Americans May Only See Fascism in the Rear-View Mirror When it’s Too Late

Typically, oligarchies flip in one of two directions within a generation: either back to democracy, or into a full-blown fascist police state

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Now that the January 6th Commission is dead, it’s time for Pelosi and Schumer to create Congressional panels with subpoena power to take a serious look at the rise of fascism in the GOP, from the Trump/Manafort effort in 2015 through the vote-rigging laws being passed in state after state today. It may be our last chance to expose and stop this country’s slide into fascism.

History shows that most democratic nations don’t realize how serious their authoritarian fascism problem is until it overtakes them altogether. We saw it in the 1930s in Italy, Germany, Spain and Japan; today it’s happened in Hungary, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, The Philippines and Brazil, and is well underway in Poland, India and multiple smaller countries.

Here in America, the GOP today has a serious fascism problem, and it’s endangering all of us. It’s closer than most of us realize.

Fascism isn’t just about the merger of oligarch and state interests; it also requires a repudiation of the rule of law and the institutions of democracy itself.

This is exactly what is happening deep within the Republican Party at this very moment. Trumpism was always about fascism.

Former Virginia Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman was on CNN a few months ago saying that every single day he’s receiving private messages on Facebook with new Trump-supporting conspiracy theories.

Republicans who voted to impeach and convict Donald Trump found their local and state parties repudiating them, fueled by the rage of people who’ve bought into false beliefs of a Jewish- or Black-controlled “deep state” worked against their savior, Donald Trump, and “stole” the election for Joe Biden.

We’ve seen this movie before, and, tragically, history tells us most countries only recognize their fascism problem in the rear-view mirror after it’s consumed their democracy.

This is very much how Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany a decade after he was arrested and imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the government of Bavaria in 1923. It took his movement and his political colleagues ten more years to worm their way into power in 1933.

They did it by spreading books like Mein Kampf and pamphlets proclaiming deep state socialist and Jewish conspiracies and a Lugenpresse or “lying press,” promoting them with a particular emphasis in right-leaning southern states like Bavaria and the economically hard-hit rural parts of the country.

What took the German fascists a decade is happening in a matter of a few short years here in the United States because of the velocity of social media.

It’s being amplified by oligarch-owned media and the cowardice or opportunism of senior Republican officials, unwilling to honestly and openly confront the lies pushed by fascist conspiracy theorists or just jumping on-board to ride the wave. Their shooting down a January 6th Commission makes this vividly clear.

In his second impeachment trial, Senators representing about 230 million Americans voted to convict Donald Trump of incitement to insurrection last January, while senators representing about 100 million Americans voted not to convict him.

Nonetheless, the message in rightwing media and across the fascist underground on social media, often echoed by mainstream media, was that the Senate voted to “exonerate” or “acquit” Trump.” (In fact, the vote merely “failed to convict” him, although a majority of the Senate voted to convict.)

And now that same rightwing media meme machine is pushing the idea that January 6th at the Capitol building was “just another normal tourist day” or that Antifa was responsible if anything bad actually happened. There’s a full-court-press on to rewrite history.

To see how pervasive this fascism crisis is within conservative media, just check out the daily newsletter tracking them over at therighting.com.

Meanwhile, the majority of elected Republicans in Congress voted to eject Liz Cheney from leadership — a woman with impeccable right-wing credentials — because she merely insisted on telling the truth about the election of 2020 and what happened on January 6th.

These are all symptoms of a political party taken over by a fascist element. For five years, this element has been nurtured and fed online by foreign governments, a small number of American oligarchs, and American white supremacists.

A country slides into a fascist oligarchy when it’s legislature ceases to attend to the needs of the majority of the people, and instead only passes laws or promulgates policies that help the oligarchic class.

As several studies have documented, particularly the work of Gilens and Page, this process began with the Reagan revolution in 1981 and by the early 2000s was so solidified in our national politics that Congress had ceased to pass laws and policies that bore any resemblance to what the majority of Americans wanted, shown by national public policy polling.

Prior to the Reagan revolution of 1981, Congress typically did what the majority of Americans wanted. That’s how we got Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, housing supports, Pell Grants for college, long-term unemployment, a minimum wage, food and drug safety, and laws and agencies protecting our clean air and water.

Since the Reagan revolution, however, Congress has been largely fixated on deregulating industry and unleashing predatory bankers and industrial polluters on the American public. Their singular focus has been tax cuts, which have driven tens of trillions of dollars out of the pockets and wealth of the American working class and into the money bins of this nation’s oligarchs.

Oligarchy rarely lasts more than a generation; it’s an extraordinarily unstable form of government, because the people are not getting what they want or need.

Typically, oligarchies flip in one of two directions within that generation: either back to democracy, or into a full-blown fascist police state.

Twice before in American history, oligarchies have risen up and challenged our government itself, and both times we defeated them.

The first time happened in the 1830-1860 era in the South, when southern plantation owners consolidated power in those states and ended any semblance of democracy, rigging elections and imposing a police state. They finally reached out to destroy that bothersome democracy to the north in what we call the Civil War.

We defeated those oligarchs and broke up their political and economic fortunes. The plantation of Robert E. Lee, for example, is now known as Arlington National Cemetery and the Parchman plantation in Louisiana is now a state prison.

Fascist oligarchs rose up again in America in the 1920s and 30s, and in 1933 put together a “businessman‘s conspiracy” plot to kidnap or kill President Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace him with a “good Republican.”

President Roosevelt got ahead of that curve, after Marine General Smedley Butler blew the whistle on the conspiracy, and declared open war on the oligarchs he referred to as “economic royalists.”

“These economic royalists,” FDR said, “complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power.”

Back then, oligarchs funding the Republican Party also complained that helping the average person instead of just giving tax cuts to the rich was “unconstitutional,“ and cluttered their stages with American flags when they gave political speeches, as if to demonstrate their uber-patriotism.

FDR called them out: “In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.”

FDR called together the American people with his regular fireside chats, and the American people rejected the Republican’s fascist oligarchs. As a result, the GOP never controlled Congress for more than a two-year period from 1933 to 1996.

Today, using the cloak of social media that allows their most virulent and poisonous lies to spread invisibly and unchecked, fascist oligarchs, foreign trolls and an authoritarian-loving group within the Republican grassroots are again denigrating democracy and the rule of law in America.

Some Democrats, watching this process and its consequence, are delighting in the internal battles within the GOP. We should be careful what we root for.

Both psychology and history show that about a fifth of the population of any country are people who lean toward authoritarianism. Rather than valuing democracy, debate, and the rule of law, their highest value is safety and stability.

Therefore, they will embrace any oligarch who points to an “other” and provides even the weakest evidence that those “others” are responsible for the country’s current crisis.

This is exactly the dynamic we’re seeing play out right now. The “others” these fascists are identifying specifically include “socialist” Democrats, Black people in large cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia who Republicans say engaged in widespread “voter fraud,” and Jews like George Soros who, they say, are funding them.

This bizarre claim is at the foundation of Donald Trump‘s “stop the steal” movement and the white supremacist argument now being pushed by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that Black and Brown people are engaged in a conspiracy to “replace” white people in America; this represents the greatest threat to the future of democracy in America.

Fascist Republican politicians are, at this moment, using it to craft and promote increasingly draconian voter suppression legislation; over 350 such bills have been introduced in 47 states since Trump lost the election.

Even worse, most of these laws give Republican-controlled legislatures, rather than election officials, the power to decide which ballots are “legitimate” and should be counted and which are “illegitimate” and should be thrown out.

As former Congressman Riggleman told CNN, the GOP‘s plan for 2022 is to run on “stop the steal” and “ballot integrity.” These are code for making it harder for all but middle-class white people to vote, and represent a direct assault on the very foundations of American democracy.

Most authoritarians are “authoritarian followers,” but they’re primed to rapidly follow any competent “authoritarian leader” demagogue who claims that he alone can save them.

The spread of this fascist movement within the Republican Party, and its embrace by powerful and high profile people like Senators Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Rick Scott and Josh Hawley, represents the greatest threat America has faced since the 1930s. McConnell’s and McCarthy’s decision to refuse to investigate January 6th further proves the death-grip this movement has on their Party.

The best option now is for Congress to pass a 2021 version of former Special Prosecutor or Independent Counsel law and initiate a Nixon/Reagan/Clinton-investigation-style prosecution of Trump, his cronies, and his allies still in Congress. But that won’t survive a filibuster, so we need a Plan B.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi must immediately appoint Congressional committees in the Senate and House to investigate the entire mess, from the 2016 election to January 6th to the efforts today to rig the 2022 and 2024 elections in the states. To avoid grandstanding and obstruction, the only Republicans on those bipartisan committees should be the few (but enough) who voted to impeach Trump or to authorize a January 6th Commission.

If they don’t, 2024 in America may simply echo 1933 in Europe.

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If you’d like to do a deeper dive on these topics, I’ve written a series of small, quickly-read books breaking them down. 

The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment describes that Amendment’s roots in the Southern Slave Patrols and how American policing grew out of that and is used today as a violent system of control against marginalized people.

The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America lays out how a corruptly-stacked Supreme Court is the principal instrument that brought us here. 

The Hidden History of the War on Voting describes the processes through which oligarchs corrupted the Republican Party and the American political system. 

The Hidden History of Monopolies describes how the oligarchic class, exploiting weaknesses within our political system, managed to seize control of virtually our entire economy, giving them massive political power. 

The Hidden History of American Oligarchy reveals the two previous times in this country when we almost tipped over into oligarchy [the Civil War era and the attempts to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt] and exposes oligarch efforts to pull it off again today and how we can stop them. 

And The Hidden History of American Healthcare shows how the most important and central function of government — maintaining the health and well-being of its people — has been co-opted and seized by a small group of “healthcare oligarchs” and how a Medicare For All system can overthrow much of their power and end their plunder of the American middle class.

All are available through your favorite bookseller.