Rep. Hank Johnson warned his constituents against creeping authoritarianism in an intense speech peppered with historical references Tuesday, likening the political moment that brought President Donald Trump to power to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
“Our democracy teeters on the brink of failure,” the Georgia Democrat said at an event held by the Atlanta NAACP earlier this week. “Americans elected an authoritarian, racist, anti-immigrant strongman to the nation’s highest office.”
Hitler “rode a wave of nationalism and anti-Semitism to power. Replace anti-Semitism with ‘all Latinos crossing our borders are rapists, drug dealers and murderers.’ Does that sound familiar?” Johnson asked, to a chorus of “yeses” from the crowd.
Johnson also cautioned constituents against relying on institutions like the courts to ensure the rights of people of color.
“Americans, particularly black Americans, can’t afford to make that same mistake about the harm that could be done by a man named Hitler or a man named Trump,” he said.
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Johnson will lead a subcommittee that oversees the administration of the courts and judicial ethics when Democrats assume control of the Judiciary Committee in the the new Congress.
In his speech the 4th District Democrat voiced concern about the future of the Supreme Court and lambasted a few recent rulings, including its decision to uphold the Muslim travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii and its decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
Johnson cited the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder and argued it allowed for the voter suppression of African-Americans that contributed to the election of Republican Brian Kemp over Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia’s recent gubernatorial election.
Johnson delivered his address at the storied Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was founded in the days after the Civil War. Johnson invoked that history to underscore his critique of Trump.
“Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again followers want to return America back to a time when white men and white privilege went unchallenged. And where minorities and women were in their place,” Johnson said. “Right wing ideologues gain power by playing on people’s economic despair, pitting working people against each other, inflaming racial tensions by blaming economic hardship on people of color. The reality is these right wing authoritarians are laissez-faire free market capitalists with insatiable thirsts for more and more wealth.”
Johnson also signaled that House Democrats will take their oversight responsibility seriously.
“A Democratic House of Representatives wont allow [Trump] to get away with trampling the rule of law,” he said.