If it’s one thing Twitter and Facebook and the like have done for public discourse, it’s made everyone an expert in political science. Right-wing commentators will tell you that everything is communist, with the frankly hilarious end state of people accusing large multinational corporations of being literally communist, thus proving no one knows what words mean any more. (Hint: “communism” in its simplest definition means “state control of the economy”. So, no, corporations not owned by the state — a clause we can call Corporations With Chinese Characteristics — cannot be communist, much as green cannot be red.) Left-wing commentators will tell you that everyone not in their personal group chat is fascist, because, like, obviously. This is a bit harder to disprove, because first we need a working definition of “like, obviously”.
So, some definitions. First off, we can dispense with the right-wing corollary quite simply: America is not “going communist”, and most likely never will, as fiercely individualistic capitalism has since the nation’s birth been baked into our national blood. The arguments flying to and fro about what a federal government can and should do have nothing to do with socialism and everything to do with how to allocate the public resources of, for now, still the world’s dominant economy on what sort of public welfare. No matter how many times certain people’s eyes twitch when Snickers runs TV commercials with a diverse cast, the private resources of the economy — the overwhelming majority — will remain exactly that. The government isn’t coming for your AR-15s or your 401Ks.
The reverse, a slide of America into fascism, is, unfortunately, not nearly as easy to dismiss. And the blame for this lies almost entirely on the greed of the Republican party, which has dealt with its decline in popularity amongst the greater part of the population by focusing on its base and seeking to disenfranchise everyone else. This has resulted in the capture of the party by its most extreme elements; for example, just two years ago Marjorie Taylor-Greene was a pariah, widely mocked for her nonsensical conspiracy theories and given the Congressional equivalent of the death penalty. Today she is one of the most powerful members of the Republican caucus.
Yet, having kooky Congresspersons is not, by itself, a sign of a fall into fascism. America has had odd legislators its entire existence, primarily because America has had odd voters its entire existence. In fact, there’s a theory called the “crazification factor” that states that around 20% of the electorate in any given election cannot be predicted because, well, those voters are literally insane.
John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is --
John: ... you said that immmediately, and with some authority.
Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That's crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.
And to be fair, Alan Keyes was, you know, pretty barking mad. But then came another politician that made Keyes look like a genteel patron of the finest debating societies, and all bets were off.
So, we can conclude that America is insane. But is it fascist? The two aren’t the same, after all.
If you ask 10 political writers what fascism is, you’ll get 10 different answers. Here’s an 11th — mine. It’s short and simple. (For me, anyway. I’m rarely either.)
- Concentration of power in the hands of a single party, led by a person who motivates his/her party through charisma and/or fear into personal loyalty beyond any rules or laws (the Führerprinzip, in other words)
- Use of the military (or a paramilitary force that supplants the military) to enforce rule through force and the militarization of society to enforce the obeying of all orders
- Suppression of all dissent through violent and overpowering means
- Focus on an outcast group or groups as justification for the above extremist measures
If a party or nation isn’t defined by all of these, it’s not fascist. If it’s defined by some of them, it’s authoritarian, not fascist. As a right-wing commentator (Michael Knowles, of the Daily Wire) said recently proving my point:
‘Authoritarian’ is just a word that liberals use when conservatives wield political power.
Other political writers will quibble about whether the above defines fascism — for example many believe fascism requires state control of the economy — but I think it’s workable for our discussion. At a minimum, it’s not a place you want to live.
For example, modern Russia, under Vladimir Putin. Putin’s Russia is effectively led by one man, supported by a single party (United Russia, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Russian parliament through manipulated elections). Since the outbreak of the Ukraine war, the military has been elevated to a position of dominance in the economy and society, with billboards every 100 feet depicting a brave martyr of the state.
Dissent isn’t completely crushed yet, but it’s approaching that, with independent media fleeing the country, dissidents sent to gulags, and protests rapidly dispersed and the protesters threatened with being sent to the front lines. And while there isn’t a single ethnic group being blamed for all the ills of the world, Russia certainly isn’t a great place to be gay currently.
So, is Russia fascist? No, but it’s getting there, fast.
How about America, under Trump or otherwise? Obviously, we’re nowhere near Russia in terms of state repression. Dissent is still not only quite legal, it’s almost inescapable (heck, you’re reading it right now, you dissident, you).
And the military is almost the opposite of what you’d see in a fascist regime - if anything, it is kept apart from the greater society; a separate caste of Janissaries, whose members join because it’s what their family does, and who fight in all corners of the world while their homeland is barely aware of it. But that’s another rant.
However, two of those points are “signs point to danger”, I’d argue. First, the Republican party is absolutely now a personality-driven Führerprinzip party, even if the leader has no idea what the word even means. As Trump faces an increasing set of indictments and convictions, the Republican answer is simply that Trump should be beyond the rule of law because he’s the leader. A clearer definition of Führerprinzip would be hard to make.
And second - unfortunately, the right very much are finding a group of people to blame for all the woes of the world.
Is America fascist? No, not yet. We do not yet have the military enforcing order, and you are still free to dissent.
In fact, if you do not want everything to continue to be horrible, I would strongly argue for taking up the battlecry of Sister Miriam Godwinson in a certain videogame everyone should have played: We must dissent.