Dress it up with a new name. It’s still ugly.
Alt-right. Nationalism. Populism. This is some of the new terminology currently inundating our media. And our world.
After the shock of Brexit and equally shocking victory of a U.S. president elect whose ruthless anti-immigrant rhetoric and no stated plan besides building a wall propelled him to the Oval Office, now we have Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National Party in France, assuming a lead in the latest French presidential election poll.
Already, we’re seeing parts of Europe, scene of perhaps the most calamitous slaughter-wars in Western history, edging toward the far right. According to TIME, “Austria is poised to elect a far-right President . . . and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, recently termed ‘galloping populism’ [in reference] to movements like the Sweden Democrats, the National Front in France, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and other voices on the far right calling for their countries to close up and turn inward.”
Most, if not all, of these far-right ideologies rely upon a foundation of extreme nationalist fervor, opposition to an “other” who is scapegoated for societal and economic deficiencies, and the emergence of a champion-leader who emphasizes all the above. Increasing fear of terrorism, mistrust of immigration, and globalization appear to be the culprits in the rise of this alarming trend. But is it so simple to explain?
In France, Marine Le Pen’s policies are both nationalistic and xenophobic. Repeatedly in her speeches, she has thundered about “the people”, depicting a once-powerful nation rendered impotent and prostrate before liberal economic policies and multiculturalism dictated from abroad —in particular, the EU. This type of generalized hysteria prompted Brexit, and a subsequent deluge of severe buyer’s remorse. In certain telling ways, Le Pen’s platform echoes Brexit and our president elect’s, though in France, the monster of anti-Semitism is so ripe that Jews are leaving in droves. According to CNN, “Nearly 8,000 French Jews moved to Israel in the year following the Charlie Hebdo attack, according to the Jewish Agency, which handles Jewish immigration, or aliyah, to Israel. . . The number of French Jews moving to Israel has doubled — and doubled again — in the past five years.”
Here in the U.S., fear of a reversal or stalling of further progress on LGBQT rights and women’s rights, personified by the pro-gay conversion therapy and anti-abortion stance of VP elect Mike Pence, as well as the threat of a Muslim registry espoused by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and the hydra-head appointment of Steve Bannon, a well-documented anti-Semitic, homophobic and white supremacist as lead counsel to the president elect, have reached monstrous proportions. Suddenly, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, as detailed in our Declaration of Independence by our Founding Fathers, doesn’t seem so achievable anymore.
Let’s look at these terms and see if the fascist has new clothes:
- Populism is defined as a political party claiming to represent the common people.
- Nationalism is a shared group feeling in the significance of a geographical and sometimes demographic region, seeking independence for its culture or ethnicity that holds that group together.
- Alt-right defines a group with far right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in the United States.
- Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete and regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties.
Still with me? If so, it would seem that what we’re facing is a 21st century mutation of an early 20th century virus. It has assumed new clothes in both its names and implied goals, but the overall concept is essentially the same. To save your country and your race, you must reject multiculturalism and globalization. You must shut down your borders and weed out the “other” in your midst, as they pose a threat to your safety and livelihood. Your future depends on eradicating said threat. And you need a leader who will accomplish it.
Now, for the moment, we could argue that technically speaking, President Elect Trump is not a fascist. He’s a petty authoritarian / reality star with delusions of grandeur. Which, I’d respectfully argue in return, is precisely how a fascist gestates. He feeds on popular adulation, lashes out at his critics, and believes his way is the only way. Trump’s appointments to his administration and the company he entertains are hardly reassuring. He claimed he was going “to drain the swamp,” but what’s he done instead is invite the swamp’s denizens to sit at the table with him. We could argue that these alt-right, nationalist, populists aren’t new to us, but when was the last time we saw them speaking up for a president elect? You could argue that the recent video of alt-right speaker Richard Spencer in Washington D.C. being greeted by faux-Nazi salutes is par of the course for Spencer. Except, he was also just interviewed on CNN and has stated his dream is of “a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans,” and he believes in “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” Yeah. Because ethnic cleansing is always a peaceful process. And why would we even listen to him? Well, because Trump opened the cellar door. And last time I checked, he hasn’t said anything to close that door. (Sorry, “Stop it” doesn’t qualify). No, he’s actually considering some of these regressive trolls for high-level positions. Again, that’s what a 21st century fascist-in-the-making would do. Stack the cabinet in his favor, rely on a national party too craven and self-interested to call his bluff, and, oh, yes, keep having rallies to rouse up the people— which Trump has stated he wants to do. He also has rejected the trappings of his new position, the commensurate salary and obligation to dwell full-time in the presidential manor. You see, he’s a guy of the people. He’s here for us, the common folk. He’s going to make us great again.
Sound familiar? If not, you need to brush up on your history.
We can call it whatever we like. We can split hairs and contend we’d never allow a fascist into the White House because we have checks and balances in our system to prohibit such an unthinkable occurrence. Right, like the popular vote. Which to date, no one has heeded. And we can say that France, which has some of the strongest laws in the world against hate speech, will never allow someone like Marine Le Pen to win the presidency. We can argue it all and normalize it, justify it, and play wait-and-see. Because this is America, after all, and we don’t like to have our Monday football game interrupted by petty political realities. He won. She lost. Let’s move on.
Whatever we choose to call it, it’s still ugly. It’s still gruesome. And it’s marching to a town near you.