyond our own family and surroundings. What happens in those years then forms our filter for interpreting the world. It takes work to grow beyond that initial imprint and allow our ingrained assumptions to change as the world evolves. I have tried to change with events but at the same time, I am aware that ghostly images from 1968 to 1972 still populate the filter through which I see the world.
Radical and sometimes violent polarization defined those years. I remember the surreal experience of hearing adults who supported Nixon and the war in Vietnam, and who hated MLK, say things that I was certain were not true. How could intelligent, educated adults be so wrong? I just couldn’t understand.
BAM! A fifty year Déjà vu. This time historical momentum does not feel like it is behind movements on the Left. According to a September CNN poll, 78% of Republicans believe Biden did not win, and half of them actually believe there is evidence to support a “steal” — an absolute denial of facts.
My point: community and society cannot function without general agreement on basic facts forming a shared perception of reality. There can be vigorous differences within an agreed upon framework, but not complete bifurcation of perception. Attacking agreed upon truth and a shared sense of reality is a tried and true weapon of fascism. I know some will accuse my use of the term as over dramatic or hysterical, to which I simply point to history.
As a political movement, fascism exalts the status of nation with religious zeal — and often race along with it. Then it agitates for an autocratic government headed by an abusive leader. It also embraces the elimination of opposition as the cost of making things right with the world. What some legislatures are doing around the country to put into law their own ability to reverse election outcomes they do not like, is an incarnation of fascism. The Putsch on January 6th linked with Congresspersons and Senators who deny what happened is an incarnation of fascism. Attempts to weaken the guardian institutions of democracy while also voicing hateful rhetoric within the halls of Congress, is an incarnation of fascism.
A dangerous, violent infiltration of democracy by agents and ideas of oppression is in progress. It needs to be named.
Normalizing violence and hate speech all the while denying facts, is a strategy used to blur, disorient, and attack truth in order to crumble what used to be a shared perception of reality. Be aware: this polarization is not normal, nor is this assault on the facts of shared reality.