Sunday, April 17, 2022

American Weimar and the Soft Middle

I just finished reading my advisor Peter Fritsche's recent history of the first 100 days of the Nazi regime, which has me feeling both optimistic and shaken. He argues that after the Reichstag Fire the Nazis had the 52% of people who voted for them and their allies in the German National People's Party on their side, and it the ensuing 100 days through both coercion and mostly consent grabbed a significant chunk of the remaining 48%. 

As he has for a long time, Fritzsche argues that the nationalist desires and resentments from World War I gave the Nazis a great appeal to the political middle, who were aching to embrace a new national community even if it meant the death of democracy. This made me somewhat optimistic about the current political situation in the US, because there is no similar galvanizing issue that the crypto-fascists in the Republican Party have on their side. The crisis that killed Weimar lasted about three years, the current American crisis has been going on for at least twice as long. The fact that democracy has not fallen despite it might have to do with the lack of a fascist appeal to the middle.

However, I got more depressed when I realized that in the US facsists don't need a majority to attain power. The electoral college, Senate, and gerrymandering gave us Donald Trump and states like Wisconsin where conservatives have large majorities in the state legislature that do not reflect the vote. Add blatant voter suppression and now perhaps voter nullification, and the attainment of power becomes far easier. 

We've seen this before in the United States, of course, during the reign of Jim Crow. That's a more apt historical comparison to be made than to Germany. As I have said before, it's looking a lot like 1877, not 1933.

But I do think Fritzsche's book keys in on something relevant for the current moment in the US. Fascists cannot attain a majority on their own, but they can if they find ways to win over the mushy political middle, and that middle is extremely persuadable right now. Panics over crime and children's education are potent and exploitable. Look at Youngkin's win in Virginia, and Adams' win in New York City. Also take into account the media's coverage of politics, which is at great pains to "both sides" every single issue, making the existence of anti-democratic party literally something they can't report on, lest it be "biased." The voters in the soft middle hear about crime, inflation, and CRT and think the Republicans are merely a center-right alternative to the party in power, and give it their vote. 

For more proof, just look at how the attempt to overthrow the government on January 6 has played out. None of the politicians who backed Trump's coup have been punished; in fact, they have grown their profiles. MTG, Lauren Boebert, and Madison Cawthorn are all celebrities now. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are even more powerful. Trump has not faced any consequences beyond a Twitter ban. Back on January 6, QAnon's extremism finally crossed the radar of normie America. Fifteen months later the logic of QAnon and its conspiracies of child abuse are at the heart of the Republican message after being laundered into attacks on LGBT people and public schools. 

Come November the party of these fascistic forces will control even more states and likely Congress as well. Up against them is a weak, gerontocratic party trying so hard to appeal to the soft middle that they are losing their base of support in the process. Many will stay home, others will say "time for something new." In the meantime democracy will be eroded and lives ruined. I am more and more convinced that there was enough opposition to weather the crisis of Trump, which culminated in 1/6. That opposition has spent itself, while the fascists have regrouped. If the soft middle still sees this as just another partisan split, get ready for 1877 all over again.

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