The below is a guest post from Colin J. Beck, Associate Professor of Sociology at Pomona College.
Since 2012, I have been a member of the Political Instability Task Force. The PITF is a US government funded research project that brings academics together with intelligence analysts to provide advice on how to anticipate episodes of political conflict and violence of various forms. I am no longer able to continue this work, and am disappointed that I am the only scholar of the two dozen affiliated with the project that appears to feel this way. Below is my explanation as to why I resigned from the PITF on January 20, 2017.
In 1933, Ernst Thälmann rallied the Communist Party of Germany with the slogan, “After Hitler, our turn!” As it would turn out for Germany and Thälmann himself—executed in 1944 at Buchenwald—this was a failed prediction. Its naivety lay in the belief that Hitler would certainly stumble and be only a temporary obstacle for the KPD. Such beliefs, foolish we can now say, contributed to the normalization of that which should never have been normalized. After Hitler, there would be no more turns.
It is with regret that I resign from the Political Instability Task Force. As Adam Gopnik has it, “The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were” (The New Yorker, January 13, 2017).
I cannot participate in normalization, even as minimally as I have. Since November 7th, we have watched a literal parade of acquiescence from both the political right and political left. We are told that our institutions are strong, that ossified policy-making processes will slow radicalism, that partisans, billionaires, spies, and mad dogs will provide a necessary check on undemocratic instincts. Normalization proceeds apace, and the republic is its victim, 140 characters at a time.
From academics we hear constant doubt that this is fascism. We are told by historians and social scientists that this is not Weimar, that this is not black shirts or brown shirts. Expecting fascism eight decades later to look exactly the same as 1933 is a failure of comparative-historical imagination. History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
I make one final forecast as I leave the PITF: in 2017, the greatest source of political instability in the world will be the administration of the US Federal Government. This forecast, like all of the others to which I have contributed, is given here indirectly and is functionally useless. But a degree of separation from the conspiracy theorists that twist social science to their own purpose is no comfort. Academic courtiers to power are still courtiers. Like Robert Michels—a champion of Mussolini—the infamy of our names should outlast our citation counts.
The next few years will challenge us all. And in ways that we cannot yet imagine. Anyone involved with the organs of power will have to decide what lines they cannot cross, what affronts are too many. For me, I have been affronted too many times. I have seen too many lines crossed. Even before the coronation.
And so, it is with regret that I resign from the Political Instability Task Force. And it is with greater regret that I see that no one else has. Two dozen academics fly to Washington, DC next week, not even knowing the shame that they bring on us all.
After Hitler, our turn, indeed.