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Fascist? Semi-fascist? You Be the Judge

You may have heard that Joe Biden said something impolite recently. At a fundraiser, he said:

What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just T____, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something — it’s like semi-fascism.

Later, at a rally, he added:

The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security. They’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace — embrace — political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.

Today, the Guardian published an interview with Jenna Griswold, who chairs the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State (the officials who, among other things, administer state elections):

Colorado’s secretary of state, Jena Griswold, is warning anyone who will listen that the fate of free and fair elections in the United States hangs in the balance in this November’s midterm contests.

In many of the most competitive races for offices with authority over US elections, Republicans nominated candidates who have embraced or echoed [the] myth of a stolen election in 2020.

Griswold … is urging Americans to pay attention to the once-sleepy down-ballot contests for secretary of state – lest they lose their democracy.

“What we can expect from the extreme Republicans running across this country is to undermine free and fair elections for the American people, strip Americans of the right to vote, refuse to address security breaches and, unfortunately, be more beholden to Mar-a-Lago than the American people,” Griswold, 37, said….

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post welcomed Biden’s language:

Good for him. Those who cherish democracy need to call out the proto-fascist [my emphasis] tendencies now seizing the T____-occupied GOP.

Republican candidates up and down the November ballot reject the legitimate outcome of the last election — and are making it easier to reject the will of the voters in the next. Violent anti-government rhetoric from party leaders targets the FBI, the Justice Department and the IRS. A systemic campaign of disinformation makes their supporters feel victimized by shadowy “elites.” These are hallmarks of authoritarianism.

President Biden still apparently thinks most Republican politicians are “mainstream”. They haven’t fallen under Dear Leader’s spell. But the past six years have shown that the Republican “mainstream” is now the Republican minority.

So what about fascism or semi-fascism? How should we describe today’s Republican Party?

The internet has lots of descriptions of fascism. I found one from six years ago, published two weeks before the disastrous 2016 election. “How fascist is D____ T____?” was written by J. R. McNeill, a history professor:

Since the 1950s, dozens of top historians and political scientists have put fascism, especially the Italian and German versions, under the microscope. They’ve come up with a pretty solid agreement on what it is, both as a political ideology and as a political movement, factoring in all the (sometimes contradictory) things its progenitors said as they ascended to power. As a political ideology, fascism has eight main traits. As a political movement, it has three more. So: Just how fascist is T____?

Prof. McNeill then lists eleven fascistic traits and grades the Republican’s two-time  presidential candidate and favorite to run again on each trait, using a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being Hitler or Mussolini-level fascism. Keep in mind that in 2016 the professor hadn’t yet seen the “billionaire” candidate in action as president.

1 — Hyper-Nationalism: “By the standards of American politics, he is a hyper-nationalist, but by the standards of historical fascism, he is not in the upper echelon”: 2 points

2 — Militarism: “By and large, [he] does not blithely recommend military action and often lambastes his rivals for allegedly incompetent military adventurism. He does not dress his followers in ersatz military garb” (well, that’s something): 2 points

3 — Glorification of violence and readiness to use it in politics: “[His behavior is] well short of the standard of Mussolini’s blackshirts or Hitler’s brownshirts, who not only called for political violence but resorted to it extensively”: 1 out of 4, but knowing what we know now, let’s give the professor the benefit of the doubt. It has to be 2 or 3 now, so let’s say 2 1/2.

4 — Fetishization of youth: 0 points. He has nothing like the Hitler Youth, for example.

5 — Fetishization of masculinity: “On swaggering machismo he gets full marks”: 4 points.

6 — Leader cult: “Fascists always looked to a leader who was bold, decisive, manly, uncompromising and cruel when necessary — because the parlous state of the nation required such qualities. Mussolini and Hitler … encouraged their followers to idolize them as Il Duce and der Führer.” (Remember “I alone can fix it” at the Republican convention? That should have immediately disqualified him): 4 points

7 — Lost-golden-age syndrome: Did someone say “Make America great again?”: 4 points

8 — Self-definition by opposition: Considering the myriad groups and individuals he’s condemned, it’s hard to believe he didn’t earn 4 points. But as Prof. McNeil says, “he does not advocate their annihilation, as Hitler did” (at least not in public): 3 points

9 — Mass mobilization and mass party: “He made a venerable [political party] into his vehicle” and “likes to refer to his following as a movement”. The professor only gave him 2 points, but since he later got 46% and 47% of the vote in two national elections (137 million votes in all, although less than his opponents), let’s bump his number up: 3 points

10 — Hierarchical party structure and tendency to purge the disloyal: “Fascist movements, like revolutions, ate their children. Anyone who displayed only tepid loyalty to the leader or who showed the potential to outshine the leader risked being purged or killed. So did followers who outlived their usefulness.” Prof. McNeil only gave him 1 point (no Night of the Long Knives), but given the fate of “moderate” Republicans these days: 2 points

11 — Theatricality: “In style and rhetoric, fascism was highly theatrical. Film and audio of Mussolini and Hitler make them seem like clownish buffoons, with their exaggerated gestures, their salutes, their overheated speeches full of absolutes and superlatives”. That sounds like somebody: 3 points

Prof. McNeil ended up giving the first-time presidential candidate 26 points out of a possible 44 on the fascist scale. His conclusion is interesting, especially given Biden’s recent remarks:

T____ is semi-fascist: more fascist than any successful American politician yet, and the most dangerous threat to pluralist democracy in this country in more than a century, but — thank our stars — an amateurish imitation of the real thing.

Having recent history in mind, I gave him 29 1/2 points. No Adolph or Benito, but definitely semi-fascist. And since nobody better represents today’s Republican Party, we should apply the same label to the outfit that should no longer be called the “Grand Old Party”.

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