Will Fascism Trump Democracy?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 5:57am
Photo by Tony Webster

Will Fascism Trump Democracy?

"We must love one another or die."
—W.H. Auden

On January 27, 1838, Abraham Lincoln spoke to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on the dangers facing American democracy. Lincoln was only 28, so it’s unlikely that many in his audience had him pegged as a prophet. But 23 years later, when the Civil War began, his words proved as prophetic as I believe they are today:

"At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? … Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined… could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a Trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

Lincoln did not anticipate the global reach of nuclear warfare, but his point remains sound. If American democracy fails, the ultimate cause will not be a foreign invasion. It will happen because “We the People” become so fearful of each other, of the economic, cultural, and security threats we believe to be posed by “the other” — and so dubious about finding a way forward while remaining true to democracy’s values — that we empower a fascist “strong man” who promises to make us “great” again. This is one way for a democracy to “die by suicide,” an act we seem to be contemplating at this very moment.

I don’t speak of “fascism” lightly. One of democracy’s values is open, honest, and civil conversation across lines of political conflict. Calling something or someone “fascist” sounds uncivil, to say the least, and tends to be a conversation-stopper.

And yet there are times when no other word will do to name a political phenomenon that can be rationally defined and factually identified, and must be stopped in its tracks. The ultimate conversation-stopper is not the word “fascism” but fascism itself, which aims at shutting down the dialogue of differences that characterizes democracy at its creative best.

Full disclosure: I’m a Democrat, but I’m not a fan of indiscriminate Republican-bashing. My father was a staunch Republican and the best man I’ve ever known in both his public, business, and personal life. A Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, started me down the political trail I’m still tracking. Can Republican political convictions and democratic values go hand-in-hand? Of course they can. The fascist threat we face today has a base that reaches across party lines.

Donald Trump speaking at the Iowa Republican Party's 2015 Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

(Gage Skidmore / FlickrSome rights reserved.)

That base is aroused when would-be leaders appeal to those fearful, angry, and resentful parts in us — in all of us — that yearn for an authoritarian “fix” for our problems and a “strong man” to administer it. Lest we forget the hard-won lessons of bloody history, here are three traits of a fascist leader in the making:

One. The leader of a fascist movement doesn’t need a realistic plan to solve anyone’s problems. All he needs is scapegoats, and a promise to eliminate them. If he can convince enough fear-ridden people that their safety, jobs, and most cherished values will be preserved as soon as he rids our land of, say, Mexicans and Muslims, his movement to power is underway, no matter how false his assignment of blame may be.

Such a leader will behave in ways that make him look like the “strong man” his followers need to compensate for their own sense of impotence — and the more odious his persona, the stronger he seems to them: “See how he insults the powerful right to their faces!” “See how he feels free to say whatever is on his mind, no matter how crude!” He might even boast indirectly of his own sexual prowess. Ironically, this will win him support even among folks who bewail the loss of “Christian family values,” and still somehow believe that public vulgarity reveals the kind of strength required to bring them back.

Two. The leader of a fascist movement has a simple approach to dealing with critics: he kills them off, either literally or metaphorically. I don’t need to explain what “literal” means: hundreds of thousands of Hitler’s critics as well as millions of Jewish scapegoats were murdered in the Holocaust. But that’s not the only way to get the killing done. A fascist leader is skilled at the kind of labeling and name-calling that kills critics off with words. He employs verbal violence to render his critics irrelevant, a legal and effective way of doing them in.

If he gets a big enough megaphone — easily obtained from media outlets that traffic in sensationalism — and hurls his insults often enough, his political opponents will soon be known as “whiny babies,” “pathetic losers,” or people so “ugly” that “you don’t want a president with a face like that.” A fascist leader silences his critics, grows his base, and accelerates his quest for control with the same tools the fifth-grade bully uses to make kids afraid to cross him.

Three. The leader of a fascist movement knows how to turn “We the People” into a circular firing squad, setting us against one another in a way that robs us of collective power. There is irony upon irony in a fascist leader’s rise to power, but this may be the greatest irony of all: people’s sense of powerlessness leads them to empower a leader who makes them even more powerless.

Fascism’s divide-and-conquer tactics, if we succumb to them, deprive us of the kind of civil conversations on which democracy thrives — conversations that allow us to reach a rough consensus on at least a few elements of the common good and hold our leaders accountable to it. When people-power is defused, a political vacuum is created in which fascism can move uninhibited, unchecked, and unhinged.

Of course, the leader of a fascist movement would get nowhere if he could not attract followers who believe that he can meet their needs. And there’s the rub. Fascism is hard to fight because, at bottom, its support comes more from a psychological and spiritual pathology than a political ideology. Leaders of fascist movements appeal to the “authoritarian personality” that’s been a subject of serious study since World War II.

That fact takes us down a rabbit hole that’s beyond the scope of this essay, as one example will reveal. Behind his arrogance, the fascist leader is a tightly-wound bundle of deep-seated insecurities. This should be a turn-off to an insecure populace. Yet, in the twisted authoritarian psyche, masked insecurity attracts adherents. The leader who is so insecure that he must compensate with braggadocio about everything he has or has done gives his followers a way to translate their own insecurities into what passes for strength. A mob is no more than insecurity shouting to cover up its fears, which is what makes it so dangerous.

Will fascism trump democracy in America? It depends on “We the People,” on our honesty about our own dark fears, our capacity to call out fascism when it arises among us, our courage to speak up against it, and our willingness to join the resistance.

It also depends on, at least, modest regard for facts. In the 15 years since 9/11, 45 people in the U.S. have been killed in violent jihadist attacks, while 48 have been killed in home-grown, far right wing attacks, often by white supremacists and nominal Christians. All of these deaths are tragic, of course. But why are so many of “We the People” lining up behind a leader who pledges death to jihadists — and their families — while playing footsie with white supremacists who are measurably more deadly here at home?

I’ll give the final word to W.H. Auden, with the last two stanzas of his poem, “September 1, 1939.” That’s the date on which Germany invaded Poland, launching a war fueled by a fascism more virulent than most Americans imagined possible, and some continue to deny to this day. Lest we forget,

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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Thank you, Parker, for once again calling us to our beat selves, including being silent no more. I will be civil, but I will not be silent.

Brilliant observations. I was struck by this line especially -" folks who bewail the loss of Christian family values , and still somehow believe that public vulgarity reveals the kind of strength required to bring them back ".
Thank you for your wise words.

Thank you, Parker Palmer, for expressing so eloquently the fears of fascism that have been rising in me during this political cycle. I am very nervous that we have fallen so asleep to our role as citizens of this great country that someone using 5th grade bullying tactics can gain so much popularity. I plan to stay awake, speak my own truth and beliefs to my circle, and pray that we will love one another rather than die from our own complacency. Thank you for your courage; it gives me courage.

Thank you so much Parker. The word "fascism" and its meaning is important to bring to the table for reflection and discussion, so we can have the words we need (and the understanding) to describe things as they are, which hopefully will lead us to appropriate action. Thank you for getting us started on this discussion with your clarity about what some of our homegrown issues are. However, I am not sure if Republican political convictions (as they have evolved) and democratic (small "d", not the party) can go together. There is not one candidate standing on the Republican presidential stage that seems to represent anything remotely like a society that empowers its people (and doesn't attack the "other") -- its debt-ridden students, its women and their reproductive health, its poor and working class, its minorities and immigrants/refugees, its need for quickly developing sustainable energy sources, along with its need to leave carbon and methane in the ground. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, its need for a political system and a government that is not bought by the tiniest fraction of its population.

So well said, Parker and Gayle!

There is not one candidate standing on the Republican presidential stage that seems to represent anything remotely like a society that empowers its people (and doesn't attack the "other")

I am a life-long Democrat, but I admire John Kasich. He is the ONE Republican running for President who belongs on the stage.

I agree. John Kasich has worked on both sides of the aisle. Has actual experience and proven results. Has somehow balanced the budget in Ohio several times and still remains popular. He gives thoughtful answers and poses thoughtful solutions yet is open to listening to the other side. You do not hear him calling names. Yet, he can't seem to get attention. He's not a "label" so we can't easily categorize him -- socialist, female, fascist, conservative, Latino, African American... He's a moderate. Something that seems to be unacceptable in today's fast paced sensational world of categories.

Parker, thank you for voicing what many of us are thinking and worrying about. I pray your words will help the fascist's followers realize what is at risk.

Parker - thank you for this wake up essay. We now must find our voice and our courage to act.

Once again Parker thank you for calling us to our best selves. I can only hope that perhaps by facing our own personal and collective shadow in Trump that we will rise to our best selves as persons and as a nation. Perhaps my son Alek, who has a significant intellectual disability should remind Mr. Trump that calling someone "stupid" is a "bad word."

And Parker's revealing insights reminds me of Poe's whirlpool where forces of nature (read forces of culture like media blitzkrieg and office talk) disorient even the best captains and takes us to places that we would rather not go.

Thank you, Parker. Your wise and powerful words resonate deeply in my heart. We are standing in the tragic gap of what is and what is possible. Your words encourage me to stand firmly and strongly in that gap speaking my truth. Thank you, again.

Thank you Parker for continuing to be a prophetic voice and creating space for holding critical conversations. At a time in which we should be working together and looking out for each other, demagogues are filling the space with their elixir of fear, scapegoating, blame and hate. This is classic fascism and it is frightening. The media fans the flames because it is good for their bottom line. The mainstream press has abdicated their responsibility to bring information in their pursuit of sensationalism and profit. A scorecard of who delivered the most effective insults replaces talk about issues. We must continue to foster courageous, civil, critical conversations.

Thank you for your wise, thoughtful words Parker. I too come from some smart, good and kind Republican roots even though I'm a democrat. I don't see anyone in the Republican field right now who I recognize as similar to my kin though. I think part of the problem is that we need to speak constantly to the fear mongering that's been going on for such a long time in politics, media, and even popular culture. It can feel exhausting. We need to champion civility and kindness. And above all else as you've pointed out keep reiterating the truth. These are challenging times.


Indeed: "we must love one another or die."

Parker, fear of the other is certainly behind much of the current drift toward facism, but so is a deep dissatisfaction with the way our leaders on both the left and right have abandoned the people in this country. It seems important to recognize the legitimacy behind the anger of Trump supporters, as well as their fear. And they have reason to be angry—the hollowing out of the working and middle class and the loss of family wage jobs; the expense of housing, medical care, and education; the threat of climate change and the poisoning of the environment; the creation of an economy whose growth is reliant on financial investments that benefit a tiny minority rather than productive activities that benefit everyone. The challenge is to help our legitimately frightened and angry fellow citizens understand that their welfare lies not in allegiance to a strong man but in their collective capacity to reclaim our power as members of interactive and supportive communities. More than naming the authoritarian personality and its tendency to “kiss up and kick down,” we need to find some way to help people drawn to strong leaders and “men of action” realize that they can more effectively address the issues that threaten them by joining with others to collectively work toward change. This is the revolution that needs to happen.

This analysis is illogical, naming these "legitimate fears" for self preservation amid uncertainty as what is driving people to support a demagogue, who displays no stated plan to address any of these concerns, while solidly denying climate change and promising to dismantle access to health insurance via Obamacare for millions, etc. If such fears were at the core, we would ascendancy of candidates who are addressing these economic factors. The fear is, as Parker explained, fear of the 'other', more base, rooted in hate.

This is what happens when greed becomes the mantra. Fascism, the blaming of someone, excluding by whatever means available those who disagree, empty promises with no plan, and the Messiah complex of a very few individuals, becomes an inevitable consequence when Big Brother (read big Corporations) controls everything. Reference all the writings and speeches of Chris Hedges and others.

Thank you, Parker, for giving shape and language to many deeply disturbing trends of this election season. Like you, I believe that civil dialogue and reaching across differences is foundational to a creative, dynamic and effective democracy. I know from your life, your writings and your work with The Center for Courage and Renewal that you have been a consistent, faithful teacher and practitioner of this kind of dynamic communication. Thank you for this encouragement into speech and for modeling the kind of truth telling so needed right now.. There are times that require we name a dangerous trend for exactly what it is. I appreciate this clear-eyed description and spotlight on the elements now at play. I'm forwarding this essay and hope everyone else will do the same.

Thank-you Parker! I'm more saddened that such an astounding number of We the People can be taken hostage by fear than that fear begets a potential fascist leader. I do still believe that light overcomes darkness... and that We, individually and collectively, are most fundamentally, Light. May we all "Show an affirming flame" as you have done here and elsewhere!

Thank you for your wise, civil, and compelling words. May they be widely shared, heard, and heeded by a vast majority of "We the people," on whom our democracy depends.

Parker, this essay is a culmination of your prescient thoughts about democracy over the last decade. Many of us fear what we see happening but few of us can see THROUGH what we fear to this kind of clarity. Thank you, dear friend, for this essay and for a life dedicated to wisdom, compassion, and truth.

Parker Palmer is a sage voice in tumultuous times. I appreciate that he is willing to hold space for very difficult conversations that we must engage.

Thank you Parker for a thoughtful reminder of the challenges we face this election season. Not only will I forward this piece to many friends, but I will reread the article in moments I need to renew my courage to speak the simple truth.

Thank you for suggesting a path forward that I may take to speak truth to these fears and lies. I simply MUST do my part to validate the fears of many of my fellow citizens AND to repudiate the Fascist Solution espoused by Donald Trump. He is not a joke. His message is dangerous and those of us who see this must act now.

Several reflections:
1. A beautifully written and highly insightful essay.
2. But: Trumpism, though an odious and appalling negation of civility and reasoned argument, is a long-brewing response to political correctness. The PC culture -- particularly in The Academy -- is a deeply-rooted abomination. When Condoleeza Rice cannot give a commencement address and Chris Rock will not appear before a college audience -- to cite two examples among thousands, the fundamental ethos of university life has been gravely weakened.
3. I suspect that Mr. Parker has never chosen to write about this. And yet, the Academy's nearly perfect adherence to the dictates of the thought police, sustained over decades, has in my view planted the seeds of what we are now witnessing.
4. If civil discourse is essential to democratic life -- and it is -- then those who are horrified by what Trump represents, have to seriously examine their own role in sowing the seeds of the profound societal discord we are now witnessing.

This amounts to a monocausal explanation for complex social issues, my friend. Why the self-reproach, why the hand-wringing? If the unexamined life isn't worth living, per Socrates, then what of the over-examined life? Most people make an effort to do right most of the time, agreed? But in the words of Yeats, sometimes the "best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity." (The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats, 1919). Sometimes, the poet tells us, things fall apart. Thoughtful people of good conscience and good will must find the conviction to deal with the brokenness.

"Why the self-reproach, why the hand-wringing? " Because, Timothy, if we overlook a significant cause of this terrifying movement, we will be impotent to damp it. Our Libertarian friends are right in noting that the use of law is the use of force -- insofar as the majority enforces something that feels odious to the minority -- no matter crazy we may think the minority is for considering the likes of free health care to be odious.

We must find ways to achieve our social goals via education, persuasion, mediation, reconciliation, and voluntary forms of re-distribution rather than via legislation wherever possible. It may take much longer and have piecemeal results. But I see no other way to avoid building a pent-up dam of resentment against legislation hated by the minority. The only models we have for such voluntary approaches are faith-based groups such as the Amish who pay a high price in self-imposed restrictions. What would it take to rethink such models from a more expanded consciousness? That's the discussion I've been looking for.

At the same time, I also resonate with your call, "Sometimes, the poet tells us, things fall apart. Thoughtful people of good conscience and good will must find the conviction to deal with the brokenness."

Hi Teri. Thanks for your thoughtful follow-up, though I must admit to not being quite sure what you are referencing here. I hear you basically calling for the cultivation of a culture of peace, and wholeheartedly agree. In my opinion, people commit a logical fallacy when they consider only extremes, for example, extreme self-censorship in the form of what some may refer to as "political correctness," on the one hand, or incendiary rhetoric on the other. There is plenty of space for honest dialogue in between. How often that space goes unfilled. Has our culture lost the art, the capability? But the meta-issue, if you will, is that people so often talk past each other because the unspoken intention doesn't really involve achieving mutual understanding, but rather to get attention, to be provocative, or to entertain. If there is a silver lining, it's part of recognizing an aspect of human nature; thinking people have been bemoaning the loss of civility in discourse for thousands of years. Human nature remains basically the same. What has changed, and what gives the issue new urgency, is that ours is now a globalized and technologically advanced civilization. New media can super-saturate the primitive brain structures with self-confirming and biased stimuli faster than we can generate and process reasoned dialogue. Our attentional bandwidth hasn't expanded. Appealing to the so-called lizard brain is something that the mass media and marketing folks figured out long ago. In some ways, today the stakes are much higher. Going the Amish route unfortunately does not scale, though that is probably beside the point.

Thank you, David, for a politely worded and balancing comment. I am a Republican, but one who hopes that Trump is not successful in becoming the Republican candidate. Some believe, including myself, it is the "Liberal Left" that is most vigorously attempting to silence the conversation. As you suggested, examples abound, many of them at our universities, which seem to be the cradle of liberalism. Thus there is a liberal (pun) measure of hypocrisy in the theme of this essay. You didn't see the "Tea Party", (which many identify as the far right), promoting activities such as "Occupy Wall Street", Black Lives Matter, etc. You don't see such demonstrations at the Democratic conventions and town hall meetings. Just recently, the Trump rally in Chicago was shut down for fear of violence. The "protest" instigators were reportedly MoveOn.org and perhaps some Bernie advocates ....... or maybe just over-zealous liberals ........ trying to do what? Silence those they object to. And so, my view is that utilizing the term "fascism" is very much like those trying to silence the opinions of others that they disagree with ........ just as has been done so generously with the word "racism".

My gratitude to you, Parker. I am an observer in this as a Canadian living in Australia and I struggle with the sense of powerlessness that comes from being on the "outside" ie no vote. Yet what happen in the US deeply affects as all because of our global nature. This campaign has highlighted for me the unspoken and unnamed fears that we carry and what happens when we don't bring the up to the light of day. Thank you, Parker, and blessings on you and your work

Thank you for having the courage to say what needs to be said. I never would have dreamed that in the 21st century we would be looking fascism in the face in America, but here we are. It is disturbing and frightening and as you rightly point out, we all must raise our voices against it.

as brought to us by decades of the liberal left.

I can't help but agree with you Judy. The decades of effort they've put into reorganizing public education in this country has slowly but surely eroded everything we once treasured as traditional values... for a truly godless approach to new-age education. The scheme included, among so many other things, the dissolution of the traditional family, which then allowed the removal of God from public life altogether. Young school age kids are easily plied, and continual modification of curriculum easily steered these youngsters into areas of "education" that at one time was purview of the family, the home. Turning little kids heads inside out isn't difficult at all when mom and dad are more then willing to allow the school to do the job that only they should be doing. Sadly only a minority of families would realize what was happening and move back in to keep their own children on the straight and narrow. The Left is very patient, willing to move in barely noticeable incremental steps. The traditional American family is being crushed from all sides. The saddest part about this dilemma is the fact that fighting back, while moving your own children in the right direction, is not enough to change the end of a decent public school education in this country. It won't be turned around. What's happening at this point is nothing less then a forgone conclusion. The United States spends more money on education then any other country in the world, yet our system of public education continues to slide downward and now ranks 14th in the world. We rank 2nd in the world for ignorance! This is what Liberalism is doing to our country, our people, our kids. It's a sickness that lives within and around us all the time, and it's destroying us from within. We're at war with an enemy that honestly believes they're the only way to a better America... and they are not!

I'm reading this from Canada, a country that will be profoundly affected by the outcome of the US presidential election. We are almost as deeply affected by the very existence of Donald Trump and his hateful, deceptive speech, for it validates and strengthens a minority in this country who could easily be persuaded to adopt those views. How can we, your friendly and anxious neighbors, help to strengthen civil discourse and reflection in our great ally and friend? Normally, I'd say 'start at home,' but in this instance I don't think many Republicans are looking to Canada for alternative models and views.

Thank you for your words Parker. As an Aussie, I am a long way away from the action in the US (by sea if not by airwaves!). As a friend of so many American people and as someone desiring to be a world citizen I am deeply concerned by what I hear and see happening in the political sphere in your country (not that we don't have our own issues). I have found myself thinking back to the situation in Europe in the 1930s and wondering about comparisons. Your comments about Fascism have resonated with me. How did it happen amongst such good people? As I look at what is unfolding in the US at present I find myself saying 'surely not, surely this will settle', but it keeps going and seems to be gathering a life of its own. Thank you for your considered response. May it spark a more truthful conversation, and actions that heal fractures in your country and our commonweal.

Thank you for the eloquence and organization of this essay. Many of my concerns about what is happening in this political campaign have been addressed here, much more succinctly than my attempts to explain them. I will be sharing this article.

Thank you Parker. So many of us outside of the USA (but close neighbours or with family there) are distressed. Yes it is your election, your country and ultimately your "choice" but we cannot stand by and say nothing.

"We must love one another, or die" We must, we must.

Thank you Parker, for these measured and sobering words. As Aussies, watching what's unfolding in US politics at the moment, we too had marked the parallels with Europe in the 1930s, and the toxic mixture of frustration, felt impotence and aggressive posturing. It's been hard to believe that it won't burn itself out, and yet the reverse seems to be happening - momentum gathering, and increasingly outrageous claims and accusations becoming normalised. We have our own version of toxic politics to contend with, and want to be in solidarity with you and what you're trying to do. May your words fuel truthful conversations all over the world and empower actions that heal fractures and serve the commonweal.

Thank you Parker for a frank and honest look at a frightening truth. Auden's words are the antidote to every level of threat that we face today...."We must love each other or die".

Long ago when Carter was president I heard Corrie ten Boom (of The Hiding Place) speak. In the Q&A following someone asked if she feared Germany becoming fascist again. She thought for a moment and said 'Germany? No but America? Yes Americans are so like the Germans before the war...'

Your observations are shallow and off base, lacking any intellectual curiosity or research. So, I have given you a link to Trump's "no realistic plan", yet they are completely realistic. This link proves you have no grasp on business, and the real economy that is happening to all of us. If you think former President's weren't just as vulgar, you are wearing rose colored glasses. We are so far removed from Fascism, that very few people actually understand and grasp what it really is. You do not understand what fascism is.

Excellent article that mirrors so many of my concerns. As a moderate Republican, I am very concerned with the direction that our party, and worse, much of the American public, is embracing. I admire your courage in very articulately calling it as you see it. My education reinforced having the courage to choose the "harder right instead of the easier wrong." Hopefully, thoughtful reflection of views such as those you expressed will help moderate current uninformed enthusiasm for nothing less than a fascist bully.

Dude I think you are wrong and your opinion sucks balls!!! When Jihadist knock on your door will you let him in and tell him you love him????

Brilliant! I was beginning to think I was in a time warp and I was the only one thinking this but you put it so articulately and eloquently! It appears FDR was correct when he said we have nothing to fear but fear itself...

Fascist, a favorite word when some don't agree with the view you hold. Most often applied by the left to the right, though the actual facts don't bear out. Rather than label why not present an argument to further the view. Why is it that the left resorts to name calling ? What is to be gained in resorting to attack rather than listening and presenting a point of view? You don't like a candidate, explain why. You have a right to your opinion, so do the rest of us. I believe that's what elections are all about.

I do feel sorry for all the Americans who feel threatened by the current turn of events, up until this point you were very cosy and secure watching your military pillage and destroy other countries. Let's just say the chickens have come home to roost. To generalise is of course not fair, most Americans are people of conscience who considered themselves powerless in the face of these actions by your government. Most Germans were of course also people of conscience during the rise of Hitler. Active Nazis only constituted roughly 10% of the German population. 90% didn't know about all the atrocities being committed against the Jews. Can Americans today claim the same ignorance?.... unfortunately not. All your wars and atrocities are well covered in the media and online, and there are scores of activists sounding the alarm against American hegemony. Did you honestly think if your political apparatus didn't have a conscience when it came to foreign policy, that they would miraculously develop a conscience when it came to the American people? None of these events is a surprise to any astute observer, maybe fascism is just what America needs in order for Americans to wake up. Nothing else have been able to reach them in that cocoon of Patriotic fervor and exceptionalism... Rogue nations always destroy themselves from within. I find it ironic that you bring up Christian values, when Americans have largely adulterated the teachings of Christ, sinking to the lowest level of human thinking rather than rising to the heights to which these truths ultimately lead. George Bush saying: "God told me to invade Iraq" is perhaps the starkest example.


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


I nominate Parker Palmer for President of the United States.

Our democracy has been described as a boat half full of water. As passengers in that boat, we always have the choice of abandoning the sinking ship, going down with it, or bailing water. I chose to bail. This essay is helping us bail.

This man is so scary and will destroy USA

Three things struck me after reading this article. First, it's interesting that Parker uses the phrase "republican political convictions" vs. "Democratic values." So I guess Republicans don't have values, they have political convictions, and Democrats don't have political convictions, but they have values? Ridiculous! Second, the Obama administration has done more to set us against one another than any other administration in history. And third, the Clinton "movement" has killed off more people, both literally and metaphorically than any other movement. It's also interesting that he doesn't include the 3,000 killed and over 6,000 injured in the 9/11 attacks in his statistics. Very tainted article.

I'm sorry but in your rush to react you transposed the first letters - If you read it again Republican is with a capital "R" and "democratic" is with a lower-case "d". “Can Republican political convictions and democratic values go hand-in-hand?” I believe that Parker’s intention with this sentence is ascribing “democratic values” to the following and not to a political party:

Core democratic values are the fundamental beliefs and constitutional principles of American society, which unite all Americans. These values are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States constitution and other significant documents, speeches, and writing of the nation.

It is an age-old story: first create an enemy where none exists, demonize that enemy, and then claim to be the lone champion to save us. Cooperation is good, mass-think is not. Compassion and empathy are best.

"There is irony upon irony in a fascist leader’s rise to power, but this may be the greatest irony of all: people’s sense of powerlessness leads them to empower a leader who makes them even more powerless." This, I believe, is the nub of it.

Dear Parker,
Your essay clearly challenges us to resist the human tendency—when things become absurd—to become spectators rather than get into the game. But this is clearly yet another moment in our collective life when watching fear-mongering from the sidelines won't do.

One of the most important conversations we all can have, indeed must have, is with our younger fellow-citizens—our kids, their friends, and any other young persons we may know. Those I've spoken with yearn for me to hear their concerns and to know what I think (as an older American) about what's happening in our politics. They express great relief upon hearing that I too am deeply troubled. The most sobering comment I've received from a young person has been: "I thought Americans are supposed to stand for good things, not ugly things." Listening to and supporting each other across generations is something we all can do to arrest fears and celebrate the many positive efforts that go on, each and every day, to strengthen the common good.

What an amazing article--well written and with so many answers in such a small space. It helped clarify many of my own thoughts and questions. Thank you.

Exactly as described here. Authoritarianism feeds on FEAR, and the desire to control that which we fear. And Fear is the opposite of Love.

Thank you Parker for stating in plainspoken, articulate, hard words the truths that need to be spoken in this disturbing season of fear. You have given us a viable path for engaging others in conversation (in writing and talk) and for "being not silent" at this critical time when it matters so much to all we hold dear in ourselves, our country and our world.

I could read this substituting the word "socialism" for "fascism" and the message is the same - equally appropriate for our times. Both sides of the political spectrum in the USA have a tendency to roast the other side - they don't understand how things really are, they aren't true believers/patriots/whatever - and both sides would be wrong. Socialism and fascism are both authoritarian, nationalistic, fond of central control and intolerant of other beliefs and points of view - they are so far left and right on the spectrum that they not only resemble each other, they are each other. But, the words "We must love each other or die" are true and a necessary reminder to us all.

So beautifully said Parker. I love this point especially: "There is irony upon irony in a fascist leader’s rise to power, but this may be the greatest irony of all: people’s sense of powerlessness leads them to empower a leader who makes them even more powerless."
And speaking of irony, your three traits of a fascist leader are in perfect juxtaposition to the Five Habits of the Heart.

Thank you--I so needed to hear your voice right about now.

Parker, thank you for your message. May we awaken to the reality of Trumpism and not vote blindly hoping he will be different as president.

Trump is a threat to our country, but the previous administrations haven't been? The world is a safer place because of political correctness. We should not offend the snowflakes because they just can't take it!! Pointing out the failures in the world are going to bring down the haters, you are a nazi, fascist, angry white male regardless of you color or gender. The pushback is happening, the pendulum is swinging, best move out of the way.

Michael, I read and re-read your post several times because I have a sense you are trying to express *something*. But what that is isn't at all clear. I would respectfully suggest you try again. What do you mean about "snowflakes"? Who is a "nazi, fascist, angry white male regardless…of color or gender"? What is it that you think about previous administrations? I'm sure your meaning is obvious to you, but I for one your posting a mystery.

Pete, sometimes I write things that I understand perfectly and overlook the fact that they may be taken out of context or read later in the argument. By snowflakes, I'm referring to people who live to be offended by any thought they don't agree with and demand that those thoughts be restricted or banned. Words like nazi, fascist, angry white male are used to invalidate any opinion some don't agree with. Current and previous administrations are basically the same, they have no consideration for the populace of this country. They care only for the continuance of their power and position. The title to this piece "Will Fascism Trump is an attempt to minimize the man and what he is saying. The accusation is clear. Agree or disagree with what he says but look through the words and see the establishment he is attacking. The hierarchy that is the establishment is the problem today. As a country we face incredible problems, none that can't be solved. Ignoring those issues and continuing to elect the status quo is insane. Is Trump the man? I have no idea but we've elected worse.

What is the common thread of fascists, racists, misogynists, et al.? I think it's the divide-and-conquer and silencing tactics paired with fear-mongering. "Fascism’s divide-and-conquer tactics, if we succumb to them, deprive us of the kind of civil conversations on which democracy thrives — conversations that allow us to reach a rough consensus on at least a few elements of the common good and hold our leaders accountable to it. When people-power is defused, a political vacuum is created in which fascism can move uninhibited, unchecked, and unhinged." Silence and fear are the enemies of civil discourse and the common good.

I believe fascism is "a tragic expression of an unmet need" as Marshall Rosenberg would say, and that the American public is thrashing out the answers faster than most of us, especially the bloggers and media, can possibly fathom. Our most appropriate response now is to empower spiritual resilience in ourselves and others, i.e. build personal and community support networks. Everything we need is within ourselves or within two blocks of our home. See

Thank you Parker so very much for this deeply moving column!
I will share it with my Sunday group.
Indeed,we must love one another or die!
Please continue to spread your wisdom around.
Your gifts will bear fruit,I trust that.

All you have written is so true & so scary. We pray that God is in control, as it seems we are being duped once again.

I am amazed at how much energy goes into the selection of a president and how little is left for the many local, state, and national positions that ensure our democracy endures. The most encouraging aspect of the current primary season is the awakening of the electorate on both the left and the right. How nice it would be if my neighbor, inclined to punch me in the nose, could benefit from free higher education. How sad it is that lack of attention to maintaining a representative government and the gridlock that has ensued has focused so many Americans on electing extreme Presidential candidates.

eliminating the "enemy" instead of creating growth, health, and community has been the norm since 9/11. fear is the anthesis of love. small wonder we find ourselves in our current state. the struggle has always been present. one simply needs to look at the demigods and dictators in place around the globe.
fascism is a powerful word.
thank you, parker,
--for most importantly using it and defining its roots in this essay. its truly unfortunate that mainstream media can not summon the same fearlessness.
one can feel "there's something happening here"

Thank you Parker Palmer for the siren post. We cannot watch, stand idly by or resign ourselves to whatever unfolds in the upcoming To disagree is not enough. We must act with intention and urgency to prevent history from repeating itself.

Here in Canada many of us are wondering what on earth has happened to our good neighbours. Would that as a people, Americans ignore the scathing remarks and ridicule of civil discourse, and come quickly to the realization of what is occurring in your nation. If not, the highest wall in the world will likely not keep safe your neighbours to either south or north. Thank you for your wisdom.

Many of us in the US wonder exactly the same thing. I find myself saying to my friends, "I just don't get this, I can't understand this."

What we are hearing and seeing today is very much parallel to the 1930s in Deutchland with the angry mobs, promises of easy solutions and revenge, scapegoating and xenophobia. How un-American to vote for an unqualified person who is part of the elite, who knows nothing of democracy and loudly offers solutions only possible with a dictator ignoring the other two branches of government. We are in the most dangerous position that our nation has been in since the McCarthy era.
Remember: we have never been in realistic danger from the left; we are always one step away from Facism!

This is beautifully written and compellingly argued but I fear you are preaching to the choir. I despair of how to change the minds of Trump followers and/or get this perspective before those who have yet to decide.

Thanks So important to say. I find it vital that no one's ideas be silenced, Nastiness festers in silence. Trump resonates with many people who's bigotry and small-mindedness were silenced for too long.
Instead disagree. Disagree loudly and often. Let the ideas and ideologies come at each other in the strongest of dialectics hopefully with neither side taking the view that opposition to one's views is equal to opposition to the person holding them.

I have seen comparisons between Trump and Hitler. The similarities are scary. This writing confirms much of my thinking. I love Crista Tipppet and her show On Being. Thanks for sharing.

I pray Americans will wake up and see Mr. Trump as the deceiver and demon of democracy which he is.


I honestly wonder how much of America's problems come from lack of access to education. If you don't learn what other cultures are like, how can you question your own? If you don't see what strangers are like, doesn't everyone seem strange? For a country with such esteemed universities it breaks my heart to see how few people get to have brilliant schooling. The American dream seems to be a myth, plain and simple, because access to an education is wildly uneven. Your hard work can only take you so far! It seems like they keep selling the American dream to keep everyone placated and optimistic, perhaps they are starting to realize that the system wildly unfair. Trump's fascism hardly seems like the answer, but how should people know it? His followers may have never even studied WWII. Those who don't learn are doomed to repeat former mistakes.

Thank you, Parker--well said. Your words really resonate with me.

This is such an important article. I remember when Khomeini came to rise promising people things he never intended to deliver and the bloodshed and terror that ensued. And so many people looking back said, I didn't know, I helped him rise. We at at a crossroads. Time and time again, people said, I wish I had spoken up. The greatest threat is robbing us of our collective power and then our liberties. Please please please don't take freedom for granted.

The threw bullett points in this article are the sop of the party you affiliate with. Are you so blind? Trump is an obvious caricature but Hillary and Obama are very effective practitioners of the three techniques you describe in your article. It is so sad that democrats are so blind to the tyranny they impose on others, speech codes, character assassinations, passive aggressivism

Eric Fromm's work on the authoritarian character is good to review today (Escape From Freedom). Eight years of anti-Obama propaganda, FOX, and the powers that be use of terror, has now set in motion all the negative elements of mimesis (Rene Girard) and "the mob" now acts out the violent language and seeks its destructive end. Thanks! Indeed, this is no time for quietism.

How many fascists voted for Walter Mondale? Please with the desperate comparisons. Dude voted for Hillary Clinton twice. Don wasn't born in 1889 racist Austria. He was born in "doo-wop" Flushings, New York. This is all about winning Parker. Not about marching people into ovens.

Thank you Parker for your thoughtful and articulate contribution. I can only add : "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck...".

I will read this many times in order to give my voice to what my heart feels. Thank you

fascism began when the Roman Senate yielded their powers to dictators, at first due to the threat of wars. Eventually, the power was gone for good. It took two thousand years of sacrifice and uncounted sacrifices by ethical and brave people to return those powers to elected officials. Even then, the dark forces based on our human sinfulness always strove to regain autocracy's reign of absolute rule. We have been lulled into indifference by bounty and security bought by the lives of patriots. The current crop of political leaders and appointees have exhibited corruption to be sure, but that's nothing new. What's different now is that we can't be lied to as easily. The record interest in this election and participation unheard of in our lifetimes should be cause for optimism. There is little chance of either Clinton or Trump becoming the executive, but if they do they will be forestalled by the people's will expressed with revolutionary speed and precision. The world has inexorably changed forever. Be of good heart, and trust the power of the people to stumble towards and eventually gain an outcome of spectacular result.

It's a lovely day for simply sayin ', "It's a lovely day!"
Now all of you great thinkers remember to write your essay for the Great American Think-Off in New York Mills, Minnesota!
Parker needs to enter, methinks...

Thank you for revealing some of the thinking that has indeed contributed to the greatness of the USA. We, elsewhere in the western world, wait in hope that American citizens will think deeply on these issues before casting their votes in what seems to be a complex and rather undemocratic electoral system. How has it come to pass that so much money is required to stand for president?

A year ago the Republican Party couldn't imagine that Trump would be where he is today, and now they're openly repelled and scared. But they've been using extreme fear tactics for years. What did they think would happen? And they've been trying to erode the Bill of Rights for years with doubletalk (limiting voting rights = safeguarding your right to vote). By the way, how often do you hear the term Bill of Rights mentioned in mainstream media discussions? The party of Big Money has been s crewing the little guy and feeding him lies so long that Trump was inevitable. ThaNks for this well--written article.

Thank you, Parker, for so clearly naming the frightening, maddening, experience I/we are having. And, for so clearly reminding us of the responsibilities we have to remember how to have civil and important conversations with one another - including those we disagree with - regardless of our political orientation, our political preferences. I am baffled and embarrassed by the fact that we can all be 'encouraged' to watch adults berate, ridicule each other, and whoever 'does it best' somehow represents who we might want to vote for as President? What? When did bullying become a desirable trait for a leader of our country - or for any responsible adult? Our processes and practices feel clearly headed 'off the rails' to me, and we all need to step up to the plate in the ways we know how to help change the direction. You have beautifully reminded of that.

The "he's a fascist argument" comes from profound ignorance of who Mussolini and Hitler were and what made them different from other political leaders. My standard response has become: "Sure, Trump is fascist and Hillary is a fascist and you are a fascist and so am I." The argument is garbage.

I think one has to distinguish between the term as (1) pertaining to political philosophy, and (2) in an extended use as a pejorative. In my opinion Parker has stated a serious and valid argument in the primary sense. One can dispute the premises, and disagree with the conclusions, but the argument itself bears up.

I have attained the nearly ripe age of 69 this year, a fact in and of itself , I find amazing! I endured the steel strikes in Pittsburgh of the 1950's, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution of the 1960's and during all those events, the evolving revolution to define human rights through the eyes and hearts of my African-American brothers and sisters! I have an under-graduate degree in History and Political Science, A Masters in Counseling and a Masters in Divinity from some rather prestigious colleges and Universities. I have championed the dynamic of difference as a cornerstone of "We the people" Democracy! Mr. Palmer has succinctly and accurately exposed the threat facing our system of government. One other source of literary achievement that sheds loads of insight to this salient issue is a work completed in post WWII by the acclaimed author Milton Meyer, the title of which is: "They Thought They Were Free." This volume closely examines what fascism is and how people clung so desperately to the faith in human dignity of the authority in power that they became the victims of the most horrific atrocities ever to afflict the human race. My hat is off to Mr. Palmer and his excellent review of the man called Trump and his fear-mongering .

I left the USA for Canada in 1968 to escape the pain of involuntarily supporting the war in Vietnam Nam. Now Donald Trump seeks to further divide us by scapegoating Muslins, immigrants, Mexicons and all of us who accept non violence co-existence as preferable to hate, fear and endless bloodshed. We must resist the false prophet.

I wonder how many people reading this article will see the hypocrisy that just can't be denied? I remember a "hope and change" candidate running in the 2008 general election whose name could easily be inserted for Mr. Trump's name in many instances.

Thank you, Parker.

I'm sure Mr. Palmer believes he is doing us all a moral service by pointing out how every right thinking person should align themselves against the fascist Donald Trump. That conclusion is so obviously right to him that, even though calling Mr. Trump a fascist is an admitted inhibitor to the kind of dialogue he purports to seek, that is of little consequence in this case because, in his view, there is really nothing to discuss. He is even willing to adorn his essay with a sinister looking picture of Mr. Trump to further drive home his point about this demonic fascist who must be stopped. But that tactic too is OK because he believes he is in the right. It's the same logic used by those who disrupt meetings and rallies (for Trump or anyone else) or who keep speakers from campus engagements: "We're right; they offend me; shut 'em down."

Mr. Palmer's essay goes on to insinuate that anyone who would support such an egotistical, insecure autocrat must themselves be suffering from a kind of psycho-spiritual pathology themselves -- talk about a conversation stopper! I don't know what happened to that "dialogue of differences that characterize democracy at its creative best" that we were all supposed to want, but here again, those things don't seem to matter because apparently there is nothing to discuss. Dismiss the man as fascist; dismiss any supporters as needful hate-mongers. Case closed. Sure glad that's settled.......

One of the most revealing books I have read is "In the Garden of Beasts" (Erik Larson, 2011) , the story of how the US State department continued to deny the reports of the Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, in the mid 1930s. All the reports of Jewish oppression in Berlin; beatings, arrests, imprisonments, strict rules on saluting the German police, censoring of the press, were deemed to be just coincidences or anomalies by those in Washington. Not until the real atrocicities took place, especially Kristallnacht, did we wake from our so peaceful nap. After all, Hitler was just trying to "make Germany great again." If anyone has the foolish idea that Trump is not a modern day Hitler, just Google "quotes from Hitler" and "quotes from Trump;" they are terrifyingly similar. I can only hope and pray that we as a people wake up and understand that the path which we might take has been taken before, and resulted in world chaos and death. It indeed would be insane and suicidal to continue on it.

One of the most memorable books I have read is Eric Larson's "In the Garden of Beasts." It is the story of William Dodd, the first Ambassador to Hitler's Germany in the min 1930's. Despite all the reports of what was happening to the Jews in Germany (beatings, arrests, imprisonments, censoring of the press, strict obedience by everyone in saluting the police on the street, closing of Jewish businesses, etc.) the State department dismissed them all as coincidences or isolated incidences. Not until the real atrocities occurred, especially Kristallnacht, did we wake up from our comfortable nap. After all, Hitler just wanted to "make Germany great again!" Lest anyone thinks that Trump is not a modern day Hitler, just Google "quotes by Hitler," and "quotes by Trump." They are terrifyingly similar. Unless we wake up and pay attentionwe will remain insane in thinking that world chaos and death cannot repeat itself.

Fascism is proper term for the political system we have been living under for many decades. There is a subtlety to the fascism that rules this country. It remains hidden behind rigged elections, puppet politicians, and insincere promises. The elections are decided by the people, but the candidates presented are placed there by the ruling class, and answerable only to the ruling class. This class fears and placates the populace, and we accept them begrudgingly.

Trump is a danger to the country. He speaks to weakness and fear, and uses it as a rallying cry. But part of this cry is against the ineffectual fascist system that we have in place. Sanders is much the same in this way, and his supporters are arguably even louder. Where Trump uses hate, Sanders uses love, but they both are promising a war against the ruling class. The rulers fear Sanders more than Trump, as is evidenced by the media's undying love affair with the billionaire and utter disregard for the senator.

The people do not want to be blind, stumbling through a dark and threatening forest. We struggle to see at all. Trump is so hard to ignore, that he makes us feel like we see a way out. But his path leads us only deeper into the darkness.

This article helps me to be able to express what has been ruminating in my brain. Let the s all hope the people can know a fascist when seen.

Gallows Tree

Hold your mongrel
tongue, before
the war's

your weapons
of mass

Let not loose
your dogs of war
to settle an old
forgotten score

these people
are people
no more

Let not hate
run wild
do not betray
a mother's child

And burning
bodies, again
they are

And you, pretend
not to see
God hangin' from
a gallows tree

This will be a difficult call for Republicans because with his nomination do they just not vote, or do they have the courage to vote against and by showing a huge landslide put Mr. Trump's type of bombastic rhetoric buried and unacceptable in a free civil society. But since racism has been a part of the current administrations troubles, anything is now possible.

I wonder how many folks who fear fascism also fear communism, and socialism ; all three "isms" have been the cause of great suffering, and death.

Thank you Parker for calling us to a higher road in a deeply thoughtful, not just rhetorical way. I will not to be paralyzed out of fear and I am grateful to have you as my teacher, mentor, friend, guide... Thank you for this urgently needed piece.

As always Parker Palmer comes forth with wisdom and a clarion call to action when our humanity and democracy is threatened by fascist voices such as Donald Trump's. It is now our turn to step forward and spread the word to others, be that in quiet conversation or in more vocal forms of communication.

Beautifully written and an absolutely perfect description of what is at stake in this presidential election. Thank you.

I'm a Democrat. Talking with an anti-Trump Republican friend yesterday we started thinking about the rounding up of undocumented aliens under King Donald. Many Right-Wing folks have been collecting guns to fight the government take over that has not come. What happens if immigrants arm themselves against Trumps facism? Weapons are readily available. We could be in for a blood bath. Our country is truly looking into the abyss.

Hello Parker I am thankful that you have a clear vision of what Mr. Trump is. It gives me hope for a better future for my grandchildren.

Always loved the Quakers, and Brother Palmer. Krista is doing her level best to remind us of Jesus Christ's standards, which were incorporated by the Founders in the USA. Thank you for speaking out ... I am limited, being associated with a crazy leader at my university, hearkening to Falwell-Reagan excesses. This is worse ... so I thank you as a foreigner here for three decades. My green card is frozen, while I have a diplomatic visa (I was in the State Dept equivalent for Nelson Mandela) but some Maryland attorney general's staffer put a red flag on my application. It is impossible to remove ...But JESUS! alelujah in the Triune God I serve, we al shall be redeemed ..and sit in heavenly places because of Jesus' Righteousness and forgiveness. I do not compare myself to Islamic standards as Trump-lings like to do; our standard is the best, out of this world, looking to Jesus (even His human life) and Death on a cruel cross for ingrates like me. shalom, shalom. God bless Jerusalem, USA and all His Creation. amen! Thanks Krista Sister in His footsteps

I cannot but feel something that is threatening in the Trump race. It is like a dark shadow towering over all of us, stealing the light from above.