It’s taking us far too long to recognize the ugly hand of fascism. Why, you may ask? History demonstrates rising fascist politics from far-right movements become increasingly entrenched, operating under a seemingly invisible cloak that denies reality.
In our current historical moment, this previously unrecognizable but seismic shift in U.S. politics seems to baffle both moderate conservatives and centrist liberals. Looking for historical precedents since WWII, alarmed politicians and concerned citizens today are reacting much like the journalist in Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here:
“The one thing that most perplexed him was that there could be a dictator seemingly so different from the fervent Hitlers and gesticulating Fascists …; a dictator with something of the earthy American sense of humor.” Lewis’s journalist continued to privately express his belief, 'It can’t happen here.'”
In the late 1920s and early 1930s liberal and progressive German citizens along with much of the outside world actually found the rise and newness of the Nazi Party and fascism as an unrecognizable form of political governance. German and Italian fascists successfully demonized liberal democracies as weak. Democracy, they claimed, weakened their nations – and the need for reasoned debate was unnecessary.
Six years before he took total power in 1933, Hitler in Mein Kampf denounced parliamentary democracy for failing the nation by not having one unified voice to address Germany’s social and economic problems. What must be opposed was what he perceived as a menace from “the organizational power of Marxism,” a scapegoat Hitler conflated with widespread European anti-Semitism. For the fascists, state-sanctioned street violence for dictatorial power rather than reasoned debate was the solution.
And now, right before our disbelieving eyes, the far-right today has effectively shut down any meaningful debate around critical issues facing the nation. Like observers during the post-WWI era who tried to fit the Nazi Party and Mussolini’s fascists into existing forms of governance, our contemporary political establishment clumsily dances in closed-loop circles trying to fit a fascistic far-right political party into existing U.S. political structures. In an era where a far-right Supreme Court is unanswerable to the opinions and desires of the majority of Americans, the legislative efforts of the Democratic Party today are in a state of political paralysis.
As political processes continues to stagnate, U.S. creeping fascism of the 21st century enters the void with threats and falsehoods. Or, as Jamelle Bouie recently titled an analysis of the far right puts it,
"Next Time Trump Tries to Steal an Election, He Won't Need a Mob."
Disinformation and Lies Disavowed
With facile cries of “freedom,” “liberty,” and “free speech,” far-right legislators and their conspiratorial MAGA followers disdain any semblance of civic reasoning and discourse. By engaging in a form of moral panic that singles out “cancel culture,” Trump and his allies divert attention “from structural injustice toward a specific ostracized group as an embodiment of evil.”
Far-right Republicans then cast themselves as victims of a cancel culture of their own making. To be clear, the far right wishes to cancel any efforts to examine or quell disinformation, which according to a dictionary definition is:
“The dissemination of deliberately false information, especially when supplied by a government or its agent to a foreign power or to the media, with the intention of influencing the policies or opinions of those who receive it; false information so supplied.”
In early July 2022, for example, Homeland Security announced that it had set up a committee to review disinformation, which was already a recognized threat by the agency during the Trump administration. The director of national intelligence along with the FBI, Pentagon, Federal Election Commission, and State Department all recognized foreign and domestic threats to disrupt U.S. politics with disinformation. The far right bully pulpit immediately reacted that such investigations into disinformation will “cancel” conservative values.
A spokesperson for a far-right Republican Congressman twisted national security threats to whine about President Biden: “His idea of ‘disinformation’ is parents speaking out about their kids being taught critical race theory…. Biden’s aim is to use the power of the federal government to shut speech down.” Another far-right senator declared that looking into sources of the national security disinformation was “policing the speech, thoughts and opinions of American citizens.”
Such reactionary absolutist strategies of far-right talking points serve their purpose to effectively close the door to any semblance of civil conversations and debates.
Truth is What the Far Right Declares It Is and Is Not
Far-right lies and accompanying hand-wringing from manufactured grievances reflecting their version of freedom distracts us from the reality of an increasingly violence-sanctioned politics – whose only purpose is taking the reins of political power. Twisting reality through falsehoods serves to create legislative inaction on issues that would benefit the vast majority of the public – like green energy alternatives, gun control, sustainable living wage jobs, affordable healthcare and housing, and so on. No action in our troubled times opens a door for fascist politics to fill the political vacuum of inaction. The outcome of the far-right backlash is a unique and apparently nameless U.S. 21st century phenomena of an increasingly dominant ideology.
“It’s hard to imagine how we get back from this when this is how our elected representatives are behaving – when we can’t agree on, you know, the truth.”
But that’s where the nation is – in an unrecognizable rise of a new approach to U.S. governance. More than simply a divided country, the U.S. is experiencing significant in-roads by far-right extremism to create a new governing regime, one that suppresses the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of authoritarian fascist politics. Lawyer and author David Renton cautions that “the far right’s rejection of fascism may not continue indefinitely.”
Far-right extremist movements within liberal democracies appear covertly, and we don’t comprehend embedded fascist politics until it’s too late. In other words, as in Sinclair Lewis’s novel, it can happen here.