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The History of the Fight for Freedom Over Fascism Within the United States Repeats Itself Today

Book reviews of “Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism” and “Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts: How To Save Democracy By Beating Republicans At Their Own Game.”

A dedicated group of readers and I have been appreciating, if not enjoying, two books on subjects directly related to the political situation in the United States right now. One is Rachel Maddow’s recent (2023) book Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism. The other is the new offering from Rachel Bitecofer, Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts: How To Save Democracy By Beating Republicans At Their Own Game. One might fairly ask why a history lesson on pre-WWII America can have anything to do with what voters are faced with in an election year which we fervently hope will not be the last real election in our Nation. The key link, of course, is Fascism.

In the book by the Emmy-Award Winning Maddow, she recounts the premeditated and orchestrated effort of Hitler and his Nazis to infiltrate the American body politic and government with disinformation, with the goal of weakening and neutralizing America’s support of Democracy. This was done with the help of willing traitors who dressed up their betrayal of America with calls for patriotism and saving American lives by not only distancing the country from what was happening in Europe under Hitler, but actively embracing the notion that such a strongman was what their country needed. This was fueled by nascent anti-Semitism and a vicious opposition to all of what FDR stood for and did. Not only corporate giants like Henry Ford and national heroes like Charles Lindbergh were complicit in this effort, but Members of Congress in the House and the Senate, as well as elements of the Military and Law Enforcement worked by using their access to public resources to undermine and attack the foundations of our Nation.

In 1930s America the signs of this attack on our Nation were all too obvious, but were dismissed as either too extreme to be believable, or at best a fringe idea with no potential to unmoor our People at a time of looming crisis. Even after America entered the War following Pearl Harbor there were elements still at work with this insidious effort. And after the culmination and success of the Allies in defeating Germany and Japan, leadership at the highest levels of American government, even the President, resisted holding the traitors lawfully accountable.

It is not too hard, then to draw a direct line from this disturbing era of our history to what is happening today, with the support of dictators like Putin in Russia and Orbán in Hungary, and posit that we are now in a stage of Prequel to another calamity on the scale of WWII or worse if we do not take these signs and portents deadly seriously and act as if our very survival in the future is in Jeopardy. (And that is no TV trivia game.)

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This brings me to the second book. Rachel Bitecofer is a political scientist and election forecaster turned political strategist whose works have been featured in many prominent news sources. She has co-authored this book with Aaron Murphy, a writer and political strategist who has also served as Senator Jon Tester’s (D-Montana) communications director, speechwriter, and debate coach. Bitecofer worked with Democratic Party candidates to implement “negative partisanship strategy” in the 2022 midterms. As a rule, those candidates who embraced the strategy won, and those that didn’t, lost. It was arguably a key element in thwarting the Red Wave which pundits uniformly predicted.

Bitecofer offers a tutorial on how the Republicans have been using this strategy for decades in their assault on Democracy and Democrats. It basically works to convince that slim slice of true independents (not the leaners one way or the other, who are reliable vote for each Party) that the Democratic brand is labeled as anything from tax and spend liberals to pedophiles and every negative thing in between. Democrats are continually put on the defensive, arguing policy with facts and nuance – convincing only their own choir. Republicans are effective wordsmiths who in simple, potent and relatable phrases make their case that Democrats can’t be trusted. This satisfies their reliable base, and tilts the slim pure independent core away from voting Democrat. Democrats, meanwhile, speak to their own base effectively, but then try nuance and reasonable arguments to appeal to independents. Wrong! Republicans efficiently cover both bases – their base and the independents who are taught to not trust Democrats.

When Republicans effectively use labels like “Defund The Police” (unfortunately provided to them by Democrats), Democrats are put on the defensive without the skills to pivot and change the subject.

She advocates one word descriptors for each Party: Republicans are for Fascism – Democrats are for Freedom.

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And that message is not a one time salvo which should be enough to convince all thinking people, but needs to be repeated in every communication that Democrats make, so that when voters get to cast their ballots, those are the words that come to mind. A simple and effective marketing strategy, long embraced by Republicans themselves.

She maintains that most people have little regard for politics and politicians, but when they do vote, they remember those simple labels. They remember that Donald Trump was a successful businessman – they learned that by watching his act of The Apprentice!

The evidence for the Republican embrace of Fascism is everywhere – in its support of Election Deniers, foreign strongmen like Putin and Orbán, efforts to discredit the Courts, personal attacks on political enemies, threats of violence – the list is long and ominous. And Bitecofer has no patience with well-meaning Democratic purists who complain about whether this Democrat or that is on board with their favorite policy issue.

She holds that the only strategy that is worth anything is one that leads to a total repudiation of the current Republican Party and its wannabe Dictator leader and his cohorts of complicit followers. This is the message that she feels needs to be pounded into the brains of the electorate. If Democrats fail to do that, then the whole Nation, and indeed the World will suffer the consequences.

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Joe Sundeen

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