And what, exactly am I reading?
A lot of history. Specifically, resistance during World War II, because I’m looking for hope in the experiences of others who fought and resisted Nazis and won.
I just finished a couple of books about women who led resistance factions in Vichy France. I admit, I did not realize the utter horror of the Vichy sell-out to Hitler, and reading these books, set against that backdrop…Jesus. And the brutality and suffering inflicted on thousands of people during that era is hard to fathom, but somehow, people built ingenious resistance networks in Nazi-occupied France, and through their hard work, resilience, and willingness to do whatever they had to do in the work of liberation…well, it helped liberate that country. So many were captured and tortured and many others died, but they knew all of that was a risk and they were willing to do it because of what Germany had unleashed on France and because corrupt Vichy leaders sold them all out, and because it was the right thing to do.
I’m currently reading a book that details 1940-1941 in England, just after Churchill became Prime Minister of England. The book details how the UK basically prepped for Hitler’s invasion. They watched, hoping France wouldn’t make a deal with Hitler and when France did, Churchill ramped up preparations for war, because he understood that if England fell to Germany, that was it. Game over. And sure enough, the attack came. That’s the Blitz, which resulted in the Battle of Britain, and we know that Hitler’s forces were stopped. It’s inspirational, to know that there were people who understood the dangers they faced, and who were willing to do something about it.
On election day, I thought about what happened in France when D-Day came, June 6, 1944. It was a brutal, awful landing on the beaches of Normandy, but eventually, Allied forces prevailed.
However, the retreating Nazi forces upped their reign of terror, laying waste to whatever they could, including people, as Allied forces pushed them out of France.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
The election did not solve what’s happened in this country. It may have slowed it, but we have a retreating authoritarian leader who is laying waste to everything he possibly can and his collaborators (the Vichy Senate, in this case), are hard at work installing more shills and racists into positions it’s hard to be fired from and ramming judges into federal vacancies (227, I believe, at last count), including a 33-year-old woman with no trial experience whose husband happens to be with DHS. Both are friends of Stephen Miller, the architect of the horrific immigration policies the lame duck administration enacted.
We’re also dealing with a political party whose ideology aligns more closely to far-right authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz. Though experts rate the U.S. GOP as more hostile to minority rights than Fidesz.
Think about that. An American political party is ranked as a greater threat to underrepresented people than a Hungarian hard-right party led by a man who has expressed hostility to Jews and Muslims and most recently launched an aggressive political campaign against LGBTQ people.
Experts on comparative politics say the GOP is an extremist outlier, no longer belonging in the same conversation with “normal” right-wing parties like Canada’s Conservative Party (CPC) or Germany’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU). Instead, it more closely resembles more extreme right parties — like Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary or Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP in Turkey — that have actively worked to dismantle democracy in their own countries. — Zach Beauchamp, “The Republican Party is an Authoritarian Outlier,” Vox (9/22/2020)
Point being, even when the Allies arrived and stormed those French beaches in 1944, it wasn’t the abrupt end of occupied France. Lots of people suffered and lots of people died in the weeks and months that followed.
And the years that followed, frankly.
I remind you that the guy voted out in November is not a cause of what’s been happening. He’s a symptom of decades of rot and white supremacist culture. It took a while, too, for the Republican Party to get to this point, and we’re also dealing with centuries of systems designed to favor certain people over others. So removing this guy from office — and once an authoritarian is in power, it’s very, very difficult to get them out — is not going to solve this huge horrible mess in this country. It’s put a bandaid on a gushing wound.
The actual cure for this?
Us. We the people.
Do not sit back and think oh, okay, we’ve got this other guy in office and now everything will be fine.
I hope that the last four years have made you realize that no, that’s not the case. We are not okay. And if we want to continue to even have a democracy, we have to work even harder to organize, to stay civically engaged on local and state levels as well as federal, and to hold officials and each other accountable. Democracy is an ethos, as I’ve said before. It’s not a “show up and vote once every couple of years.” It’s a show up all the damn time.
Because the next time an authoritarian comes to power in this country, they’re going to be much, much worse and more organized than this one was.
In case you wanted to read the three books I mentioned above:
Erik Larson, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (Crown, 2020)
Lynne Olson, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War (Random House, 2019)
Sonia Purnell, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (Penguin, 2020)