How Trump is following Hitler’s playbook

History shows there are no “one-day” dictatorships. When democracies fall, they typically fall completely.

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You’ve heard Trump’s promise:

TRUMP: I’m going to be a dictator for one day.

History shows there are no “one-day” dictatorships. When democracies fall, they typically fall completely.

In a previous video, I laid out the defining traits of fascism and how MAGA Republicans embody them. But how could Trump — or someone like him — actually turn America into a fascist state? Here’s how in five steps.

Step 1: Use threats of violence to gain power

Hitler and Mussolini relied on their vigilante militias to intimidate voters and local officials. We watched Trump try to do the same in 2020.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.

Republican election officials testified to the threats they faced when they refused Trump’s demands to falsify the election results.

RAFFENSPERGER: My email, my cell phone was doxxed.

RUSTY BOWERS: They have had video panel trucks with videos of me proclaiming me to be a pedophile.

GABRIEL STERLING: A 20-something tech in Gwinnett County today has death threats and a noose put out saying he should be hung for treason.

If the next election is close, threats to voters and election officials could be enough to sabotage it.

Step 2: Consolidate power

After taking office, a would-be fascist must turn every arm of government into a tool of the party. One of Hitler’s first steps was to take over the civil service, purging it of non-Nazis.

In October of 2020, Trump issued his own executive order that would have enabled him to fire tens of thousands of civil servants and replace them with MAGA loyalists. He never got to act on it, but he’s now promising to apply it to the entire civil service.

That’s become the centerpiece of something called Project 2025, a presidential agenda assembled by MAGA Republicans, that would, as the AP put it, “dismantle the US government and replace it with Trump’s vision.”

Step 3: Establish a police state

Hitler used the imaginary threat of “the poison of foreign races” to justify taking control of the military and police, placing both under his top general, and granting law-enforcement powers to his civilian militias.

Now Trump is using the same language to claim he needs similar powers to deal with immigrants.

Trump plans to deploy troops within the U.S. to conduct immigration raids and round up what he estimates to be 18 million people who would be placed in mass-detention camps while their fate is decided.

And even though crime is actually down across the nation, Trump is citing an imaginary crime wave to justify sending troops into blue cities and states against the will of governors and mayors.

Trump insiders say he plans to invoke the Insurrection Act to have the military crush civilian protests. We saw a glimpse of that in 2020, when Trump deployed the National Guard against peaceful protesters outside the White House.

And with promises to pardon January 6 criminals and stop prosecutions of right-wing domestic terrorists, Trump would empower groups like the Proud Boys to act as MAGA enforcers.

Step 4: Jail the opposition

In classic dictatorial fashion, Trump is now openly threatening to prosecute his opponents.

TRUMP: if I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them.’ They’d be out of business.

And he’s looking to remake the Justice Department into a tool for his personal vendettas.

TRUMP: As we completely overhaul the federal Department of Justice and FBI, we will also launch sweeping civil rights investigations into Marxist local district attorneys.

In the model of Hitler and Mussolini, Trump describes his opponents as subhuman.

TRUMP: …the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country…

Step 5: Undermine the free press

As Hitler well understood, a fascist needs to control the flow of information. Trump has been attacking the press for years.

And he’s threatening to punish news outlets whose coverage he dislikes.

He has helped to reduce trust in the media to such a historic low that his supporters now view him as their most trusted source of information.

Within a democracy, we may often have leaders we don’t like. But we have the power to change them — at the ballot box and through public pressure. Once fascism takes hold, those freedoms are gone and can’t easily be won back.

We must recognize the threat of fascism when it appears, and do everything in our power to stop it.

Read it on Robert Reich’s blog.

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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.

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