Is Biden Fighting Fascism or Inventing Enemies?
The US President has begun to target far right Republican's as resurgent fascists - has he gone nuts?
On the 1st of September 2022 US President Joe Biden provided something of an incendiary speech. Speaking about the “Soul of the nation“, Biden described extremist elements of the Republican party as “semi-fascism” and suggested that the party as a whole had taken on anti-democratic principles as part of their core ideology. Asking many a TV pundit how far we can identify today's MAGA republican's with the Axis politician's of the '40s.
It might be worth heeding Biden’s warning about the rise of fascism in the US, for one thing he may be the last US president to have lived through the rise of fascism in the West - proving, at a minimum, that he is no spring chicken. But for another it may appear that the historical parallels of the rise of MAGA republicans does echo fascist movements considered long resigned to the history books. A bit like Liz Truss’s tax boost for the wealthy.
The first issue with any discussion of a modern rise of fascism has to do with understanding what the political ideology even is? For many fascism is associated with Hugo Boss adorning, small moustachioed German men. However, it is important to remember that the birthplace of fascism was actually in Italy (along with gelato, limoncello and racy senators), with the fascismo party of Benito Mussolini pining for power in the ailing 1920s Kingdom by preaching unity through nationalism.
Mussolini’s fascismo contained less of the Nazi-style discriminatory racial hierarchies and leaned somewhat less into anti-semitic sentiment. It did nevertheless preach an attitude of anti-democracy, something of a holdover from Mussolini’s own early socialist days. It’s a sharing of political ideas across diametrically opposed political wings that is reminiscent of the small difference in economic approaches of Blair/Clinton “leftists” and Reagan/Thatcher “rightists”. All capitalists at heart??!!
The Italian Blackshirts entirely ignored democracy in their approach to gaining a mandate in the nation, electing instead to simply claim power through force, when in 1922 they presented themselves to the King and demanded to be placed in power. In 1925 Mussolini’s seizure was complete, as he totally dismantled the democratic organs of Italian government and declared himself “Il Duce”. A bit like Putin has claimed his “Il Annexazione in Ukraino”. This approach to power acquisition was one of the core tenants of fascist ideologies. And you could argue it still lurks in the form of “if ya want it just go get it, saying bye bye to the Amazon rainforest or peace on capitol hill”.
While we often think of the Nazi’s as having been unfortunately voted into power in German history this overlooks another key historical event. Hitler had previously attempted the Italian playbook of taking power when in 1923 his young Nazi party kicked off the Beer Hall Putsch, not a retro beer brand but a violent claiming of German power which failed, and saw Hitler and his conspirators thrown in jail. Reminiscent of events we saw in Washington last year?
In 1930’s Spain, Franco’s nationalists were by no means elected to their positions of power. On the other hand, the bitterly divisive Spanish Civil War saw Franco violently grab governing control in Spain. That very same Civil War also began following the victory of the “Popular Front“ in Spain, a left wing group of parties who threatened the control of the traditional conservative wing of the party. The decision of those majoritarian conservatives to enter the civil war on the side of Franco effectively condemned them to the adoption of fascism and would see them plunge the country into the 30+ year dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco. A reality which at least unleashed the reactionery left brains of both Hemingway and Picasso!
Throughout the key fascist histories of major Western nations we can identify some core traits of fascisms rise. For one, that rise is often violent, often in response to a perceived rise in left-wing success, and, most importantly, fundamentally anti-democratic both as it strives for power and especially after it gains it.
The question now becomes if we can identify these same tendencies in the modern day MAGA inspired Republican Party. One event that might be particularly reminiscent of the fascist movements of the early 20th century would be the January 6th Capitol Riots. The use of violence particularly targeted at the democratic process harkens quite significantly to Franco, Hitler and Mussolini’s uprisings prior to their seizure of power. Most in particular the January 6th events echo the Beer Hall Putsch, the perpetrators were largely unsuccessful, mostly driven by agitators, and included the participation of only a few of the political wings actual major figures. Mind you there were fewer pints pulled in the latest.
But this is only one of a number violent events that have been carried out by far-right actors in the US, including a plot to kidnap a leading Democratic governor and a bombing spree targeting key Democrat figures.
While the Republican party has successfully distanced itself from most of these violent events, they can be seen more directly adopting certain fascistic principles of anti-democracy. In nearly all Republican majority states aggressive gerrymandering has produced some of the most electorally unrepresentative maps in 3 generations.
The actions of Republican state leaderships have in turn convinced Democratically controlled states to produce more gerrymandered (who comes up with these names?) maps of their own, creating an overall less democratic nation. It is undeniable that it has come in the favour of the Republicans though, generic polling has Democrats up 2 points over the Republicans, a result that if replicated in November would produce a Republican House of Representatives. Proving that maths doesn’t have to add up to a whole hill of representative beans.
More significantly than gerrymandering, Republicans have also begun a silent campaign to put in place candidates supporting looser laws regulating election day. In particular significant scores of candidates have suggested that upon election they would open up their states to independent auditors - perhaps better known as the folks that tried to fraudulently overturn the 2020 election results of Arizona and Wisconsin.
On top of this Republicans continue their assault on the voting rights of minority groups particularly in the South. Immediately following the shock victories of Joe Biden, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Georgia, the state’s Republican government passed highly restrictive new voting rights laws, assaulting the access to the polls of African-American, working class and urban voters - you know, those that might not support the same Republicans quite as vociferously as the whiter, more rural versions.
Overall, it can be tough to imagine that the principles of fascism might be on the rise in the United States, but here is just one more thing to think about: this isn’t new to US politics. When Adolf Hitler began designing his horrifying approach to undesirable citizens in his Third Reich he searched for examples to draw inspiration from. The place he turned to? America. The Jim Crow south and American destruction of Native Nations became the number 1 historical example for Hitler’s Nazi regime. Some have insisted that Biden has been extreme in suggesting America could be infiltrated by fascist influence, but the US is not immune to it, and has certainly influenced fascist regimes in their own way too.
Maybe the time has come for more of us to put this creeping reality in our progressive pipes and smoke it. Biden clearly has.
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