The Countdown to… What?

We face another 354 days of uncertainty, then: November 5th. Even the best outcome will bring a mixture of relief and dread.

Two-thirds of the country will sigh with relief if #45 fails to mutate into #47. Then they’ll hold their breath as the remaining third—armed, angry, and impervious to reason—decides what it’s going to do about it.

If they were Democrats they would argue amongst themselves then splinter into factions. That is a law as inexorable as gravity.

Not this crowd, though. These are rough and ready Republicans, eager to follow a strong, inspiring leader, right into the Gates of Hell!

There will be no shortage of applicants for the position. This, too, is a law. Appropriately enough, it’s market-based—the law of supply and demand.

The gold rushes of yore have all petered out, but with the right wing forever standing there to be fleeced, would-be demagogues will be scrambling to grab the shears.

To appreciate the scope of this market, just turn on your car radio: “Prepare for the future with Patriotic Survival Food.” “Protect yourself from the Looming Financial Collapse by Investing in a Gold IRA.” “You say you just shot somebody? No sweat—so long as you bought that insurance policy Sean Hannity has been selling.” If those ads weren’t profitable, you wouldn’t be hearing them.

It’s a sordid job, but maybe that adds to the appeal.

So much for our best-case scenario. Let’s now look at what could happen if the faction that now dominates our political landscape manages to accomplish what it’s clearly trying to do.

[checks notes…] Um… don’t know quite how to put this, but… are you ready for a fascist dictatorship?

We are emboldened to put this matter so bluntly because it is now an approved journalistic practice to report on “not the odds, but the stakes.”

The foremost proponent of this fresh approach is Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU. He argues that “the organizing principle we most need from journalists covering the 2024 election [is not] who has what chances of winning, but the consequences for our democracy.” As the nation’s senior news organization, we have done this instinctively since taking over the paper. It’s reassuring to see others catching up.

Having thus calmed and fortified our editorial selves, perhaps we can now confront recent events.

Former President Donald Trump, taking time out from his many court appearances in which he has been answering a long list of felony charges, appeared in Claremont, New Hampshire on Veterans Day, as part of his campaign to regain the White House.

“We pledge to you,” he told his followers, “that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country….” Because we did not watch the video, we cannot say if he was wearing an armband as he spoke.

The New York Times clearly did not get Jay Rosen’s memo. Its headline read, “Trump Takes Veterans Day Speech in a Very Different Direction.” It was later changed to a somewhat less obsequious “In Veterans Day Speech, Trump Promises to ‘Root Out’ the Left.”

The Washington Post was less circumspect. Its headline read, “Trump calls political enemies ‘vermin,’ echoing dictators Hitler, Mussolini.”

The Post quoted Columbia University’s Timothy Naftali saying, “When you dehumanize an opponent, you strip them of their constitutional rights to participate securely in a democracy because you’re saying they’re not human. That’s what dictators do.”

NYU historian Ruth Ben-Giat told the Post, “calling people ‘vermin’ was used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.”

With resources to spare, the Post took time to offer the Trump campaign an opportunity to respond.

“[T]hose who try to make that ridiculous assertion,” said spokesman Steven Cheung, “are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”

“Cheung later clarified,” according to the Post, “that he meant to say their ‘sad, miserable existence’ instead of their ‘entire existence.’”

Well, that’s certainly much better.

A hundred years ago last week, Adolf Hitler and two thousand of his fascist followers attempted a violent coup in Munich. It failed, but they persisted.

Less than ten years later Hitler was elected Chancellor. Over the course of 20 months, through a series of ten acts passed in the Reichstag, Germany went from being a democratic parliamentary republic to Nazi totalitarianism.

Playing into their stereotyped image, Germans have a word for this process. Among electrical engineers, Gleichschaltung means “all on the same circuit.” For historians of the Third Reich, Gleichschaltung connotes “coordination.”

In American English, it’s Project 2025—a 920-page blueprint published by the Heritage Foundation. It may be named for the year when the Foundation’s funders hope that #45 will become #47. Many of its hundreds of authors were officials in his administration.

On the other hand—since there is a chance that by that time, #45’s presidential designation may be superseded by an eight-digit ID from the Bureau of Prisons—2025 may just be the last year our ruling class intends to put up with democracy. They know they can always find an as-yet unindicted figurehead.

Whatever the details of its origin story, Project 2025 is ready to go: an elaborate plan to coordinate a broad swath of objectives—tearing down the wall between church and state, eliminating the IRS, gutting Social Security, tightening voting restrictions—to create an explicitly reactionary state.

We had better be ready.

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