As today’s Republican Party morphs toward the image of the Third Reich, July 4 is an apt moment to reflect how fascism in an existing democracy does not happen suddenly.

Fascism gives people the taste for savagery by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. Fintan O’Toole, Irish commentator, states it well: “Trial runs lay the groundwork for fascism to get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.” (Irish Times, June 26).

Fascism can come to power with about 40 percent support; it then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. It doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 percent is fanatically committed. Fascism needs a propaganda machine so effective it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities.

Our government is now under command of a thrice-married womanizer, elected by a minority. He believes we are “infested by immigrants,” “women who get abortions should be punished,” “journalists are the enemy of the people,” “do away with judges” and “targets America’s allies” for alleged unfair trading practices.

At first, even the truth about Hitler was inconvenient. “Many in the west hoped the danger would simply go away.” (Al Gore, “An Inconvenient Truth”). Vigorous civic action from this hour forward is required of all citizens. To adapt the words of a martyr during the rise of the Third Reich:

“First they came for the immigrants, but I was not an immigrant so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Muslems and Mexicans, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came to separate the women and children, but I was neither so I did not speak out. And when they came for the judges and journalists, there was no one left to speak out for me.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, hanged).

Citizens can do terrible things by doing nothing at all.

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