2020 America or 1935 Spain?
The left's campaign against religion and American history is making the right think illiberal thoughts
Our friend Paul Gottfried recalls how the great Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn once met a fisherman in the Basque country and asked him what he thought of the government. “Franco worries about the government,” he replied. “I just fish.”
That’s the trouble with democracy. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” to quote the Bard. In a monarchy, only one man is forced to bear the burdens of state. In a republic, the crown is divided into a hundred million pieces. We each pin a little shard to our hats, and none of us lie easily.
This goes double for the Age of Trump. Politics has infected every aspect of American life. You can’t watch a game of football, buy a pair of sneakers, or make pancakes without sending a political message. And it’s not only these United States, either. My wife and I visited Canada for our honeymoon last year; every time a local found out that we were American, all they wanted to do was talk about the president.
What happens when a society becomes 100 percent politicized? I think we’re about to find out, and it’ll be pretty grim.
I used to say, “America is too fat to fight another civil war.” We’ve become the archetype of a bourgeois society, as Irving Kristol called it. Our economy, our politics, and even our culture is “organized for the convenience and comfort of common men and common women, not for the production of heroic, memorable figures.” (He meant that as a compliment.) We call each other fascists and communists because, deep down, we know we’re not really either. If President Trump actually was the next Hitler, everyone who calls him Hitler would be dragged from their beds in the middle of the night by the secret police.
These days, however, I’m beginning to wonder if my faith in the basic intransigence of the middle class wasn’t a bit naïve.
For instance, the Washington Post recently ran a column by Jonathan Greenberg purporting to prove why “Trump would try to run a fascist dictatorship in a second term.” It’s a complete farce. His fifth proof is that, “With Fox News promoting Trump’s lies as truth, the president controls one of the most powerful propaganda machines ever created.”
In case Mr. Greenberg hasn’t noticed, Fox is a private corporation. Its pundits are free to support any politician they like; if they don’t agree, television viewers are free to watch any other channel they like. The fact that Fox hosts four of the five most-watched cable news shows in America might prove that the Administration is using secret technology to brainwash the TV-viewing public into imbibing pro-Trump propaganda… or it may prove that lots of Americans like President Trump. He did win a national election four years ago, after all.
And that’s the thing. The kooky right-wing conspiracy theorists of the Obama Era accused Barry H. of being a crypto-Marxist but they usually let his supporters off the hook, dismissing them as mere dupes. The kooky left-wing conspiracy theorists of the Trump era, on the other hand, accuse Donny J. of openly professing neo-Nazism—and they think his Fox News-watching supporters are neo-Nazis too.
That’s why “mainstream” progressives are so tolerant of violent radicals like Antifa. They really believe we’re on the verge of a fascist takeover. To the average Democrat, it’s 1932 in Weimar Germany; if some noble hoodlum has to break a few Nazi skulls in order to keep the Tangerine Führer from seizing total power… well, history will thank him.
Most liberals might not be willing to inconvenience themselves to keep the Right out of power. They might only be willing to offer tacit approval of anti-conservative, anti-Christian violence. But, while the spark of civil war may be thrown by the far-left, it may catch fire among the center-right.
This doesn’t feel like Germany in 1932: it feels like Spain in 1935.
Now, this isn’t an appeal for some Franco-esque coup. But there’s no denying this chapter in American history feels eerily like the Second Spanish Republic, right down to the left-wing militants destroying and vandalizing statues of saints.
The man likely to become America’s next president has proudly declared that his top priority in office would be forcing nuns to pay for other people’s abortions. That’s creepy, vindictive, sadistic, and absolutely disgraceful. It shows a kind of pathological hatred for traditional Christians: a desire to publicly humiliate and subjugate the American Church. Alas, that kind of anti-clericalism abounded in prewar Spain. As the eminent legal scholar Javier Martínez-Torrón notes, “the gravest mistake of the Constitution of 1931… was its hostile attitude towards the Catholic Church.”
When elderly Catholics are called fascists and beaten up by leftist thugs because they happen to be bald, it’s only a matter of time until Christians start to think: “You’re calling me a fascist while you kick my teeth in for wearing a cross around my neck? Okay, then. I’ll show you a fascist.”
And while Franco didn’t start the Spanish Civil War, he sure ended it. Whatever you want to say about the Caudillo, he was fighting a defensive war. What would you have had Spaniards do as the Red Terror washed over their country? Just smile and take it? Even left-wing historians will now grudgingly admit that the left-wing Republicanos provoked the war by terrorizing Christians and conservatives.
At the rate things are going in America, the same could happen here. Maybe it’s inevitable.
John Adams famously said that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Spoken like a man who could never have imagined BLM militants demanding we smash images of “White Jesus.”
If President Adams were alive today, would he choose the same words? Maybe he’d sound more like General Franco—who, upon his investiture as Caudillo, declared: “The man who has no beliefs, who has no spirituality, who does not love his family, is not a man, not a Spaniard. He is nothing.”
All I’m saying is, were he around to see America in the year 2020, President Adams probably would be more inclined to Adrian Vermeule’s way of thinking than Neil Gorsuch’s.
Again, this isn’t a case for Francoism. I can never forgive the Generalissimo for betraying his Carlist followers and putting that feckless deviant Juan Carlos on the Spanish throne.
My point is simply this: progressives are making us think illiberal thoughts—and just as we were beginning to sour on liberal democracy, too. If the Left forces the Right to fight a defensive war, as they did in Spain, nobody will be pleased with the outcome—least of all our leftist friends.
Then again, maybe it can’t be avoided. Maybe, as Adams suggested, our liberal democracy simply can’t function in a secularized nation. Maybe trying to govern a post-Christian country according to the U.S. Constitution is like trying to run a car on root beer. It’s not a moral judgement, but a practical one.
Maybe it just doesn’t work.
Ultimately, that’s for the Left to decide. In their heart of hearts, they must know all this grave talk about an imminent neo-Nazi coup is utter nonsense. How could they not? There must be a sliver of rationality left in their souls which can see that the only fascist jackboots in America today are those calling themselves Antifa. They must understand that this drive to completely reorient American life around the latest definition of “woke”—by force, if necessary—will only succeed in radicalizing the Right. And, who knows? Maybe the Right is waiting for an excuse to radicalize.
Not me, though. I just fish.
Michael Warren Davis is Editor-in-Chief of Crisis Magazine. He is the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021).