After today’s horrific events, I was reminded of some of the darker days in the history of democracies destroyed. Notably, the Reichstag fire and the days leading to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
Seeing that noose and scaffold in view of the U.S. Capitol, and hearing of gun shots fired inside the halls of Congress took events out of the realm of bathos and into the realm of abject fear. In the few weeks before Rabin was murdered by a Judeo-fascist assassin, the far-right, led by Bibi Netanyahu held rallies picturing Rabin in an SS uniform. They paraded with coffins bearing Rabin’s name, and nooses whose purpose was clear. It was a perfect storm of hate for Rabin’s policies, endorsing the Oslo Accords and peace with the Palestinians. It only took a few settler rabbis in whom Yigal Amir confided, to issue a pulsa di nura which permitted the shedding of Jewish blood (Rabin’s) and the deed was done. But not before the climatic event, the Jerusalem rally in which 10,000 kippah-wearing settlers bayed for Rabin’s blood as Netanyahu incited them with a Hitlerian speech delivered from a hotel balcony to the mob assembled below.
The noose and the coffin. They were meant for Rabin. But in the end they murdered democracy in Israel. Not only did they kill the Left with Rabin’s murder, they killed liberal humanism. Now Judeo-fascists rule Israel, allies of the MAGA putschists who prowled the halls of Congress today.
But note that after the far-right murdered Rabin, they too won and election and took power, never to relinquish it (except for a few brief years when Ehud Barak was PM). Now their rule is virtually permanent. They will never be dislodged from power. Today, the bullies and murderers run the show. Can that happen here? Yes, if in the future a Pharaoh arises who learns from the mistakes Trump made, and has more intelligence to pursue his policies, fascism can triumph.
Media pundits called the MAGA mob running amok a “coup” or an insurrection. It wasn’t quite that, since they were an undirected mob. They stormed the Bastille, but didn’t know what to do once they had taken the prize. I would liken it to Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. It was a half-assed effort, more theater than orchestrated overthrow. Hitler and his co-conspirators went on trial. He went to prison for seven months and came out a martyr. He’d written Mein Kampf when he was inside and it propelled him to his 1933 election victory and absolute power. By then, he didn’t need a putsch or a coup. By then, he knew what he was doing. He knew how to harness the raw blood lust of the mob in the will to power (just as Netanyahu did). He overthrew democracy by destroying it from within, via the ballot. Though the Nazis may never have won a electoral majority, after the Chancellor named them to form the government, they never looked back. And democracy was dead for the next twelve years.
Nooses, coffins, threats of execution, and even assassination of national leaders are all classic tactics of fascism, whether Israeli or American. In the past here, I’ve ominously warned that someone is going to be killed by all this hate; thinking that this would sober people up and make them step back from the edge. But America has not stepped back. It has stepped right up to the cliff-edge and even placed its foot over the abyss, daring gravity to do its best.
Not much will bring Republicans to their senses. As I watched Lindsey Graham’s smarmy hypocritical speech in the Senate tonight I kept saying: “Where were you assholes when you could have made such speeches weeks ago to prevent the madness that ensued?” You had a chance to have an impact, but chose to rally behind Il Duce.
Remember the footage of the Army-McCarthy hearings, in which a brave Joseph Welch stood up to Sen. Joe McCarthy, promoter of anti-Communist hysteria, with a quavering voice and said: “Have you no shame, senator? At long last, have you no shame?” I’m afraid to say that the Republicans are, if possible, beyond shame. They are a Party without honor. A Party bereft not only of principle, but decency. How can this go on? How can they let this happen?
Even as I write this I know it is hopeless. You can’t appeal to a psychopath to stop doing wrong. There can be no appeal to conscience. He long ago lost, if he ever had it, the ability to tell wrong from right. All he cares about is what he thinks and feels and needs. I expect the worst possible outcome regarding the Republicans. Not only will they learn nothing from this (of course within a week they will be back slinging mud at Biden and Democrats), but they won’t pay a price at the polls.
It’s true that they did pay such a price last night in Georgia–clearly Trump’s bullying phone call to the state secretary of state begging for his 11,000 votes had a significant impact–along with Trump’s effective nullification of the campaign of the two Republican candidates–in their loss. But these victories are transitory. I fear that they will not have a lasting impact. After a week or a month, the GOP will return to its old ways because they are the easy ways of demagoguery that brought victory in the past. Voters will forgive and forget and return to the voting booths in two years as if nothing happened today. And that will be the shame of it all.
Nor am I excusing the Democrats. My attack on Republicans does not absolve the former of responsibility for their cowardice. For their running from the battle, rather than turning to face-down the bigots. I see no vision, no quest for change among them. I see a yearning for the days of yesteryear, when America basked in the glow of its first Black president, as if that was enough to redeem the nation of its sins. It will take more than that to rid this country of the poison we watched today. It will take a real program, a real platform, standing for something that people can believe in. Alas, I just don’t see that. At least not right now. And that’s the shame of it.
Just as Shimon Peres had a chance–after Rabin’s assassination–of grabbing the reins of power and fulfilling his predecessor’s vision for peace, but lost it through indecisiveness, I worry that Biden will fritter away the good will generated by his victory, and the country’s relief in being rid of Trump. What will we have to show for all our suffering of the last four years and today’s pathetic performance, unless Biden truly stands for something?
REMINDER: I just published a new piece at Middle East Eye about Israel’s medical apartheid in refusing to distribute COVID vaccine to Palestinians, and its lackluster distribution in Israeli Palestinian communities.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.