Why American Fascism is Back, and More Dangerous Than Ever – by umair haque
You don’t have to look very hard to see it. Marjorie Taylor Greene comparing wearing a mask to… being exterminated at Auschwitz. The House GOP Leader blocking a commission to investigate the coup on Jan 6th. Trumpists running for secretaries of state in swing states — to block next time’s vote. A fake “audit” in Arizona — based on the belief that the election was “stolen” — run by a company called “Cyber Ninjas.” NOTE: SERIOUS ADULT BEHAVIOR HERE.
Trumpism is having a renaissance. That might be an unlikely choice of word — but it’s precisely what’s happening right about now. A rebirth, a renewal, a reinvention. It’s hardening, escalating, and retaliating — in fury, violence, and rage, growing more organized, sophisticated, delusional, and authoritarian by the day. It’s commitment to the project of turning America into a fascist-theocratic state ethnically cleansed of the impure of blood and faith has vastly increased.
Why? There are three reasons, which everyone should understand — in order to see what comes next.
After the coup attempt of Jan 6th, I warned that unless Trumpism’s back was broken swiftly and severely, this is exactly what would happen. It didn’t take a genius to see that, by the way. Just a basic understanding of how social movements — or bullies — work. Why did I say that?
The first reason Trumpism’s having a renaissance goes like this. Because it can. The Democrats have not moved swiftly enough to break Trumpism’s back. In fact, they’ve barely moved at all. Trumpists have risen to sinecures — well-paid gigs — in their own alternate universe. Stephen Miller, the architect of “family separation,” is a Fox New pundit. He should be on trial for crimes against humanity.
The ugly truth is this. The Democrats have let Trumpism have a renaissance. Many Americans won’t want to face that truth, but that only makes it all the more urgent. In what way, precisely? Well, after fascist episodes, what’s necessary is a special process of extraordinary justice. Think of the Nuremberg Trials. The reasoning behind them was that “crimes against humanity” had been committed — a new idea devised to do justice to fascism. These crimes were so repulsive they offended all of us, and the basic idea of our common humanity.
America needed a Nuremberg Trials the day that Trump left office. It still needs one. But such a thing is nowhere to be found, precisely because it’s off the Democrats radar. And thanks to a culture of incredible intellectual poverty — I’ll come back to that — the average anti-Trumpost American still doesn’t quite grasp that a process of extraordinary justice was necessary to have justice for extraordinary moments of social collapse.
But it’s worse than that — I’m putting it a little too kindly. The Democrats don’t believe in punishing the Trumpists at all. Biden said, famously, that he wanted to extend an olive branch, more or less, when he won the election — he called for “healing.” Those of us who’ve studied and survived fascism warned: this is exactly the wrong approach.
Why? When you offer fascists an olive branch, they take it, laugh, and use it to beat you in the face all the harder. To them, you’ve just proven what they always believed about you — that you were weak, gullible, foolish, spineless, In their binary worldview — ubermen and undermen, exploiter and exploited, predatory and prey — you’ve confirmed that you’re someone to beat up on, just like a bully will treat someone backing down from a fight. Biden made a huge, huge mistake. But can American liberals admit it?
All of that only raises the question, though — why did Biden make this huge miscalculation, offering fascists an olive branch, which they’d obviously take as a sign of weakness, and double down? Why didn’t the Democrats pursue a course of extraordinary justice, and try figures like Stephen Miller right down to the Trump family, for any one of an endless number of abuses of power?
That brings me to the second reason Trumpism’s having a renaissance. America only began to understand Trumpism was a serious neo-fascist movement committed to ending democracy far, far too late.
Today, you’ll read plenty of articles about how a new generation of Trumpists are even more dangerous than the first. And yet, even now, the dots aren’t connected by pundits. They don’t use the obvious parallels they should — the Taliban, ISIS, the Nazis. Why is that? Because American pundits a) believe in exceptionalism b) don’t know much about the world c) don’t know much about history and so d) don’t really have a good understanding of fascism in the modern context, or maybe any understanding at all.
American theorists and pundits don’t look at societies that have been hit by mass fascist movements — Iran, Afghanistan, Syria — and understand that this is now what’s happening to America. A social stratum — the working class — plunging into despair, as it imploded, turning to fanatical religion, ending up at the hands of scapegoats who pointed the finger at demagogues, and said that if society was cleansed, then all would be well again?
All that’s awfully familiar to someone like me who’s lived it. But to the average American pundit, living in comfort in a Georgetown townhouse, it’s sounds like science fiction. Only it’s not. It’s the precise and exact same process of social implosion at work.
But because America came far, far too late to an understanding of how dangerous Trumpism really was, an olive branch was extended to the fascists at exactly the moment they should have been on trial, behind bars, pursued by the long arm of the law.
Let me remind you, for a moment — sorry — just how all that went down. From 2016 to 2020, most of America’s pundits denied that Trumpism was a fascist or authoritarian movement at all. They’d regularly ridicule — if not abuse — those of us, like me, Sarah Kendzior, or Jason Stanley, or maybe you, anyone who warned of such a thing. According to the norms of politesse that reign in American elite culture, it was considered “alarmist” to call Trumpism fascist…while it was putting kids in cages in camps.
Those of us who’ve lived all this before? Our stomachs were turning, and we had to speak out, even if it meant paying a steep price professionally and personally. But the price we paid — I lost all my media appearances overnight (a blessing in disguise, I always hated playing the game) — was stark evidence that America just wasn’t getting it. Yes, this was fascism. Yes, it was doing fascist things, like building concentration camps and spreading hate and purging the government of dissent and punishing political enemies and calling the press the enemy of the people. Yes, it was going to culminate in an attempted overthrow of government — a hard coup.
In fact, that understanding still hasn’t dawned for many. American pundits and intellectuals refer to the events of Jan 6th as an “insurrection,” not a coup, to Trumpism as plenty of things but not a textbook neo-fascist movement.
You can’t punish a crime that doesn’t exist. Because even after Jan 6th there remained little understanding that fascism had come to America, an olive branch was extended — a spectacular miscalculation that let Trumpism metastasize, harden, escalate, to the point that now it’s openly plotting the end of American democracy by a thousand blows.
All of that brings me to the third reason Trumpism’s having a renaissance. Because America is a society having a classic, textbook fascist meltdown. What do I mean by that? A working class expects lives of plenty, comfort, security. Instead, they find themselves falling into despair, ruin, and poverty. You play by the rules — but you never get ahead. All you end up in, ever, is in unpayable debt.
Depression and suicide and other indicators of despair skyrocket. Social bonds are torn apart. A feeling of pessimism is pervasive. The idea that elites are out to get you, that you’ve been abandoned, that nobody cares about you becomes a cultural normality.
That’s the oil spill of pre-fascism. And all it takes to ignite it is a demagogue throwing a match.
A demagogue comes along, and blames the woes of the working class on the nearest scapegoats. They’re social groups even more powerless than working class, usually. The demagogue says: “cleanse society of these subhumans! They’re the wrongdoers among us! They’re infecting you, the true of blood and pure of faith, with their laziness, indolence, greed, and vice. Get them!!” Usually, the working class, at this point broken socially, mentally, intellectually, spiritually, obeys.
Is that the story of how Weimar Germany became Nazi Germany in the 1930s — or America over the last decade or so? It’s both.
Trumpism is having a renaissance, in other words, because America’s socioeconomics point to a fascist collapse as almost inevitable, certainly foretold. When someone like me saw, a decade ago, statistics like “the middle class is imploding” or “the average American dies in debt”, we shuddered — because we knew what was coming: fascism was.
Fascism isn’t the work of one person, and it’s not the destiny of history, either. But it is the result of large-scale, slow-moving socioeconomic forces, which have a momentum and power greater than most imagine. When what happens to America takes place — a working class left to rot, choking on its own misery, drowning in its own despair, clinging desperately to life on the detritus of opioids, Rust Belt towns, abandoned farms, decrepit lives — the result is usually fascism. By way of a demagogue who scapegoats the powerless.
These are socioeconomic laws. You cannot avoid them. You can’t bargain with them. You can’t escape them. Cause has effect. Abandon a working class, have a fascist collapse.
So the third reason that Trumpism’s having a renaissance is that America’s a country in serious and real despair. The anger and sense of betrayal of the working class is real. It has been misdirected at scapegoats — Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, minorities, gays — that’s true. But what comes first is the rage itself. And that comes from the structural collapse of a society — a working class sliding into oblivion, unable to fend for itself, desperate for anyone who believes in it, offers it the slenderest sense of worth or purpose or meaning or hope. When that only person becomes the demagogue — a figure like Trump — watch out: fascism has arrived.
Trumpism’s renaissance is an incredibly dangerous thing. Trumpism is hardening, escalating, and retaliating. It wants revenge, it’s getting better at figuring out how to get it, and it’s totally committed to the project of destroying democracy — the vast majority of Republicans now famously believe the election was stolen.
Where does that leave America? Out of time. This is its last chance. You know and I know that 2022 and 2024 are going to be brutal political contests. The truth is that they’re going to be worse than you probably think, precisely because Trumpism’s having a renaissance, which is growing in power every single day. Is it too late to stop it?
Wrong question, my friend.
The right one is: when is America going to even really begin to try?
Umair – May 2021