The F Word

Fascism is a much misused, and overused, word. On social media it is often used to mean “any political position with which I disagree.” It is sometimes used as a synonym for totalitarianism, even though all kinds of not-fascist governments can also be totalitarian.

Righties going back to the John Birch Society have tried to argue that fascism is socialism is communism, which is pathetically ignorant considering that fascism originated as a nationalistic backlash against socialism. And in 1930s Europe, rounding up and executing socialists was high on the fascist to-do list.

Yes, the Nazi party called itself the “national socialist” party, but that was just marketing. The Nazis were no more socialists than they were aardvarks. But you can always count on some semi-educated right-wing half-wit on social media to tell you (with relish) that Nazi stands for national SOCIALIST, you libtard. And, of course, you can no more tell them that Nazis weren’t socialists than you can teach a potato to sing. At least we all agree that totalitarianism is bad.

Has Trumpism morphed into a fascist movement? That’s been a debatable point until recently. Now, not so much.

Here is an article in The New Republic by Geoffrey Cain, dated June 3, 2019, headlined The Failure to Define Fascism Today. It provides some good background, pulled from scholarship, on what distinguishes fascism from other political movements. This bit was intriguing:

Yale emeritus historian Robert Paxton’s classic 1998 identification of the “five stages of fascism” argued that we should look to processes, not cosmetic features like flags and uniforms, to understand fascism. Fascism was marked first by conservatives seeking to seduce farmers and industrial workers into the resistance against left-wing unions. The movement then escalated into militants being deployed to city streets to enforce the fascist ideology, eventually leading to total control.

I have not read Paxton’s work, but there’s a summation of his major points here.

Roger Griffin, political science professor at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom, zeroed in on a different defining feature of fascism in his 1991 book The Nature of Fascism: the fusion of “populist ultra-nationalism” with a “mythic core.” Fascists sought to return to the past, to strengthen the nation by resurrecting it. Fascist leaders everywhere convinced their early followers that their nation had descended from a glorious heritage, hijacked and destroyed by a corrupt elite. The fascists, the heroes, could strengthen themselves into what were called the “New Men,” channeling a mythical tradition of knight-like strength, protecting community and tradition, but often, paradoxically, through powerful, modern militaries.

If you’ve seen the recent footage of the January 6 riot from the New Yorker, you must recognize that box is pretty much checked.

Geoffrey Cain — writing in the summer of 2019 — said “Today, we have no true mass fascist movement: We lack paramilitary squads roaming the streets, and a communist uprising that supposedly merits destruction by a one-party fascist state.” Except that we do have paramilitary squads roaming the streets. Militias, anyone?

And we have a phantom communist uprising. How many Democratic candidates in the November election, including Joe Biden, were labeled “socialist” or “communist” by Republicans? I lost count. It may not matter that there is no looming, or even vaguely distant, threat of a real communist takeover of America. If mobs are organizing in the belief that there is such a threat, it’s the same thing, I say. So let’s check those boxes, too.

And did you know that some of the January 6 rioters were waving the flag of the now defunct South Vietnam? This is considered an expression of opposition to communism.

But now the afore-mentioned Robert Paxton himself has written a piece called I’ve Hesitated to Call Donald Trump a Fascist. Until Now.

Paxton begins the article by explaining why he hadn’t considered Trump to be a fascist leader, even though Trump exhibited many chilling similarities to Hitler and Mussolini on their way up. But then he wrote,

Trump’s incitement of the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2020 removes my objection to the fascist label. His open encouragement of civic violence to overturn an election crosses a red line. The label now seems not just acceptable but necessary.

This is the guy who wrote the classic book on fascism.

Writing at Vox, Dylan Matthews talked to another academic authority on fascism.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at NYU and author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Presenttold me in October that she preferred the term “authoritarian” to “fascist” in describing Trump. This past week, though, Ben-Ghiat took to Twitter to draw parallels between the Capitol siege and Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome, and between Republicans now turning on Trump to Italian fascists who voted Mussolini out of power in 1943, not to reinstate democracy but to save fascism.

Something else to consider — Hitler famously consolidated power in Germany through the Nazification of the police. Law enforcement increasingly acted in the interests of Nazi authority, not upholding law or protecting people. At the same time, Nazi paramilitary groups like the SS were deputized to act as auxiliaries to the police. Here it hasn’t yet been made official, but this summer, way too often, police responding to unrest surrounding protests treated white militia as allies. See, for example, Why police encouraged a teenager with a gun to patrol Kenosha’s streets by Zack Beauchamp at Vox.

And today the Associated Press is reporting that the FBI is vetting the 25,000 National Guard troops currently deployed to Washington, DC, because it fears “an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.”

How did it come to this? And the answer is that the hard Right in America has been moving us in this direction for a very long time. And too many of us have for many years had our brains pickled in neo-fascist propaganda generated by the likes of Fox News and Rush Laimbaugh. This is not going to go away any time soon.

But if we are clear that Trumpism is a fascist movement that would, if left unchecked, end democracy in America, then we are better prepared to deal with it.

See also Paul Krugman, Appeasement Got Us Where We Are and Olivia Nuzzi, Senior Trump Official: We Were Wrong, He’s a ‘Fascist.’

9 thoughts on “The F Word

  1. 2021 ain't exactly an overwhelming improvement over 2020, imo.

    At least not yet.

    My Mom's in the hospital with Covid – hanging in there.  But I don't really know since I can't see her.   

    My best friend here has died.

    A few others here have died too – including a wonderful aide.  

    The only thing positive I see in the very near future, is Wedbesday's 12 noon inauguration ceromony. 


  2. "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, has a bill like a duck.." 

    Way too much energy is wasted trying to put things in neat boxes. Often too little energy is put into precision. "Fascist" is not just an insulting word that applies to any political foe. Trump is evil because he views the law as a force he can apply to his enemies, but he refuses to be constrained by the law whenever it does not suit his purposes. Trump is a racist – video clips of Trump discussing his genetic superiority are easy to find. The history of federal action against Trump's properties to prohibit blacks from renting properties Trump managed is public record. Managers of Trump businesses knew they had to conceal black employees from Trump when he visited. Trump is an authoritarian – his fondness for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,The love affair with the dictator of North Korea, for the dictator of Turkey and the four-year "speak-no-evil" relationship with Putin. You can't find any democracy in the world with a stronger relationship with the US in the Trump years. Trump wrecked our positon of leadership in the free world. 

    But there is a significant difference between Trumpism and the fascism of Germany and Italy. Big business. In Germany and Italy, fascism was a marriage of big business and an authoritarian, repressive government. To some degree, business was an active sponsor out of fear of the purge that had happened in 1917 in Russia. That event was less than 20 years old when fascism began it's ascent. For all the wild talk about communism and socialiam, big business in America is not worried about losing power. (They know they have enough clout with the DNC to stop anything more radical than a few percentage points in taxes.) 

    As Saruman forgot the Ents, the fascist movement in America forgot big business. Anarchy is bad for business. The donor class pays the right people to preserve the status quo, lobbyists, the DNC, and the RNC. If the Republican party becomes an extension of Trumpism, the money and influence will buy a crackdown on the fascists from Democrats. I think the domestic terrorists are well infiltrated by the FBI.

    A blacklist is hard to fight. Ask Colin Kaepernick. If the business, academic, and 'think tank' communities do not give sanctuary to the most public Trumpsters, that's almost as effective as a term behind bars. They know it – which is why the cries of 'censorship' and 'cancel culture" are so frantic. 

    • "Big Business" is not a single interest, and it's important to look at changes in Party funding across the last few decades.  The Democratic Party was once largely funded by Unions, but Reagan ended that.  The Clintons saved the Democratic Party by allying with CA money (Hollywood & Silicon Valley) and striking a truce with Wall Street – powerful sectors appalled by the GOP's slide into Culture War.  As WASP control of  the Finance sector waned, the GOP came to depend more on Western Extractive industries – Oil/Gas/Coal, Mining, etc (also, Big Ag has become "extractive", as it replaced Family Farms).  The people who run those businesses are more "Christian" (Evangelical/Mormon) and less cosmopolitan than the Eastern Financiers who previously funded the GOP; they support the Culture War.  Perhaps worse, their profits are directly threatened by core aspects of any truly Liberal politics: Gov't enforcement of rules on Wages, Safety, and Environmental Standards.


      These are the people who have funded the GOP's slide toward Fascism, and they aren't going to stop now.

  3. I don't count on business to do the right thing. Without business donations and internet and media complicity trump would have never been elected. I'm glad some of them have seen the light but it is too late and too close for comfort. 

    Tonight my son is in uniform cold standing near the Washington monument. Im glad the guard is there. I want a decent government.

    • Aj… Thank you for your sacrifice as a parent, and that of your son for the cause of liberty and the defense of our nation.

  4. "… But if we are clear that Trumpism is a fascist movement that would, if left unchecked, end democracy in America, then we are better prepared to deal with it. "

    No, we are not.  Two things:

    1.  The word has no single, clear, common-usage meaning.  Opposition to "fascism" has always immediately bogged down over confusion between opposing the ideology and opposing the tactics.  All that the aftermath of 6 Jan. has shown is that there are (surprisingly) many people who oppose the tactics but not the ideology.  Any effort they make is doomed.  It is as if you put Neosporin on cancer.

    2.  "Preparation", for anything, assumes strata of common perception and of common purpose.  Those strata do not exist.  On that level, "dealing with" "fascism" is like "dealing with" a pandemic, or wildfires, or cybersabotage, or fillintheblank.  The essence of modern politics is that problems are not things to solve, but things to exploit for factional advantage, which requires that they be left in place or exacerbated.  As soon as you use the word "prepare", you are proposing to turn the clock back to a pre-modern era.  That has a mighty fine track record.



  5. Some words get so overused they lose all meaning, or so much meaning you need a replacement word for the idea the word once communicated.  The word abused is one for sure, a word that has been so abused by overuse and/or misuse that people are desensitized to it.  The F-word has an advantage over those other words.

    Guernica defines the word Fascism as powerful art can only communicate meaning.  Picasso abstracts the horror and the carnage to man and beast the word Fascism needs to communicate.  He does it in graphic form — independent of language.  The consequence to a town — which was insufficiently subservient–meted out by Fascists.   

    Ample images are available on line to view for the last full day in office.  

  6. There are fasces on the reverse of the Mercury dime.  They signified order according to my Latin teacher.

  7. Where is the soul of the Republican party?  Is it in transit? What is it's destiny?  Bradley Onishi, professor of religious studies, wrote quite the opinion piece in the NYT today,  He did not use  the term Fascist, but sounded a warning about MAGAism,  a new civil religion based on myth.  Here is a tease:

    MAGAism also has an eschatology based on conspiracy. As Marc-André Argentino, who studies QAnon, told me by email, for many Trump supporters, including growing numbers of white evangelicals, Jan. 6 figures as “the start of the long awaited period of tribulation that will announce the arrival of the promised golden age.” In other words, Jan. 6 is both a beginning point and a sign of the end, a rebirth for the dangerous delusions of extremists who see violence as an appropriate means for finishing what they started in order to usher in a new world.

    A movement based not on truth, but on resentment, myths and symbols.  Mr. Onishi's writing could be quite prophetic.  We will see.  Call it Fascism or MAGAism it is a bad omen.  May truth prevail. 

    Opinion | Trump’s New Civil Religion – The New York Times (


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