Soon after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, a professor of European history at Yale University, Timothy Snyder, warned in the New York Times and on Facebook that American society — and, indeed, the democratic world — is in peril, if it forgets the critical catalysts of fascism in Europe, and the need to defend democratic institutions from those catalysts.
In his new book On Tyranny, the professor expanded on that warning. He said untruth is a precondition of tyranny, and warned all democratic societies that “post-truth is pre-fascism.”
That line can be properly applied to most members of the Republican party who are seeking to reinstall Donald Trump as U.S. president in 2024 and to take over the U.S. Congress in 2022. These members also undermined voting rights and independent election monitoring in the cause of massive untruths in the 2020 election, which was won by President Joe Biden.
How should the democratic world react to this possible takeover of the world’s most powerful democratic state by an authoritarian party and government, whose repetition of “post-truths” mirrors the rise of fascist parties and governments in Europe before the Second World War?
At minimum, the democratic world outside the U.S. should join the chorus of outrage within it at the attempts by Republican-controlled states to limit voting rights to those communities most likely to oppose this frightening version of the Republican party. It should also denounce allowing partisan electoral officers and commissions, rather than the vote count, to determine an election’s outcome.
If the vote is suppressed, manipulated — or, worse still, ignored by partisan electoral officials or commissions — democracy starts to vanish and autocracy rises. The right to vote is the foundation of all other rights in a democratic society. Imperilling that right is the slippery slope to undermining all other rights, as the fascist governments in Germany and Italy demonstrated, and as seen today in another government led by a strongman in Russia.
If such pre-fascism behaviour is allowed without global democratic protest, it could become a precedent for other would-be authoritarian leaders in the remaining democratic states. Governments of countries as diverse as Myanmar and Belarus — and, possibly, Brazil — are already refusing to accept the outcome of elections, repeating Trump’s “Big Lie” by claiming election fraud to stay in power.
The democratic world should also join those within the U.S. who are worried by the leaders of autocratic governments who’ve turned their countries into illiberal democracies — and worse. The likes of Hungary, Poland, and Russia have managed to turn their electoral processes, independent judiciaries, and state-controlled news media into instruments for entrenching their autocratic governments.
If Trump runs in and wins the next presidential election, and the authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán, whom Trump has endorsed, wins re-election in Hungary, these precedents will threaten the future of liberal democracies everywhere.
The remaining states that are committed to liberal democracy should be considering out loud what political and military alliances could be adjusted in a scenario of an elected post-truth, neo-fascist Republican administration in the U.S.
Could the U.S. led by a newly elected Trump remain a member of the G7, if he and his party were involved in subverting voting rights and overturning an election that favoured the Democratic party? At what point could the democratic world remain silent, if a Republican administration promises to implement laws and policies that undermine the independence of judiciaries, news media, and other guardrails of the U.S. democracy?
Finally, can the democratic world turn a blind eye to a Republican administration that campaigns on passing racially discriminatory laws against U.S. citizens, residents, and refugees, and seeks to force allies to adapt national-security, immigration, and refugee agreements to reinforce such policies?
Given our economic, social, and military ties, Canada and Canadians could stay silent, fearing that voicing the dangers of such a U.S. administration could lead to massive retaliation, if the Republican party led by Trump does win in 2024.
But cowering and appeasement has never been a good survival strategy in the face of a foe seeking to dominate and oppress. Instead, Canadians in the public and private sectors, and news outlets that are committed to democracy, must take every opportunity to point out the dangers of going down the neo-fascist path. They should use all connections, public or not, to engage with American voters and urge them to take all necessary measures to avoid the imminent collapse of democracy, while also offering any legally permissible help.
To conclude on an optimistic note, this author believes a majority of voters, including independents and Republicans like Liz Cheney, will oppose the possible post-truth path taken by the party’s leaders and supporters.
Given the deep polarization in the U.S., however, the victory may well be a slim one, and any help that the democratic world can offer opponents of would-be autocrats could be critical in preventing the catastrophic impact of a U.S. administration that has more in common with those of Orbán’s Hungary or Putin’s Russia than with Canada’s, the U.K.’s, or the EU’s.
Errol Mendes is a professor of constitutional and international law, president of the International Commission of Jurists, Canada, and a recipient of the Order of Ontario.
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