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Fascism: Semi, Neo, Proto, Crypto
I’ve been on the fascist threat train for some years now. It was provoked by news of goons riding around in the back of pick-up trucks in downtown Portland, looking for people to assault. There has been the dedicated reporting of Dave Neiwert that provided a bigger picture. Less current and appreciated is the way this was all foretold by Chip Berlet. Of course, Trump himself had to accentuate such concerns, as his racist campaign transitioned from sick joke to realistic threat in 2016. I’ve always thought you have to be a socialist to recognize fascist trends in a timely fashion.
There is academic quibbling over whether the label or some variation is appropriate to Trump. I would say yes, for reasons that follow. We ought to put the historical debates in this vein aside. They can be illuminating in their own right, but they are less relevant to current political priorities.
Trump initially sparked this discussion. Was he a fascist, an authoritarian, a Bonapartist, a Peronist? Then people began debating whether he was insane or afflicted by some other type of mental defect. And then we debated what sort of drugs he is on. (Adderall seemed to be the consensus.) It should not take a genius to figure out that this man in the White House is very, very bad, far worse than any conceivable Democrat.
I think I can simplify all this: for practical but urgent purposes, a fascist personality or movement is a factor that would close off democratic discussion and agitation. That is, it would end the extent to which U.S. is an open society. I would grant that study of history can provide insights into current trends, but it can also mislead in the same exercise. There is no reason U.S. fascism should closely resemble formations in foreign countries of a century ago.
We can see it developing in places like Texas and Florida. The point of the spear is the interconnected attacks on LGBTQI, reproductive rights, discussion of racism, and voting rights. Goon squads are repeatedly put together to attack abortion clinics, LGBTQI events, leftist demonstrations, and Democratic politicians themselves. The Trumpist-terrorist underground has sent letter bombs to leading politicians and plotted to assassinate Democratic leaders.
It’s also happening at the level of legal, grassroots politics, not strictly at the national level, in competition for control of state legislatures and school boards. I’ve written about this in my own state of Virginia, which might be thought of as relatively moderate. The same virus is here.
Would we alienate too many Trump voters by calling their hero a fascist? It all depends on the issues in play. The Right, via their majority on the Supreme Court, has handed us a massive political opportunity. Tying the horrific results of the abortion decision to the politicians responsible for packing the court with corrupt, cultist liars is the smart thing to do. When you have the merits on your side, attacks on the other side’s leaders works.
What is often missed is that to generate Democratic electoral success, at least in the short term, it is not necessary to win over too many of Trump’s voters. Elections turn on such narrow margins that it is only necessary to peel off about five percent of them. Class-based appeals are salient. It’s amusing to see people try to warn Democrats off from critiques of inequality, while Republicans are trying to beat it to death in their complaints that the student loan relief is a giveaway to the rich.
Anti-fascism is the necessary umbrella for all progressive and leftist agitation. It hinges on the election of Democrats, surely an unappetizing prospect but the only option available now. In the Germany of the twenties, the social democratic party and the communists had ample boots on the ground. They could have strangled the Nazi threat in the cradle. We don’t have that option. We need to mobilize in support of the State taking action.
Politics is about choosing among available options, not dreaming of the options you wish you had.