We Have a Millstone Around Our National Neck

It’s good to have a constitution, but not every constitution is good. Charles Blow of The New York Times evaluates ours:

… I have been thinking about what I would say to Biden about the threats to American democracy. The most acute threat, it’s true, comes from election deniers and the authoritarian mass movement led by the previous president….. But the long-term threat is less an imposition from bad actors and more a constitutive part of our political system. It is, in fact, the Constitution. Specifically, it is a set of fundamental problems with the structure of our government that flow directly from the Constitution as it currently exists.

We tend to equate American democracy with the Constitution as if the two were synonymous with each other. To defend one is to protect the other and vice versa. But our history makes clear that the two are in tension with each other — and always have been. The Constitution, as I’ve written before, was as much a reaction to the populist enthusiasms and democratic experimentation of the 1780s as it was to the failures of the Articles of Confederation.

The framers meant to force national majorities through an overlapping system of fractured authority; they meant to mediate, and even stymie, the popular will as much as possible and force the government to act with as much consensus as possible.

Unfortunately for the framers, this plan did not work as well as they hoped. With the advent of political parties in the first decade of the new Republic — which the framers failed to anticipate in their design — Americans had essentially circumvented the careful balance of institutions and divided power. Parties could campaign to control each branch of government, and with the advent of the mass party in the 1820s, they could claim to represent “the people” themselves in all their glory.

Americans, in short, had forced the Constitution to accommodate their democratic impulses, as would be the case again and again, up to the present. The question, today, is whether there’s any room left to build a truly democratic political system within the present limits of our constitutional order.

In his new book “Two Cheers for Politics: Why Democracy is Flawed, Frightening — and Our Best Hope,” the legal scholar Jedediah Purdy says the answer is, essentially, no“Our mainstream political language still lacks ways of saying, with unapologetic conviction and even patriotically, that the Constitution may be the enemy of the democracy it supposedly sustains,” Purdy writes.

This is true in two ways. The first (and obvious) one is that the Constitution has enabled the democratic backsliding of the past six years. Founding-era warnings against demagogues — used often to justify our indirect system of choosing a president — run headfirst into the fact that [the last one] was selected constitutionally, not elected democratically….

And consider this: In the 2020 presidential election, a clear majority of Americans voted against [the incumbent] in the highest turnout election of the 21st century so far. But with a few tens of thousands of additional votes in a few states, [he] would have won a second term under the Constitution. “A mechanism for selecting a chief executive among propertied elites in the late eighteenth century persists into the twenty-first,” Purdy writes, “now as a key choke point in a mass democracy.”

The Constitution subverts democracy in a second, more subtle way. As Purdy notes, the counter-majoritarian structure of the American system inhibits lawmaking and slows down politics, “making meaningful initiatives hard to undertake”…..

Even if you keep MAGA Republicans out of office (including [their leader]), you’re still left with a system the basic structure of which fuels dysfunction and undermines American democracy….

What makes this all the worse is that it has become virtually impossible to amend the Constitution and revise the basics of the American political system. The preamble to the Constitution may begin with “We the People,” but as Purdy writes, “A constitution like the American one deserves democratic authority only if it is realistically open to amendment.” It is only then that we can “know that what has not changed in the old text still commands consent.” Silence can have meaning, he points out, “but only when it is the silence of those free to speak.”

There is much more to say about the ways that our political system has inhibited democratic life and even enabled forms of tyranny. For now, it suffices to say that a constitution that subverts majority rule, fuels authoritarian movements and renders popular sovereignty inert is not a constitution that can be said to protect, secure or even enable American democracy.

In a speech in Philadelphia last month, Biden did speak publicly on the threats to American democracy. He focused, as almost any president would, on the Constitution. “This is a nation that honors our Constitution. We do not reject it. This is a nation that believes in the rule of law. We do not repudiate it. This is a nation that respects free and fair elections. We honor the will of the people. We do not deny it.”

The problem, and what this country must confront if it ever hopes to turn its deepest democratic aspirations into reality, is that we don’t actually honor the will of the people. We deny it. And it’s this denial that sits at the root of our troubles.

His Future and Ours

Salon interviewed George Conway, a Republican lawyer married to the infamous Kellyanne Conway (press secretary in the former administration) and who became known as an ex-Republican critic of the ex-president. I had a reaction to his closing comments.

How do we balance political expediency versus legal necessity? The law takes time, but [the former president] is an imminent danger to American society right now. Something needs to be done, and we are running out of time. 

At the end of the day, we have to follow the legal system and apply it evenhandedly — but that should be done as expeditiously as possible. The Justice Department has clearly come around to that understanding. They are now expanding their investigations of Jan. 6, [his] other alleged crimes and related matters at the highest levels. I don’t think it’s going to take them very long to put together a case on the classified documents. And I don’t think they have a choice, even if they wanted to resist prosecuting him. It’s going to be sooner rather than later. [He] could easily be under both federal and state indictment at some point between Election Day [Nov. 8] and New Year’s Day.

What do you think is going to happen with these criminal cases? Does he take a plea bargain? There’s this fantasy among some liberal folks that [he] does a perp walk and goes to prison. I don’t see that happening. If anything, [he] pays fines and takes a plea deal. Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice will not put a former president in prison. 

I don’t believe that [he] is going to plea bargain. I think he could go to prison, but it is more likely that he will serve home confinement. In all likelihood, he will be convicted of multiple felonies. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a perp walk, but I don’t think it’s a fantasy either. There’s a good chance that [he] will end up with a felony conviction. I know he has cut deals in civil cases, but that’s just writing checks. To reiterate, I do not believe that [he] will plead out. This all goes so much to the core of [his] identity that he will try to tear the country apart before he settles one of these criminal cases.

That is a powerful statement. 

[He] will incite violence on his behalf. He will try to pretend it is something spontaneous. Does [he] have enough power and influence over his followers to threaten the republic? I don’t think so. But I do think it’s enough to be dangerous.

What are you most concerned about? And what, if anything, are you hopeful about, regarding the country’s future?

What keeps me up at night is the violence that [he] could potentially cause. The danger of violence will increase as the 2024 election approaches. What gives me hope is that the legal reckoning is coming…. I am hopeful that the American people will be so exhausted by this whole saga that they will be drawn toward all the things that tie us together as a nation and people. Of course we may disagree with one another, and do so passionately. But in the end we are all Americans, and we have more in common than divides us. I hope we can get back to that and heal….

First, nothing keeps me up at night except the desire to stay up.

More importantly, when the former president is finally indicted somewhere, the authorities will let him show up with his lawyers and hear the charges. He won’t ever be in handcuffs or a cell. If he accepts a deal or is convicted, he’ll get house arrest, not prison, and then may leave the country.

Right-wing violence is always a threat (much more than left-wing or Islamic violence) but my biggest short-term concern is that Republicans will do well-enough in upcoming elections, either legally or illegally (by ignoring the results), that — with the help of radical reactionaries on the Supreme Court — they’ll consolidate minority rule. They’ll change the laws in enough states to make it very hard for them to lose (and the laws to be changed back). Add that to their built-in advantages in the Senate and Electoral College and elections won’t matter much.

The only hope I have is that once enough members of my generation die off, fewer voters will watch network or cable TV and be misled by right-wing and corporate propaganda or local news that “leads with what bleeds”.

My longer-term concern (although it becomes shorter all the time) is the climate crisis and the many ways a warmer climate will affect life on Earth. But it doesn’t keep me up at night.

On that subject, however, here’s an article from the MIT Press called “How to Fix Climate Change (A Sneaky Policy Guide)”:

We may already have a “miracle” fix for climate change. [It’s] a planetary emergency. We have to do something now — but what? Saul Griffith, an inventor and renewable electricity advocate (and a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant), has a plan. In his book “Electrify,” Griffith lays out a detailed blueprint for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith’s plan can be summed up simply: Electrify everything. He explains exactly what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our grid, and adapt our households to make this possible. Billionaires may contemplate escaping our worn-out planet on a private rocket ship to Mars, but the rest of us, Griffith says, will stay and fight for the future….
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Understanding the MAGA Political Project

Last night, Judge Aileen “Loose” Cannon took another step toward legal immortality by turning down the Department of Justice’s offer to act somewhat judicially and allow the government to proceed with its criminal investigation of her political patron (the one referred to by the actual president as “the last guy”). When she became a judge, she swore an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons … faithfully and impartially”, yet she announced in her ruling that “principles of equity” required her to consider “the position formerly held by Plaintiff”. In other words, Loose gave her patron everything he asked for because he’s a very special person.

Now, more senior judges will be forced to remind a human monster that equality before the law is still a thing nd he’s just another plaintiff. Which will make him very, very mad.

On that note, I’m going to step away from this blog for a while, but leave you with historian Thomas Zimmer’s thoughts on what Loose Cannon and her ilk are trying to accomplish:

[The MAGA movement’s] assault on democracy [is] animated not by nihilism, but by conviction – by the idea that America must forever remain a land where a traditional white Christian patriarchal order is upheld.

This isn’t just a matter of semantics. The idea that we are dealing with nihilists and opportunists underestimates or ignores the Right’s ideological vision for how U.S. society should be structured and the deliberate, systematic way in which the Right attempts to realize it.

I appreciate [Tom Nichols, writing for The Atlantic] pushing back against the narrative that MAGA Americans are simply motivated by economic anxiety, for which there is very little empirical basis; and he’s right to reject the idea the conflict could be solved by compromise or persuasion.

[MAGAs] are indeed not interested in debate, or a different perspective, or building bridges, or compromise. The only thing they would accept from “the Left” (which is everyone in the pro-democracy camp) is compliance, submission. There is no truce to be had.

But the key question is: Why is “normal” political deliberation not an option, why are [they] so clearly willing to tear constitutional government down? Nichols has a clear answer: Because they are “anti-American nihilists,” purely driven by anger and resentment.

Leaving it there, however, is a little bit like parachuting into an ongoing conflict, seeing people with torches and pitchforks in their hands, and simply concluding that “Ah well, I guess these guys just want to burn stuff down” …

All this resentment, anger, and lust for revenge is not aimless: It is directed against certain traditionally marginalized groups of people who are claiming equality and respect, and against the institutions that are supposedly doing their bidding to destroy “real America.”

Nichols himself rightfully diagnoses “fears about social status” as an animating force behind the [MAGA] project – and all the evidence we have points to the fact that those are racialized, gendered fears about the “wrong” kind of people getting ahead in America.

This is absolutely key: It’s not a coincidence that all this anger and resentment is targeting people who have traditionally not been allowed a seat at the table of power, right at the moment when they are threatening to claim their seat….

These numbers … are indicative of a very clear rightwing vision for the country: The supposed victimization of white Christians has to be reversed, their rightful status at the top needs to be restored.

Among [Republican] voters 90% say Christianity is under assault; 3/4 say bias toward whites equals bias toward minorities; 70% say immigrants are undermining US values & traditions; ~3/5 say white men the most persecuted group; ~3/5 say men are now punished for acting like men.

This is why the president was right to tie the “MAGA Republican” assault on the political system to the broader reactionary struggle to roll back the post-1960s civil rights regime in his “Soul of the Nation” speech in Philadelphia….

The “nihilism” interpretation falls short of explaining what it is that holds the American Right together – [the defeated president] and his disciples, the Republican establishment, rising white Christian nationalist extremists, the reactionary intellectual sphere, rightwing militant groups.

All of these different factions on the Right are ultimately united behind the same political project of fighting back against the “Un-American” leftist forces that are out to turn the country into something it must never become: an egalitarian, multiracial, pluralistic order….

Yes, they want to tear down and destroy, but only those institutions that are supposedly captured by this “Un-American” enemy within.

This is not at all an aberration from long-standing rightwing attitudes towards the state and civic institutions, which conservatives have only ever defended if they perceived them to be allies in the struggle to entrench traditional hierarchies. Whenever the government or the institutions acted as an engine of racial and social progress, conservatives saw it as the enemy. Conservative support for state authority and establishment institutions has always been contingent on them working to uphold reactionary rule….

At its core, the politics of “law and order” has always been a promise (and a threat) to mobilize all the tools available to the modern state to keep insubordinate groups in check and uphold a certain racial, social, and cultural order: traditional white Christian rule.

It is therefore not at all surprising that the January 6 insurrectionists were viciously attacking police officers while displaying the Thin Blue Line flag, or that this symbol is regularly displayed by those who embrace political violence against state authority in general.

The Thin Blue Line flag doesn’t say “We stand with the police” – it says “We stand with the police as long as they’re working to uphold the kind of ‘law and order’ that allows us to dominate with impunity while subduing those who dare to oppose our rule.”

… [It is crucial] to see how all of this is connected, all part of a multi-pronged, multi-level reactionary counter-mobilization that has a judicial arm, a political arm, an intellectual arm, and a paramilitary arm, all flanked by a massive, highly effective propaganda machine.

In this context, the supposedly mindless, nihilistic, anarchist raging has a specific role to play: to spread violent chaos and intimidation, in a direct assault on the foundations of democratic society. The MAGA raging is inherently political. Democracy depends on people feeling safe in the public square. If they don’t, because it’s ruled by intimidation and threats of violence, they won’t be able to participate as citizens. It’s what these extremists want: Rule and dominate through violence and harassment….

The “nihilism” approach completely isolates MAGA from the context and continuity of the long struggle over democracy and the fact that those who oppose it have often been willing to embrace violence, have often opted to tear the system down rather than accept defeat….

The fact that the Right in general is deliberately pursuing a reactionary political project, one that is animated by ideology and conviction rather than blind, nihilistic rage, makes the threat to American democracy more, not less acute.

It Needed To Be Said

President Biden made a speech last night that more Americans should have heard. The TV networks didn’t interrupt their regular programming for it. You needed cable TV or an internet connection to watch it.

Earlier in the day, the former president, the criminal, said he would give full pardons to the January 6th insurrectionists if he’s re-elected. He went further. He said he’d apologize to them.

From what I’ve read today, the talking heads on TV were more focused on the setting for the President’s speech than what he said. They wondered how the speech would “play”. They were apparently concerned that Republicans would feel insulted.

Today, at least one reporter, John Harwood of CNN, spoke differently:

Of course, it was a political speech in a mid-term election year. The issues he’s talking about are inherently political. But … it’s important to say that the core point he made in that political speech about a threat to democracy is true! That’s not easy for us as journalists to say. We’re brought up to believe that there are two political parties with different points of view and we don’t take sides in honest disagreements between them. But that’s not what we’re talking about. These are not honest disagreements. The Republican Party right now is led by a dishonest demagogue. Many, many Republicans are rallying behind his lies about the 2020 election and other things as well. And a … portion of their constituency attacked the Capitol on January 6th violently. By offering pardons or suggesting pardons for those people … Donald Trump made Joe Biden’s point for him.

It was John Harwood’s last day at CNN. He’s one of the people the new management has fired in their attempt to make CNN a more pleasant viewing experience for Republicans and others lukewarm about democracy.

So here’s a partial transcript of the presidential speech that got so many people upset. It brings to mind what President Harry (“Give ’em Hell) Truman once : “I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell”.

THE PRESIDENT:  My fellow Americans, … I speak to you tonight from sacred ground in America: Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This is where America made its Declaration of Independence to the world more than two centuries ago with an idea, unique among nations, that in America, we’re all created equal.

This is where the United States Constitution was written and debated.

This is where we set in motion the most extraordinary experiment of self-government the world has ever known with three simple words: “We, the People.”  “We, the People.”

These two documents and the ideas they embody — equality and democracy — are the rock upon which this nation is built….

But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault.  We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.

So tonight, I have come this place where it all began to speak as plainly as I can to the nation about the threats we face, about the power we have in our own hands to meet these threats, and about the incredible future that lies in front of us if only we choose it…..

But first, we must be honest with each other and with ourselves.

Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal.

Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.

Now, I want to be very clear — (applause) — very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans.  Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology…..

But there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.

These are hard things.

But I’m an American President — not the President of red America or blue America, but of all America.

And I believe it is my duty — my duty to level with you, to tell the truth no matter how difficult, no matter how painful.

And here, in my view, is what is true: MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution.  They do not believe in the rule of law.  They do not recognize the will of the people.

They refuse to accept the results of a free election.  And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections … to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself.

MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards — backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.

They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.

They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th — brutally attacking law enforcement — not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots.

And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.

They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people.  This time, they’re determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.

That’s why respected conservatives, like Federal Circuit Court Judge Michael Luttig, has called Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans, quote, a “clear and present danger” to our democracy.

But while the threat to American democracy is real, I want to say as clearly as we can: We are not powerless in the face of these threats.  We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy.

There are far more Americans — far more Americans from every — from every background and belief who reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those that accept it.  (Applause.)

And, folks, it is within our power, it’s in our hands — yours and mine — to stop the assault on American democracy.

I believe America is at an inflection point — one of those moments that determine the shape of everything that’s to come after.

And now America must choose: to move forward or to move backwards?

… MAGA Republicans have made their choice.  They embrace anger.  They thrive on chaos.  They live not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies.

But together — together, we can choose a different path.  We can choose a better path….

I know this nation.  I know you, the American people….

This is a nation that honors our Constitution.  We do not reject it.  (Applause.)

This is a nation that believes in the rule of law.  We do not repudiate it.  (Applause.)

This is a nation that respects free and fair elections.  We honor the will of the people.  We do not deny it.  (Applause.)

And this is a nation that rejects violence as a political tool.  We do not encourage violence.

We are still an America that believes in honesty and decency and respect for others, patriotism, liberty, justice for all, hope, possibilities.

We are still, at our core, a democracy.  (Applause.)

And yet history tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.

For a long time, we’ve told ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed, but it’s not.

We have to defend it, protect it, stand up for it — each and every one of us.

That’s why tonight I’m asking our nation to come together, unite behind the single purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology.  (Applause.)

We’re all called, by duty and conscience, to confront extremists who will put their own pursuit of power above all else.

Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans: We must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving American democracy than MAGA Republicans are to destroying American democracy. …Today, there are dangers around us we cannot allow to prevail.   We hear — you’ve heard it — more and more talk about violence as an acceptable political tool in this country.  It’s not.  It can never be an acceptable tool.

So I want to say this plain and simple: There is no place for political violence in America.  Period.  None.  Ever.  (Applause.)

We saw law enforcement brutally attacked on January the 6th.  We’ve seen election officials, poll workers — many of them volunteers of both parties — subjected to intimidation and death threats.  And — can you believe it? — FBI agents just doing their job as directed, facing threats to their own lives from their own fellow citizens.

On top of that, there are public figures — today, yesterday, and the day before — predicting and all but calling for mass violence and rioting in the streets.

This is inflammatory.  It’s dangerous.  It’s against the rule of law.  And we, the people, must say: This is not who we are.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t be pro-insurrectionist and pro-American.  They’re incompatible.  (Applause.)

We can’t allow violence to be normalized in this country.  It’s wrong.  We each have to reject political violence with — with all the moral clarity and conviction this nation can muster.  Now.

We can’t let the integrity of our elections be undermined, for that is a path to chaos.

Look, I know politics can be fierce and mean and nasty in America.  I get it.  I believe in the give-and-take of politics, in disagreement and debate and dissent.

We’re a big, complicated country.  But democracy endures only if we, the people, respect the guardrails of the republic.  Only if we, the people, accept the results of free and fair elections.  (Applause.)  Only if we, the people, see politics not as total war but mediation of our differences.

Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: either they win or they were cheated.  And that’s where MAGA Republicans are today.  (Applause.)

They don’t understand what every patriotic American knows: You can’t love your country only when you win.  (Applause.)  It’s fundamental.

American democracy only works if we choose to respect the rule of law and the institutions that were set up in this chamber behind me, only if we respect our legitimate political differences.

I will not stand by and watch — I will not — the will of the American people be overturned by wild conspiracy theories and baseless, evidence-free claims of fraud.

I will not stand by and watch elections in this country stolen by people who simply refuse to accept that they lost.  (Applause.)

I will not stand by and watch the most fundamental freedom in this country — the freedom to vote and have your vote counted be taken from you and the American people.  (Applause.)

Look, as your President, I will defend our democracy with every fiber of my being, and I’m asking every American to join me.  (Applause.)

… MAGA Republicans look at America and see carnage and darkness and despair.  They spread fear and lies — lies told for profit and power.

But I see a very different America…  Just look around.

I believed we could lift America from the depths of COVID, so we passed the largest economic recovery package since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  And today, America’s economy is faster, stronger than any other advanced nation in the world.  (Applause.)

I believed we could build a better America, so we passed the biggest infrastructure investment since President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  And we’ve now embarked on a decade of rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, highways, ports, water systems, high-speed Internet, railroads.  (Applause.)

I believed we could make America safer, so we passed the most significant gun safety law since President Clinton.  (Applause.)

I believed we could go from being the highest cost of prescriptions in the world to making prescription drugs and healthcare more affordable, so we passed the most significant healthcare reforms since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)

And I believed we could create — we could create a clean energy future and save the planet, so we passed the most important climate initiative ever, ever, ever.  (Applause.)

… It’s never easy.  But we’re proving that in America, no matter how long the road, progress does come.  (Applause.)

… We have never fully realized the aspirations of our founding, but every generation has opened those doors a little wider to include more people who have been excluded before….This is the work of democracy…

We can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines.  We need everyone to do their part.  So speak up.  Speak out.  Get engaged.  Vote, vote, vote.  (Applause.)

And if we all do our duty — if we do our duty in 2022 and beyond, then ages still to come will say we … kept the faith.  We preserved democracy.  (Applause.)  We heeded … not our worst instincts but our better angels.  And we proved that, for all its imperfections, America is still the beacon to the world, an ideal to be realized, a promise to be kept….

We just need to remember who we are.  We are the United States of America.  The United States of America.  (Applause.)

Identifying Semi-Fascism Again

I posted something a few days ago regarding Biden’s use of “semi-fascism” to describe what’s happening in the Republican Party. The author I quoted said some of the factors he listed should be given more weight than others. Being in thrall to a single leader is, for example, more important than making a fetish of the young. Here’s another take on “semi-fascism” from Brooklyn writer John Ganz:

“Semi-fascist” is actually used by scholars….In Stanley Payne’s A History of Fascism: 1914-1945, the author employs it several times and invests it with real content. In fact, semi-fascism was a common phenomenon because fascist movements had so much difficulty obtaining popular support and had to meld with conservative allies and existing institutions. In most places, fascist movements either failed or became a junior tendency in a broader political context:

Thus in the absence of a plurality of generically fascist regimes and systems, it is possible to refer only to a number of semifascist or would-be fascist regimes, while in turn distinguishing between the character and structure of each type and subtype both among themselves and in comparison with diverse kinds of conservative (or at least nonsocialist) nonfascist authoritarian regimes.

One of Payne’s primary examples of “semifascism” is Franco’s Spain: “That early Franquism contained a major component of fascism is undeniable, but it was so restricted within a right-wing, praetorian, Catholic, and semipluralist structure that the category ‘semifascist’ would probably be more accurate.” That is to say, in Franco’s Spain, hardcore fascists were part of a broad coalition of a more traditional authoritarian right and were subordinated to the role of junior partner and eventually swamped by the regime. You can also see similar processes take place in Legionary Romania, Horthy’s Hungary, Vichy France, and Salazar’s Portugal. Even Mussolini’s Italy had to make serious accommodations with conservative forces and kept aspects of the constitutional order in place at the beginning of the regime.

So, that’s regimes, but what about movements? Surely those must be more ideologically pure or clear-cut? Well, how would you characterize Action Française, Croix de Feu, or the Ku Klux Klan for that matter? The America First Committee contained Nazi sympathizers and others who were just sincerely anti-war. So, it was quite literally “semi-fascist.” Huey Long was not really a fascist, but he attracted a number of fascist followers, like Lawrence Dennis and Gerald L. K. Smith, because he looked close enough to them. They thought he could be turned into a more full-blown fascist, which was probably similar to the attitude of people like Bannon towards T____. Suffice it to say, there are many historical movements that anticipate fascist-style mobilization and themes, or copied some aspects of fascism while being more traditionally conservative in their desired outcome, or that excited and inspired fascists without fully delivering.

… As the highly-respected scholar Robert Paxton points out, fascism is less a coherent ideology than a set of “mobilizing passions:”

  • a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
  • the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual
  • the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;
  • dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
  • the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
  • the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;
  • the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;
  • the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;
  • the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.

Now obviously some of these features apply more to T____ism than others, so “semi-fascism” seems to be right on the money.

The fact of the matter is this: T____ism at its core is a movement fixated on restoring national greatness through the charismatic leadership of a single providential individual who “alone can fix it.” It is obsessed with national decline and attacking internal enemies. Although more loosely organized and weaker than those of the classical fascisms, MAGA also has paramilitary formations that have tried to carry out this project to the point of attempting the overthrow an elected government. From the very beginning of his political ascent, he attracted the interest and enthusiasm of the extreme right. He was the kind of thing they’d been looking for for a long time. Perhaps now a disappointment, perhaps now a failure, but certainly a step in the right direction as far as they were concerned.

Biden was probably hedging: his aides were concerned if he said “fascism” it would be too strong. But he was landing on a pretty reasonable interpretation of the case….

Saying someone is fascist or semi-fascist does not make all their supporters to be goose-stepping stormtroopers or say they deserve to be in the dock at Nuremberg.

Many normal people, including conservatives and even former leftists, at one point or another supported Europe’s fascist regimes. They did so because one or another part of their appeals sounded good to them, or they did it as a protest vote against a system that wasn’t functioning well; many sensible and educated people thought of fascism as essentially technocratic solution to the ills of liberal democracy. Fascism was, at one time, and as I fear it is becoming again, attractive and persuasive, not just brutal and overwhelming. The problem was that it was not a solution to any of the crises that beset these democracies: it was a disastrous series of lies and delusions. And that is the reason to call this for what it is: to say, “Look, we’ve seen this before. It doesn’t end well….”

Unquote.

Biden will address the nation on television tonight concerning this ongoing threat to democracy. He might not use “semi-fascism” again but it’s clear what and who he’ll be talking about.