Is Politeness a Reliable Defense Against Fascism?

There is ever more reason to believe that the US will not survive as a constitutional democracy in anything like it's current form after 2024.  Donald Trump and his supporters have been saying this more and more openly and emphatically in recent months, making plans to do everything that they accuse others of doing: "weaponizing" the government, interfering in elections, and all the rest.  The one-party dictatorship that will take shape starting in 2025 will almost certainly continue to have the form of a constitutional democracy -- elections, courts, and so on -- but none of the substance.

To be clear, I am not convinced that the current polling regarding the presidential election should be taken at all seriously.  Indeed, I suspect that Biden will ultimately win the election -- rather easily, in fact -- even though he will have to fight on the extremely uneven playing field that conservatives (current Republicans and their Dixiecrat forbears) and their judges have set up over the decades, most importantly including the gauntlet of rules designed to make sure that only the "right people" are able to vote.

Even if I am right, and Biden wins a fair-and-square victory under the current unfair rules, however, I am quite sure that the system will nonetheless be twisted to put Trump back in the White House next January.  This will not require another violent insurrection.  It simply requires that Trump and the Republicans mount a nonstop series of challenges -- before, during, and after Election Day -- that will create the noise necessary to allow Republicans in state legislatures and governors' mansions to refuse to appoint Biden's electors.

If this requires that a Republican legislature override a Democratic governor, the Supreme Court's apparent rejection last year of the Independent State Legislature theory will not stop the Court from doing what is necessary to limit or reverse its holding when the day of reckoning arrives.  Moreover, there is always the peaceful part of January 6, in which the Cruz/Hawley/Eastman strategy will work if Republicans retake the Senate (virtually assured) and hold the House (not as likely, but very much possible).

OK, so this explains why I am still happy to have moved out of the US, possibly (but not certainly) on a permanent basis.  But having been in Canada for the past eight months, it is now necessary to think about the consequences for the world's most polite country if there is a fascist takeover of the behemoth on the other side of its southern and western borders.

In a Verdict column two years ago, I noted the infamous protest in the national capital of Ottawa, in which very Tea Party-ish truck drivers wrought havoc for several weeks in response to federal Covid vaccine requirements.  That showed that there is at least some audience in the Great White North for the same kind of twisted notions of personal freedom that have taken over the Republican Party in the States.  The question is, how big is that audience?

About a month before writing that Verdict column in early 2022, I devoted a Dorf on Law column to an analysis of the specious "intellectual" arguments that Canada's conservative elites have been pushing in recent years.  Their claims are just as bad as, if not worse than, what passes for conservative thought in the US -- that is, mostly blunt assertions that non-conservatives are big poopy-heads who want to take away everyone's freedom.  How?  By forcing Canadians to have universal health care, as but one example.  The nerve!

And it only gets worse.  At some point years ago, I heard that "Alberta is the Texas of Canada," which made some sense in that both of those places are very much driven by oil wealth.  Unsurprisingly, that means that both places have unusually extreme levels of wealth and income inequality, and the richest people dominate state/provincial politics.  Recently, Alberta's Conservatives have been threatening to refuse to fulfill their constitutional duties in various ways, in part as a protest against the Trudeau government's carbon tax proposals.

This resistance included a threat that the province will withdraw unilaterally from the Canada Pension Plan, which would be like Texas threatening to withdraw from the Social Security system.  Canada does not -- for now -- face anything resembling the politically explosive situation on its southern border that we see in the US, so the Albertan right is not motivated to follow Texas's Republican governor in interfering with another clearly national policy area (immigration).  Even so, the increasingly aggressive moves by a political party that need not worry about losing its regional power very strongly resemble what is going on in Texas and elsewhere down south.

Moreover, the arguments that the rebellious westerners are offering strongly resemble the pure grievance politics that Republicans across the US have perfected over the last decade or so.  One argument (and I use that word loosely) is that "the rest of Canada hates us" and "calls us bigots and transphobic."  And?  And that means, according to these aggrieved souls, that the rest of Canada can simply do without Albertans' tax payments.  Rock solid logic!  I had not known that hurt feelings were a sufficient basis to withdraw from a federation.  I also did not know that social conservatives had a right not to be hated for being hateful.

Except that, in fact, we did already know that.  The supposed source of Trumpists' fervor, after all, is the shocking thought that "woke" lefties are looking down on Real Americans.  Recall Samuel Alito's screed in his Obergefell dissent about how awful it is for people like him to have to keep their bigotry to themselves, where he complained that he and other people "who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots."  Alito renewed that grievance just last month, writing gratuitously after agreeing with the Court's decision not to hear a case involving anti-LGBTQ+ bias that the appellate ruling at hand "exemplifies the danger that I anticipated in Obergefell v. Hodges," because the lower court held that anti-LGBTQ+ bias is not protected by religious freedom.

All of which means that at least some of the tactics and self-reinforcing outrage that brought the American right to its current degraded state now seems to be bubbling up in Canada as well.  The key question is whether it will get out of hand up here, too.  I have asked a few Canadians about this, and they all insist that these examples are isolated and that the number of people involved is too small to matter.  It is all, they tell me, limited to the fringes that must be expected in any polity.

And, to be clear, I would like to believe that they are right.  I find it disturbing, however, that this is exactly what Americans used to say.  Even after Trump's emergence made the dangers clear and present, very smart and well informed people would push back against my warnings of rising US fascism by saying that it could not happen there.  The institutions were too strong.  The public would not tolerate it.  Certainly, if political violence were to break out, its instigators would be immediately shunned while their political support evaporated.  How did that work out?

This is what I am hearing again now, and the only difference that I see is that Canadian culture seems to be much less inherently selfish.  If the starting point in the US was a bunch of guys who think of themselves as lone wolves and who were almost aching to start a fight, maybe Canadians will be spared because norms up here do not (other than on a hockey rink) glorify violence.

From my perspective, I might be able at least to count on Canada's Alito-ists needing a few decades to turn the country into another anti-democracy battleground.  But given the speed with which US politics was completely transformed, and given that the Canadian right would not need to reinvent the bigoted wheel, that seems like wishful thinking.  Hate metastasizes quickly, and it is supported by billionaires who use it to their benefit.

Worse, however, is that the slide toward fascism need not be homegrown.  In fact, it almost never is.  How long would it take for Trump's fascist theocracy to decide not to wait for Canada to make the transition on its own?  Would the Republicans tolerate a pluralist democracy on its northern border, or would they "liberate" Canada from its sinful ways?  Consider how easy it was for Putin's Russia to pollute US political discourse, to the point that Trump shockingly became President in 2017.  Now consider what would happen if American fascists decided to do the same to Canada (along with Australia and New Zealand).

Various European countries are already tipping toward authoritarianism, and even though fascist movements most commonly wrap themselves in nationalism, this is very much an international enterprise.  It is simply too dangerous for dictators to allow their people to see other countries that still enjoy free elections, the rule of law, and protections for discrete and insular minorities.

Politely resisting such pressures would surely not be enough.  I am, therefore, still very much invested in the US retaining some semblance of its pre-Trumpian self.  If the US falls, the rest of the world will not fall immediately -- and people would thus enjoy some delay before losing their freedoms and rights -- but it would be stunning if any country could hold its own in a world dominated by a repressive axis of the US, Russia, and China.

In a column earlier this month, I described the dangers of Trumpian theocracy solely in a domestic context.  As I now look at the implications for those of us outside of the States, my question at the end of that column is no less urgent: "Are the stakes clear enough yet?"