A 30-Year-Old Warning About Rising Fascism

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MAGA HitlerConvicted felon and insurrection supporter Donald Trump claimed in a media conference after his trial that, because the justice system works, Americans are “living in a fascist state.” It’s not the first time Trump has used the term to describe opponents or their accomplishments. Last month he told donors Biden was “running a Gestapo administration” and added that Biden is “surrounded by fascists around the Oval Office.” But Trump and his supporters have been using the term to describe opponents — including those in his own party who won’t bend the knee to him — for the past two or three years.

And like most Trump accusations, it is really a confession: accuse your enemy of being what you yourself are (aka the hypocritical Pot-Calling-The-Kettle-Black (PCKB) tactic). Trump is a master of it. as he is of all forms of hypocrisy.

Trump's R&RSince Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of criminal felony, Trump’s MAGA cultists have been promising violence, revenge, and retribution against political enemies, opponents, and even dissenters in their own party, and promising to “take a wrecking ball” to America’s justice system, use all the powers of the federal government (and allied parties in state governments) against perceived enemies and generally take revenge on everyone involved for the trial’s verdict. Trump has also said in an interview he “may” throw his opponents — including the current president’s wife and secretary of state — in jail. Formerly mainstream (and allegedly moderate) Repugnicans are now making extremist statements as cultist sycophants, promising to do Trump’s bidding and enact revenge on Democrats because their leader was convicted by a jury in an open court. They’re threatening to withhold funding, stop legislation, and use their power to interfere with state justice systems. they’re threatening to overturn the entire US justice system to become subservient to their ideology.*

If that isn’t overt fascism, then what is it?

But what is fascism? And does it really describe Trump and his MAGA cultists? Like so many words in today’s polarized politics, it gets used a lot but like “socialist” and “liberal,” its actual meaning is often occluded by its use as an invective. As Time Magazine noted in August, 2023:

Among Trump and his allies, the “fascist” label has been growing in popularity as an epithet for Democrats. Following his indictments, Trump has repeatedly referred to “radical left Democrats” as “fascists” And not just any old fascists. On August 1st, for example, Trump posted on Truth Social that the persecution he’d experienced from the “Biden Crime Family” was “reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.”

Time also noted that the term fascism is traditionally associated with right-wing extremism, “Just as Republicans often referred to their partisan rivals as “commies” and “socialists,” terms typically associated with extreme leftism” The authors add, “to hear Republicans like Trump, Giuliani, and Marjorie Taylor Greene turn the “fascist” and “Nazi” labels on Democrats is a bit more curious.” But tellingly, the authors add,

…even though the vast majority of Democrats, and most Independents, place fascists and Nazis on the right, most Republicans don’t consider those groups far-right at all. Just the opposite, in fact. In our survey, 76% of Republicans place fascists on the left side of the spectrum, and 44% rate them at 1, as far left as possible. And we see similar numbers for Nazis. Over 68% of Republicans think Nazis are left-of-center and about 43% say Nazis are the pinnacle of leftism.

The authors attribute to this bizarre shift in meaning to “pure tribal psychology.” But it is also an example of how Trump and his MAGA cultists are using their Newspeak to redefine the meanings of works to suit their far-right ideology.

So I want to look at what the term actually means in a political context, not merely the bumper-sticker slogans and sound bites that get tossed around as political weaponry.

Trump fascismIn his 2006 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges opens with an excerpt from an essay by the late writer, Umberto Eco, titled Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt. Eco, who had personal experience with Italy’s fascists, wrote his essay in mid-1995, but despite its age, it remains relevant for today’s voters. Voters, that is, who care about the survival of democracy in Canada and the USA, and are concerned about the increasing theocratic overtones in CONservative politics.

You can read the entire essay (titled as Ur-Fascism) on the Anarchist Archives, or a summary with excerpts on Open Culture. Or, of course, you can read Hedges’ book which, while also somewhat dated, offers a warning to American and Canadian voters about the pseudo-Christian Talibangelists behind the rightwingers.

Trump followers from XitterHere are Eco’s 14 points, copied from the OpenCulture article. Read them and ask yourself which apply to America’s Repugnican Party or Canada’s CONservatives (and in many cases to the various libertarian parties)**:

  1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
  2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
  3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
  4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
  5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
  6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
  7. The obsession with a plot. “Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.”
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
  10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
  13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

I expect that from this list you can easily pick out several attributes that reflect the populism of Donald Trump and also that of Canada’s Pierre Poilievre, as well as others among the far right. Eco himself recognized that this list was not confined to just one political ideology. He wrote,

These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

There are, of course, other analyses of fascism that expand or reduce the number of attributes that identify or define fascism. For example, a book review in Alternet.org had a list of just four “pillars” of fascism. These are taken from The Wannabe Fascists: A Guide to Understanding the Greatest Threat to Democracy, by historian Federico Finchelstein: xenophobia, propaganda, political violence, and dictatorship. This is the cutline description of MAGA, where all four elements are present. MIT Press described the book:

With The Wannabe Fascists, historian Federico Finchelstein offers a precise explanation of why Trumpism and similar movements across the world belong to a new political breed, the last outcome of the combined histories of fascism and populism: the wannabe fascists. This new type of populist politician is typically a legally elected leader who, unlike previous populists who were eager to distance themselves from fascism, turns to totalitarian lies, racism, and illegal means to destroy democracy from within.

In the magazine Free Inquiry, spring 2003 issue, political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt also listed 14 characteristics of fascism in a list similar to Eco’s but with important additions:

  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 wartime, 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.

Again, I expect readers might recognize in the above list several planks in the platforms of both the Repugnican and CONservative parties. I can find many parallels.

Another list of ten attributes is in a YouTube video from Yale University Professor of Philosophy Jason Stanley. A review of that video in OpenCulture includes excerpts from the transcript (emphasis added):

Fascism is a cult of the leader. It involves the leader setting the rules about what’s true and false. So any kind of expertise, reality, all of that is a challenge to the authority of the leader. If science would help him, then he can say, “Okay, I’ll use it.” Institutions that teach multiple perspectives on history in all its complexity are always a threat to the fascist leader.
[O]nce you have hierarchies set up, you can make people very nervous and frightened about losing their position on that hierarchy. Hierarchy goes right into victimhood because once you convince people that they’re justifiable higher on the hierarchy, then you can tell them that they’re victims of equality. German Christians are victims of Jews. White Americans are victims of Black American equality. Men are victims of feminism.

And these must surely appear familiar to anyone who is paying attention to today’s issues and politics. In 2021, Stanley wrote a piece for the Guardian newspaper titled America is now in fascism’s legal phase. in it, he wrote (emphasis added):

The contemporary American fascist movement is led by oligarchical interests for whom the public good is an impediment, such as those in the hydrocarbon business, as well as a social, political, and religious movement with roots in the Confederacy. As in all fascist movements, these forces have found a popular leader unconstrained by the rules of democracy, this time in the figure of Donald Trump… Donald Trump and the party that is now in thrall to him have long been exploiting fascist propaganda. They are now inscribing it into fascist policy.

There are other lists, but they all share in common the four elements: xenophobia, propaganda, political violence, and dictatorship. And that’s what we see today in MAGA. In his 2006 book, Hedges wrote what now seems eerily prescient of the current MAGA cultists’ threats of violence and attacks on Americans following Trump’s 34 felony convictions: “The crowds are wrapped in the seductive language of violence, which soon enough leads to acts of real violence.”

PoiLIEvre cartoonSimilarly, we saw threats of violence from the convoy insurrectionists who tried to overthrow our Canadian government — the same people supported and beloved by the CONservative leader, Pierre PoiLIEvre, who emulates Trump daily. Remember that several of his MPs wined and dined with an avowed neo-Nazi and PoiLIEvre did not discipline or censure them. Remember that PoiLIEvre was endorsed by extremist agitator and disinformation firehose, Alex Jones, but PoiLIEvre, who likes to have photo-ops taken with racists and extremists (like meeting with Diagolon members), did not condemn or disavow his endorsement.

So, yes, I believe the terms fascist and fascism are appropriate terms for both Trump’s MAGA and PoiLIEvre’s Maple MAGA., but I caution readers that none of these parties are yet officially and openly fascist, although they both have extremist members and supporters who are. And their leaders most certainly are. And their followers will soon be fully-fledged fascists, too, unless sane, moral people start saying No! to them.

Notes:

* I recommend you read The Third Reich in Power, vol. 2 of Richard Evan’s magisterial trilogy about the Nazis and how they rose (vol 1), how they managed the government and the bureaucracy (vol 2), and how they went to war (vol 3). This second volume documents how Germany became a one-party state within months of the Nazis being elected to a minority government and how they took over the arts, the workers, culture, religion, police, justice system, schools, and the military so rapidly and effectively. It is eerily similar to the plans the MAGA Repugnicans have laid out in their 900-page Project 2025 document.

** From what I’ve read and watched about them over the years, Libertarians despise government, want to privatize all government services and institutions, and oppose all forms of taxation. Libertarians are not interested in a large totalitarian state per se, but rather in creating small, combative and competitive fiefdoms run by oligarchs, with indentured or enslaved workers. Individuals without riches are required to struggle in their repressive “pay-as-you-go” economy (aka “you’re on your own” economics). It’s an ideology that appeals to billionaires (and has been heavily promoted to conservative parties by them, as documented in Dark Money by Jane Mayer).

Basically, the dream Libertarian world is to make the Mad Max movie world into reality. As noted in HuffPost:

Even libertarians acknowledge that a free market will drive a larger wealth disparity ― which some believe will be offset by the trickling down of wealth and technology. But wealth inequality paired with deregulation creates an opportunity for haves to rule the have-nots. This is one of the many reasons for regulation ― to ensure that the rich few do not impose their will unjustly or destructively on the poor multitudes…
Libertarianism is a rich man’s ideal. It ostensibly gives ultimate freedoms and choice to everyone at the cost of helping the helpless. It completely ignores the reality of economic forces, which compel the poor to take jobs they don’t want and live where they don’t want to just because they have to.

While their social policies sometimes seem more progressive than those of conservative parties, their belief that “government should not be allowed to impose its will on the citizenry” would create lawlessness, banditry. scams, criminal gangs, environmental destruction, and allow employers to create harshly oppressive working conditions without any oversight. As the author of the HuffPost piece concludes:

If you want to understand what would happen in a libertarian society, watch the movie Elysium. That’s a libertarian utopia. Where the wealth disparity is abysmal and the eroding middle class has fully shifted well below the poverty line. Yes, we will likely continue to make technological advancements, but increasingly in service to a narrower and narrower segment of the population.

Mike Schmidt, Investigative Reporter for the New York Times, Tim Miller, former RNC Spokesperson and Andrew Weissmann, former top prosecutor at the Justice Department join Nicolle Wallace on Deadline White House with reaction to Donald Trump and his cult followers in congress plotting revenge in the wake of the ex-President being held criminally accountable.

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5 Comments

  1. https://www.axios.com/2024/06/05/trump-alvin-bragg-election-2024-jail

    Tell me how this isn’t a fascist threat:
    If former President Trump wins in November, top supporters will push him to investigate, prosecute — and even try to imprison — Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), who won Trump’s conviction in the hush-money case.

    “Of course [Bragg] should be — and will be — jailed,” Steve Bannon, one of the top voices of the MAGA movement, told us — saying for the record what many Trump supporters are privately plotting.
    Why it matters: This column has reported extensively about all the norms Trump plans to shatter if returned to the White House. Nowhere would that be truer than at the Justice Department, which Trump wants to make his fief and retribution arm.

    Bannon told us Bragg could be targeted using the 14th Amendment (equal protection) and Fourth Amendment (outlawing unreasonable searches and seizures by the government) “plus scores of other” laws.

  2. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-revenge-political-enemies-dr-phil_n_66627c82e4b0f9f6da809a91
    Trump Says Revenge ‘Can Be Justified’ In Latest Threat To Political Enemies
    The former president keeps musing about going after his critics following his historic conviction.

    Former President Donald Trump reiterated his calls to punish his political enemies in a new interview that aired Thursday, saying “revenge can be justified” following his conviction on all counts during his hush money trial last week.

    Trump spoke at length about his criminal indictments and his competing campaign for the presidency with Dr. Phil McGraw. At one point, McGraw said that if Trump returns to the White House, he would likely have “so much to do” to repair the country he wouldn’t “have time to get even.”

    “Well, revenge does take time,” Trump replied. “And sometimes revenge can be justified, Phil. I have to be honest. Sometimes it can.”

  3. https://theconversation.com/the-authoritarian-leaders-playbook-how-narendra-modi-captured-indias-legal-system-and-is-rewriting-the-countrys-history-in-his-image-226889
    Another fascist:
    The authoritarian leader’s playbook: how Narendra Modi captured India’s legal system and is rewriting the country’s history in his image
    Since first coming to power in 2014, Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have embarked on an agenda of majoritarian Hindu nationalism. Led by the ideology of Hindutva, which perceives India’s history to be inextricably linked with Hindu religious practice, and with the help of a hand-picked committee of advisers, they have pursued a vision of India as a country run by Hindus for Hindus.

    Over the past decade, India has seen a proliferation of verbal and physical attacks against religious minorities and Dalits (the lowest caste of people in India, formerly known as “untouchables”). Some BJP politicians have described Muslims as “traitors of the nation”. Since Modi came to power, lynchings of Muslims and Dalits by vigilante groups who condemn the skinning of cattle and the transport or consumption of beef are reported to have increased significantly.

    At the same time, many civic voices critical of the government have been silenced: journalists, academics and politicians concerned with the increasing repression of minorities and the gradual erosion of India’s democratic structure have had their Twitter accounts blocked, their homes raided, and in some cases have been jailed. Recently, Rahul Gandhi, India’s principal opposition leader, complained that his Congress party is being “crippled”“ by state tax demands that have led to the freezing of its bank accounts.

  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sAOud-qm38
    Trump and the Return of Fascism? | The Coffee Klatch with Robert Reich
    We decided to do another deep dive today — this one on Trumpism and fascism.
    With the election less than five months away, and Trump escalating his fascist rhetoric and signaling his intent to use federal troops to round up undocumented people inside the United States and put them in camps, we felt it important to show the close parallels between Trumpism and neo-fascism.
    Please pull up a chair, grab a cuppa, and, if so inclined, take our poll.

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