On Fascism

I’ve seen several people on my timeline say that they didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but now that he’s been sworn in as POTUS “if he fails, America fails.” Let’s examine that, shall we?

I know it’s the natural inclination of liberal Americans to place trust in their institutions, but the strength and scope of institutions can be eroded – in fact, Republicans since the time of Reagan have made it their stated goal to, in the words of Grover Norquist, “reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” This is the same party that obstructed any attempt by the Obama administration to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court following his death in February 2016. This is the party that gerrymanders congressional districts into funny little squiggles so that their stooges can continue to win elections despite being outmatched demographically. This is the party that raises the specter of “voter fraud” to enact draconian measures denying people of color the right to vote and crafted the Southern Strategy to get out the vote via racial resentment. The Republican Party has made it their unabashed goal to dismantle the mechanisms of representative democracy both to maintain power and move the country to the unenviable state we’re in now. The Democratic Party has many, many (many, many) flaws, but perhaps their most glaring has been acquiescence to Republicans as they drove America ever closer to authoritarianism. They behaved like their ideological opponents were good faith actors and that compromise would lead to unity. Recall the last eight years, or the last eight years before that, or the last eight years before that. How did that work out?

In this way, both of America’s major parties created the conditions that spawned Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump, most of all, has no respect for cultural mores and institutions. The only things he respects is Donald Trump and his axis of money/popularity/power. How many times during the campaign season did he say or do things that were beyond the pale? He worked both unofficially and officially with white supremacists. He shrugged off sexual assault allegations from thirteen (thirteen!) women. He called Mexicans rapists right out of the gate and made building a wall and creating a national Muslim registry planks of his campaign. He chipped away at national comity, and after all these outrages, he was rewarded with the highest office in the nation. During his time as president-elect, he made a show of selecting the individuals most likely to destroy the federal agencies they’ve been nominated to lead.

And now we come to the “f” word. Since the time of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, et al. the epithet “fascist” has been watered down and hurled at near anyone with whom there is a strong political disagreement. As such, one must be exceedingly careful in their usage of the word “fascist”.

Donald Trump is a fascist.

The guideline I’m using is Lawrence Britt’s 14 Characteristics of Fascism(2003), although it should be noted via Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism (2004) that each fascism is unique due to the character of the nation as well as the inclinations of the leader in power. Thus not all characteristics show up in every fascist regime.

Britt’s 14 characteristics are:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media
Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed .

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Further, per Paxton:

[Fascism] sought to appeal mainly to the emotions by the use of ritual, carefully stage-managed ceremonies, and intensely charged rhetoric. The role programs and doctrine play in it is, on closer inspection, fundamentally unlike the role they play in conservatism, liberalism, and socialism. Fascism does not rest explicitly upon an elaborated philosophical system, but rather upon popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot, and their rightful predominance over inferior peoples. … In a way utterly unlike the classical ‘isms,’ the rightness of fascism does not depend on the truth of any of the propositions advanced in its name. Fascism is ‘true’ insofar as it helps fulfill the destiny of a chosen race or people.

In The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Hannah Arendt wrote that

Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such.

Does any of this sound familiar? (By the way, if any of you would like me to clarify with specific examples of something Trump has said or done, I’d be happy to do so in the comments. As it is I’m typing as fast as I can, running on coffee and horror. You can also p.m. me for a copy of The Anatomy of Fascism if you’d like to read more.)

Once in power, fascists continue the work of dismantling any institutional roadblocks that get in their way. Nor do they do it alone. Paxton, again:

As for beleaguered middle-class liberals themselves, fearful of a rising Left, lacking the secret of mass appeal, facing the unpalatable choices offered them by the twentieth century, they have sometimes been as ready as conservatives to cooperate with fascists.

Donald Trump is a fascist, and he is also President of the United States. One will only change if he becomes a completely different person (unlikely), the other the people of the United States still have some say in. The presidency is the highest office in the land, yes; but we should not be so over-awed by its power to think that it – or our government – is infallible.

I don’t want Trump to succeed, and this doesn’t mean America will fail with him. Trump’s success would mean:

  • The ACA repealed with no clear replacement. As a tireless proponent of universal health care, the law fell painfully short of what is needed. On the other hand, forcing insurers to cover individuals with preexisting conditions saved countless lives. Full stop.
  • Walls, walls, walls. We’ve already got enough walls as it is.
  • A national Muslim registry… at best. Trump backer Carl Higbie told Fox News that Japanese American internment set a precedent for the registry. This should put a chill down any thinking, feeling person’s spine.
  • Radical defunding of the tattered remains of our social safety net, while
  • The income gap between rich and poor grows even greater.
  • Emboldened white supremacists, emboldened anti-black police, emboldened anti-gay/anti-trans bigots, emboldened anti-woman legislation. Things weren’t great for marginalized populations under neoliberalism and it’s only going to get worse.

Just to name a few.

To quote Arendt once again:

There is hardly a better way to avoid discussion than by releasing an argument from the control of the present and by saying that only the future will reveal its merits.

This is not normal. Now is not the time for cooperation or acquiescence. Now is the time to put up an open fight while an open fight is possible. If you’re white and male especially, step the fuck up. It’s mourning in America, and we have work to do.


(Year Zero/Day One)

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