In recent years, there has been much discourse about the resurgence of fascism in American politics, citing the flashpoint as President Donald Trump’s election. However, the United States has had hints of fascism for much, much longer.
Firstly, it is helpful to define exactly what fascism means. Fascism is a far-right political ideology characterized by dictatorship, regimented control of the social and economic arms of society, and aggressive suppression of opposition. That obviously doesn’t sound like the United States on a surface level. However, the reality is more grim. To define fascism, we are using the work of political scientist Lawrence Britt who studied the fascist regimes of Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, Suharto and Augusto Pinochet.
Britt found that these regimes had 14 characteristics in common. It should be noted that a government does not have to meet all 14 of these to be labeled as fascist. Britt’s characteristics are 1. Powerful and continuing nationalism, 2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights, 3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats, 4. Supremacy of the military, 5. Rampant sexism, 6. Controlled mass media, 7. Obsession with national security, 8. Interconnectedness between religion and government, 9. Protection of corporate interests, 10. Suppression of labor power, 11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts, 12. Obsession with crime and punishment, 13. Rampant cronyism, nepotism, and corruption, and 14. Fraudulent or unstable elections. Clearly, we have to break these criteria down.
I don’t think anyone would disagree with the notion that Americans love saying they love their country. There’s nothing wrong with that at its core. However, nationalism exists as an extreme and often harmful corruption of patriotism. Nationalism is characterized by fierce loyalty to one’s country, regardless of that country’s shortcomings and often at the expense of the perception of other nations. Is this ringing any bells yet? You might have some silly memory of a crowd of possibly inebriated men chanting, “USA!” While this seems innocent, it’s actually the seeds of ultra-nationalism. This combined with the oversaturation of American exceptionalism in our education system creates a hot bed for nationalism to flourish.
The United States also has a huge problem with the rampant sexism, scapegoating and disdain for human rights criteria. The news during Donald Trump’s presidency alone is littered with stories of minorities being killed by vigilantes who often cite President Trump as an influence, or quotes of various politicians making wide generalizations about different groups of people. A particular nasty example comes from Trump’s 2016 run where he said that people coming over the border were primarily murderers, drug dealers and rapists when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This tactic was also used by Hitler in Germany with the Jewish people, LGBT people, and people with disabilities, citing them for the problems Germany was facing at the time even though the problems were created by the nation’s poor management. Let’s not get ahead of the cart, though. Human rights violations and sexism is something baked into this country. The Founding Fathers including George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin all owned slaves. This is not a negotiable fact. It might surprise you to know that this was not an across the board practice. There were abolitionists, such as John Laurens, at the time who thought the use of slaves while fighting for the country’s freedom was hypocritical and I frankly have to agree. The Founding Fathers were not riding against a societal tide. They had every opportunity to say, “No more,” but they didn’t, because then the white people would have to do the housework. Even through the country’s history with racism and legislation supposedly outlawing racist practices, evil people found more and more ways to get around the law to continue subjugating people they deemed inferior.
We come to the protection of corporate interests over the interests of laborers. This is the whole reason Karl Marx wrote a whole manifesto. You can see evidence of the nation’s horrible record with this everywhere. The fact that CEOs and billionaires can increase their wealth exponentially in the middle of a pandemic while workers have to slave away hoping they don’t get the disease with some businesses not even offering hazard pay, and others only offering it through a certain period. The laborer has almost no power in the modern workforce because our system of economics has taken it from them.
One doesn’t even need to touch the control of the mass media. Trump bemoans the media outlets that don’t let him lie to the American people as “fake news” or says their questions are “terrible” or “nasty.” The ones who never question the things he says such as One America News Network are often treated much nicer or even encouraged to attack their colleagues. This is not how journalism is supposed to be. This country has had a disdain for intellectualism and the arts for some time as well. People are encouraged to go into fields that will produce the most money, and anything else like the humanities are often seen as “passions” rather than careers. On top of this, elected officials in the United States become megaphones for outlandish conspiracies or pseudoscience which is detrimental to the intellectual health of the nation.
The only way to stop fascism is to fight it. When someone makes an outlandish claim, find a neutral source to combat it. If someone is spouting hate, don’t abide it. Stop them in their tracks and check them. Philosopher Noam Chomsky once said, “There is no neutral. Neutral is the side of the oppressor.” He was right. You have to fight the horrible and disgusting at the grassroots level because fascism is exacerbated by governments, but people are the only weapon against it.