Americans Still Need to Confront the Truth That Trumpism is Fascism
America’s Not In Less Danger — It’s in More Danger, From a Belligerent Fascist Movement Dedicated to Ending Democracy
Written by Umair Haque and published in Medium.com 8/5/2021
Mary Trump — Donald’s niece — said something worth hearing recently, as she so often does. Listen: “Still arguing about whether or not to call Donald a fascist is the new version of the media’s years-long struggle to figure out if they should call his lies lies.” She’s got a new book coming out, and part of her mission is to spread awareness that, yes, it’s well past time to call Trumpism what it is: fascism.
Let’s think about her central point for a moment: American media, and by extension, American society and culture, which take their cues from America’s pundits and columnists and analysts and so on, is failing at a central challenge. Simply saying that, yes, Trumpism is fascism.
Why is that important? Why does it even matter? Americans exist in a weirdly nihilistic culture is the first thing you have to understand. By and large, Americans don’t grasp how much matters to really call fascism fascism. That’s not their fault — nobody educates them. About much of anything. Their media is a disgrace, their public intellectuals mostly a sham, and their culture missing in action. So they think that “fascism” is “just a word.” And why should it matter at all what words we use?
Some of the better-hearted Americans imagine that speaking the correct words is a matter of being kind and polite. That saying fascism is some kind of slur, and for this reason, it’s important to be a little offensive, a little challenging. Alas, even that misses the point.
Why should we call it fascism? I want to cut to the heart of this issue. Is it just to be kind and polite? I mention that because that appears to be what most American liberals think. They don’t seem to think it matters that the word “fascism” is said at all, or its corollaries, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, theocracy, and so forth. They don’t think saying these words matters because they think they are “just words” we say for the sake of feelings. Liberals, being materialists, don’t care about feelings — and they can’t bring themselves to see that in fact there is something much deeper at stake here entirely.
But this isn’t why we should say fascism — for the sake of feelings.
So why should we say fascism?
For the sake of the truth.
It’s that simple, and, many Americans are sure to remind me — that idealistic, too.
Let me unpack that a little.
America’s now a society where Big Lies run rampant. They’ve brought Trumpism back to life. The election was “stolen.” Jan 6th was a pleasant tourist visit — not a deadly coup. If there was any violence, it was self-defense, citizens perfectly justified in defending their own rights to “visit” their Capitol. Vaccines are harmful and dangerous. Trump alone can save America’s white working class. Immigrants and foreigners and women and gays are impure. They’re the cause of the woes of pure of blood and true of faith. Society’s mission is therefore one of social cleansing and purification. If it can’t happen consensually — so what? It should happen through open aggression and violence, because, well, this land, this soil, belongs to “real” Americans in the first place.
Did you get all those Big Lies? Yet the Big Lies go further than that, still. Now let me recount the ones even liberals believe. No, Russia wasn’t involved in installing Trump to President. Nope, there wasn’t a detailed plan from the Kremlin that we now know of through official leaked documents to elevate him to power because Russia’s goal was to collapse American politics and society. Nope, Trumpism is dead now, and it won’t come back to life. Trumpism wasn’t really that bad, if you think about it — the abuses of power can be forgotten, those concentration camps and family separations and kids in cages and minorities being hunted in the streets. American institutions prevailed — it’s not that a tiny, tiny handful of brave officers intervened and American democracy escaped by the skin of its teeth.
Wherever you look, American society and culture are now in the grip of Big Lies. Worse, both sides believe their own Big Lies. Yes, Trump’s Big Lies are of course worse. But the Big Lies American liberals believe very much exist, too.
How are these two sets of Big Lies related?
Now let’s come back to fascism. What is it? The dictionary definition you were taught in school — if you’re American — goes like this: “the concentration of state and corporate power,” or something along these lines. That definition is wrong. It’s the definition of socialism. Americans are taught the wrong definition of fascism to begin with.
Let me make that clearer. Fascism is about annihilating hated social groups who are regarded as subhuman. Yet the definition Americans are taught — in grade school, high school, college — neatly elides this fact. Instead, Americans are taught a boneheaded definition of “fascism” that could include — the convergence of state and corporate power — everything from Britain’s NHS to Canada’s CBC to the French union and collective bargaining system. Quite obviously, those things aren’t fascism. Why not? Well, they’re not killing anyone — instead, mostly, they’re enhancing and elevating Europeans’ and Canadians’ quality of life.
There’s a very good reason that Americans are taught the wrong definition of fascism, one that equates it with any kind of public investment or good, like having, say, a functioning healthcare or pension system. Because America’s still fighting the Cold War. During the Cold War, it was easy to understand why Americans were taught that fascism is socialism. It’s a convenient way to conflate two things, and make American kids believe that socialism equals fascism.
And all that leaves the average American in a bizarre haze of confusion and uncertainty. They aren’t able to fully distinguish that Trumpism is fascism because they’ve never been well educated or informed about what fascism actually is.
So what is fascism? Let me give you a formal definition, and then a very, very simple one. The formal one is: “the abuse of state institutions by fanatics and extremists to advance an ideology of supremacy and subjugate and repress hated social groups at the bottom of hierarchies of power who are regarded as subhuman to the point of annihilation.”
There’s a moral and ethical dimension, too: “The strong should prevail, and the weak perish. Who are the strong? The ones who can violently repress and subjugate the weak. What gives them the obligation to do so? They see themselves as long-suffering victims who are in fact the chosen people, pure in blood and true in faith. Who are they victims of? Hated social groups, who are scapegoated and demonised for the woes of the pure and true.”
Now, if you follow all that, you should immediately see how illogical fascism is. The hated social groups who are demonised and scapegoated for the woes of the “real” people don’t have any real social power to begin with. The average person is indeed going through troubled times of struggle — fascist episodes are triggered by economic desperation, usually. But the fault is usually that of negligent, greedy, and foolish elites — not the Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, Latinos, women, gays, or whomever else times of strife are usually blamed on.
That’s a complicated definition — at least by American standards. You have to think about quite a bit. Politics, society, ethics, morality. How societies turn to scapegoats in times of trouble. Who leads them there — demagogues like Trump. So let me give you a simpler one.
If it looks like fascism, it probably is. We all know fascism instinctively when we see it. Is some poor, usually helpless social group being scapegoated? Are they being demonised as “vermin” and “parasites” and so forth? Is there an extremist faction rising who wants to annihilate them? Is it contesting power for the institutions of state power — promising openly to abuse those power to “get rid of” or cleanse away the impurity of hated subhumans, which are “infecting” or “corrupting” the average person, who’s romanticised as a long-suffering hero? Is violence ennobled and sanctified and legitimised? Is there an atmosphere of guffawing stupidity, a cult of devotion to an authoritarian leader, a perfect Father leading the mindless masses in rituals of mass hatred? Is the goal to end democracy, because only some people are considered human in the first place?
Then it’s probably fascism. Let me give you a few further criteria. Has the society in question suffered a recent economic shock — that really did push the average person to the brink of poverty, or past it? Has life become struggle, strife, and trouble? Does a mood of pessimism prevail? Are people turning to superstitions and conspiracy theories to explain why life never seems to get better, but only worse? Those are all preconditions for fascism.
Now. It’s easy enough to see all that applies in spades to America — and especially to Trumpism. Economic trouble? Sure — around 2010, after decades of stagnation, the middle class imploded. That spelled fascism to those of us who study how societies collapse. Trumpism’s a perfect exemplar of a mass movement which scapegoats minorities for the woes of a working class which regards itself as pure and true, and wants to abuse the institutions of the state to effectively end democracy, purify society, and create a nationalist supremacist state.
It’s not exactly rocket science, is it. Of course Trumpism is fascism. That’s why way back when Trump was elected, Germanys most famous magazine openly mocked him as another Hitler. The rest of the world can see it very, very well. But America can’t. Mary Trump is perfectly right to point that disjuncture out.
Now let’s come back to why it really matters to call all this fascism. It’s not just for the sake of feelings, pointless intellectual debates, or some kind of point-scoring precision. None of those things are why.
Truth is why. Reality’s why. When we don’t call fascism fascism, truth and reality cease to matter. Not in some kind of abstract way. But in a brutally direct one.
Let me give you an example that should make your blood run a little cold.
Dems won’t call what happened on Jan 6th a fascist coup. The only Dem who really has is Rep Jamie Raskin — and he deserves credit where its due. But as a party, Dems use a strange, strange language — and associated set of concepts, history, and thinking — to describe it. It was an “insurrection,” they say. By “rioters.”
Where does that lead? To a very different place than “this was a fascist coup.”
If it was a fascist coup, then presumably special mechanisms of justice should be set up, because this is an emergency. Mechanisms like modern-day Nuremberg Trials. Investigations should be swiftly held to see how deep the conspiracy went — which there obviously was. All those should be open and public, like the Nuremberg Trials were.
But the Dems chose a very different course. Many of those responsible for the coup have gotten off with wrist-slaps — because, of course, they’re mere “rioters,” responsible for a bit of property damage, and maybe trespassing…not fascists in a coup, out for blood, intending to kill and kidnap and massacre. Don’t take it from me, that’s what they wanted, take it from Officers Hodges, Dunn, and Fanone.
But there are no special justice mechanisms happening in America. Instead, the fascists are mostly getting away with it. A few foot soldiers here and there are getting wrist slaps. Do you really think that’s going to deter the movement? Of course not. So there Trumpism, openly escalating, hardening, and retaliating.
It’s openly dedicated to another Jan 6th. It’s openly espousing the violent end of democracy. Figures like Marjorie Taylore Greene and Lauren Boebert and Josh Hawley — the new wave of rising Trumpists in control of the GOP — openly champion violence and authoritarianism. The Trumpist base openly and ardently believes the election was stolen from them, and therefore, Jan 6th was perfectly justified. The calls for vengeance — now coming from a resurgent Trump himself — are growing louder.
American fascism is hardening. That’s because nobody punished it. Nobody punished because nobody much in power was brave enough to say it was fascism in the first place. So what was there to punish? What was there to hold accountable? What was there to deter and break the back of? You can’t do any of those things to something that doesn’t exist.
That’s what Orwell and Arendt were trying to warn us of. Not just that “fascists twist the truth.” But something much, much deeper — and more dangerous still. That when fascism comes around — and it always does — the natural instinct of a society is to shrug and say something devastatingly foolish, and yet all too human:
It can’t happen here. It isn’t happening here.
That’s how the fascists really win. Not just because they twist the truth into sets of Big Lies — those people are subhumans who are responsible for our woes, the election was stolen from us, our Fuhrer alone can save us, and so on. But because truth itself ceases to matter. Reality itself ceases to count. Because grand institutions, elites, power centers — they all grow too weak, afraid, or stupid to say fascism is now happening in plain sight. By failing to “say” fascism — fascism effectively disappears. And having disappeared — what is there to punish, check, deter, break, challenge, eliminate? Nothing.
That’s how the Nazis failed in their first coup attempt — but succeeded at the second. In the intervening years, the threat of fascism was disappeared. Minimized, erased, denied. The mood of “it’s not happening here” prevailed. Institutions from government to press to society fell strangely, oddly silent. As if nobody was to mention the tide of death rearing up above everyone’s heads.
That’s why it matters to say fascism. For the sake of truth and reality. Without truth and reality, fascism is free to disappear. And then it’s not happening. It can’t be happening here. That strange, strange mood comes to prevail — everybody ignores the giant tsunami looming over everyone’s head. How are you today, my friend? Just fine, thank you! There’s no giant wave of ruin about to crash over us — heavens, no. Let’s politely ignore that — maybe if we ignore it long enough, it’ll just go away.
Bang. That’s how societies really collapse into fascism. Not just through the malice of the bad guys. But also through the passivity of the good ones. Not just through the thoughtless brutality of stupid men. But because the intelligent ones are too busy overthinking it. And not just through the cunning of evil men. But through the weakness of all the ones who know better, but don’t stand and fight for and reality, on which everything else good and decent in a society must always rest, because otherwise the Biggest Lie prevails.
And when truth and reality die, my friend, let me tell you a secret. No society stands a chance. At decency, modernity, or progress. All that can ever happen is , into the abyss of all the ugliness and stupidity of history.