Authoritarianism in America: A Call for Resistance

by Henry A. Giroux (11/13/16)

Americans have now entered into one of the most sickening and dangerous periods of the 21st century. Trump is not only a twisted caricature of every register of economic, political, educational, and social extremism, he is the apogee of a warrior culture committed to rolling back civil rights, women’s reproductive rights, denying the threat of climate change, and mocking, if not threatening, all vestiges of economic justice and democracy.  As David Remnick pointed out in The New Yorker, “he is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.”[1] Actually, it gets worse. Trump is the fascist shadow that has been lurking in the dark since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. A ghostly reminder of the price to be paid when historical consciousness and public values are lost in a culture of immediacy, ignorance, and a flight from social and political responsibility.

Authoritarianism has now become viral in America, spreading its toxic ideology into every facet of American life. The threat of totalitarianism with its legions of alt-right political zombies has now exposed itself, without apology, knowing full well that it no longer has to code or apologize for its hatred of all those who do not fit into its white-supremacist and ultra-nationalist script.

With America tipping over into authoritarianism, we have learned that liberalism sabotaged itself as it morphed into third-way market-driven economic and political policies, transforming itself into nothing more than an ugly corpse decomposing on the national and global landscape. Its commitment to corporate power and the financial elite has helped to provoke a wave of unchecked anger among the dispossessed, which Trump has tapped into in order to turn misfortune into hatred. In doing so, he has helped to undermine the most sacred democratic ideals and has pushed America into a mirror image of those European countries, which have been transformed into gated sites of social abandonment for refugees and a petri dish for right-wing extremists.

We have also learned that the economic crisis and the misery neoliberalism has spurned has not been matched by an ideological crisis, a crisis of ideas, education, and values. In part, that is because the left and progressives have not taken education seriously enough as central to the meaning of politics. Without an informed public, there is no resistance in the name of democracy and justice.

Of course, power is never entirely on the side of domination, and in this coming era of acute repression, we will have to redefine politics, reclaim the struggle to educate, change individual and collective consciousness, engage in meaningful dialogue with people left out of the political landscape, and build broad based social movements. There are hints of this happening among youth of color and we need to be attentive to these struggles.

This is a time for those who believe in democracy to both talk back and fight back. It will not be easy but it can happen and there are historical precedents for this. The main vehicle of change and political agency has to be young people. They are the beacon of the future and we have to learn from them, support them, contribute where possible, and join in their struggles.

The lights are going out in America and in many European countries and the time to wake up from this nightmare is today. Forget depression, look ahead, get energized, read, build alternative public spheres, and learn how to hold power accountable. There are no guarantees in politics, but there is no politics that matters without hope, that is, educated hope. What is happening in the United States can happen in any country, including Canada. America’s move into authoritarianism is a warning for all of us, regardless of where we live.


About the author: Henry A. Giroux is a chaired Professor for Scholarship the Public Interest at McMaster University.

Image: Anti-Trump protesters in Minneapolis shut down Interstate-94 on November 10, 2016. (Image via Twin Cities IWW General Defense Committee Local 14.)


[1] David Remnick, “An American Tragedy,” The New Yorker (November 9, 2016).


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