One Step Behind

The following words from Hannah Arendt have been haunting me as we continue to see the rise of authoritarian and xenophobic nationalism in the United States, Europe, and even in Brazil:

“It was the nature of the Nazi movement that it kept moving, becoming more radical with each passing month, but one of the outstanding characteristics of its members was that psychologically they tended to be always one step behind the movement – that they had the greatest difficulty in keeping up with it, or, as Hitler used to phrase it, they they could not ‘jump over their own shadow’” (Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 63).

At each step in the current movement towards more extreme expressions of fascism, most of its followers seem oblivious to where this will lead. Granted some are not oblivious at all, but the fascist movement needs millions who are rather oblivious to its implications to follow it (or at least remain apathetic) just long enough for it to take a hold that can not easily be broken.

In the last two years, we have seen the global fascist drumbeat become louder and louder against Muslims, against refugees and immigrants, against persons who are LGBTQIA, against people of color, against the environmentalists, against the free press, and against “the globalists.” And we have seen ever increasing radicalism in actions taken against these groups: more deportations, travel bans, parent/child separations, attempts to criminalize protests, detention camps veiled in secrecy and described by the children there as “hell,” and journalists being killed without repercussions.

Even if the followers are one step behind this global fascist movement and don’t fully realize where it is headed, it has already gone far enough that they are morally culpable for the evil consequences that can be seen all around us if we but open our eyes. But in the big picture, the issue of moral culpability is not the most important one for those who are already suffering; the truly urgent question for all who want a Beloved Community as opposed to a fascist one is: “How do we stop this fascist movement before it is too late?”

Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and Stephen Miller were the three most influential white nationalist figures in Trump’s campaign and early administration. These three persons are not the followers about whom Arendt was writing. These three are not one step behind the fascist movement. They are its leaders.

Bannon and Gorka were too public with their extremism to be effective inside the White House, so they have moved on to continue promoting authoritarian and xenophobic right wing nationalism around the world through other avenues of influence, especially in Europe.

Stephen Miller is the lone member of this fascist trifecta who remains in the White House. We don’t see him much publicly because he comes across as too extreme for public consumption, but Miller’s influence on Trump is great, and Miller brings the language and policies of the global fascist movement strongly into the actions and words of our current president. Miller is a significant force behind the rejection of immigrants and refugees, the travel ban, and the pro-nationalist and ant-globalist alt right rhetoric of Trump’s speeches, public pronouncements, and policy decisions. Miller is a true believer.

In the last few months, Trump and his nationalist followers have been increasingly emphasizing a “nationalist vs. globalist” dichotomy, which has been a hallmark of fascist rhetoric; and they have stepped up their efforts to destabilize pro-EU and pro-NATO governments in Europe. These efforts are also supported by Vladimir Putin. Regardless of whether or not Trump is removed from office, the alt-right/fascist agenda of Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka to move the needle towards nationalism in Europe and around the globe has gained considerable and extremely dangerous momentum, and Putin is very pleased by the disruption this has wrought in the European Union and NATO Alliance.

It is an open question whether the forces for human rights, democracy, and care for the environment will have the courage and creativity to bring the momentum of global fascism to a halt before its power is too great. How will we stay one step ahead of the forces of fascism? If we don’t find a way to answer this question, we may see a repetition of unspeakable evil and suffering.

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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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