The evidence pile gets higher by the day. Facing unprecedented social welfare crises – a never-ending pandemic, serial climate catastrophes, a steep decline in mental health, rampant domestic gun violence, health-impairing decayed public infrastructure, acute housing shortages and homelessness, rising rates and severity of economic inequality, mass poverty, near-poverty and unsustainable debt among working class people, among them – the most democratic arm of our national government, i.e. Congress, seems paralyzed, but for doing one thing – making war and investing hundreds of billions of dollars in the hope of sustaining U.S. global geopolitical dominance. This is the way of dying empires. The long-standing conviction of “American exceptionalism,” with its corollaries of “the greatest nation the world has ever seen,” “the bastion of democracy,” “the moral compass of the world order,” and “it can’t happen here,” is so much self-delusion.
It can happen here; it is happening here. We already knew that its extremist Trump-loving, MAGA-mad base was calling the shots of the Republican party, checking off pretty much all the boxes of a fascist mindset: Cult of (male) personality, check. Fake “populism,” check. White supremacy, racist “othering,” and racialized ultra-nationalism, check, check, check. Promulgation of “big lies” and magical thinking regardless of evident fact, check. Contempt for the rule of law whenever it stands in the way, check. Proclivity for political violence in response to resistance, check. Fanciful thirst to return to a mythic past of national greatness, wedded to intact authoritarian hierarchies, check. You don’t have to wear a swastika on your shirt or wave a confederate flag (though some do) to show yourself a fascist.
Now we know even more. The January 6 Congressional committee has made it plain for all with eyes to see and ears to hear that Trump and his band of loyalist crazies plotted a literal coup aimed a keeping Trump in office regardless of the electoral college (itself a profoundly antidemocratic device that put Trump in office, despite a popular vote defeat, in the first place). That coup failed (if barely), but a well-planned, longer-running coup of sorts is succeeding all too well, in the form of a reactionary Supreme Court seemingly hellbent on rolling back civil rights gained over decades of progressive struggle, and of a rightwing takeover of electoral processes at the state level, including gerrymandered electoral maps, various targeted voting rights restrictions, and in some cases new authority of state legislatures to ignore or overturn electoral outcomes.
Present U.S. political trends are disheartening, indeed. A government unable to address the material needs of a majority of its population – especially one possessing abundant resources with which to do so – is a government flirting with terminal illegitimacy, a failed state opening the door for fascist pseudo “solutions” and violent fantasies of “national renewal.” By the time the January 6 committee issues its final report, Trump himself may be done for. But Trumpism, and the fascistic political pathology it reflects, is not; indeed, it is widely expected to make substantial electoral gains this November, with a likelihood of Republicans retaking both chambers of Congress. If they do, the only thing standing in the way of a legalized authoritarian makeover of American society, including reworking social welfare policies dating back to the New Deal and its gradual expansion, will be a weak and unpopular octogenarian president.
This is very bad news for the nation and the world. It is especially bad news for the populations that social workers profess to care most about – the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the disenfranchised – for these are the very people the right relies upon as convenient scapegoats for every social ill.