OPINION: The ramifications of American fascism, which is still here

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A gallows erected by pro-Trump rioters outside the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. Courtesy: Tyler Merbler.

All of this was entirely avoidable.

Those words have rung in my ears well beyond the last four years, but they have become deafening as a result of the most recent—and what is now easily the most disastrous and abhorrent—presidential administrations in our nation’s history. More than 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, Charlottesville and an insurrection on the United States Capitol from a fascist mob: all of this was avoidable.

In 2015 Donald Trump announced he was running for president, touting an openly xenophobic and nationalistic ideology that many were quick to criticize as alarmingly fascist. Those who identified him as such were often written off as being hyperbolic, feeding into the frenzied and partisan nature of the 2016 race for the White House. Now even senior officials in his administration admit Trump is exactly that. The media sensationalism surrounding his campaign aided in the further development of his cult of personality, which emboldened those with fascist and conspiratorial ideals to hold a level of legitimacy in public discourse, and which propelled him to the White House.

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The front pages of French newspapers Le Monde, Liberation and Le Figaro report on the unrest in the U.S. Capitol, arranged in Paris, on Jan. 7, 2021. Photo by Nathan Laine/Bloomberg.

Now, Americans are living with the fallout of granting a fascist four years to operate in the highest office, while members of the Republican party stood with him and looked the other way as the conspiratorial mob boss/aspiring despot sowed chaos through authoritarian actions that have alienated allies, divided Americans and embarrassed us on the world stage time and time again. America’s tenure with a fascist president will forever stain our legacy and may negatively impact the lives of Americans for generations.

It’s not the first time our democracy has struggled with the fascistic actions of elected officials abusing the powers of their office. There’s:

  • Jim Crow laws
  • Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities
  • Richard Nixon and Watergate
  • Ronald Reagan’s militarization of police and support for right-wing authoritarianism abroad
  • George W. Bush’s approval of torture and mass surveillance

While Republicans hold responsibility for developing some of the most authoritarian agencies and policies ranging from the NSA, ICE and the Patriot Act, Democrats have been complicit by appeasing these fascist ideals under the guise of “compromise,” sometimes going so far as to introduce their own authoritarian policies like Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill and “double-tap” attacks on civilians and first responders in war zones, all while continuing and expanding of the policies and institutions of previous presidents.

Authoritarian states don’t pop up overnight. They take root in a series of actions that gradually erode the rights of individuals and the oversight and accountability of those who hold power. The elimination of the FCC fairness doctrine allowed “news providers” like Fox News and OANN to peddle fear and misinformation. Citizens United effectively gave corporations and the wealthy a more powerful and influential voice over legislation than American voters, and the militarization of police has led to rampant acts of violence from officers—compounded with racially biased laws targeting minority groups and left-wing activists. These examples are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to analyzing how dystopian American society has become.

The rise of fascism in the U.S. has been a long time coming and Trump is merely a symptom of the greater issues, though that isn’t to say that he doesn’t present uniquely problematic and damaging implications for the future of our democracy. In order to fully understand the scope of fascist infiltration of our government going forward, we need to reconcile with the objectionable actions of previous leaders and also maintain a thorough reading of the actions taken by those now in power.

Trump appointed three Supreme Court Justices who will hold their positions for life. One of them was accused of sexual misconduct akin to the president himself. Another holds skewed religious fundamentalist beliefs. They will legislate over the most significant policies that will determine everything from what constitutes freedom of speech to determining bodily autonomy.

Trump deepened class divides by cutting taxes for the wealthy, a policy left over from the Reagan era that resulted in an expansion in wealth hoarding and record layoffs while another 7 million Americans have slipped into poverty during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Stop the Steal” signs posted in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. in advance of a protest that turned into a riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Courtesy: Tyler Merbler.

Trump’s legitimization of extremists like Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon legitimized fascistic and conspiratorial arguments in political discourse. You will be hearing from these people and more just like them for years to come.

His antagonization of marginalized groups like Muslims, Latinos and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as his attacks on political rivals and dissenters like Black Lives Matter have sewn bigotry and encouraged white nationalists to engage in terrorist acts like Charlottesville, Cesar Sayoc, Jr.‘s mail-bombing attempts, the 2019 El Paso mass shooting and Kyle Rittenhouse’s killing of two unarmed Black Lives Matter protesters.

Trump’s use of the military to shut down the Black Lives Matter protests, sparked by the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, set a dangerous precedent for state-sanctioned violence and was an attack on the first amendment.

Trump has sewn distrust in science by rolling back environmental regulations, withdrawing from the WHO, publicly questioning the severity of the pandemic and the effectiveness of face coverings.

He has waged war on the press with his own take on Hitler’s lügenpresse by labeling outlets critical of him as “Fake News.”

And, significantly, Trump sewed distrust in the legitimacy of democracy and the electoral process. He incited a mob of fascist traitors to raid the capitol building, desecrating it by looting, smashing windows, stealing sensitive information and smearing feces on the walls. These thugs came with the intent to take hostages—or worse—elected officials. They brought zip-ties, pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails and guns. If Trump is not held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, this will set another dangerous precedent: the presidency will be exempt from any legal accountability.

American fascism does not start and end with Trump. It includes his allies, enablers, supporters, grifters who’ve helped to prop him up. Even as some have turned on him, they continue to push for policies that perpetuate an increasingly authoritarian and oppressive state into being. During the first impeachment trial, Republicans overwhelmingly sided with him in spite of his clear efforts to undermine the integrity of our democracy by leveraging support from a foreign government. Even as the election results were processed by Congress earlier this month, an alarming number of Republicans sought to contest them with baseless claims of rampant voter fraud.

There’s something to be said for people like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)—click here to send him an email—who called for the extrajudicial killing of American civilians and to have anti-fascists “hunted down like terrorists in the Middle East” despite the FBI’s observation that people who hold those beliefs have not committed any acts of terrorism. Gaetz went on to brazenly lie about the insurrection on the Capitol later that evening, accusing Antifa of perpetrating the insurrection. Many known neo-Nazis, QAnon conspirators and even elected Republican officials were identified during the attack. The FBI concluded there is no evidence of Antifa involvement.

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Vendors sell campaign souvenirs at Manchester Airport in Londonderry, New Hampshire on Aug. 28, 2020. Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP).

Then there are people like senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO)—email them here and here—who even after seeing the results of their efforts to undermine the integrity of the election and the threat to their own safety, continue to push the same bogus narrative. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) owns much of the blame, grifting to the most politically expedient and convenient path to maintaining an iron grasp on power. He argued that invoking the 25th amendment or impeachment would “set a dangerous precedent” in reference to jailing political leaders. He clearly finds no issue when elected officials break the law.

The rats (White House staff and cabinet members) jumped ship in a desperate attempt to wash their hands of involvement or culpability. This list includes former secretary of education Betsy DeVos, former secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and former secretary of transportation Elaine Chao. They want to salvage their political careers in order to return when we’ve forgetten about their complicity. We must never forget who they are and what they have done.

There is an alarmingly large contingency of Republican leaders who hold problematic beliefs and have conducted their time in office abysmally. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has held the Senate hostage, which has slowed the government’s legislative abilities. He’s the reason your stimulus check was so small and so late in coming.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has called for violence against Black Lives Matter protesters. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is a vocal xenophobe and QAnon supporter. Outgoing Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) campaigned with a Klansman and neo-Nazi. QAnon supporter Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-FL) tweeted out Nancy Pelosi’s location during the insurrection. It has now come to light that some members of Congress gave personalized tours of the Capitol to insurrectionists, giving these fascist thugs a map to navigate their attack.

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Police deploy tear gas outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. Courtesy: Tyler Merbler.

What about the 74 million Americans who—after witnessing four years of this administration that brought us to the brink of war multiple times, created a financial bubble that collapsed the economy and plunged millions of Americans into poverty amid the worst global pandemic since the Spanish flu, spread misinformation and the conditions that have led to 400,000 dead and millions infected—voted for Trump, again, over a candidate who is significantly more qualified to handle the job?

How do you reach so many who reject basic realities like climate change, COVID-19’s existence and impact, concentration camps separating immigrant families from their children and forcing hysterectomies onto women? Who claim to be the party of law and order, family values and the moral majority? Who still convince themselves that Trump is an honorable man who follows the teachings of the Bible?

The day after the attack, a woman called into C-SPAN and asked the host, her voice breaking, “I want to know if my president lied to me.”

This was in response to the death of an insurrectionist, a former military service member. How can one can weep for her but not for the children at the border, Syrian refugees, Black men and women shot and beaten by police, BLM protesters run over and attacked, those dying from COVID-19, and the millions of Americans who live in food-insecure households due to the economic fallout that has resulted in bailouts for the wealthy and corporations as millions lose their jobs?

How do you reconcile with so many Americans who are morally bankrupt to the point where, even if they themselves are not racist or fascist, they still vote for leaders who are or support that as means to benefit themselves?

Cruz, Graham and many Republicans are offering hollow and vapid cries for unity. History has shown appeasement cannot work when it comes to dealing with fascists, and there is no middle ground when you are attempting to compromise with people who are calling for authoritarian. The Republican party is not the party of “family values,” Lincoln or even the American people. It’s the party that gasses peaceful protesters as a display of might for the sake of a photo-op with an upside down Bible, beholden to Wall Street and the military industrial complex that will have it engage in endless resource wars abroad to further the American Empire.

This is not likely to improve under the Biden administration. Biden wrote that 1994 crime bill. As California attorney general, Kamala Harris had a reputation for keeping non-violent offenders locked up. They’re likely to maintain the status quo. Biden has promised to increase funding for law enforcement despite the growing evidence of the white supremacist infiltration of police nationwide. The last thing this country needs is more armed white supremacist cops inciting violence against minority groups and left wing activists.

There is still a glimmer of hope, however.

In Washington, D.C., amid the chaos of the insurrection, a video of an exchange between two local residents went viral: an older white man on his porch yelling at the mob and a young Black woman in her car responding to his despondent anger and horror of the reality. “If that was Black Lives Matter, they’d have tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue,” the man yelled in exasperation. “But they let these fucking crackers take over the capitol.” Responded the woman: “If that was Black Lives Matter, we couldn’t even do none of that, and we’d die.”

Some Americans are finally waking up to the reality of our dystopian state, and maybe this will lead to reforms on issues like police brutality and institutional racism that plagues our country. Perhaps this is the kick in the pants to get Americans to become more vigilant to the realities of the authoritarian and fascistic systems that have been allowed to slide for so long. Maybe we can begin to fight back and hold accountable those who abuse their power.

But all of this was entirely avoidable.

Informed Americans identified these warning signs early, and many more could have stood up to prevent the rise of authoritarianism. Now, we will have to spend years actively dismantling it bit by bit, snuffing out new fires started by those emboldened by the last four years. We will have to remind ourselves constantly of what happened, because now we know that not only could it happen here, but it can happen again.

Follow editor Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.

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