The American fascism debate gets a reboot

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This week, Americans and Europeans celebrated the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces invaded occupied France, marking the beginning of the end of fascist power in Europe.

Last week, after being found guilty of falsifying business records, former President Donald Trump said Americans today live in a “fascist state,” building on his unfounded conspiracy theory that somehow President Joe Biden is behind his prosecution in Manhattan.

It was an ironic turn of phrase for Trump since, throughout his rise, academics and pundits have debated whether his cult-of-personality politics veers toward a form of fascism. But flipping the script on his critics is a specialty of the former president.

Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus at Columbia University who has written widely on fascism in Europe, had rejected the label for Trump until January 6, 2021, when the historian argued that the image of Trump supporters storming the US Capitol “removes my objection to the fascist label.”

The debate over whether Trump veers toward fascism was renewed multiple times this year after Trump’s committed followers swatted away a field of qualified challengers for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump has repeatedly used language that can be tied back to Nazis, such as when he said immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country. Last month, his campaign amplified and then deleted a supporter’s video that promised a “unified Reich” if he wins reelection.

The New York University historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat took a close look at all of the images presented in that video and concluded for CNN Opinion that the video was “reminiscent of the fascist propaganda I have studied for many years.”

With a charismatic leader, a nationalist outlook built around fear of immigrants and a sense of grievance built around his 2020 election loss, there are certainly some ingredients of fascism in the current version of Trump’s campaign.

Supporters have a plan to use a second Trump term to gut portions of the civil service, supposedly to remake a government that will more easily bend to his will.

His sense of persecution at facing criminal charges adds more grist. Trump has consistently teased the idea that he will repay his political rival, Biden, for his conviction.

The Trump-supporting Fox News host Sean Hannity tried repeatedly on Wednesday to get Trump to rule out using the Department of Justice as an arm for vengeance, but Trump rambled around the questions.

“It has to stop, because otherwise we’re not going to have a country,” Trump said, suggesting he would not weaponize the Justice Department. But he then said he would be fully within his rights to prosecute his political opponents.

“Look, when this election is over, based on what they’ve done, I would have every right to go after them, and it would be easy because it’s Joe Biden,” the former president said.

That’s less definitive than the social media post last year when Trump verifiably promised, if he wins, to appoint a special counsel to “go after” Biden, but it’s certainly not a hard no.

When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance about Trump’s claim the US is a “fascist state,” Vance, who CNN has reported is being vetted as a potential Trump running mate, would not reject the idea.

“I don’t care what you call this, but this is not the America that I know and love,” Vance said in a tense exchange.

Watch it:

01:26 – Source: CNN

Trump calls US a ‘fascist state.’ Hear potential VP pick’s response

There are comparisons between current times and the rise of fascism everywhere at the moment, even when they are not focused directly on Trump.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times commemorating D-Day titled, “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.” It doesn’t mention Trump.

McConnell will step aside from his Senate GOP leadership position in November in part because his party has moved away from the arsenal-of-democracy view of American power embraced by McConnell and other old-school Republicans and toward an isolationist, Vladimir Putin-friendly view of foreign policy pushed by Trump.

Arguing that we rightly celebrate D-Day soldiers, McConnell argued we often forget why those service members needed to fight in the first place.

“We forget how influential isolationists persuaded millions of Americans that the fate of allies and partners mattered little to our own security and prosperity,” McConnell wrote. “We gloss over the powerful political forces that downplayed growing danger, resisted providing assistance to allies and partners, and tried to limit America’s ability to defend its national interests.”

I talked to Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, an assistant professor at Wesleyan University and editor of the new book, “Did It Happen Here? Perspectives on Fascism and America,” which includes the writing of Paxton, among many others.

“That model of historical comparison where we look to what happened to Germany in the 1930s and then use it as kind of a navigational device or a map for understanding what’s happened today is quite common,” he said, although there are arguments it is a flawed comparison.

“Concepts don’t have timeless essences that we can just map on to any phenomena, but they change given political context, given power structures in society,” he said.

Today, he said, the term “fascism” is used “to mobilize people in order to get over their divides, to defeat an enemy that’s far greater than their own long-standing disputes.”

Steinmetz-Jenkins argued there is a long history, going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, of Americans on both sides of the political aisle trying to label their opponents as “fascist,” and there are also examples of American lawmakers threatening their opponents with investigation.

There are arguments in favor of the fascism comparison, but also arguments against it – particularly since there are echoes of Trump’s rise in populist and White nationalist movements closer to home in American history.

For instance, Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Republican from Florida and another potential Trump running mate, has had to explain his argument that American social programs have driven Black families apart and that they were more cohesive at a time of legalized racial terror under Jim Crow laws in the US, which were a model for Nazis.

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together,” Donalds said in comments first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. He tried to explain that comment to CNN’s Abby Phillip on Wednesday, arguing he was not expressing nostalgia for the Jim Crow era, but rather trying to argue that during that period, marriage rates were higher. It was a complicated argument for him to make, to say the least.

05:05 – Source: CNN

Rep. Byron Donalds was asked to clarify Jim Crow remarks. Hear his response

Donalds tried to argue that the ideological divide in today’s political parties should be applied to perceptions of that era, when some Southern Democrats opposed civil rights legislation and some Northern Republicans supported it.

Today, the parties are even more regionally divided, with Democrats largely out of power in the South and Republicans largely out of power in the North. The parties realigned around conservative and liberal ideologies – a process that continues to happen today as Republicans reorient around Trumpism.

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