“It can’t happen here.” Since Trump was elected, we’ve heard this phrase a lot, with its ironic message of Oh yes it can. In fact it might be happening even as we speak. (And we, frogs in slowly heated water, have just gotten used to it.)
So what’s the “it” that we’d like to think can’t happen here? What happened in Germany in the 1930s, of course: the devolution of a long-established western civilization into Nazi fascism, WW2 and the holocaust.
Sinclair Lewis used that phrase first , as the title of a satirical novel, when it was in fact in the middle of happening there. Philip Roth’s riff on the theme in his 2004 novel “The Plot Against America” should be required reading for citizens of all persuasions.
The Roth novel is an alternative history exploration of America during the 30s in which certain real features—American isolationism, anti-semitism, the fondness of American hero Lindbergh for Hitler—lend themselves to a story of how it might quite plausibly have happened here. (For the outcome of this page-turner, see the book itself.)
Most people I’ve asked think it cant happen here; that at least it’s highly unlikely. Even if they regard Trump as a threat to what they regard as progress, they aren’t really worried that what happened in Germany can happen here.
But it’s a question: why can’t it happen here? American exceptionalism is the simplest explanation: Sure, that civilized country (with its anti- semitism) turned bad, but our civilized country (with our anti-semitism and racism) didn’t–and couldn’t. Why? Well, because we’re American, that’s why. It’s the little kid’s ultimate unanswerable answer to “why?”: “because.” Because it just can’t, that’s why.
Looking a bit deeper: is our proof against “it” built into our constitution and the institutions it establishes? Right now some of those so-called “checks and balances” seem not very reassuring: the politicizing of the Supreme Court, threats to independent investigations of elections and presidency, threats to freedom of the press.
There’s probably a really good article or book which makes clear why, despite the seeming shakiness of the pillars of democracy, it can’t happen here; but I haven’t run into it.
Since the midterms failed to issue a clear verdict on the question, it would be a great time for Trump supporters to speak out and make clear their own idea of a “red line” across which they will not follow their leader toward “it”. They surely know what is said of them, that they are as loyal as Trump wants them to be, that there is nothing their man could do—grab women, cage children, lie, diss our allies and our country’s heroes; you know the litany—that would discourage their loyalty. But is he really their president, right or wrong?
One reason why it might not happen here is that Trump’s supporters would not support it happening here.
How about it, Trump supporters: Sure, you are not phased—are in fact downright delighted– by much of what upsets liberals: undermining Roe v Wade, getting tough on immigrants, bad mouthing the press and judiciary. But depriving the press of credentials? Is that OK?
What if, a la Putin, he were to shut down the hated New York Times or CNN? What if he (or his) were to shut down Mueller? Or if Mueller comes out with actionable crimes and Trump declares himself above the law?
One reason why Trump loyalists might want to go on the record is not to reassure liberals but to let your leader know that there are limits. To let him know what in your view a contemporary version of “it” might look like and that it would not be OK even for his most loyal followers for it to happen here.