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What is Totalitarianism? Part I

If the United States devolved into a totalitarian state, would we recognize it? Maintaining a free society requires knowing these warning signs.

“Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

Benito Mussolini

Public anxiety over loss of civil rights and civil liberties in the United States has become increasingly common. According to Pew Research, 85 percent of Americans say it is very important that the rights and freedoms of all people are respected, but only 41 percent believe that describes the country very well or somewhat well. Concerns about “authoritarianism” and lack of respect for democracy are openly expressed.

But if the United States devolved into a totalitarian state, would we recognize it? The trouble with diagnosing our condition is that most people are unaware of what totalitarianism actually is. Even among the most politically astute, there is little consideration for the possibility that a state in the process of becoming totalitarian might lack the most brutal and outward signs of oppressive regimes portrayed in popular culture.

Because of our rather simplistic frame of reference (picture black and white images of National Socialist Germany or the Soviet Union) we recognize a country as either being in the advanced stages of totalitarianism or not at all. But just because a state maintains the trappings of democracy, for instance, that does not preclude it from being totalitarian.

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0-3 for Predictions

2021 is not off to a good start, not just for the country as a whole but for my predictive abilities as well. Last week, I posted my predictions for the new year. Among them was that Republicans would win both senate races in Georgia, and that the political temperature in the country would cool down now that the election is over. I was very, very wrong on all accounts.

First, I predicted incumbent senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans, would win their races on January 5th. Instead, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock squeaked over the finish line by narrow margins.

On November 3, 2020, Republican candidates in the Georgia special general election (including Loeffler) received a combined total of 2,426,120 votes. If all those same people showed up to vote for Kelly Loeffler on January 5th, she would have won.

However, as the sole Republican on the ballot, she ended up receiving 233,344 less votes. In the Perdue – Ossoff race, David Perdue received 258,043 less votes on January 5th than he received on November 3rd.

Either those people decided to vote for the Democratic candidates (unlikely), or they stayed home, which is why questioning the legitimacy of the previous election was a stupid strategy.

As for my prediction that the temperature in the country would cool down, we all know how that bit of wishful thinking went up in smoke last week. With the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building and the crackdown on social media by Big Tech, I fear things are only going to get worse.

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A Shameful Day in America

The parallels between what I saw in Baghdad in 2016 and what happened in Washington, DC Wednesday afternoon are chilling.

I was stationed in Baghdad at the end of April 2016, when Iraqi Shia protestors breached the Green Zone for the first time since it was established after our invasion of Iraq in 2003. I was at the gym when the U.S. Embassy was locked down and everyone was ordered to shelter in nearby buildings. For several hours, no one knew whether the protestors would attempt to storm the embassy. Would this turn into Tehran in 1979

A short time earlier, Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr held a fiery press conference in the city of Najaf. He gave no orders to his supporters to riot, and in fact he condemned the violence during and after, but on the crowd came, pulling down sections of the concrete walls surrounding the Green Zone and breaking into the Iraqi parliament building. Their grievance was with the Iraqi government and not with us, thankfully, but Iraqi officers with whom I worked repeatedly compared Al Sadr to then candidate Donald Trump. They were downright prophetic.

Listening to President Trump address the crowd in Washington, DC yesterday, then seeing video and photos of protestors breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building and taking selfies in the House chamber brought back strong feelings of déjà vu. In 2016 in Baghdad, panicked lawmakers fled as the crowd rushed in, then Iraqi authorities declared a state of emergency and fired teargas to clear the building. It was nearly beat-for-beat what we witnessed in our own capitol Wednesday afternoon. 

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Predictions for 2021

A new year is finally here and most of us can breathe easier knowing we survived 2020. It was a wild ride, with unforeseen events occurring almost every week. Last year I thought impeachment would be the biggest story. Oh, how wrong I was!

I thought it would be fun and interesting to write down some predictions for 2021, then, at the end of the year, go back and see if I was right. Some of these are based on what I actually think will happen, and some are just wild predictions.

I prefer to see 2021 as a winding down period for 2020, meaning that a lot of the crises that arose last year will be resolved this year.

COVID-19 – The vaccines that came out in December will become wildly available and Coronavirus will cease to be a major issue. Infections might still happen, but not nearly in the numbers they have been. In March, I thought predictions for COVID deaths in the hundreds of thousands was wildly pessimistic, but now I’m predicting a final U.S. death toll of at least 500,000. I hope I’m wrong.

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How (Not) to Lose an Election

Accusations of voter fraud and voter suppression have become annoying common, but it’s often the candidates themselves who are to blame for their own defeat. No one wins by crying foul. Running an effective campaign, not post-election litigation, is the key to victory.

April 2013, at an election night party at Murphys Pub in Rockford, Illinois, I approached an acquaintance to see how he fared in that day’s race. He ran for Harlem Township Supervisor, the latest in a series of offices for which he put his name on the ballot. He wanted so badly to get elected to public office.

That year, there was a debate in Machesney Park, located in the boundary of Harlem Township, whether or not to allow homeowners to keep chickens in their yards. Joe disagreed, in contrast to his Republican and Tea Party base. When the final vote was tallied that night, he lost by four votes: 2,045 to 2,049. He looked up at me through smeared Coke-bottle glasses, his eyes strained from staring at a laptop for hours, with a look of utter devastation on his face and gasped, “It was the chickens!”

No one likes to lose, especially when you pour your heart and soul into running for office. Candidates put their reputations, time, and often their personal finances on the line with no guarantee of success. I should know. In 2012, I ran in the Republican primary for county board and lost 43% to 57%. In 2013, I was the Republican candidate for Mayor of Rockford and received 18.32% in a three-way race.

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Even in Defeat, the Specter of Trump Haunts his Critics

With his presidency coming down to a matter of weeks, Trump’s refusal to admit defeat has unleashed vitriol the likes of which I’ve never seen before. His critics should be careful not to become the very thing they hate.

I don’t know what it is about President Donald Trump, but even in defeat, he retains the ability to drive his opponents insane. Over the past few years, I have heard a constant barrage of abuse heaped on Trump from just about everyone, and he’s given a healthy dose of it himself. You’d think, after all that time, after it became clear that he was only going to be president for another couple of months, his opponents would breathe a sigh of relief and take a break.

But if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Consider the case of Richard L. Eldredge and Damon Linker, two adult, college-educated men (I assume) who can form coherent arguments from complete sentences. In other words, they’re not banging out epithet-laden rants in all caps. However, when it comes to President Trump, these writers jettison all logic, rationality, and self-awareness.

Writing for The Week, Damon Linker argues that Trump is a “demonic force” literally equivalent to Satan (not literally, he says, but seriously). “Donald Trump is the demon in American democracy.” Why? Because this man who has come to define everything debauched and twisted in Linker’s mind didn’t just vanish from the White House when news outlets proclaimed Joe Biden the winner. It turned out Trump would still be president for two more months, and he continued to act like Trump has for the past four years.

Linker’s description of President Trump reaches Lovecraftian heights of hyperbole, calling him dangerous, narcissistic, satanic, chaotic, and even “a maestro conducting a cacophony of animosities.”

I have no idea what it’s like to be that obsessed with someone.

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The Following Illinois Counties Voted in Favor of Forming Their Own State

Earlier this week, I wrote about several counties in Illinois that approved by large margins a referendum to discuss the possibility of forming a new state excluding Cook County. I contacted New Illinois, the organization which I believed spearheaded this effort, and found out the referendum was actually the brainchild of a group called Illinois Separation.

Still, New Illinois Chairman G. H. Merritt graciously provided me with a list of Illinois counties that have voted on the referendum and the percentage and number of votes in favor and against (which I fact-checked). The issue has appeared on ballots for just two elections: the Illinois primary election in March 2020 and the general election that just took place on November 3rd.

In nearly every instance, the percentage in favor met or exceeded 70% (with one exception, Christian County, which voted 69% in favor). 80% of voters in Jasper County voted in favor of the referendum. Here is the list (percentages have been rounded up):

November 2020

County% Yes% NoYes VotesNo Votes
Bond72%28%5,6772,196
Christian69%31%6,8583,049
Clark73.8%26.2%6,0322,141
Cumberland77%23%4,4111,285
Edwards78%22%1,584452
Hancock76%24%4,7761,495
Jasper80%20%3,786925
Johnson73%27%4,5371,654
Lawrence74%25%4,5281,547
Marion71%29%11,8554,814
Massac70%30%4,5531,961
Moultrie70%30%4,6101,969
Pope71%29%1,469606
Pulaski73%27%4,5371,654
Richland74%26%5,7671,977
Shelby73%27%8,4703,189
Wabash78%22%4,2141,160
Wayne74%20%6,3091,671
White74%26%5,3151,851