Steve July 25, 2020
authoritarianism, gay news, Washington Blade
President Tweety McTreason (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The academic community has long been urging us to realize that although this threat sounds surreal, it is in fact, all too real

Our greatest intellectual Achilles heel is that we tend not to believe something that hasn’t happened to us. Most people reading this have never lived under authoritarianism. We just can’t imagine it and so we disbelieve this threat, in spite of the abundance of cold hard evidence, and the abundance of academics and other experts who have been warning us about Trump’s authoritarian take-over for years. Ultimately, it is not Trump that puts us at grave risk: It is our lack of imagination to comprehend the danger ahead of us that he presents. 

In the weeks before I became the only candidate to legally withdraw from the Ward 2 special election, I made a discovery that rocked my fundamental understanding of the world around us, and hence compelled me to focus exclusively on scouring through as much academic research as possible on the issue.

That discovery was this: firstly, the election in November will not save us from Trump. Trump will steal the election and will refuse to leave the White House; Congress will not act; the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to act; the military cannot act; and (to paraphrase Amherst Law professor Lawrence Douglas), there is a black hole in the Constitution – it has no provision for this scenario. In other words, there is precisely nothing to save us from Trump’s authoritarian takeover, except us – you and me, we the people (as authoritarianism scholar Dr. Sarah Kendzior and other authoritarian academics repeatedly point out).

The second part of this discovery was this: We are living through an authoritarian takeover by Trump, right now. I first stumbled upon this view in Dr Sarah Kendzior’s work. Then I found that numerous other authoritarian experts and academics fully agree with Kendzior – including NYU Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Yale Professors Tim Snyder and Jason Stanley. 

Four months on from my GLAA submission, eviscerating Trump’s and Barr’s war on the equal dignity and rights of our LGBTQ community, my level of concern is vastly elevated. Even before Trump’s political debut in 2015, we still hadn’t made nearly enough progress as a country on LGBTQ rights: We can’t go backwards.

And so I implore you, with all my heart, to do the following, now:

Realize that Trump has utilized the power of shock to consistently stay ahead of us at every turn for the last five years. Realize that we need to get ahead of him for once, by pre-empting his next shocking action and acting before he does.

Realize that we must dramatically step up our neglected form of citizen power now – mass, pre-emptive protest and demonstration, with public group statements, placed everywhere. We must give Trump a visual, loud and clear message now, that we will not allow him to turn this country into an authoritarian state. We must clearly articulate this threat: if we don’t have the guts to even use these words (“authoritarianism”) and call it out, then we stand no chance of defeating it. 

Realize the profoundly powerful platform that we have here in Ward 2, right in the heart of the nation’s capital, by being an example of citizen power in a way that Trump will find hard to manipulate (unlike voting) for other communities around the country. We must demonstrate our power, now, to Trump, before he acts and shocks us yet again.

Former Democratic Sen. Timothy Wirth and the founder of MSNBC Tom Rogers were absolutely correct in urging us all that “there needs to be an outpouring at all levels of society that this will not be tolerated .. The president has to know there will be overwhelming resistance to any post-election chaos to undermine our constitutional order.”

I urge every reader to get every organization that you are affiliated with, to issue group statements, standing up to Trump’s clear, blatant authoritarian takeover.

Understanding and talking about this threat is not enough: each one of us is obliged to act. Any embarrassment at standing up to do the right thing is a negligible price to pay for something so infinitely precious – all of our safety, our lives, our equal dignity and our shared humanity, especially of those most at risk of this existential Trumpian threat. 

Katherine Venice is a former candidate for Ward 2 D.C. Council.

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