“Performative” Republican Fascism Gets a Free Pass

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Let history record that at least half the Republican Party is calling for the overthrow of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Fully 140 U.S. House Representatives and at least 10 U.S. Senators are backing their Dear Leader Donald Trump’s absurdly false, openly Orwellian claim to have been cheated out of his rightful claim to victory. They intend to preposterously challenge Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s 306 Electoral College votes today.

They are backed in this bluntly authoritarian and truth-denying move by Vice President Mike Pence, whose job it is to preside over the certification process. Instead of promising to play his constitutionally appointed role, Pence says he welcomes the blatantly deceitful and seditious challenge to an electoral outcome that has been validated again and again by election officials and judges over weeks of farcical challenge. Never mind that repeated lawsuits and expensive recounts have failed to produce any serious evidence for the openly ridiculous charge that the 2020 election was “stolen” for Biden.

The noxious Republican Congressional challenge comes even after Trump has been caught red-handed in another one of his “perfect calls” – an extraordinary hour-long phone “conversation” in which Trump tried to bully Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State into “recalculating” his state’s vote in Trump’s favor. It is a state and a federal felony to solicit voter fraud on the part of a public election official. Fulton County, Georgia prosecutors are considering charges against Trump.

Consistent with the creepy fascism-appeasement of Barack Obama and the corporate Democratic Party more broadly, Biden didn’t even mention Trump’s remarkable call while campaigning for the two Democratic candidates competing in the Georgia’s run-off Senate elections last Monday. It was one Hell of a deletion, but predictable. Biden, like Obama and the Clintons before him, is all about reaching across the AR-15, I mean across the aisle, to the nation’s ever more apocalyptic right-wing while viciously cracking down on progressives in his own party – that is, on the people who advocate policies that are backed by most Americans and that would inoculate this nation against white nationalist proto-fascism.

The willingness of more than half the Republican Party’s congressional delegation to go down this dictatorial path comes even after Trump has called for the proto-fascist Proud Boys and other armed white nationalist thugs to engage in “wild protests” on the day that Congress is supposed to certify the Electoral College results. Recall that Trump has already twice signaled his approval of fascist street rampages against the election in Washington DC. The havoc inflicted including stabbings and the burning of a Black Lives Matter flag ripped from a historic Black church. Some “Stop the Steal” Proud Boys wore shirts emblazoned with the logo “6MWE,” meaning that six million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust “wasn’t enough.”

On one such occasion Trump rode alongside the crowd, cheering them from his limousine on the way to one of his golf courses. The next time he flew overhead in his presidential helicopter. Trump is encouraging blood in the streets in response to his electoral defeat, consistent with his longstanding embrace of political violence against his enemies – this while going to Georgia to absurdly denounce the Democratic Senate candidates there as “radical socialists” who will turn America into a totalitarian nightmare. Republican House member Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has openly embraced violence, saying it’s the people’s only recourse after Trump’s (ludicrous) legal challenges have failed.

Why is half the GOP playing along with this dangerous game? The standard mainstream answer is that Congressional Republicans are just craven opportunists who are captive to the rabid Trump base. By this account, there’s no ideology or actual belief in Trump’s cause involved, just grifting, fear, and holding on for re-election. There’s much to be said for that thesis but my sense is that a more than just tiny number of 150 or more Republican congresspersons signing on with open sedition (the half-joking nickname of the Trump Congressional rump is in fact “the Sedition Caucus”) are genuinely committed white nationalists who honestly believe that Trump deserves a second term because he won the only tally that ought to matter as far as they are concerned: the votes of white people.

But it may not matter all that much what the Republican Congressional election deniers and their allies and supporters really believe. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in 1962, “we are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be.” The congressional and other Republicans who are participating in this “performative fascism” out of fear, self-interest, and/or cynicism will not be forgiven by history. They should not be forgiven by the present. Along with their maniacal Dear Leader, who plays golf and spends his time Tweeting hate, planning pardons for his cronies, and trying to de-legitimize an election he clearly lost while the death count rises from the pandemic he spread (and does nothing to oppose), they all deserve to be removed from office and, well, locked up.

Which raises an interesting question: is the racist Wall Street plaything Joe Biden (who can’t even mention Trump’s openly criminal phone call to Georgia while campaigning in Georgia) really going to let this monster and his fascist mobs run free in 2021? Probably so, yes. Trump and his backers are too useful a foil for Biden and the dollar Democrats to crack down on. Trump and Trumpism work for them, as far as they are concerned. For one thing, they get to look like (and be) the nice cops, the lesser evil, in comparison to “the alternative.” For another thing, they get to use the threat of the right to discipline the troublesome left (both within and beyond their ranks), which must never be allowed to become a viable alternative. I’m guessing I’m not the only American lefty to notice that not a single high-profile Democrat has spoken up to defend Americans’ right to be socialists and even, good Lord, communists and left anarchists, while the Trump Republicans went on a neo-McCarthyite rampage for the ages last year.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).