Fascism is a Movement, Not Just a Man

In the wake of the Trump White House years, is the United States a fascist country? No, but it is certainly much closer to being one than it was before 2016. As Anthony DiMaggio carefully explains in his newest book Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here, Trump’s campaign and presidency prove the existence of an uncomfortably large number of US residents who not only would have few problems with a fascist government, but are either already fascist or leaning in that direction. Similarly, the Republican party is the mainstream vehicle for this political transition. The fealty to Trump in the GOP despite his loss in November and the right-wing uprising on January 6, 2022 in the Capitol qualifies as the main indication of this US political trend.

The reasons for the ascent of this element in US politics are arguably many in number, but the essential element in virtually every explanation provided in DiMaggio’s study is white supremacy and the supremacists’ fear of losing it. Demographics make it clear that the United States will be a nation composed of people who do not consider themselves white in a few decades. To put it succinctly: this scares the hell out of many US citizens who do consider themselves white. This element of the population has always had a certain power in US politics. Indeed, it can be safely stated that it is that element that wrote some of the most recalcitrant parts of the US Constitution; recalcitrant because courts have upheld certain racist interpretations of US law more often than otherwise. The consequence of this is that in 2022 civil rights activists find themselves fighting to protect the right of every adult US citizen to vote.

Yes, a battle that most citizens believed resolved fifty years ago is being fought once again, in large part because the Voting Rights Act that ended restrictions based on skin color and income in the 1960s was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. According to the court, it was no longer needed because people were no longer being prevented from voting based on those reasons. Of course, once the law was invalid, the successors of the white supremacists who passed the legislation struck down by the Voting Rights Act got back to work creating ways to prevent Black voters from voting. They know that curtailing voting rights is the only way they can stay in power and enforce their racist agenda.

As DiMaggio and many others have pointed out, the Trump campaign not only represents this element of the US polity, it is the foundation of their politics and organizing. His ending up in the White House was more than just a victory for those forces; it was a call to battle that brought together the KKK, alt-right groups and individuals, right-wing Christians of all denominations, pro-Zionist Jewish citizens, even Nazis and other such fascist groupings. Bringing up the rear was most of the remainder of the Republican party. Sensing a means to get back into the White House and push through more of their reactionary, pro-corporate/anti-labor agenda, these donors, Senators, congresspeople and their supporters denied the obvious racism of Trump and his most avid supporters and jumped on the campaign bandwagon. We are living with the results of that unholy union.

As DiMaggio makes clear throughout his text, we will be living with it for a while. Fascism requires a popular movement behind it, which is what Trumpism is, after all. This understanding is crucial to DiMaggio’s certainty that Donald Trump and his supporters are fascist. Unlike most mainstream analysts and commentators who deny that the US can be fascist because it does not have a completely fascist government, DiMaggio looks at the entire phenomenon of Trump and Trumpism. In doing so, he examines Qanon, groups like the Proud Boys, traditional US white supremacist groups like the KKK, right wing Christians and right wing Republicans. The coalescence of these folks around the figure of Donald Trump created the movement now called Trumpism. In an examination of Trumpism that draws from history, political science and sociology, DiMaggio eloquently argues that yes, Trumpism is a fascist movement.

As it shouldn’t, Rising Fascism in America does not leave the Democratic party and its sycophants off the hook. In a chapter appropriately titled “The Enablers,” the author takes the Democrats, the so-called liberal media, and much of the liberal establishment in the US to task for their refusal to call Trumpism a fascist moment and deal with it as such. Instead, they help maintain the pretense that his politics were and are politics as normal. Particularly nasty politics, but still politics within the norm. Even after the violent, ultimately fascist riot in and around the Capitol on January 6, 2022, the number of non-Trumpists willing to go ahead without insisting Trump be put on trial proves DiMaggio’s contention that too much of the US polity is enabling the fascist presence in the US not only to exist, but to grow. In addition, argues DiMaggio, the neoliberal capitalist economy provides a fertile ground for the politics of fascism.

Most readers are probably familiar with the Sinclair Lewis novel titled It Can’t Happen Here, which describes a fictional fascist movement taking power in the 1930s in the United States. DiMaggio begins each chapter in Rising Fascism in America with a discussion of a part of the novel. The similarities with his discussions of Trump and Trumpism are impossible to miss. Except, of course, neither Trump or Trumpism are fiction. Indeed, both are only too real. Furthermore, as DiMaggio makes clear, they will not be thrown into the dustbin of history without a mass popular movement that expands beyond antifa in the streets, expressions of shock and shame by politicians and mainstream media, and pretending it will go away on its own.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com