Special thanks to Sam Goldman of the excellent Refuse Fascism Podcast and to historian Thomas Zimmer, who is quoted at exceptional length in this essay. I sit on the editorial board of Refuse Fascism.
Here are four overlapping forms of denialism in US-American political life today: denial of how militantly authoritarian/fascist the Republican Party has become; denial of how undemocratic the US political system is; denial of how determined the Republi-fascist “Amerikaners” (I’ll explain my use of this term below) are to defy majority US opinion and cancel what’s left of US bourgeois democracy; and denial of how culpable the Democrats are in the fascisation of the United States.
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Many liberals, centrists, and moderates and even some progressive folks I know tell us to “stop worrying” about the Christian white nationalist (fascist) Republican Party since “they don’t represent the majority. Most Americans aren’t like them. And there’s less and less of them over time because the nation is getting younger, less white, more diverse, and more secular. They can’t win. They’ll have to change their [Christian white nationalist/fascist] ways.”
The basic message: “it’s gonna be a’ight, so chill.”
This is the New Amerikaner Republi-fascist Normal
There are some dreadful problems with this pacifying counsel. One difficulty is the false belief that the “MAGA Republicans” (those Joe Biden once daringly called kind of “semi-fascist”) are a minority within their own political party. They are no such thing: MAGA fascism has become mainstream in the Trump-DeSantis-Taylor-Greene GOP. Please see my February 6 Paul Street Report, titled “The Horror of Amerika,” for some chilling details on this harsh reality. Please also listen to the January 29, 2023 Refuse Fascism podcast titled “The Insurrectionist House,” where the historian and political commentator Thomas Zimmer observes that the creepy way in which the dominant US media drew the lines in the recent battle over the House Speakership “actually put [the open fascist] Marjorie Taylor-Greene in the moderate camp because she was supporting [the Trump ally Kevin] McCarthy. That just can’t be right.”
As Zimmer elaborates:
“[The new insurrectionist House is] indicative of how far the Republican Party has moved to the right. ….It’s been on this trajectory for a long time. But this process has accelerated with the Obama era and it accelerated again with the mass protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder….Donald Trump is still a massive problem and Kevin McCarthy very explicitly reminded everyone that ‘hey this guy is still here.’ But the main problem is not Trump, it’s the party that elevated him in the first place. It’s the party that embraces and elevates far-right extremists like Marjorie Taylor-Greene and like Matt Gaetz. There is not going to be a return to ‘normalcy’ now that this Speaker spectacle is over. Because there is no ‘normal’ anymore. Or let me put it this way: this is the new normal. The new normal in the Republican Party is a mixture of fake populism, white reactionary grievance politics with a heavy dose of right-wing conspiratorial stuff…And it’s all in service of a political project of hierarchy maintenance, of maintaining traditional hierarchies of wealth, race, gender, religion…Kevin McCarthy is not a moderate. He is Republican establishment, but establishment does not mean moderate in that party. It means that the GOP establishment is fully embracing the extremism as the party has moved so far to the right that yesterday’s radical fringe is now firmly in the center of conservative politics.”
As far as I and others within and beyond Refuse Fascism are concerned, what Zimmer describes here is part of the GOP’s transition from previously normative bourgeois democracy to neofascism. He might just as well have said that “conservative politics” has become radical politics- radical right, as in fascism.
In his new book Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost its Mind, the New York Times Magazine writer Robert Draper tells an instructive story from the US Capitol during the January 6, 2021 attack on Congress. “Instead” of gearing up for the coming Republican Congressional challenges to the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, Draper writes, “the [Congressional] Democrats’ assumption was that being engulfed in violent attempt to overthrow the election results would jar the Republican lawmakers into sobriety.” Draper quotes the later reflection of the Democratic House representative Dan Kildee: “Honestly, at that point, I assumed erroneously that this was it. That this ends now. End of the bullshit. They’re not going to pursue this. That what could have been the worst-case scenario right before our very eyes. And we were not just witnesses, but victims of it. And my full expectation was, okay, even the nuttiest of these people won’t continue to cling to this fantasy” (Weapons of Mass Delusion, p. 20).
Cling they did – and not just the loony-tune neo-Nazi hate-filled sh*t monkeys like Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and Ron Johnson. After the smoke cleared and the legislative branch resumed its official proceedings to certify the clearly Biden-won election, fully 147 Congressional Republicans voted to overturn the results.
But of course they did. Honoring the loss of elections is simply not an acceptable thing for Amerikaner fascists, Christian white nationalists who don’t approve of the “wrong people” – nonwhites, feminists, gay people, liberals and leftists – voting to “take our [white Christian and patriarchal] country away from us.”
Contrary to Draper’s sub-title, it’s not that the Republican Party has “lost its mind.” It’s that its mind and world view have gone neofascist since at least the Obama years.
And just as delusional and denialist at the Republi-fascists’ belief that the 2020 election was stolen was and is many Democrats’ Biden-esque belief that the Republicans are a party with which they can work if only its supposed minority of extremists can be contained.
Also delusional and dangerous, by the way – and it is depressing almost beyond words that I have to say this – is the belief of some leftists that we should and even must make radical red- (really pink-)brown alliances with US neofascists (please see my last Paul Street Report on this particular form of lethal left madness).
This is Not a Democracy
Another problem with “calm down” counsel is the completely false assumption that the United States is a majority rule, one person-one vote, democracy. It is no such thing. Folks really need to get serious about the real nature US political order, which Joe Biden idiotically called “the envy of the world” for “240 years” two months before the January 6th Capitol Riot, adding that “democracy’s sometimes messy” --- a darkly humorous comment in light of subsequent events. Right-tilted Minority rule is deeply embedded in the nation’s core political institutions, which drastically overrepresent the nation’s most revanchist, white, and rural sections and states through a slew of interrelated institutional mechanisms: the anti-democratic presidential Electoral College; strictly time-staggered elections; an absurdly bicameral legislature with a strong upper chamber (the US Senate) whose powers include the approval of presidential Supreme Court appointments; a profoundly undemocratic Senate apportionment regime that gives every state two representatives regardless of population size; the rampant partisan gerrymandering of US House and state legislative districts; powerful states’ rights for fifty separate jurisdictions remarkably free to make policy in defiance of majority national public opinion; absurdly lifetime-appointed and unelected judges on the powerful Supreme Court (currently occupied by a revanchist majority absurdly far to the right of the populace thanks to the malignant fascist Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with the AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump’s appointment of three Christian white nationalist/neofascist jurists who were sickeningly approved by an absurdly majority-Republikaner Senate).(One of the open secrets of US-American “democracy” is that the USA is not a democracy and, by the way, was never intended to be.)
The gerrymandering problem combines with the US primary elections system to entrench the MAGA fascists as the dominant faction of the GOP. With hundreds of state and Congressional seats districted in such a way as to guarantee Republican success against the Democrats no matter how extreme (fascist) the candidates Republicans run in general elections, the rightmost of the nation’s two dominant capitalist parties has little incentive to soften its radical right politics to accommodate moderates and Democrats. The primary regime grants outsized voice to the zealous and dedicated authoritarian Christian white nationalist wing of the post-republican Republikaner party since the intraparty primary elections garner much lower voter turnout than do inter-party general elections.
While he does not share Refuse Fascism’s readiness to consider the Republican Party fascist, the historian Zimmer rightly identifies that party as an authoritarian menace. He is not fooled by the credulous notion that supposedly exceptional “American democracy” can overwhelm the Republifascist menace with majority rule. Look at the following passage from the aforementioned Refuse Fascism podcast:
Sam Goldman, Refuse Fascism: “There’s some people who look at the mainstreaming of what I would say is a fascist movement – I think that you would use different words and for this purpose it doesn’t matter – the look at and they say ‘that is a signal that this is a party on its last breath.’ What do you say to the people who say that. Are they done?”
Thomas Zimmer: “It is important to emphasize that they do not have majority support for the reactionary vision that they want to impose on the country. That’s very important. If democracy falls in this country it’s not going to be because over 50 percent of the electorate are voting in a fascist dictator. That’s not happening. But here’s the problem. The people who say ‘okay we don’t have to worry because we have the numbers’ or ‘every year the electorate is moving away from the Republicans,’ which is true, by the way…it is moving away from a party that is so entirely focused on the interests and sensibilities of conservative white people. Yes, the demographics are moving away from the Republican Party. But here’s the problem: if America were a functioning democratic system in which if you get the majority of votes you also get to hold political power, then the problem would be a lot less concerning. But that’s not what America is. The American political system has all these anti-democratic distortions that consistently award a lot of power to a party that doesn’t get and doesn’t need 50 percent of the vote. So that’s the first problem. It’s just not the case that they need a majority of the electorate behind them because of the many anti-democratic distortions in the system. They don’t.
It's such a basic point, rarely made in dominant US media-politics discourse despite it’s obvious accurate nature.
“They’re Absolutely Going That Far”
Another problem with the “calm down, it can’t and won’t happen here” counsel is the mistaken belief that that the Republi-fascist Party cares what the majority thinks and is not perfectly willing and ready to do everything it can to furthered embed and enforce Minority Rule in the face of demographic change. What a, well, umm, stupid thing to think. The rightmost of the nation’s two reigning US capitalist parties has for years been demonstrating precisely its determination to mimic (in its own way) the white apartheid Afrikaners of 20th Century South Africa. It actively pursues and carries out extreme partisan gerrymandering and racist voter suppression to entrench right-wing Christian white nationalist Minority Rule. It perpetrates and perpetuates the Goebbels-worthy Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen out of the not-so hidden belief that Biden’s victory depended on the votes of people who don’t really deserve full citizenship and suffrage: city -dwelling non-whites, immigrants, gays and feminist women. It delights in its Handmaid Supreme Court’s open defiance of majority public opinion on one issue after another: gun reform, environmental regulation, abortion rights and more. It has advanced and hopes for its Court to green-light the far-right “independent state legislature theory,” which would, if fully backed by the Court’s Moore v. Harper ruling this summer, let red state legislatures nullify popular statewide presidential votes they don’t like! The Republi-fascist Party looks forward to the right-wing Trumpist federal district judge Matthew Kacsmaryk potentially flouting the popular majority by potentially banning abortion pills nationwide this month – a cold blast in the face of accommodationist “choice” organizations who despicably claimed that home medical abortions would permit women to avoid the worst consequences of the viciously minoritarian and sexist Supreme Court ruling (Dobbs v. Jackson) that eliminated women’s constitutional right to terminate unwanted pregnancies last June.
“The second thing is [this]: if you make the argument that ‘they are pursuing a minoritarian project,’ which is true, ‘and that can’t work because at some point they’ll just have to accept that a growing majority is against them,’ why do they have to accept that? The question of whether a minority can hold on to power…that depends on how far the minority is willing to go to stay in power. It’s true if the minority says ‘oh if we’re losing elections, we have to go.’ But that’s already NOT the position of the Republicans. The Republican Party is already saying ‘Losing elections, not a thing. We’re not losing elections. If we lose elections, that’s because…well there was fraud or too many of the wrong people have the vote and we have to rectify that by taking that away or making it harder for them to vote. So that’s already a problem. And then, again, of you are willing to use a lot of oppressive measure, if you are willing to just not let the people who are not voting for you vote, or make it harder for them to vote, or, if push comes to shove you are willing to embrace and endorse political violence, then a minority can stay in power. Look at South African apartheid. Yes, at some point, it crumbled, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But that was after decades of a small minority clinging to power by just oppression. The people who are saying ‘the Republicans can’t do this, we have the numbers and the demographics are so bad for them,’ are basically saying ‘I don’t think the Republican Party would go so far as to use oppressive measures to stay in power – anti-democratic oppressive measures.’ And then I would tell you, where is the evidence that they wouldn’t do that? Because I’ve seen a lot of evidence that they’re absolutely willing to do that...This whole ‘they will not go that far’ – that’s the most dangerous idea out there. All the evidence we’ve had is that they’re absolutely going that far. That’s how we should think about this stuff and not rely on ideas of ‘they will not go that far.’ Because they absolutely will.”
Indeed. There are no inherent limits to how far the Republi-fascists and very possibly can go in solidifying white nationalist Minority Rule for years to come.
On My Use of the Word “Amerikaner” (and “Republikaner”)
Please note Zimmer’s South African analogy. As far as I am aware, I am something like the inventor of the term “Amerikaner” in recent US “left” political discourse (though it would not all surprise to learn that others on “the left” have used the term). It appears as part of the subtitle of my latest book: This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America. It is a play on the name of the white Dutch-Anglo minority that imposed a Third World fascist regime of racial apartheid and white minority rule on South Africa during the last century. Like the Afrikaners, I maintain, the US Republi-fascist Party is heir to an earlier history of genocidal and imperialist white un-“settlement.” It is opposed to majority rule democracy, and committed to the imposition of racial and ethnic separatism and inequality. (White fears of coming minority white demographic status in the increasingly non-white United States are one aspect of the parallel, reflected in the adoption of the term by certain part of the nation’s alt-right.) Like the Afrikaners of old, it is quite willing to trump majority rule for as long as it can get away with and – make no mistake – is unafraid to use “oppressive measures” to do so. As I heard a white state police trooper say to George Floyd protesters just south of Interstate 80 in Iowa City in late May of 2020, “we’re not afraid to put you in body bags.” We can sure that that gendarme joined more than 74 million other mostly white USArs in voting for a malignant neofascist criminal who tried to turn the George Floyd-Breonna Taylor Rebellion into an American Reichstag Fire, who wanted to deploy the US military against that glorious people’s uprising against racist police violence, and who undertook a concerted rolling coup attempt meant to overthrow US-American bourgeois democracy and rule of law.
This Hollow Resistance
Oh, but what about the Democrats? Among the different ways they have helped bring us to this terrible point, we must count their neo-“it can’t happen here”-ist/American exceptionalist denial of how grave the neofascist danger is. I frequently talk to liberal, centrist, moderate, and even sometimes progressive friends who seem to think that the dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats (owned by concentrated wealth and power thanks in part to the openly plutocratic campaign finance rulings of the nation’s undemocratic Supreme Court) are ready, willing, and able to fight back meaningfully against the creeping fascism that haunts the USA. But that’s not remotely the case. The nation’s party of “inauthentic opposition” (Sheldon Wolin) and Hollow Resistance (the title of my next-to latest book) can’t properly acknowledge the real situation we face. That’s because doing so would mean embracing a militant and activist mass movement politics beneath and beyond the “killing confines” of fading bourgeois electoral democracy, US-American Style. It would mean confronting not just how fascist the Amerikaner Party of Trump, De Santis and Taylor Greene has become but how completely out of whack core US political and policy institutions are with the elementary democratic principles of one person, one vote and majority rule.
Those who tell you that “your voice is being heard” and that “the majority makes US government policy” via the franchise (the vote) are either liars or fools at this point. Those who tell you to direct all your political energies into voting under the US system are trying to mislead you. Name the modern social reforms that matter and merit applause and defense in American history: the outlawing of child labor, Social Security, the federal minimum wage, union organizing and collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation, subsidized housing, the end of formal segregation in the South, occupational safety, environmental and consumer protections, and yes, the right to an abortion. None of these things were won simply by voting and/or Supreme Court benevolence alone. They were more fundamentally gained through mass popular resistance and disruption: strikes, marches, sit-ins, sit-downs, occupations, work stoppages, movements and movement cultures beneath and beyond the big money major party time-staggered big media candidate-centered electoral extravaganzas that are sold to us as “politics” – the only politics that matters. The franchise itself – the right to vote – was won through mass popular disturbance.
Let’s be candid about one of the key roles of the nation’s not-so leftmost major capitalist political party: to keep the people off the streets and out of the public squares, the places where gains are actually won through mass action. To invest all your Hope for Change (arch neoliberals Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s shared campaign keywords) in the aforementioned killing confines is to hand the nation’s future to the Amerikaners, with disastrous consequences at home and abroad.
Mass organization for mass action is required now not just for reform but for revolution, including the radical restructuring of the nation’s political institutions in accord with a principle that was the US Founders’ ultimate nightmare: popular sovereignty
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When your country has dropped several times the tonnage of all bombs dropped during WW2 a couple times over, has allied with ex-Nazis, military dictators, and authoritarians the world over, has used state power to assassinate multiple reformist leaders (MLK, JFK), and the levers of power are run by billionaires and corporations heading up an unprecedented military, police, and intelligence state - well, you might already BE fascist. The cows left the barn a while back. Having a blue 'Liberal' party is entirely compatible with being fascist.
For crying out loud, we have a "news" network that can literally instigate denigration attacks against metropolitan cities in which colored people live, and from that, a small step to attacks directly against minorities, and there are ZERO repurcussions on the Murdoch clan that runs it.