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On the risk of fascism in the US

Fintan O'Toole wrote in June 2018 that "what is being trialled is fascism" and "what we are living with is pre-fascism."

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

And, furthermore, O'Toole wrote, fascism aims to "inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery."

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, after resigning from the Republican party, told Rolling Stone in June 2018:

We're seeing at this moment a president of the United States do five things. He is using mass rallies that are fueled by constant lying to incite fervor and devotion in his political base. The second thing we see him do is to affix blame for every problem in the world. Many of them are complex, not so different from the issues faced at the end of Agrarian age and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We see him attack minority populations with words like "invade" and "infest." The third thing he does is a create a shared sense of victimization caused by the scapegoated populations. This is the high act of Trumpism: From Trump to Sean Hannity to Laura Ingraham, everyone is a victim. The fourth thing he does is he alleges conspiracy by nefarious and unseen hidden forces — the "deep state." And the fifth thing is the assertion that "I am the law, that I am above it." He just said immigrants don't get a hearing; they don't get a court representation.

"Revolutionary conservatism," if you happen to come across the term, may be a reference to fascism.

In October 2019, Paul Krugman argued that "if Trump were cannier and more self-controlled, the march to autocracy might well be unstoppable." But because "he actually seems to believe the bizarre conspiracy theories his supporters drum up to excuse his actions" and "evidently lacks any kind of self-restraint" to prevent himself from self-incriminating, American democracy has a fighting chance.

The surprising thing about the constitutional crisis we’re now facing is that it took so long to happen. It was obvious from early on that the president of the United States is a would-be autocrat who accepts no limits on his power and considers criticism a form of treason, and he is backed by a party that has denied the legitimacy of its opposition for many years. Something like this moment was inevitable.

What still hangs in the balance is the outcome.

In October 2019, Dana Milbank wrote:

[After taking office,] Trump soon stated that “I have the absolute right” to fire FBI Director James Comey. He subsequently proclaimed the “absolute right” to provide Russia with an ally’s highly classified intelligence; the “absolute right” to pardon himself; the “absolute right” to shut down the southern border; the “absolute right” to fire special counsel Robert Mueller; the “absolute right” to sign an executive order removing the Constitution’s birthright-citizenship provision; the “absolute right” to contrive a national emergency to deny Congress the power of the purse; the “absolute right” to order U.S. businesses out of China; the “absolute right” to release apparent spy-satellite imagery of Iran; and, most recently, the “absolute right” to ask other countries to furnish evidence that Joe Biden is corrupt.

Kellyanne Conway asserted Trump’s “absolute right” to give his son-in-law a security clearance over security professionals’ objections. White House counsel Pat Cipollone said current and former White House officials are “absolutely immune” from testifying before Congress. As others have noted, Trump has repeatedly said the Constitution’s Article II empowers him “to do whatever I want” and bestows on him “all of these rights at a level nobody has ever seen before.”

* * *

He responded to the resulting impeachment inquiry in the House with a bizarre letter from Cipollone asserting, essentially, that Trump is exempt from all congressional oversight and won’t participate in this “unconstitutional inquiry” — even though the Constitution expressly gives the House “the sole Power of Impeachment.”

Christine Emba's opinion for the Washington Post in November 2019:

Promoting his new book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us,” Donald Trump Jr. naturally assumed that any protesters at his event at UCLA on Nov. 11 would be coming at him from the left.

But the hecklers who shouted him offstage last weekend hailed from the right. They were booing his college Republican hosts for not being reactionary enough.

Which means: The next wave of American conservatism is further to the right than President Trump himself.

John Stoehr writes in November 2019 about the fascism that can come if white people "tune out" its rise or otherwise assume it will turn out OK.

* * *

Jake Thomas wrote in September 2019:

CNN analyst and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa noted on Monday that many of President Donald Trump’s political talking points just so happen to coincide with those put forth by Russia’s troll farm, as detailed in a criminal complaint filed in court last year. Rangappa highlighted that Trump’s Sunday tweet warning of civil war if he is impeached, by way of a quote from evangelical Pastor Robert Jeffress, was also one of the talking points pushed by Russians.

* * *

"This is what authoritarians do. They tell you exactly what they hope to achieve, and how they hope to do it. The problem is that nations don’t often take them seriously, because they can’t imagine the unthinkable. My friends: it’s time to imagine the unthinkable."
“American Democracy Will Die in 150 Days.” Umair Haque. Eudaimonia. June 9, 2020.

"What was the purpose of the mayhem caused by police in front of the White House? Simple: It was a photo-op of Trump with a Bible he clearly doesn’t read in front of a church he doesn’t attend. The once seemingly hyperbolic comparisons to Hitler became crystallized. Trump signaled, through a series of disturbing events last week, that he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to hold onto power, even if it means literally and figuratively trampling on the rights of Americans."
“Fascism Has Arrived in America. Now What?” Danielle Moodie. Zora. June 10, 2020.

"The pseudo-fascist establishment in the US has only one goal, retention of power to preserve the current collapsing system. That establishment consists of a small minority who have made fortunes at everyone’s expense and have no interest in any future that does not make them even richer and more powerful. They have no interest in rights or human well being, and the lies that they use with the outrageous claims that they make to keep people in line."
“America Post-Collapse.” Mike Meyer. Age of Awareness. June 6, 2020.

"Autocrats declare their intentions early on," Masha Gessen says in Part 1 of Surviving Autocracy. "We disbelieve or ignore them at our peril." Trump has always expressed his admiration for autocrats. When he cozies up to them, there's usually no broader political strategy for U.S. benefit. He might have a one-off transaction in mind for his own benefit, Gessen says, but, more so, he genuinely enjoys their company and wants to portray himself as one of them.

"Senator Chris Murphy just said," Scott Dworkin reported on April 13, 2020, that "Trump playing a campaign video in the White House briefing room was against the law."

On June 25, 2020, the Stockholm-based Institute for Democracy published an open letter signed by hundreds of former world leaders and Nobel Laureates claiming that governments worldwide are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to scuttle democratic norms and processes.

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