The Battle of Our Lives
Confederates, Nazis and the Continuing Danger of Insurrectionists (first published 7/16/21).
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Author’s note: This was originally published on July 16, 2021. This is one of a series of essays that I’m sharing over the holidays that we published since our February 28 launch. Sadly, this topic has only become more relevant.
Every time I think we can move forward as a nation, the dark forces keep pulling us down. This is the battle of our lives, playing out in real time, right in front of our eyes. There was a time when the political divisions and confrontations seemed more nuanced, more civil, more likely to end in a tolerable middle ground. Not now. Not as long as we are faced with a major party that has abandoned democracy and denies knowable truth with the goal of getting and keeping power, even if it requires a sociopathic commitment to cruelty, injustice and political violence.
Over the last four years, I’d often tweet and ask myself: Do I really have to say things that should be so obvious? But I came to realize that Trump and the damage he and his enablers were causing required an assertion of first principles.
On Tuesday, President Biden spoke clearly about the assault on voting rights and the Big Lie of election fraud. He called it “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.” He also called it a "21st Century Jim Crow assault," harking back to denying enslaved people full citizenship until after the Civil War and the poll taxes, literacy tests and “Ku Klux Klan campaigns of violence and terror that lasted into the ‘50s and ‘60s.”
Add to this the attempt by Republicans to rile up the racist and uneducated contingent by claiming there’s no such thing as systemic racism and stoking the idea that so-called “critical race theory” must be canceled at all costs. It’s as if they don’t grasp that the Civil War is over and the Confederacy lost—that pursuing the same dark path of hatred and cruelty and denial of equal rights, indeed human rights, is somehow a way forward for America rather than the last gasp of a dying breed.
Then we have two new books, dredging up the despicable appeal that Adolph Hitler has provided for the deranged, disgraced, twice-impeached former occupant of the White House. As if the question of the Nazis was not a settled issue, Trump was reported to have told his Chief of Staff John Kelly during the 2018 visit to Europe to commemorate the end of World War I, “Well, Hitler did a lot of good things.”
This from Michael Bender’s book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election, is now followed by new reporting from Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker in their new book, I Alone Can Fix It. The authors recount that Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described “a stomach-churning” feeling as he listened to Trump’s endless complaints of election fraud—and his fear that Trump would use the military to hold onto power.
The authors say Milley compared this moment to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building, used by Hitler to install Nazi dictatorship. Milley reportedly told his aides, “This is a Reichstag moment. The gospel of the Führer.” Milley went further, fearing that Trump’s “Million MAGA March” in mid-November would be like Nazi “Brownshirts in the streets.”
One can argue that Milley could have taken more public steps to quell the growing danger that reached its violent zenith on January 6—and that the authors could have reported this sooner if they knew it—but we saw how Trump was more than ready to replace legitimate leaders like Milley with autocrat-loving goons when he could. But once again, Milley’s reflections remind us that we are facing Republican leadership (and followers) who are sticking with the man who referred to the violent neo-Nazis in Charlottesville as “very fine people.” (We should expect that House investigators of January 6 will include testimony from the general during their hearings.)
Yes, at the risk of harping, I repeat my insistence that the public needs to know that the inciters, the funders and organizers will not be let off the hook. That includes the former Inciter-in-Chief, who continues to roam free, deluded in the belief that he will regain power.
Until he and the others are held accountable for their role inciting the deadly attack, we will continue to hear from elected officials like Missouri’s Senator Josh Hawley, who failed to mention the Capitol violence in his speech last weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas. “I was called a traitor, I was called a seditionist, the radical left said I should [resign], and if I wouldn’t resign, I should be expelled from the United States Senate,“ Hawley said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Hawley, Trump, Cruz: These are some of the ambitious leaders of the murderous insurrection who hold the spotlight and believe they’ve got a green light to keep going. Unlike the Confederates, unlike the Nazis, they are going to end victorious. Or so they think, at least as long as they can continue to poison the bloodstream and those in power fail to address the urgent danger to the body politic.
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