Many people think we’ve hit peak fascism, but Wednesday was only a bump in the road. Trump, his neofascist followers, and over half the congressional Republican caucus were just pushing the limits to see what they could get away with.
And in the US Capitol, and state capitols around the country that were similarly attacked, Trump’s fascist followers learned that the personal price they’d pay for sedition and treason is less than the penalty for drunk driving.
The neofascist base has been built, person by person, by talk radio, Facebook and national media chasing eyeballs with Trump’s fascist spectacle. The coin of the realm among members of that base are brutality and violence.
Fascism is not something new to America. This country has run a racially-based pseudo-fascist regime for 400 years, particularly in the South; it just hasn’t been widely recognized by the white-owned, white-dominated media and educational systems in this country.
Raw, unrestrained capitalism without any semblance of a social safety net is what characterized the economic brutality endured by poor and working class people throughout much of American history. You could call it “fascism light,” as the enforcement and impact of it was not as systematic as a full-blown fascist system and largely left middle class white people unscathed.
However, when the political power of the very wealthy and politically active oligarchs among the capitalist class becomes unrestrained, like in 2010 when the Supreme Court in Citizens United declared that billionaires and corporations could funnel unlimited amounts of money to politicians and political parties, the next phase is usually full-blown fascism.
As German industrialist oligarch Fritz Tyssen pointed out in his book I Paid Hitler, fascism seizes power when the very rich in a society throw their support behind an otherwise out-of-power populist-fascist wannabe political figure. Egged on by billionaire donors, American fascists like Senators Hawley and Cruz have enthusiastically promoted the destruction of the American voting system at the core of our republic.
But, again, brutality is the key to fascism. Until recently, it has been mostly economic brutality in America, but now Trump and his followers have added physical brutality. When you see physical brutality emerging, you can pretty much bet that you’re entering a full-blown fascist era.
For example, during the fascist invasion of the Capitol building, about 400 members of Congress and their staffs were confined to one committee room, a situation that made social distancing impossible. Nonetheless, according to several members present and reported by The New York Times, dozens of Republicans refused to wear masks, provoking pleas and literal cries from some of the older members. The maskless Republicans ignored them, and in some cases even laughed at them.
According to several reports, these maskless Republicans reveled in their brutality and the fear they were inspiring in other members, particularly the older Democrats.
In the era of 1935–1980, America developed strong protections for workers and the middle class (particularly the white middle class), but there was substantial pushback, too.
Fred Koch and friends funded and built the John Birch Society mostly in reaction to the 1954 Brown v Board Supreme Court decision requiring school integration, and their campaign to keep public schools segregated morphed, over the following two decades, into a movement to end virtually all forms of protective government regulation that would diminish corporate profits.
The Reagan Revolution put this movement into the mainstream of American politics, killing rules that allowed for unions, and freeing polluters and poisoners to make more money while wreaking their havoc on Americans. Union membership went from a third of Americans at the start of Reagan’s term to a mere 6 percent of the private workforce today, a form of economic and environmental brutality that’s hit minority communities particularly hard but also gutted the middle class overall.
Now, as I point out in The Hidden History of American Oligarchy, we’re entering the full-blown fascist phase of this process. Economic, racial and environmental brutality are now paired with mob violence to keep environmentalists’ mouths shut and working people, particularly those who are members of minority groups, terrified.
And while people of color have always been the first targets, white people who dare stand up to Trump are now coming into “their turn in the barrel.”
When Andrew Johnson pardoned the entire Confederate army after the Civil War, he set up over 100 years of Jim Crow and perpetual race-based fascist violence against black people.
If Republicans in Washington DC and state capitals across the country continue to minimize this new GOP fascist movement, and federal and state governments continue to let its perpetrators and promoters off the hook, the American experiment as we’ve known it is close to a very dangerous end.