The following is not original. I have tried to make a synthesis of ideas from various commentators I have read, along with recent political events.
Fascism is a particular form of dictatorship. For example, a military coup overthrowing a government, which happens a lot, results in a dictator whom most people will hate due to the way he rules in order to retain power. But Fascism is established by a leader who is charismatic and comes to power with a large group of supporters.
We make a mistake in the United States of thinking that Fascism is only historical. We make a mistake in thinking that it looks like a lot of people in uniform saluting the Fuehrer. Some political scientists are saying that the qualities of Fascism can be adapted to fit a particular nation at a particular time.
In the United States, a precursor of today’s move toward Fascism was the prejudice that occurred at the beginning of white European settlement of the Western Hemisphere. The white settlers wanted land, and pushed the native people out of their traditionally occupied lands, a process that continued here for centuries until around 1950. The white settlers also brought Africans over to be slaves. This led to a view that white people built this country, we wrote the Constitution, we have controlled the major corporations, we have been elected to various government positions, we have been and should be “in charge” of the nation’s affairs.
White people of direct European origin will not be a majority of our nation soon. Non-Hispanic whites now make up only 60% of U.S. population. The fraction of “others”, Black and Asian people along with Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking people from Latin America is increasing. All of these latter groups are increasingly and visibly represented in our governments at all levels, disrupting attempts to maintain a racial hierarchy.
As a result of Capitalism as practiced in the United States, most ordinary people are “wage slaves”, never having enough money to have a good family life. They have figured out that some of their income and their potential income has leaked through to the 1 percenters. It is difficult to form unions in current times, so many white people in this situation are inclined to look for scapegoats. Those are the “other”, the groups mentioned above along with recent immigrants. Also, people can be readily turned against the favorite scapegoat of Western civilization since Roman times, namely Jews.
The stage is set for someone who wants power to appeal to these disaffected and angry white people. Trump was and remains a charismatic leader who amplifies their grievances while showing great sympathy and respect for them, something other politicians haven’t done well enough. If Trump fails, another person like Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida may step in and maintain a hold on this group.
January 6, 2021 was an attempt to create a Fascist overthrow of the U.S. government. Other signs of the attitude that led to January 6 are continuing in many states. Since the disaffected and angry people discussed above are overwhelmingly straight white Christians, we’re seeing attempts to control children’s education including book banning, presenting the history of the United States as White history, and minimizing contributions by women, Blacks, and those of non-European origin. We’re seeing increased demonization of LGBTQ people and denial of Trans identity even though these groups are winning more rights from the Federal government and some states. Without Roe vs Wade, the fight for legal abortion has to be fought state by state.
I saw a PBS program about Michael Flynn, retired general and Trump advisor. He is going around the country now holding public meetings that look like revival meetings, at which he says that the United States is and always has been a Christian (subtext White Christian) nation. At the end of the meeting the people stand up with arms raised and heads bowed, to pray for America.
Another issue in play is the Republican Congress’ desire to cut back on social insurance and the welfare state. If this happens, poor and hungry people will suffer from reduced freedom as a result of domination by autocrats and corporations.1
The mainstream news media generally look at these activities separately. It is important for the future of the United States that progressives understand that these trends are connected and find some way to maintain human rights for everyone. The elephant in the room is the way corporations mistreat huge numbers of workers. The Fascist leader will say that under dictatorship, he will make their living conditions better. This is unlikely to happen especially if the leader tries like Mussolini to govern as a combined government/corporate alliance.
How can those of us who believe in the democratic process of making collective decisions communicate with those who want a dictatorship?
1Jamelle Bouie, “The Less Talked About Part of Kevin McCarthy’s Deal”, New York Times, January 10, 2023