A characteristic of all authoritarian movements is framing life in terms of an existential struggle (kampf in German). Life is seen as an eternal violent contest between good and evil, pure and simple; the good side, absent violent struggle, is always the victim of the implacable evil side. You band together with other good people in a kampfbund, an organization to courageously struggle together against evil outsiders and, ultimately, destroy them.
The essence of this worldview, which requires militant readiness to fight an evil and determined Other, is that we are under constant threat of subjugation and death from dangerous forces and must continually strike the enemy in the heart, until they are destroyed. Authoritarian leaders, and their ultra-conservative ilk, always inflame terror and rage by insisting that our cherished way of life is under attack, that we (even the most powerful among us) are the victims of a vicious and powerful enemy who will stop at nothing to enslave us in their fiendish new order. The right-wing’s view of life as an eternal struggle keeps them mobilized to fight, and able to justify any tactic to defeat an infernal enemy.
This is how conservative Culture Warriors like the pugnacious Bill Barr have always seen the world. As Barry Goldwater famously put it (before losing all but five former Confederate states and his home state of Arizona in the 1964 presidential election ) “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Charles Koch, who inherited a fortune from his father Fred (after fighting his brothers in court for years over the lion’s share of it) is another one of these, he put millions of tax-deductible dollars where his mouth was. Through the increasingly effective strategic efforts of Koch and his fellow-victim allies (Bannon-patron Robert Mercer, Betsey DeVos family — and her mercenary brother, Erik Prince, several other billionaire victims) the vision of Fred Koch, co-founder of the once fringe anti-communist, anti-immigration, anti-integration, anti-government, anti-union, anti-majoritarian John Birch Society, is now the unquestioned, united vision of the mainstream Republican party of Donald J. Trump.
It is a war waged by the self-perceived victims of a left-wing fever dream of equal justice under the law, voting rights for all, affordable health care for everyone, a fair tax system, government maintenance of infrastructure, protection for children and the aged, regulation of harmful pollution, federal intervention in disasters of all kinds, including the (debatable) climate catastrophe (that is well under way) and other equally outlandish liberal/socialist/communist notions of that sort.
It was the intolerable threat of “mongrelization” (a racist’s most visceral fear) that the activist Supreme Court ushered in with its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, where the Kochs are from) decision, ruling segregation in public schools unconstitutional, that mobilized powerful, threatened white men to create institutions and orders to fight back. Among other efforts, Fred Koch and the wildly conspiratorial co-founders of the John Birch Society (1958) got busy defending The Lost Cause — the romantic vision of America as it used to be when powerful white men of vision, daring and great wealth could do as they saw fit without an activist government exercising undue coercion. With the unalienable right to choose whether their children had to sit in school next to their genetic inferiors.
Racism, of one kind or another, is an essential building block of a fascistic state. It is hard to rule a one-party state embracing, or even tolerating, difference in your society. Racism might as well be an explicit part of the party platform. If done openly, you know, and continually justified in the mass media, where opponents of racism are always cast as insane, violent terrorists, how can anyone complain?
Hitler’s original title for Mein Kampf was a bit more ranty: Viereinhalb Jahre (des Kampfes) gegen Lüge, Dummheit und Feigheit, [Four and a Half Years (of Struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice.]  Dummheit, indeed.
As for the inventive, if unprincipled, illegal, sometimes obscene, tactics that authoritarian partisans engaged in a struggle to the death (for a one-party state) are prepared to use in their life and death kampf, Gary Kasparov nailed the essence of it the other day (pardon me for the 15 seconds of infernal youTube monetization you’ll be forced to mute before the clip — Kasparov’s response is cued up and worth hearing — ah, here it is:)
“You know, what scares me the most isn’t that I know what people like Trump and his cronies can do, it’s that authoritarians always come up with things that we cannot imagine, cannot even predict. And it’s a special talent of people who think only about themselves, only about their money, their power. And you very often hear ‘oh, doesn’t he know how bad that looks?’ or ‘surely he could never do that’– they don’t care.
They will do anything because they have too much to lose. The way authoritarians think is that anything they do to stay in power is fine as long as it works. Because with power they can avoid consequences, they can avoid prosecution, they can cover their tracks and they pardon their friends and allies. So breaking traditions, breaking the rules, even breaking the law, they think it won’t matter if they win. So they’re capable of absolutely anything.”
Trump’s kamfbund is energetically laying the groundwork now for a way to win, or even if realistically claiming a win is impossible, to contest the election as “rigged,” unfair, as everything always is to Mr. Trump and his fellow fighters. Deliberately slowing down the mail in advance of the election, with a major Trump campaign donor ($360,000 to Trump 2020 in recent months), Louis DeJoy, as the experience-free new postmaster general; allowing a pandemic to rage unchecked, devastating the nation, creating death, mass homelessness, hunger, chaos, eventual crimes of desperation and a need to bring federal riot squads into majority Democratic cities in crucial swing states to “monitor” elections; anything you can imagine, and many things you cannot imagine, are in the playbook of those who see “winning” as the only virtue in an eternal war of each against all — in which many are marshaled to violently fight the rest of us in the name of the privileged “each” who benefit most from the war.
John Lewis spoke of the “beloved community,” neighbors, friends and strangers who share our care for each other, and cherish the value of social justice, the kind of concern that causes some to lay their lives on the line for the sake of their beloved community. The authoritarian sees no beloved community, no shared social obligations, no value great enough to die for — though killing is never a problem. The authoritarian sees each against all, an obligation of citizens only to loyally obey power, an inviolable duty, among the followers, to die en masse, if necessary, to preserve the State and the privileges it is dedicated to protecting.
In the street battle between true believers ready to kill on command and those ready to die for their beloved community, the killers always have the advantage. In the larger battle, the battle for the soul of mankind, we like to believe the values of the beloved community triumph.
Be vigilant, this perilous moment is too important to lose focus in.
UPDATE: right after I posted this yesterday I heard an excellent, detailed historically contextualized discussion of this very subject, jumping off from Goldwater’s famous quote about extremism being no vice among the righteous and focusing on the extreme rightwing mobilization following the Brown v. Board of Education decision. I recommend the fascinating conversation between national treasure Bill Moyers (now 86) and historian Heather Cox Richardson on Bill’s recent podcast to anyone interested in this subject. They discuss her latest book “How The South Won the Civil War.” 34 minutes very well-spent, or even less if you’re in a hurry and read the transcript.
On Election Day, Goldwater lost the election to Johnson by what was then the largest margin in history. Goldwater accumulated 52 electoral votes to Johnson’s 486 and 39% of the popular vote (27,178,188) to Johnson’s 61% (43,129,566). Goldwater carried six states: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and his home state of Arizona. Goldwater’s strong showing in the south is largely due to his support of the white southern view on civil rights: that states should be able to control their own laws without federal intervention.