Fascism comes in many forms; if Hitler and genocide can be one end of the spectrum, there’s plenty of room for fascism that falls far short of that standard, eschewing pogroms and other forms of mass violence, forms of fascism that include what we are seeing now: a democratic fascism (small “d” referring to democracy in general, as opposed to a capital “D” associated with America’s Democratic Party) empowered by populations, media, and elections that rewards and empowers those willing to feed off division and fear as it overwhelms norms, dissenting minorities, and even the law. As this democratic fascism rises, the losers are the liberal democratic governments that have been dominant since the end of WWII; in effect, it is no longer a question of if, as I posed nearly a year ago, but how fast we will see the unraveling of the post-WWII U.S.-led international order. What we do now will define the West and the world for decades to come, but the growing far left must grow up quickly and act within the clear choices of present reality if we are to have a good chance of stopping democratic fascism from destroying our societies, the West, and the international order as we know it. Having defined our terms in Part I, we will now apply them to the madness of the present and the perils of the future here in Part II.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse February 17, 2017
By Brian E. Frydenborg (Twitter: @bfry1981) February 17th, 2017; a condensed, edited version of this article is featured on War Is Boring, and a Kindle edition, a Nook edition, an Apple iTunes iBook edition, and an EPUB edition are available with previously unpublished content.
5.) Why Democratic Fascism Is Not a Label Too Far For Trump & His Movement
“American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.” — Henry A. Wallace, 1944 , Vice President of the United States 1941-1945
AMMAN — By the standards discussed in Part I, Donald Trump is clearly a democratic fascist and the Trump Administration is moving America into democratic fascist territory, with the Republican Party, by and large, following Trump on a leash, as has mostly been the case since even before the Republican National Convention; the consequences of this will be disastrous and far worse than even the considerable damage the George W. Bush Administration was able to inflict upon America and the world. Trump and a core of his team have created a kind of cult around Trump as Leader and campaigned and are now governing on much of the traditional fascist political platform—demonization of immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and other minority “others;” a promise to “return” to the glorious past; vacuous promises to “destroy” ”enemies;” creating an atmosphere of permanent conflict; cultivating a sense of national victimhood, hatred of elites, contempt for diplomacy and the modern international system; corporatism; a disaffected populism—and style—bullying, bellicosity, fantasy, the dramatic and theatrical, exaggeration of threats, dumbing-down of language, serial lying, conspiracy-theory believing, anti-intellectualism, shutdown of any debate, an emphasis on action over discussion, misogyny, an obsession with weapons, treating the government as if it is Trump’s personally plaything—and each of these to an intense degree so that the overall resemblance to fascist movements of the past in far too many ways is indisputable, with the differences accounted for by the new, at least outwardly milder and far less violent democratic iteration of what we had hoped were the long-exiled ghosts of fascism.
The New Yorker’s Gopnik, writing in May of 2016, would approve of my term democratic fascism to describe Trump’s campaign and presidency:
There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist [quoting George Packer’s description of Trump as “a celebrity proto-fascist with no impulse control”], or American-variety fascist—one of that kind, all the same.
For some experts, the term fascism can’t fit movements that are not overt anti-democratic (although one should consider the very real possibility of a difference between stated aims and actual aims) or violent, but that is why I like discussing fascism’s evolution and reincarnation into today’s democratic fascism. Writing two months later, Gopnik correctly notes that it is myopic to argue that Trump is not fascist because of one or a few major differences between historical fascism and Trump’s democratic fascism:
…to call him a fascist of some variety is simply to use a historical label that fits. The arguments about whether he meets every point in some static fascism matrix show a misunderstanding of what that ideology involves. It is the essence of fascism to have no single fixed form—an attenuated form of nationalism in its basic nature, it naturally takes on the colors and practices of each nation it infects. In Italy, it is bombastic and neoclassical in form; in Spain, Catholic and religious; in Germany, violent and romantic. It took forms still crazier and more feverishly sinister, if one can imagine, in Romania, whereas under Oswald Mosley, in England, its manner was predictably paternalistic and aristocratic. It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on, since that is as much our symbolic scene as nostalgic re-creations of Roman splendors once were Italy’s.
Stefan Zweig, a globally celebrated Austrian liberal intellectual of the interwar years of the twentieth century, furiously penned in the summer of 1941 in exile in the United States a memoir he aptly titled The World of Yesterday, much of it an analysis of what enabled Hitler to rise and how so few saw his rise coming; many of the dynamics he discussed—namely the failure of traditional democratic elites and the ensuing desire of the masses to punish and replace them, that intellectuals ridiculed the leaders of these fascists as boorish and unwashed while failing to give proper weight to their programs, of the essential role that mass propaganda and sensationalism had in destroying the line between fact fiction and desensitizing the public, respectively, of the diminishing power of “the word” and journalism and intellectual discourse and writers to counter fascism, of the role serial lying had in propelling fascists to power, of the belief that such a powerful and liberal and sophisticated society could never fall under the sway of illiberal goons, of the faith that a society built on the rule of law would be strong enough to resist those who would destroy it, of how the extremism of fascists enables even the slightest recalibration to appear to opponents as a hopeful sign of moderation, of the fascists’ gradual and strategic introduction of their most extreme portions of their program to test public reaction and desensitize the public over time, and that one seismic ill event once such people were in power could be the point “[w]hen it’s too late to stop fascism”—are so painfully obviously present in America with Trump that to read the New Yorker article discussing Zweig is more than enough to send shivers down one’s spine (as for Zweig, he and his wife committed suicide only months after he penned his memoir).
Scholars of a mid-twentieth century German-originated school of thought known as the Frankfurt School noticed the power of American mass media that stifled diversity of thought (something Tocqueville noted long ago when he observed the power of the American press to influence American public opinion but also its subservience to public opinion, how that affected American public life, and recognized the overall oppressive lack of diversity of thought in America) to combine with an authoritarian leader and “large numbers of people…susceptible to…psychological manipulation” who were also “potentially fascistic individuals” as a recipe for disaster; reacting to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, these academics predicted the rise of fascism in America in their own time, and while their predictions were then premature, the dynamics they predicted would lead to fascism in America are in many ways far more present today; like others mentioned earlier, they saw a particular danger in the mass blurring of fact and fiction.
To quote Andrew Sullivan (who was also a friend of the late Hitchens and a fellow admirer of Orwell) in a seminal piece written last spring that was his return to writing after a long hiatus:
…[Trump’s] movement is clearly fascistic in its demonization of foreigners, its hyping of a threat by a domestic minority (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews), its focus on a single supreme leader of what can only be called a cult, and its deep belief in violence and coercion in a democracy that has heretofore relied on debate and persuasion. This is the Weimar aspect of our current moment. Just as the English Civil War ended with a dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell, and the French Revolution gave us Napoleon Bonaparte, and the unstable chaos of Russian democracy yielded to Vladimir Putin, and the most recent burst of Egyptian democracy set the conditions for General el-Sisi’s coup, so our paralyzed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.
Those who believe that Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism has no chance of ever making it to the White House seem to me to be missing this dynamic. Neo-fascist movements do not advance gradually by persuasion; they first transform the terms of the debate, create a new movement based on untrammeled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events. And so current poll numbers are only reassuring if you ignore the potential impact of sudden, external events — an economic downturn or a terror attack in a major city in the months before November. I have no doubt, for example, that Trump is sincere in his desire to “cut the head off” ISIS, whatever that can possibly mean. But it remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.
and then quotes from Sinclair Lewis’s aforementioned It Can’t Happen Here. His nightmare having come true, writing the night of the election in a piece titled “The Republic Repeals Itself,” Sullivan remarks that “This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image. He has humiliated the elites and the elite media,” just what a successful democratic fascist needs to have done to set his democratic fascism up to “succeed,” as much as that word can be applied to a movement of this nature.
He further elaborates that
…the now openly revanchist right — far more radical than the Tory government in Britain — [will have] total control over the levers of power. They will not let those levers go easily. They will likely build a propaganda machine more powerful than Fox and Breitbart — and generate pseudo-stories and big lies that, absent any authoritative or trusted media, will dominate the new centers of information, Facebook or its successors. We will be in a new political and media universe in which an authoritarian cult will thrive. This is how fascists tend to govern.
The generally spot-on William Saletan, writing for Slate, noted in October, 2016, how, without equating the two, Trump was even thematically and stylistically “sound[ing] more and more like Hitler,” albeit approaching the younger Hitler of the early 1920s. And just this month, in case people might think that only Trump at the top is the source of all the fascist-y stuff, Saletan explained how Trump’s far more well-regarded Vice President, Mike Pence, “is the chief enabler of the president’s fascist ways;” on top of that, let’s not forget the Republican Party as a whole, which seems far more partner than hostage to Trump and that just put out a survey that seems deliberately crafted to advance what we’ve described as democratic fascism, harping especially on “illegal immigration,” “radical Islamic terrorism,” and “the mainstream media” and clearly trying to hurt the reality-based media’s coverage of the first two issues in favor or more hysterical views (Question 13: “Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?” and Question 24: “Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?”); yes, the GOP is doing its part, some enthusiastically, some reluctantly, some in between, some unwittingly, and with only a minuscule resistance, even if it is larger than commonly found in a relatively monolithic and extremely monochrome Republican Party (all new GOP congressman from the 2016 election were white and out of 293 senators and representatives, only 14, or less than 4.8%, were non-white; in contrast, Democrats had 89 non-white members representing about 37% of their Members of Congress), a resistance whose voices generally come from a tiny group of out-of-power elites with something of a megaphone who are far less representative of the Party’s rank-and-file or current elected officeholders. So, lest we forget, Trump has plenty of help.
Michael Kinsley, writing in The Washington Post, focuses on Trump’s corporatist tendencies that resemble fascism’s past corporatism, that “Donald Trump is a fascist,” and while “[i]t’s ridiculous to compare any living person to Hitler or Mussolini…I mean ‘fascist’ in the more clinical sense.” For Kinsley, Trump’s
seemingly erratic behavior can be explained — if not justified — by thinking of Trump as a fascist. Not in the sense of an all-purpose bad guy, but in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world.
The realization that Trump is something of a fascist hardly comes from the left or the media class alone; renown counterterrorism expert Peter Bergen also labeled Trump a “proto-fascist,” while conservative academic Max Boot tweeted all the way back in late 2015 that “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it” (he has also referred to Trump as a “fascist demagogue”). One of Boot’s fellow conservative academic travelers, Robert Kagan, wrote in May 2016 that Donald Trump
…is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.
And they are not alone on the right (Sullivan is something of a conservative), with even the fairly restrained Ross Douthat noting, all the way back in December, 2015, that, “[w]hether or not we want to call Trump a fascist outright, then, it seems fair to say that he’s closer to the ‘proto-fascist’ zone on the political spectrum than either the average American conservative or his recent predecessors in right-wing populism,” and that “Trump may indeed be a little fascistic;” later, in May, 2016, when it was long clear to all but those bingeing on denial (not that there was a shortage of prominent conservatives fitting this description) that Trump would be the nominee, he referred to Trump as “a proto-fascist grotesque with zero political experience and poor impulse control.”
I remember when some liberals called George W. Bush a fascist or a Nazi; they were very few, and never anyone of particular importance or who was widely-respected as an intellectual, a journalist, a politician (and no, Dick Durbin’s ill-phrased Guantánamo criticism can in no way honestly be represented as an attempt to call Bush or his Administration fascist in their overall nature, and that is the closest thing that comes to mind), but, rather, were often fringe rabble-rousers or small numbers of individual protesters, which was ridiculous (and I am not fan of Bush or his disastrous presidency), and I was happy to call out anyone calling Bush a fascist or a Nazi.
Well, this is different; across the political spectrum, a number of widely respectable, mainstream, serious, non-hyperbolic, measured, thoughtful people—some of whom were very critical of Bush and yet were hardly labeling his Administration “fascist”—who have been generally prescient and correct in their commentary are writing pieces unlike any they have written before, sounding the alarm that democracy and Western civilization is in peril; when I wrote my own similar call to arms—ahead of much of the crowd—it was more a call to arms that, while discussing a theoretical possibility of Clinton not winning, was meant more to play out the severe challenges a (second) Clinton Administration would face; I was extremely confident in a Clinton win at that point, but it turned out the far worse hypothetical would be our current nightmare of a reality. Sage people I’ve never known to be hysterical are using the words “fascist” and Trump in the same sentence, though this is generally an elite print media crowd and the reality of our new democratic fascism is not widely seeping through the television news crowd and the population as a whole, and that even allows for a huge portion of Americans who know this is very bad, very unprecedented, and yet still don’t know how bad it is. Today, more and more people do seem to be catching on because there is a sharp rise in the public consumption of dystopian, Orwellian fiction. If the reader will indulge me in a bit of speculation, I think there are some very wise political leaders—senators, congressmen, governors, etc., of both parties (though clearly far fewer on the Republican side) who see that this is a form of fascism but avoid using the term so as not to turn away voters who would see such a term as “unfair” or “partisan,” a non-use aimed at laying the groundwork for bringing in even some of the reluctant Trump voters to help oppose him at some point in the future; this approach makes sense, and just throwing around the word “fascist” is both unproductive and counterproductive (more on that in a bit); I submit democratic fascism used consistently instead of just plain fascism is a remedy for some of the concerns that crowd might have, and I do hope they will begin to bring the term into the current lexicon.
Another point that must be made: these respectable commentators calling Trump out for his fascistic tendencies are not lunging towards the far left, and are not part of some intelligentsia that has suddenly already found itself there (though, if the “Sandernista” Bernie Sanders-wing of the Democratic Party and the far left in general has its way, the left and the Party may yet radicalize in the future, and that process may already be underway); no, it is not a symptom of the problems of the left that fascist is being applied as a label for Trump and his agenda; it is simply a product of the man and that agenda and where the right now finds itself, and while it is not common to use the label fascism or some sort of prefixed-fascism (as I am doing), to call him out, those doing so are not members of an extremist minority who have lost their moorings but are a minority of the most prescient, bravest, sharpest voices, whose their records back up their description as such.
And that is why this moment is, these moments are, are so terrifying.
Hell, even the U.S. Holocaust Museum has a poster “Early Warning Signs of Fascism” that reads almost entirely like this election’s Republican Party Platform or the Trump White House to-do-list:
While Trump is clearly a democratic fascist, then, it important, here again, to make the point that being such, Trump is all the way on one end of a fascist spectrum, an end that overlaps slightly with democracy, while Hitler is all the way on the other end of that fascist spectrum. Despite important similarities between the two, it is crucial to note that Hitler was in most respects much more intense and went much further than Trump and that Hitler embraced genocidal mass killing, which Trump does not; thus, those who would correctly call Trump out for his democratic fascism must take care not to equate or appear to equate Trump with Hitler or his movement with Nazism or even come close to this, for doing so only plays into Trump’s hands and diminishes the chances both of those calling out Trump for what he is to be taken seriously and, in turn, that he and his movement can be stopped; in this effort, the prefixing of democratic before fascism is eminently useful.
Yes, Trump, is a very serious threat that could very well destroy American democracy, Western democracy, the West, and the international order as we know it and we can ill-afford minimized his menace, but we must also not exaggerate his threat, as awful as it is, as it seems he would not do these things through genocidal mass killing and world war or generally use violence the way the twentieth-century fascists did; obviously, this brings little comfort, but if Western civilization is to remain intact, we must defeat Trump by being fastidious in our distinctions and accusations and make those distinctions, however nuanced, clear, because Trump’s war on civilized values is also a war on truth; those opposing him by making facile, lazy, even just somewhat inaccurate comparisons and accusations weaken our best weapon against him: the truth. For if those fighting democratic fascism embrace a twisting of the truth to try to beat Trump, they will be trying to use a tactic that their opponent has already mastered; Republicans who tried to out-insult Trump in the primary failed miserably, and others wishing to out-Trump Trump in other ways will also fail spectacularly. In the end, sacrificing the truth to win short-term attention and political points will lessen the distinctions between the democratic fascists and those opposing them; this is not politics as normal, and the opposition can’t afford to turn more of the people more likely to oppose Trump away from politics by creating more apathy and cynicism in behaving more like him. So we in the opposition must not only not call Trump Hitler or a Nazi or his movement fascism or Nazism, we must call out those who do.
That is why democratic fascism is such a useful term: it helps to make those important distinctions away from Hitler, Nazis and other historical fascists that are so necessary, and yet still communicates the serious and insidiousness of Trump and his movement.
6.) Democratic Fascism: A Global Problem
In Sullivan’s election-night piece, he began by quoting Orwell:
“To see what is in front of one’s nose is a constant struggle,” George Orwell famously observed. So what is it that we have just seen?
We are witnessing the power of a massive populist movement that has now upended the two most stable democracies in the world — and thrown both countries into a completely unknown future. In Britain, where the polls did not pick up the latent support for withdrawal from the European Union, a new prime minister is now navigating a new social contract with the indigenous middle and working classes forged by fear of immigration and globalization. In the U.S., the movement — built on anti-political politics, economic disruption, and anti-immigration fears — had something else, far more lethal, in its bag of tricks: a supremely talented demagogue who created an authoritarian cult with unapologetically neo-fascist rhetoric. Britain is reeling toward a slow economic slide. America has now jumped off a constitutional cliff. It will never be the same country again. Like Brexit, this changes the core nature of this country permanently.
Sullivan places Trump squarely in a broader global movement. And that movement is one set out to destroy Western democracy as we know it, one that is far larger and far more organized than most people in the West have realized thus far.
If America was seeing the rise of a leader like Trump, the most extreme version of the Republican Party ever to exist, and pervasive extremist news outlets, that would be catastrophic enough; but when one takes into account similar trends all over Europe, in Russia, Turkey, in Israel, in India, and in the Philippines, to name the most salient examples, there is a worldwide trend in important democratic centers of charismatic leaders of right-wing parties/coalitions playing on hatred, fear, and division and pushing agendas that go against core democratic, liberal values, all while being backed by a megaphone of sympathetic extremist media that often either blend fact and fiction or ignore facts altogether. And America’s counterparts in this movement are arguably as dangerous because these leaders are dressed up in more of the proprietary graces and trappings of conventional politicians and are thus better able to mask tendencies that Trump could not hide even if he tried, making then sneakier, their threat less obvious, their appeal more infectious.
Though to varying degrees, one of the strongest common threads in this reactionary political movement is that the right wing parties and voters that are either rising in power or have come to power care little, or even not at all, about minority rights and about their leaders’ and parties’ publicly expressed willingness, either in words or in actions, to apply one standard of the law and enforcement to themselves and their supporters and to use a looser standard on political opponents and minorities (ethnic, religious, or otherwise, e.g., immigrants) who are not in line with the ruling parties and groups; if anything, they and their supporters embrace such double standards.
In a Europe already seriously weakened by Brexit, these rising or newly empowered rightist democratic fascist parties that are enjoying successes across the continent exhibit a hostility and unequal application of the system that applies mainly to immigrants, in particular but not limited to Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa; recent polls now show anti-EU, anti-immigrant far-right populist parties in the lead in the Netherlands, Italy, and, perhaps most alarmingly, in France, while Germany’s election, perhaps the most important test for Europe’s future, remains fluid and uncertain, even if, for now, prospects seem much better for saner heads to prevail there than in the Netherlands, Italy, and France. To add to the growing concern, in a just-released survey of over 10,000 Europeans in 10 EU countries, 55% agree on having a Trumpian travel ban that would stop all migration from Muslim-majority countries; only 2 of 10 countries did not have a majority approve, and the disapproval rate in none of the 10 countries exceeded 38%; Poland had the highest approval at 71%, and France, Germany, and Italy all had majorities that also approved, all of this boding ill for centrist, pro-EU, pro-tolerance candidates. Meanwhile, the Slovakian Prime Minister recently directly called the far right party that is his country’s fifth-largest and is on the rise fascist; “[s]ome people say that fascism is creeping here in Slovakia. It’s not creeping here, it’s present here,” he said. And rather presciently, at the end of 2015, The Economist worriedly noted the progress of these movements, with the title of the relevant article saying it all: “The march of Europe’s little Trumps.”
In Russia, this hostility, sometimes lethal, is directed towards ethnic minorities that try to assert their rights or protest their treatment and any sort of organized political or media opposition to Putin and his party, especially those speaking out against Russian actions in Ukraine; but the lack of protections hardly stops there: a bill with apparently robust public support partly decriminalizing wife-beating and child-beating easily passed the Russian Duma (the lower house of parliament) and was signed into law by Putin this month; additionally, the only politician who had any kind of serious chance of beating Putin in the next presidential election—Alexey Navalny—was just convicted of (likely trumped-up) fraud and barred from running against Putin (Navalny vowed to fight the conviction; let’s see how that goes…). The Russian people aren’t helping, either: a just-released survey found out 46% of them think positively of Stalin, the highest level in 16 years; only 21% had negative views and 22% responded with neutral feelings; that means Russians like Stalin by a margin of over two-to-one compared with those who don’t like him (and none of this even touches on the energetic activities Russia is doing to advance democratic fascism outside of its own borders; more on that soon).
In Turkey, this hostility has broadened not only to Kurds, the main Kurdish political party, and political opposition, but to purging journalists and news outlets and entire swaths of civil society and thousands in the government bureaucracy that Erdogan and his AKP party feel they cannot control or will not be loyal or silent in their opposition, even as Erdogan seems poised to transform the country’s constitution to give himself dramatic, sweeping new powers with an upcoming referendum. At the same time, both Turkey’s government and media feed their public with outlandish conspiracy theories centered on the the idea of America undermining Turkey at every step of the way and as the root of all Turkey’s present ills, drawing attention away from the both the government’s and media’s slide to one-party authoritarianism.
In Israel, the hostility is generally against Arabs but includes other groups, too. While Benjamin Netanyahu certainly deserves credit for not being authoritarian in the mold of Putin, Erdogan, or even Trump, the trendlines under his extensive watch are clear and the direction in which they are moving is shared by the others in this unfortunate list (we will elaborate a bit more here because, at least in the U.S., there is more doubt when asserting Israel is part of this trend than, say, Turkey or Russia). Netanyahu is a huge part of the problem himself, with a penchant for playing fast and loose with facts and an aptitude for even weaponizing history, perhaps most notably when he claimed a Palestinian had inspired the Holocaust, resulting in strong condemnation even from Israeli and German historians and a subsequent retraction; he is a huge champion of (adding) settlements—illegal in the eyes of the entire rest of the world—and their expansion, among the most extreme parts of Israeli policy and those bearing the most resemblance to fascism; and he continually engages in demagoguery designed to incite ethnic and religious division that empower him and his Likud Party. Yet Netanyahu is hardly alone, and is often pressured to move even further to the right by other politicians and public opinion, for not only many politicians, but many Israelis themselves—more and more of them—are embracing racism and illiberal undemocratic values; even mob violence inside Israel, not just settler-instigated violence in the Palestinian territories, is not rare enough, and punishment of Jews who commit violence is comparatively mild when compared to punishment of Arabs who commit violence, just one of the most salient qualities demonstrating how unequal Israel is as a society. Israel’s rightist government is also cracking down on liberal NGOs and has a racist migrant/immigration policy. And while Israeli courts, to their credit, have pushed back against the legitimization and establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that were illegal even under Israeli law—with some of them being established on land owned by Palestinians who can prove their ownership—Israel just adopted a law that basically negates the court rulings, making those settlements legal, though the courts may yet overturn this law; yes, Israel basically just passed a law that allows the government to take land belonging to Palestinians because they are Palestinians and give it to Israelis because they are Jewish, something that squarely fits in the fascist tradition. And let’s not forget how much admiration Netanyahu and Trump have expressed for each other.
In India, the world’s largest democracy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling right-wing Hindu populist BJP party (both fans of Hindu religious nationalist rhetoric), since coming to power over two years ago, have sought to curb free speech, encourage and/or turn a blind eye both to police abuse and to sometimes violent religious nationalism on the part of right-wing Hindus who target minorities, and are cracking down on civil society groups critical of the government and its human rights record.
In the Philippines, anyone involved in illegal drugs have essentially lost the protections of due process and equal application of the law, with President Duterte himself bragging about killing criminals when he was mayor as his extremely controversial drug war that has killed thousands of Filipinos in the less-than-a-year he has been in office continues in full force. As far as accountability, a Filipino senator who criticized the drug war was even removed from her investigative committee role, part of an increasing trend of the government using its power to limit criticism of Duterte and his government; experts fear the longstanding Filipino democracy, one of Asia’s oldest, may be in trouble.
And in the United States, we have now (mostly) sworn in a government that at the very least seems unenthusiastic about or unwilling to protect minority rights and may even be downright hostile both to preserving these rights and to minorities asserting their rights, whether African-Americans who are grossly mistreated by police and the criminal justice system, members of the LGBT community worried about losing their newly won rights, Muslims who saw anti-Muslim hate groups rise from 34 to more than 100 last year, or women worried about losing both access to contraception and their ability to decide on pregnancy without government interference. Basically, like the people backing right-wing populism in other countries, Trump voters see the America in which they reside as “theirs” to the exclusion of others and resent those other groups asserting equality (“when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”), seeing this assertion as a loss of their own prerogatives and politics as a zero-sum game in which they can only benefit in denying benefits to others and keeping those benefits, or the degree to which they are enjoyed, to themselves. These people don’t care if such sentiments and their end results directly violate the spirit of and/or laws of their very nations; in fact, they seek to remake their nations into illiberal systems that favor themselves and discriminate against certain others officially, longing both to recreate past discriminations and hierarchies, if perhaps more subtly, and part of this is to recreate a false mythological image of the past in present reality in which their ethnic, racial, religious, or other forms of superiority existed unquestioned and unchallenged (even in America, where slavery was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution—though only reluctantly and initially—opposition to slavery was still exhibited during the colonial era and the subsequent constitutional conventions in which the Constitution itself was drafted and ratified). Real or not, on this weaponization of history perhaps no one here is more succinctly instructive than Orwell in 1984: “…if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”
7.) Putin Leads an Assault on Western Democracy and Reality
And right now, the Russian government is by far the most skilled and prolific weaponizer of information—of spreading fake news, false history, and false facts—in the world, and this is where things get even scarier.
I wrote about a year ago that Western democracy was on trial, more than any time since WWII, that internal problems and forces growing in the West were posing a threat to the survival of the Western liberal democratic order that was greater than any Soviet armies or nuclear arsenals of the past; little did I know that the Soviet Union’s successor in Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, would lead a brilliant campaign—including the (First) Russo-American Cyberwar—to exacerbate, further, and accelerate these trends, and effort that, so far, has been enough to ensure that the West is largely failing these tests, most notably in the oldest continuing and most powerful democracy in the world, the United states of America. And with the very latest revelations that multiple Trump campaign officials were in constant contact with Russian intelligence operatives, there is even less of an excuse not to realize that Putin and his people acted to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump’s campaign with the aim of helping Trump secure the White House, in addition to their also being a much higher possibility that there was collusion of some sort between (some staff on) the Trump campaign and this Russian effort.
In a Foreign Policy piece published just after Trump’s election by Yascha Mounk titled “Donald Trump Is the End of Global Politics as We Know It” and with a subheading of “What it means to live without a leader of the free world,” what is described is Vladimir Putin’s dream come true, and it makes you think about how much was at stake in this election and how the consequences of a world devoid of American leadership or with an American leadership that is cartoonishly incompetent, damaging to its own bedrock alliances and its own society, and blithely self-defeating were exactly the results Russia’s campaign against the United States was designed to bring about. By the time Trump is out of office, it’s entirely possible that there is no more EU and no more NATO, and it is likely that even in the realistic best-case scenario they are substantially weakened; how could things be worse? Just imagine Russian troops and Russian bases in various European NATO deserters, hardly an impossibility.
Putin is certainly imagining this possibility and acting to make this possibility a reality. “We’re on the verge of a new global order,” to quote one spokesperson for a movement within Putin’s own Russian United political party that is trying to help France’s far-right, anti-EU, very pro-Russia candidate triumph in the upcoming French election.
As I pointed out not long ago, Russia has a history of actively meddling in elections and votes in other countries; in a few cases where the final tallies were very close (the UK with Brexit and the U.S. with Trump), the burden of proof is on people asserting Russia made no difference, so large were Russia’s efforts, be they hacking, disinformation, or both. In other places like Bulgaria and Moldova the meddling has been longstanding and finally paid off with the victories of new pro-Russian leaders over the last few months; in other cases like Sweden and the Baltic States, there is a constant effort as well that has made an impact, though these countries are still very much on the alert and seem very unlikely to shift to overall favor Russia in their politics anytime soon; with other cases like Italy’s recent election, it’s hard to argue that Russian meddling made the difference, even though it seems Russia was still quite active in trying to hurt pro-EU centrist parties with fake news; with elections early last year in Germany, it seems Russian propaganda efforts did hurt the ruling party in regional elections.
Some support and cooperation has been far more overt and public, though, than the shadowy hacking, fake news dissemination, and covert funding programs: all over the continent, from the UK to Italy to Austria (where fake news was rampant during its recent presidential election but that as yet has not specifically been tied to Russia) to France and beyond, Putin, his government, and Russian-government-dominated media has offered praise—sometimes even formal audiences in Moscow or political alliances with Putin’s own ruling party, United Russia—to right-wing populist and anti-EU parties along with criticism of pro-EU rivals of these parties; sometimes, this has even extended to financial support from Russian-government affiliated financial institutions, most notably in Le Pen and her party’s case in France; these parties often respond by adopting pro-Russian policies (for example, being against Western sanctions against Russia) and expressing enthusiastic public support for Putin and his program. Coupled with the massive disinformation campaign, Russia is clearly trying to manipulate public opinion and offer direct support to specific parties in Europe in an effort to change the politics of the whole continent. And even when these democratic fascist movements do not succeed in winning, they are still increasing their support and representation in parliaments; thus, all over Europe, they are on the rise and on the march with a purpose, a purpose that very much serves Putin’s goals of weakening Europe so that the EU and NATO will crumble and Russia will be able to extend and intensify its spheres of influence.
Putin’s efforts here are not a random or haphazard one; after years of exerting influence, he has sympathy and supporters spread over one-quarter of the European Parliament, and Russia’s efforts are, as before, pinpointing countries with upcoming elections, with the Netherlands, France, and Germany (and possibly Italy) the big tests for 2017; there are questions about whether these votes may lead to more exits from the EU, say, a Nexit or a Frexit (with a Grexit perpetually in the realm of possibility, too).
The Dutch vote in less than a month, and officials are nervous enough about hacking and interference that they are going to be counting all ballots by hand amid increased Russian cyberactivity targeting Dutch entities and suspicions Russians might have been involved in swaying an eventual Dutch “no” vote in a referendum on a free-trade pact between the EU and Ukraine last April, likely derailing the whole agreement. The party of the man called “the Dutch Donald Trump”—Geert Wilders—is leading in the polls and there are serious worries he may win, especially with so many Dutch voters still undecided (as was the case in America) and the rise of so many new, tiny parties that make the way a coalition will be formed much more unpredictable. One thing is quite predictable, though: he wants to hold a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the EU and very clearly wants to leave it, and some of Wilders’ policies are even more extreme than Trump’s: “[h]e wants to ban the Quran, shut down mosques and…cut all foreign aid,” and some of his tactics are quite Trumpish (he recently caused an uproar when he tweeted a fake photo of a rival with a “Shariah for the Netherlands” sign). If his party does well and especially if he becomes Prime Minister, that could increase enthusiasm for like-minded parties and voters in other European elections on the horizon, just as Brexit and Trump’s win might already be doing that.
France votes in two rounds in late April and early May. So far, France’s race has been incredibly tumultuous of late; the last few weeks, various revelations have upended the race. First, starting late in January, a French newspaper published a series of damning revelations that conservative and moderately pro-Russian candidate François Fillon had used his position in France’s National Assembly (it’s lower legislative house) to pay nearly $1 million in public funds to his wife and children for “bogus” positions, which seems now to have knocked him from the lead to on track to miss the runoff (only the top two advance but he is not a distant third); this seemed to make France’s independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron the favorite; but now it seems Russia is trying to hack his campaign much like it did Hillary Clinton’s, and Russian-controlled media like RT and Sputnik are slamming him (going so far as to spread rumors that he is gay); while praising his rival, far-right, very pro-Russian, and Putin’s favorite candidate: Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen is similar to Trump: she is extremely anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim and is pledging to remove France from the euro currency, even NATO, and possibly the EU entirely. Also like Trump, Le Pen has a globally-spread army of internet trolls engaging in shadowy tactics to boost her and hurt her rivals, and she has the highest internet engagement numbers of any of her rivals. She is furthermore like Trump in that she has not disclosed her campaign fundraising or spending, though her rivals have; this is a particular issue because she had been funded back in 2014 to the tune of a €9 million loan by a Russian bank with strong ties to the Russian government (the deal was even brokered by a member of Russia’s Duma and was suspiciously close in timing to her announcement that she believed Russia’s annexation of Crimea was legal, with incriminating evidence that she received financial support at Russia’s direction in return for her adopting this position); at the same time this happened, a €2 million loan was given to a political fund named Cotelec run by her father from a mysterious Cyprus-based company run by ex-K.G.B. agent Yuri Kudimov who is known to run “the financing arm of the Kremlin,” and from there it went to Le Pen’s party for its 2015 regional elections; this past December she just received a €6 million loan from her father’s Cotelec, and after her 2014 Russian lender was shuttered by the Central Bank of Russia (possibly because of a possible embezzlement scandal) and as she is being shunned by other mainstream lenders, she may be may be seeking another loan from a Russian entity to cover a €20 million shortfall in her campaign war chest.*
*(As an aside, if you are familiar with my work and this reeks of the familiar, your nose is not deceiving you; this is remarkably similar to the gigantic Eurasian gas scheme I wrote about— including some exclusive revelations—just before Trump won, a scheme involving billions of dollars in shady gas deals and the profits from them being laundered by the Russian mafia to buy Ukrainian politicians and corrupt the Ukrainian government so that Putin could dominate Ukraine; Paul Manafort—Trump’s future Campaign Chairman for some of the most crucial months of the Republican primaries when he clinched the GOP nomination and through the Republican National Convention—was one of the major players in this massive scam, and Rick Gates was definitely involved as was possibly Carter Page, both future Trump campaign advisors; in many ways this gas scheme led to the current war in Ukraine, and this modus operandi of “diplomacy” is more the vehicle of Putin’s foreign policy than the Russian Foreign Ministry).
While Le Pen is leading and has for a while now in the first-round polling, conventional wisdom holds that she won’t be able to get enough support to triumph in the second-round-runoff… And yet, conventional wisdom said Donald Trump had no chance of beating Hillary Clinton; the thing is, once a candidate starts winning—be it Trump in the primaries or possibly Le Pen in the first round of voting—that has a way of changing how people think and vote, and with scandals and propaganda efforts embroiling her rivals, the confidence that Macron should triumph in the second-round of voting against Le Pen is weakening, with at least one just-released credible big-data analysis from an investment firm predicting she will pull off a Trumpian upset and the French bond market already showing negative effect from its worries about the possible outcome of a Le Pen victory that seems less remote now than before.
France’s foreign intelligence chief expects Russian internet bots to make millions of posts to help her candidacy and also fears that there will be releases of hacked private e-mails of her rivals; government officials are worried that the Russians will be working actively to alter the outcome of the French election, and there is also concern that Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks—Russia’s stooges, be they unwitting or witting—will have an impact, as they are already teasing thousands of documents related to the candidates, with indications that it will be trying to help Le Pen and hurt her rivals. And WikiLeaks overnight just released what it said was a CIA document showing orders for the U.S. to spy on the French elections of 2012; while such actions are routine even among allies, it is clear that WikiLeaks is selectively releasing this now with the intent of drumming up anti-American sentiment, which will, in turn, harm centrist candidates that support the current global order; this echoes previous recent efforts by WikiLeaks to discredit Merkel’s government for cooperating with a U.S. NSA intelligence-gathering program.
Speaking of Germany, it’s up next, having elections this fall. De facto leader after Trump’s win of the Western liberal international order and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (and her party) have already been a target of Russian fake news and WikiLeaks. While the far right Alternative for Deutschland party has gained in polls overall in recent months, for now, it seems safely behind both Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and the party of her rival coalition partner, leader of the German Social Democrats party Martin Schulz, who are neck and neck in the latest polls. Still, an EU task force has noted in the past few weeks that Merkel is a specific target of Russian fake news, and German government officials, like their French and Dutch counterparts, are worried about Russian attempts to alter the outcome of their election. And as we saw with Hillary Clinton, there is plenty of time for Russia’s efforts, and the damage they may do, to fundamentally alter public opinion in Germany.
And if Italy holds an election? Who knows…
The Czech Republic, we may add, was also recently hacked by what its officials suspected was a foreign power, and few countries would have more incentive to hack the Czechs than Russia; the EU is generally trying to improve and prioritize its efforts to fight back against Russia’s hacking, disinformation, and electoral interference, but it remains to be seen if such efforts will be successful. What is certain is that, with precision, Russia and WikiLeaks are targeting the opponents of the far-right in Europe and proponents of centrism and the EU, including its NATO military alliance formed to check the USSR during the Cold War. According to one expert quoted all the way back in April, 2016, “Russia is starting to weaponize electoral processes in Europe,” and today, we can remove the word “starting” from that quote. Right now, fear of Russia is spreading among officials all over Europe as it seeks to advance the cause of democratic fascism.
And it’s not just Putin and Russia seeking to support these democratic fascist movements and undermine the EU: Trump’s master strategist, right-wing nationalist, and disinformation master Steven Bannon wants to link up and partner with these movements, too, as well as see his former fake news factory Breitbart expand into Europe, in particular, France and Germany, even as Trump criticizes NATO and reaches out to Putin. The EU President Donald Tusk recent wrote a letter to all 27 EU national leaders stating that the Trump Administration was a “threat” to the EU, one of the most dangerous it has ever confronted, along with Russia; on top of this, another top EU official flat-out said that Trump and Bannon were existential threats to the EU—which he said they were seeking to break up—along with two other such threats: Putin and “radicalized political Islam.” In fact, applying the analytical framework outlined in NATO’s recent Handbook of Russian Information Warfare, Donald Trump is doing the Russians’ work for them, for:
As the Handbook emphasizes, Russian information warfare thinking anticipates that trolls and bots not under Kremlin control will amplify the messages and effects of Russia’s own information operations. However, having a U.S. president, his administration, and his own networks of disinformation playing these roles is probably beyond the wildest dreams of Russian strategists and tacticians of information warfare. Putin will not squander this opportunity.
Lastly, Putin is not only cultivating and using the far right; he is also weaponizing the far leftas his “useful idiots;” while generally not taking the bait on the Kremlin’s pro-Trump propaganda, far-lefties in America were all too eager to gobble up its anti-Clinton efforts, and we’re not only talking about supporters of Jill Stein and the extreme-far-left in America, but also supporters of (relatively-to-Stein-&-Co. moderate) Bernie Sanders; these far leftists were often blithely retweeting RT articles about Hillary and echoed their distorted talking points. When it comes to stein, Putin even invited her to a gala in Moscow honoring RT propaganda station, where the now scandal-ridden Gen. Michael Flynn was also a guest of honor, and Stein is a regular on the channel. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on here: the far left has no chance electorally in the way the far right does, so Putin can throw support at it knowing he is safe from its agenda but happy to see it weaken the center and take votes away from credible parties that can help stop his far-right darlings; in this way, the far left helps the far-right come to power through their myopia, narcissism, and willful blindness, as clearly happened in the U.S. election, particularly with liberal Millennials. By constantly attacking “the system” and the center and the mainstream reality-based media, it also generates specific mistrust of crucial institutions and general apathy and cynicism among those on the left, apathy, cynicism, and mistrust that also worked handily in favor of Trump over Clinton. This has even succeeded to the degree of compromising respectable leftist publications like The Nation into putting out apologias for Russian behavior, and it goes beyond propaganda and is happening, and has been happening for some time, all over Europe to the degree that Russian efforts help to explain the less-often-discussed rise in the success of far left parties in Europe; there is apparently evidence of clandestine funding of far-left parties and groups by the Kremlin, in addition to its more salient efforts to covertly fund the far-right. And besides Russian propaganda, “WikiLeaks is clearly the online epicenter of the 21st-century’s red-brown convergence”: Trump couldn’t stop talking about WikiLeaks, and neither could Bernie Sanders supporters.
Yes, Russia under Putin now is succeeding in projecting its power and influence in ways way few Soviet or Czarist leaders could ever realistically envision, not with troops and tanks, but with a brilliant master strategy that plays on and exploits the flaws and vulnerabilities in Western democracy and the very worst in human nature, with the media and cyberwarfare as its main weapons of war, all fueled by the aforementioned* massive oil-and-natural-gas-scheme of epic proportions (and in which some of Trump’s associates—including one very senior one, Paul Manafort—were involved). Yes, we are at war for the survival of our very way of life, and we still don’t even realize it yet. Perhaps the damage and worry Donald Trump is generating not even one full month into his presidency is a good example of how much more we should be alarmed when we look at it in conjunction with this global campaign as a whole and what is happening in Europe and other bastions of democracy.
8.) Conclusion: Democratic Fascism is on Track to Destroy the West As We Know It, Or, Time to Break the Glass, This Is an Emergency
Again, in light of my old piece published about a year ago, I write with a sad and terrified heart now: I never imagined so much damage would be done in so short a period of time; at the time, I saw the threat, but thought it more distant and thought we’d be beating it back more successfully at this point; instead, we—the West, Western democracy, liberals who believe in liberal values and multiethnic democracy—are losing, and losing badly.
Revolutions tend to have far-flung roots and can spread in unpredictable ways, but the beginning of this wave of massive populist discontent on the right was the Tea Party protests that began early in 2009 (or, if you want to really go far back, the religious conservatives’ global return to public life in the 1980s); if 2009 can be thought of as the global democratic right’s 1789 French Revolution Bastille-storming moment, we are now in something of the beginning of a political Reign of Terror, much as the initial French people’s uprising of 1789 gave way to a far more extreme (and the original) (Jacobin) Reign of Terror in 1793 (in the words of Trotsky, “Fascism is a caricature of Jacobinism”). More polite, less bloody efforts directed at limiting or rolling back the power of the governments in Washington and Brussels, over taxation and regulation, have now exploded into outright culture wars in which aggrieved dominant group on both sides of the Atlantic felt like other groups gaining rights and increased diversity were assaults on their status and responded increasingly ferociously towards these groups, often embracing racism and xenophobia to these ends; “Kick them out!” no longer applied to mainly the current politicians in power, but to whole groups of people: Hispanics, Muslims, even other European immigrants; a similar spirit in the U.S. was directed at kicking disadvantaged minorities off of government assistance, even as their economic plight had worsened relative to those wanting to deny them assistance. Angry white people were… angry, and they were going to punish not only the political elites, but people who looked and dressed and prayed and spoke differently than they did, denying them either a physical space in their country or resources from the government, even if they were, at times, fellow citizens (that seemed to not matter too much). The political systems which governed America arguably since the Founding but at least clearly since the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act are now to be overthrown in America, just as the post-WWII EU-centered systems in Europe are also to be overthrown if Trump and his Bannon-led crew—and their allies in Europe—succeed in their endeavors.
Those who think that the underlying institutions of American government are immunized against [fascism]…fail to understand history. In every historical situation where a leader of Trump’s kind comes to power, normal safeguards collapse. Ours are older and therefore stronger? Watching the rapid collapse of the Republican Party is not an encouraging rehearsal. Donald Trump has a chance to seize power.
And seize power he did; I have a hard time believing many Democrats really switched from Obama to Trump, and the evidence is that Trump’s popular-vote-losing, historically very narrow Electoral College victory (narrow despite Trump’s outlandish characterizations to the contrary) came largely at the hands of white rural conservatives who voted in larger-than-usual numbers and white centrists and white liberals (and Millennials of all stripes) staying home or voting third party. Because of that, there may only be one way to stop the collapse and self-destruction of Western civilization and Western democracy as we know it: the left as a whole uniting behind the center-left faction with the broadest support, whatever qualms the far-left may have with this compromise towards the center; if we—and yes, I include myself—do not unite, if too many on the left who claim to care about liberal causes and values and other human beings don’t step up and actually do what is necessary to prevent democratic fascism from becoming the new modus operandi of the West, if many leftists—Bernie Sanders supporters included—embrace myopia, impatience, and narcissism as their approaches to politics, then we won’t need jackboots marching down the Champs-Élysées or Pennsylvania Avenue to know that democracy is losing or defeated. Worst of all, the defeat will have come at the hands of our own stupidity, because if Trump and his ilk aren’t enough to make the liberals of the world unite under whichever factions get the most votes in their elections, then perhaps we don’t deserve the democracy we inherited, and perhaps we deserve democratic fascism instead. Perhaps we need to suffer to appreciate how amazing the post-WWII international system—pejoratively and inaccurately labeled “neoliberal,” as if Reaganism and Thatcherism still reigned supreme and dramatic improvements and changes have not happened globally since the end of WWII and especially in the decades since the end of the Cold War—actually is, no matter what ludicrous anarchist, libertarian, Marxist, or fascist-oriented schools of thought claim to the contrary.
In the 2016 American election, African-American and Hispanic voters, especially those old enough or with enough education to understand how much has improved even while understanding how much work still needs to be done, voted overwhelmingly for Clinton both against Sanders and against Trump (and Hispanics almost certainly voted for Clinton in much higher numbers than the exit polls suggest as indicated by data from special surveys that capture the notoriously-difficult-to-measure Latino vote much more accurately than normal exit polls); these wise (the wisest!) voters, these voters of color were practical all the way through because that is the only way they know their people have seen gains over time. For Hispanics, many of them came from places that did not offer them anywhere near as much opportunity, safety, or social justice; they had suffered enough to appreciate the Western system, warts and all. For African-Americans, there was a deep understanding of how much effort and blood had been spilled for them to earn the rights that many younger people today take for granted; from slavery through Reconstruction and segregation and beyond, mature black voters have been and are only too painfully aware that allowing one’s emotions to overtake reason and practicality by putting one’s hopes behind candidates that overpromise and offer easy fixes, that don’t have a plan, that seem too good to be true, that this all too often turns into bitter failure and disappointment, even catastrophe, and with dire consequences that are not overcome by speeches and wishful thinking; they know all too well that progress is a hard struggle and a long-march that is gradual and always leaves more to be desired. That’s not to wholly reject idealism: idealism is beautiful and necessary, but it must be channeled practically “to hard thinking about means and ends,” to quote Krugman, or it is self-defeating, as history shows only too clearly to those who study it and study it well.
But if millions of voters in a two-party system voted for someone other than Clinton or stayed home when they knew Trump was worse than her, if the impassioned entreaties of their favorite pop stars and pro-athletes and movie stars and their parents and sensible friends and mentors and a president they voted for twice and civil rights legends (sorry, Cornell West has nothing on John Lewis) weren’t enough to convince them to do their duty to stop a madman from taking over the most powerful office on the planet, then maybe those people need to suffer in a way that makes them realize this is not a game, this is not simply an exercise in abstract self-expression, this is not simply about them, that voting carries real world consequences that affect other people, sometimes a neighbor, sometimes someone living half a world away. Because if the left can’t unite—not with a minority of it screaming at majority to undemocratically accept their minority wishes, program, and leadership when they were unable to convince a whopping majority of their fellow liberals to accept their program or their candidate—then, it seems, we will have one-party rule in a democratic fascist state, not just for a few years, but for a long time to come. The same can be said of Europe: if too many liberals there selfishly and childishly vote for tiny parties that don’t even pass the threshold required to get seats in parliament, just like third party voters in the U.S., all they will succeed in doing is diluting the liberal vote away from parties that can actually compete with Democratic fascism; you must vote strategically with an eye to the relative support of different parties and the likelihood they can win and have an actual impact on the outcome in favor of advancing your espoused values, not simply drawing away votes from other competitive parties by voting in a way that only leaves a snowball’s chance in hell of your vote actually helping to advance that values you so loudly proclaim but are apparently unable to think through with enough effort to understand how to help, not hurt, them.
Perhaps some pain is required then, in order for enough of the left to mature and become more practical for us to actually start winning elections when we don’t have a candidate with once-in-a-generation charisma, because if the does not mature and mature fast, pain will surely come, and almost surely come in the form democratic fascism and the destruction our societies, democracy, the West, and the international system as we know it. Democratic fascism, in its possible triumph, may actually do some good, then: it may finally teach the most naïve of us with objectively good intentions and who say we believe in human rights, social justice, and equality that a vote is never something to wastefully throw away, and that its effects often go far beyond ourselves, let alone our sense of personal satisfaction.
Even as I write this, I am watching Trump talk to a crowd in South Carolina at a Boeing facility to talk about Boeing military-industrial-complex products and ordering billions in new weapons systems; yes, a day after the worst and most unintentionally farcical press conference in American history and after his new choice for National Security Advisor declined the job offer after the previous one had to resign amid an exploding scandal after less than a month on job, Trump is going to his base to offer platitudes and fetishize the idea of American greatness by appealing to militarism and weapon fetishism; “God bless Boeing,” he finishes his speech, and yes, that came after “God bless America,” with a CNN panel of generally solid pundits playing right into his game by saying it’s a great speech compared to his press conference, giving him compliments for improvement after he set the rhetorical bar lower than any president since 1789 (including, yes, Andrew Johnson’s infamous drunk VP-swearing-in speech); yes, Democratic fascism is here: the question is, what do we, what can we, do now?
The choice is clear and, sorry kids, limited: liberals can stand united against democratic fascism and halt its progress before it’s too late or stand divided in the face of its systemic, Putin-backed onslaught and empower fascism in spite of their unwitting selves and professed values. That is your choice, and as a citizen and a voter and one who professes to subscribe to liberal values, in the end, if you choose that second option history will judge despicably and judge you totally independent of whatever linguistic or intellectual contortions in which you engage to frame your action as something else other than empowering this democratic fascism, and history’s harsh judgment will matter far more than how you personally judge yourself or how often your like-minded peers in a social media echo chamber give you self-serving likes and comments, retweets, or any other number of shallow accolades; democratic fascism, though it thrives on social media, is a result far deeper and more lasting that any tweet or like.
And this democratic fascism is approaching faster and with more momentum than just about any but the most prescient of us, even at this late hour, can see; the time for debate is limited, the time to fall in line is soon, and unless we face “hard truths” about our present realities, what is possible and not possible now in these upcoming elections, idealistic dreams will remain fantasies and we will all be living in a nightmare in which the best we can dream of in the foreseeable future will be a fantastical ability to again make use of the chances to make a true difference that we already blew back when we had that chance to actually do so, before it became too late, back when we were living in a flawed but still historically magnificent system that still gave us the power actually make a difference in a democracy of liberal democratic values, before democratic fascism and we, through our own stupidity, destroyed that precious system like Shakespeare’s Othello when he “threw a pearl away (5.2).”
© 2017 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, no republication without permission, attributed quotations welcome
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