Let’s Talk About Fascism, Republicans, And The US Not Becoming A Fascist State
A lot of people in America are always convinced a fascist state is about to rise. But is it? No. No it isn’t. And there are some strong reasons why.
I have a personal interest in the failed ideology of fascism. Without the Nazi regime, it’s unlikely my grandfather would have left Germany in 1946. Yeah, that’s kind of heavy! But I’ve wondered for years about the circumstances behind the rise of fascism, and, as an amateur historian, I’ve learned a few things.
Fascism Is A Failed Ideology
Let’s just get this part out of the way: Fascism is a failed ideology. No modern fascist regime has existed for any meaningful amount of historical time; most fascist movements barely lasted more than two decades, bar the outliers in Spain and Portugal. Even Spain isn’t a good example, really, as Franco was more of a rabid royalist and a political opportunist; he never stopped being a dictator but he gladly dropped fascism once it stopped suiting its purposes.
Fascism is a supposed reaction to the “failures” of liberal democracy, and yet, liberal democracy, whatever its flaws, has long outlived fascism. This doesn’t mean there aren’t fascists, of course, self-proclaimed and de facto, but they don’t have genuine political power. Most fascists, bluntly, are stooges weeping for a dictator they’ll never have. So why did fascism happen in the first place?
Why Did Fascism Shit All Over Europe?
We should be careful here of generalizing. Germany’s history is not Spain’s. We should also note that government depends on perception and experience; we shouldn’t forget that many Americans are the great-grandchildren of Africans who had horrendous atrocities visited upon them, and do still, for example. But there are a few common denominators worth noting.
The first is a relatively small, homogenous population. Italy, when fascism began to rise, was home to about 40 million people. Even today, Italian is 92% Italian. Why is this important? Because if somebody gets up there and says “I want Italy for Italians!,” well, you’re an Italian. Your friends, your family, your coworkers, they are all, nationally and ethnically, Italian. If that somebody follows up with “And I want to put all non-Italians in jail!,” you might think “That’s shit!” but it’s an abstract to you. You don’t know anybody being ripped from their home for no reason. You fit the definition of an Italian. The idea that this definition might suddenly change to exclude you won’t occur to you until it’s too late to fight back.
The most glaring, beyond that, is economic disaster. I’m not talking about a recession. I’m talking about outright, sustained, economic problems. There’s a reason that most fascist movements got their start in the 1930s, right when the global economy faced an unprecedented disaster. Fascism needs a lot of unemployed angry young men.
The third is a strong feeling of impugned nationalism. That was arguably what drove fascism at first. Germans felt (correctly, according to some historians) that the armistice ending World War I was designed to do nothing but punish them. Italians felt they’d been cheated out of their rightful share of the spoils of World War II. Franco’s entire pitch was that the royal family and the Catholic Church defined Spain.
The fourth is the explicit support of the upper classes, usually because the upper classes think fascists are useful idiots. Mussolini really got his start when the socialists took over the factories in Italy. Hitler ran around parroting the “stabbed in the back” myth about World War I that a surprising number of upper-class Germans agreed with, not least because they’d already given power to Erich Ludendorff (yeah, the villain from Wonder Woman, real dude), who argued that nations should be military dictatorships. If you look at the affluent, politically visible members of the nations that became fascist states, most of them were voluble, happy fascists. Why wouldn’t they be? Their asses were being covered. Those that didn’t agree simply left, leaving the remaining elites to fill in the vacuum.
Finally, fascists don’t get elected. They’re militaristic by nature. Hitler was “elected” chancellor in a building surrounded by his private army standing next to a reluctant political figure everybody knew was dying and had no power anyway. Before that, he got paroled by sympathetic authorities far earlier for the Beer Hall Putsch than he should have been. Mussolini led a public uprising fueled by a few elections, but mostly stooging for the upper class of Italy. Most other fascist movements took advantage of the chaos of World War II. This is important because it means fascist governments don’t have to care about electoral systems or their legitimacy.
None of this guarantees success either. Norway fits almost all of these criteria, and its fascist movement never got any traction.
There are plenty of other smaller factors here. But these are the five big ones, the ones most likely to be shared. So, why doesn’t this apply to the US?
The US Is Huge
First of all, the US has over 300 million people. That is an enormous logistical and social challenge to manage, period. Only Communism and liberal democracy have ever been effective (arguably, in either case) at managing that. Any attempt to impose fascism on the US would likely decay almost immediately into warring nations.
The US Is Diverse, Relatively
While the US is majority white, there are substantial non-white populations. Even the most fascist moment in the US, when we put Japanese people in concentration camps, was fiercely opposed at the time, and you’ll notice it took direct military action by a rival government to make that happen. Take note of what happened with the attempted “Muslim Ban;” Americans took to the streets, rallied lawyers, and so on.
The US Isn’t Facing An Economic Disaster
To be clear, the US economy is overdue for a downturn. And it’s likely going to be bad. But we’re not talking about a sustained decade of extreme unemployment. We’re dealing with a far messier and complex situation that’s out of the scope of this post, long term fundamental changes to industry and how we live that are still unfolding.
The US Has A (Relatively) Legitimately Elected Government
Look. I don’t like it. If you’re reading this, I’m going to guess you don’t like it. But, regardless of how you view the quality of our electoral system, the reality is the GOP’s political legitimacy comes from working inside that electoral system. They may gerrymander, they may suppress votes, but all of it is to maintain the fiction they are legitimately elected. Trump desperately hands out copies of his Electoral College “victory” to anybody who will take them. This is not a group that is capable, or willing, to lead a violent overthrow of the government. This is the political equivalent of flop sweat.
More to the point, the pressure is on the GOP to lead. They’ve got everything they wanted. There’s no “other” to rally the people against. They ARE the “other.”
There’s No Popular Support
David Frum said this best: With Trump, two-thirds of the population and most of the tax revenue rests in areas, politically, that hate Trump and the GOP. It would take a lot to reverse that, literally another Pearl Harbor. That’s not happening.
So If America Won’t Become A Fascist State, What Might Happen?
This isn’t to say America isn’t facing some vast challenges. A lot of Americans had a simple moral test at the voting booth in 2016 and failed it. Our nation will have to confront our ugly legacy of racism in a meaningful way, one of our political parties is about to collapse amid thirty years of policies enacted and miserably failed, our economy is changing in fundamental and potentially scary ways. We shouldn’t be worried about the rise of a fascist state. Whatever’s coming next, for good or ill, will be something entirely different.
Mostly what you’re seeing in America, which you should be worried about, is the steady destruction of federalism. The GOP has long demanded more autonomy for the states, while failing to consider what that might mean long-term as red states are dragged further to the right and blue states move further to the left.
The simple reality is that half the US lives not even in a handful of states but in metro areas, and that legally speaking, more and more those people will live in a very different America, one where marijuana is legal, one where abortion is available to those who need it, one where climate change is taken seriously and cities reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and they’re likely to completely ignore the red states as they burn.
It’s not just that the states will be legally and culturally different, it’s that red states have been encouraged to separate themselves from blue states, while being wholly dependent on the tax revenue of these states. But, if the GOP has its way, most of its tax cuts will paradoxically head to blue states, while red states starve. So, what happens when red states come to us, hat in hand, pleading for the money to not have its elderly die in the streets and its bridges from collapsing?
Good question. These are states that have spent years, and electing politicians, alienating themselves from their fellow Americans, screaming obscenities at them, passing state laws and even now, in 2016, electing a President specifically to spite them. All of this, though, has been built on the idea that Democratic voters will not simply shrug, in the face of having been told to go fuck themselves for decades, and say, “Well, hey buddy… fuck you too.”
If blue states are forced to increase state taxes to pay for the programs and initiatives they need, and they almost certainly will, the voters in those states will have little appetite for federal tax increases. Some may view some of these states, quite possibly correctly, as impossible to fix. And there will be little industrial reason to maintain federalism as oil and coal slip into obscurity, robots take over factories, and agricultural products get relocated to closer areas.
And what would the red states’ response be? To scramble the military they don’t pay for and increasingly consists of the ethnic groups they revile? To cut off the federal tax revenue they’re negative on? To stop trading with blue states that don’t want what they have to sell anyway? To shut down the factories they’ll be increasingly unlikely to be employed at?
I’d like to think blue states will ultimately be compassionate. Or that red states will start booting out Republicans or electing more moderate ones, people who will fix the damage. That seems a bit more likely, especially as Republican policies collapse at the state level. That’s the best case scenario. Another likely one is that red states effectively get absorbed by blue states. The worst case is the red states are just told “Well, you said you didn’t need us. And we decided you’re right.”
I hope that doesn’t happen. But we’ll see.