When political leaders brazenly flout the law, we are
heading towards a very dark place.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 5th
It is not a sufficient condition for fascism to take root,
but it is a necessary one. The willingness of political leaders not only to
break the law, but to revel in breaking it, is a fatal step towards the
replacement of democracy with authoritarian terror.
We see this at work in the United States today, where the
Republican Party’s blatant disregard for the constitution will allow Donald
Trump to escape impeachment. If Trump is elected for a second term, he will
test the potential for wielding unconstitutional power to the limit. But the
phenomenon is not confined to the US. Several powerful governments now wear
illegality almost as a badge of honour.
Fascist and pre-fascist governments share (among others) two
linked characteristics: they proudly flout the laws that are supposed to
restrain them, while introducing new, often unconstitutional laws to contain
political opponents or to oppress minorities.
In Brazil, outrages against indigenous people, opposition
politicians and journalists are encouraged and celebrated at the highest levels
of government. Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election with the help of a
judicial coup, in which due
process was abandoned to secure the imprisonment of the front-runner, Luiz
Inacio Da Silva (Lula). He has been photographed
of the suspects in the murder of the left-wing councillor Marielle Franco,
sought to block corruption investigations into his son Flávio, who
allegedly has close links with members of the paramilitary gang accused of
In response to democratic protests, Brazil’s economy
minister has threatened
to impose martial law. Bolsonaro has called
for the police to execute suspected criminals: “These guys are going to die
in the streets like cockroaches – and that’s how it should be.” His racist
comments about indigenous people, and curtailment of the agencies supposed to
protect them, could help explain a
new spate of murders by loggers, miners and ranchers. Human rights groups
are seeking to persuade the International Criminal Court to
investigate Bolsonaro for incitement to genocide.
The investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has
published explosive reports about corruption and crime in Bolsonaro’s
government, and his husband, the left-wing congressman and Guardian columnist
David Miranda, have received repeated
death threats, containing details about their lives that only the state
could know. Greenwald has now been spuriously
charged with cybercrimes.
In India, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after
discovering that his alleged association with the 2002 Gujarat massacres no
longer appeared to tarnish his name, is laying the foundations for a vicious
ethno-nationalism. His new Citizenship Act deliberately denies
rights to Muslims, and could render millions of people stateless. People
protesting against this act are brutally attacked by the police. Police and
armed gangs have raided
two Delhi universities, randomly beating up students, to spread generalised
terror. In Uttar Pradesh, political opponents are routinely
imprisoned without charge and tortured.
Modi has ripped up the constitution to annex
Jammu and Kashmir. The police have fired on people protesting peacefully
against this illegal action, blinding some
of them with shotgun pellets. Political leaders have been arrested and
communications shut down. Officials treat this illegality as a brutal joke. The
chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, a close Modi ally, boasts that “now we will
bring girls from Kashmir”, as colonial booty.
The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has
bragged of riding around the streets of Davao on his motorbike when he was
mayor of the city,
shooting people he suspected of being criminals. Since becoming president,
he has, in effect, turned the police into a giant death squad, empowering them to
murder people they suspect of involvement in drugs crime. Unsurprisingly,
this general licence has led to the murders of political opponents, land
and environmental defenders.
Even as he applauds the killing of drug suspects, Duterte
jokes about taking
illegal drugs to keep himself awake at international summits. Opponents are
imprisoned, judges are sacked and replaced, journalists
are prosecuted on trumped-up charges. The imposition of martial law on the
island of Mindanao is used to
crush dissent: objectors are treated as terrorists and murdered.
Like these other killer clowns, Trump may now feel he can
get away with anything. His legal team has in the past suggested he has total
immunity, boasting that he could literally get
away with murder. A culture of impunity is spreading around the world. “Try
to stop me” is the implicit motto in nations ranging from Hungary to Israel,
Saudi Arabia to Russia, Turkey to China, Poland to Venezuela. Flaunting your
disregard for the law is an expression of power.
It’s happening in the UK too, though so far on a smaller
scale. The Brexit vote, which eventually enabled Boris Johnson’s government to
take office, was secured with the help of blatant
illegality. The government intends to carry out a
legislative cleansing of Romani and Travellers, knowing that this offends
our own Equality Act, and is likely to lead to a case before the European Court
of Human Rights. It’s almost as if it welcomes the confrontation.
These are experiments in absolutism. They don’t amount to fascism in their own right. But in conjunction with the elevation of preposterous and desperate men, the denigration of minorities and immigrants, political violence, mass surveillance and widespread mockery of liberalism and social justice, they suggest that some countries, separately and together, are beginning to head towards the darkest of all political places. The normalisation of impunity is possibly the most important step towards authoritarian rule. Never let it be normal.