The America That Welcomed Me 46 Years Ago Depends on Us

A red "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" hat that is casting a shadow shaped like a communist hammer and sickle

Coming from and growing up in a communist country — now the Czech Republic — officially a socialist country which was run by the Czech communist party, which was then run by the communist party of the Soviet Union, I have a pretty good idea what socialism is, what communism is and what constitutes a totalitarian regime. Unless we change course, our country is heading toward totalitarianism.

Not so long ago, we on the left used to be called “bleeding heart liberals” or just liberals (to be clear, I am proud to call myself a “bleeding heart liberal”); however, this tag is apparently not bad enough for the right wingers, a.k.a. Trumpists. We have apparently evolved into socialists, marxists or (gasp!) communists! It’s true, we on the left seem to be more extreme, but I know I have not moved my position at all. Most Democrats have not moved more to the left either. If the chasm between Republicans and Democrats seems bigger now, like Grand Canyon-sized, I feel it’s because the right has moved so much farther to the right — the fascist alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

When I read George Orwell’s book “1984,” I thought, this is just like communism.

And now look where we are, and what we are fed. Lies are facts, propaganda pretends to be real news, reality is thrown into doubt every step of the way by those in positions of power (Trump, McConnell, Pompeo, Hannity, Carlson, etc) and more people than I thought possible fall for it. Truth is, when you have extremists on the left, communists, and extremists on the right, dictators and fascists, they become one and the same. The only difference might be the capitalist divide. The rest is the same playbook.

Reading “Red Famine” by Anne Applebaum, I am struck again by the similarities of the Stalin playbook and the Republican one. The Stalin playbook makes rules that make it impossible to travel, and then arrest those who travel (now immigrants without papers). It makes it impossible to feed yourself — this was in Ukraine in the 30s — and then blames the Ukrainians for being inept and lazy (now welfare recipients, minimum-wage workers, etc). When things don’t go your way, it’s the “secret counterrevolutionary cells” (now the Deep State). Punish those who don’t toe the party line — Stalin would execute or imprison them (now they try to cancel them: Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger). Of course the penalties are not that severe, but do you get my drift?

Control the narrative, doubt and question every fact, pit groups of people against each other, never admit any mistakes, otherize, belittle, besmirch, denigrate or otherwise attack anyone who doesn’t agree with you and lie, lie, lie. Gaslight so much one doesn’t have time to check what is real or focus on what’s important.

How does one fight that when it’s a case of whack-a-mole every single day?

We didn’t lose our democracy on January 6, but it was a close call. What if those terrorists chanting “Hang Mike Pence” had actually succeeded? Would Republican leaders and Hannity et al still be defending Trump and his cult terrorists? Would they still be calling those terrorists patriots and tourists? Would they all still be scared of the power that Trump still seems to wield that they say nothing, or worse, kiss the ring? When Trump was elected, I hoped that I was wrong and he would not be as bad as I thought. I was pulling for him to be good, to surprise me in a good way, because I am an American and I want America to keep growing and improving. Boy, was I wrong about Trump.

It’s easy to blame Trump for everything. But, thankfully, he is not that smart and can’t stay on point. Still, we came way too close in the illegal insurrection and attempted coup on January 6.

This is the legacy of Trump. He has weaponized all the worst qualities in people and made it OK for those in power to be openly racist, homophobic and, yes, fascist. Again, he is one man but he has many many enablers and sycophants. That’s the one thing many people, myself included, didn’t see coming. So, now the fight to save our democracy is very much in the present. We must pay attention, figure out where and how we each can make a difference and most of all, vote.

I am not one for hyperbole at all, but our democracy — the country that I love and that welcomed me 46 years ago — totally depends on us all.

Martina Navratilova is a Czech-American former professional tennis player and coach. She is widely considered among the greatest female tennis players of all time and one of the first openly gay sports players.