A year and half after the attempted physical coup that marked the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, I am still lectured by certain older white and male “leftists” on how it is childish wolf-crying to say that a fascist menace stalks the United States. The lectures hold that “the American ruling class is opposed to fascism and will not let it take hold here. This is neoliberal capitalism,” their argument runs, “and the ruling class will not permit a fascist state here in the absence of a revolutionary socialist proletariat like the ones that convinced the Italian and German bourgeoisies to line up behind Mussolini and Hitler in interwar 20th Century Europe.” In short, It Can’t Happen Here, because the ruling class doesn’t need and want it and won’t allow it.
There are at least six core problems with this “Marxist” argument, which merges nicely with both the false populist and democratic claims of the right-wing major party – the Republi-fascists – and the Weimar-like fascism appeasement and denial practiced by the major party of passive resistance and “inauthentic opposition”: the dismal dollar Democrats.
+1. This Happened and is Happening Here
First, the narrative is moronically wedded to “classic Coke” European fascism, missing various ways in which the political pathology of fascism has reinvented itself while retaining numerous essential aspects of the classic phenomenon in the neoliberal /21st Century. Some basic elements of the disease are touched upon by the prolific human ecology professor Andreas Malm and his colleagues in the Swedish anti-fascist Zetkin Collective (ZC).On page 405 of their important 2020 volume White Skin, Black Fuel: On the Danger of Fossil Fascism, Malm and ZC refer to “the basic strands” of “a sort of DNA code of fascism” as “ anti-Marxism, anti-feminism, racism, imperialism, the preoccupation with fertility, the promotion of inequality, accolades to violence, and a giddy myth of palingenesis” – that is, the myth of lost but soon to be reborn national greatness, stolen by liberal and Left elites accused of “stabbing the nation/fatherland in the back” by promoting and “replacing” (purportedly) virtuous and hard-working native whites with (supposedly) dangerous and inferior non-white others.
More than six years ago, in an essay on then candidate Trump, the liberal New Yorker essayist Adam Gopnik suggested another useful description of the ideological sickness that the future president with orange-tinted skin shared with Mussolini, Hitler, and a slew of contemporary far-right politicians including Viktor Orban, the Hungarian strongman who has emerged as a hero of the Republican right:
“There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ …his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government…is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and ‘success.’… The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.”
These are useful descriptions to which we should add some other key definitional ingredients: the “Orwellian” campaign against truth and intellectuals, conspiratorialism, cults of personality centered on powerful and always male “charismatic Leaders,” and – of critical significance – the deployment of the military and paramilitaries and mobs to crush dissent and overthrow previously normative electoral bourgeois democracy and constitutional rule of law. “Lawlessness in the name of law and order” is a particularly relevant “calling card” of the sickness, as the Yale philosophy professor and leading fascism scholar Jason Stanley has noted.
Anyone who doubts that the Trump presidency matched these descriptions of fascism should read the second and third chapters of my most recent book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals and the Trumping of America : “The Fascist Wolf Defined and Foretold” (Chapter 2) and “A Fascist in the White House, 2017-21” (Chapter 3). You can work backwards from this volume’s index, searching phrases like “Charlottesville,” “Portland,” “Proud Boys,” “Hitler,” “Jason Stanley,” “How Fascism Works,” “Rittenhouse, Kyle,” “Bannon, Steve,” “George Floyd Rebellion, response to,” “Capitol Riot,” “January 6th,” and “pandemicide.” You can also read the first chapter, titled “Is it the Fascist Apocalypse Yet?” in my October 2020 book (written while Trump was trying to use the George Floyd Rebellion as his Reichstag Fire) Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement.
“Fascism,” as an activist told me in Washington DC as Trump’s Christian fascist Supreme Court was preparing to strip women of their constitutional right to an abortion, “lives on in America and Europe today. It doesn’t require a mustache.”
It is true that the sloppy and malignantly narcissistic putschist Trump was restrained from stealing a second term by something like “normal constitutional limits” (Gopnik), but it is by no means clear that the constraints will hold over the next few years. The orange beast still walks free, surrounded by an aura of brazen impunity even as there is already abundant evidence that he committed numerous federal felonies in connection with the 2020 election and the January 6th Capitol Riot: obstructing the work of Congress; conspiring to defraud the United States; willful destruction of government records; conspiracy against rights; depriving state residents of a fair and impartial election process; obstruction of an official proceeding; conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties; seditious conspiracy; coercion of political activity; interference in an election by employees of federal or state governments. No criminal referral from the House January 6th Committee has ever been required for the Department of Justice to move on obvious evidence that Trump committed these crimes, to which we might add espionage, theft of government records, and even treason.
Meanwhile, three in every four Republicans believes Dear Leader Trump’s big Hitlerian lie that the 2020 election was “stolen.” “Red” (Republifascist) states have passed numerous measures and enacted various policies to suppress votes and cancel election outcomes they don’t like. Election, school, and public health, and library officials and personnel are besieged by neofascist mobs in many locales. The nation is saturated with 440 firearms, including more than 25 million assault rifles, disproportionately owned by right-wingers. Ninety-three percent of candidates favored by the tangerine-tinted maniac have won their mid-term Republican primaries so far this. In four swing/contested states critical to the presidential Electoral College outcome in 2024-25 – Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – the Republican nominees for key offices in charge of statewide elections (governors and secretaries of state) are dedicated Trumpy election-deniers committed to delivering their party and leader their states Elector slates no matter what the voters say in 2024-25. Notwithstanding fantastic Democratic Party claims that they will ride an abortion rights backlash to victory in the coming mid-term elections, the Republi-fascist party is poised to take back Congress this November and already commands most of the federal judiciary, including the super-powerful Supreme Court, and at least half the nation’s distinctly powerful state governments.
And make no mistake: the post-republican Republicans are still very much the party of the fascist malignancy Trump. The far-right anti-Trump House Representative and January 6 Committee co-chair Liz Cheney’s recent lopsided loss in the Wyoming Republican Congressional primary is what The New York Times rightly calls “the latest sign that the central organizing principles of today’s Republican Party are tethered less to specific policies — she was a reliable vote for much of the Trump agenda — than to whatever Mr. Trump wants at any given time.” Remarkably enough, just two of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach the orange reptile for inciting a physical assault on the Capitol in early 2021 have survived the 2022 Republican primaries. This is what the Times calls “a breathtaking run of losses and forced retirements in a chamber where incumbents typically prevail with ease…The sheer scope of her loss — the daughter of a former vice president was defeated in a landslide — may have only strengthened Mr. Trump’s hand as he asserts his grip over the Republican Party, by revealing the futility among Republican voters of even the most vigorous prosecution of the case against him.”
The fascist threat is alive and well in the United States’ putschist woman-hating, vote-suppressing, election-cancelling, book-banning, teacher-terrorizing, assault-rifle-promoting, paramilitary-affiliated Republi-fascist Party, which controls the Supreme Court – with lethal consequences for women, livable ecology, and public health – and half of the nation’ state governments. As Sam Goldman notes in the latest episode of the remarkable Refuse Fascism podcast:
“The fascist threat is rapidly accelerating, turbo-charged, if you will, post the FBI’s lawful search of Trump’s Mar a Lago, where they found and removed classified documents. …the trajectory right now is toward intensification. …Tens of millions of Republi-fascists, those in power and those who support them, have thus far demonstrated complete support for Trump’s lawlessness, including his orchestration of a fascist coup and the illegal fascist violence that took place during the January 6th insurrection. For anyone who has been living under a rock since January 7th and have any doubt about this, look to the complete shellacking of Liz Cheney, who voted with Trump 93 percent of the time and was the third highest ranking Republican, but who opposed the coup attempt. Of the ten Republicans who voted to impeach Trump only two will make it to the general election this November. The complete transformation of the GOP into a fascist party purged of anyone who doesn’t toe the line of Trumpism 100 percent – and the Big Lie. We’ve said this before, but it becomes more real every day: this fascism will not be resolved by voting alone. We voted Trump out, but we can’t simply vote away the fascism.”
The Lawless Revenge “Next Time”
Lawlessness in the name of law and order? Trump’s big speech, given to the America First Institute one month ago to mark his first return to Washington since he left the nation’s capital in January of 2021, was an epitome of that core fascist trait. As the conservative commentator David Frum noted one day after Trump’s address:
“Yesterday, an ex-president who had tried to overturn a democratic election by violence returned to Washington, D.C., to call for law and order… Trump sketched out a vision that a new Republican Congress could enact sweeping new emergency powers for the next Republican president. The president would be empowered to disregard state jurisdiction over criminal law. The president would be allowed to push aside a ‘weak, foolish, and stupid governor,’ and to fire ‘radical and racist prosecutors’ —racist here meaning ‘anti-white.’ The president could federalize state National Guards for law-enforcement duties, stop and frisk suspects for illegal weapons, and impose death sentences on drug dealers after expedited trials…The opportunity that most fascinates Trump is the opportunity to use the law as a weapon: a weapon to shield his own wrongdoing, a weapon to wield against his political opponents.”
As Frum ads, a second Trump term – far from an impossibility – would be very different from the first one:
“Trump’s first term was mitigated by his ignorance, indolence, and incompetence. Since the humiliation of his 2020 defeat, however, Trump has been studying how to use a second chance if he gets one. The one abiding interest of his life, revenge, will provide the impetus. Next time, he will have the wholehearted support of a White House staff selected to enable him. Next time, he will have the backing in Congress of a party remade in his own image. Next time, he’ll be acting to ensure that his opponents never again get a ‘next time’ of their own.”
It’s not all about Trump. Indeed, if he is felled by an overdue coronary event or prosecution, the maximal leader MAGA energy can easily be transferred to Florida’s fascist governor Ron DeSantis (more on this malevolent Mussolini-in-waiting below), who will win more votes from “moderate” Republicans and Independents than Trump could in 2024. The recently AXIOS-reported “Schedule F” plan of top Republican planners to staff the executive branch with many thousands of hard-right-wing operatives in 2025 will be shifted from the orange reptile of Mar a Lago to the less flamboyant but no less fascist and arguably more dangerous Florida strongman or some other revanchist monster of the Amerikaner right.
Persistent Plutocratic Pusillanimity by the Party of Passive Resistance
Meanwhile, the at once plutocratic and pusillanimous Dems are playing their appeasement Weimar part, abetting a fascization process in which they are deeply complicit. The party of passive resistance’s longstanding acquisition by corporate and financial elites militates against serious confrontation with openly revanchist authoritarian rule. Can the US capitalist state under this cowardly party’s thin and partial control find a way to suspend the Empire’s longtime ruling class gentleman’s agreement against prosecuting ex-presidents, who must be permitted to permitted to commit egregious war crimes and crimes against humanity as part of their role as commanders in chief of a giant criminal global empire? Trump represents a special and unprecedented: he tried a coup not against a distant Third World state but against the imperial homeland itself. It is far from certain that Biden and his Attorney General have the conviction, and courage to indict Trump on any of the numerous felonies he has clearly committed, including seditious conspiracy and, perhaps, now espionage and treason. Failure to indict means open admission that “the rule of law is meaningless.”
+2. This Time “It Will be Race First”
A second core flaw in the “Marxist” It Can’t Happen Here scolds I’ve gotten for years reflects a juvenile class essentialism in the speaker’s understanding of fascism. The lecturers hold to the dusty claim that fascism cannot emerge in the absence of a radical challenge from a revolutionary proletariat. Is that so? It is of course true that the first mission of classic, mustachioed European historical fascism was to smash the mobilized post-World War I proletariat and its radical and social democratic leaders and allies. Consistent with political scientist Anthony DiMaggio’s and other empirically astute social scientists’ findings on the social base and ideological character of US-Amerikaner neofascism in the Trump years, however, Malm and the ZC argue that “in twenty-first fascism”:
“race has primacy over class. The duty of Italian and German fascism was indeed to crush the organized working class…But if fascism were to assume power in the decades ahead, the immediate target would be racially defined – in Europe, immigrants, Muslims or other earmarked nonwhite populations. This is not, of course, to suggest that classic historical fascism was not racist – “in Bavaria, the fascist program is exhausted by the phrase ‘beat up the Jews,’” Clara Zetkin noted in 1923 – or that it could return without dominant class content. But…the hammer would not need to fall first on labour, but would rather hit enemies defined by descent. This might change: a sudden [French-inspired? – P.S.] upswing in class struggle would alter the calculus, as would a climate movement as frightening as the Commies once were. But on current trends, it will be race first.”
Malm and the ZC’s observation that “classic historical fascism was…racist” feels understated to the present writer when it comes to the Third Reich. German Nazi fascism was quite fundamentally about race and ethnicity including but not restricted to its virulent anti-Semitism. This is clear from any remotely serious reading of Hitler’s bestselling autobiographical memoir Mein Kampf and his many political speeches in the interwar years make abundantly clear – and from the grisly record of the Nazi Holocaust.
The ongoing vicious sexist “Christian” assault on women’s reproductive rights – the top opening battering ram in a Republifascist attack on a broad range of human and civil rights won through popular struggle in the last century – suggests strongly that we should elevate gender/patriarchy and Christian fundamentalism along with race as primary driving forces behind in US-American fascization process.
At the same time, it is perhaps worth noting that much of the nation’s right-wing neofascist base (equaling perhaps a fourth to a fifth of the country’s adult citizens) has been led by the Republifascist party and its various media outlets (chiefly Fatherland/FOX News) to believe that such a “socialist threat” (quote marks are required since a socialist revolution is the best thing that could possibly happen in the US today) does exist despite the absence of classically left-radical challenge to capitalist power in the US,. The Republi-fascist right calls everything and everyone it doesn’t like – from Nancy Pelosi and minor student loan debt forgiveness to pandemic measures, electric cars, and books that tell the truth about the history of Black chattel slavery – “radical Left,” “socialist,” “communist,” and “Marxist.” Millions soak up this idiotic, paranoid-style thinking. It doesn’t help that a neo-New Deal progressive Democrat who called himself (falsely) a “socialist” made serious bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in the last two election cycles.
(There may be something else going on that helps fuel fear of socialism especially among capitalists: capitalism itself has in fact brought humanity to the very brink of environmental self-immolation, facing homo sapiens with the choice that young Marx and Engels posed in 1848: “the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large” or “the common ruin” of all.)
+3. Ruling Class Rot and Division
Third, the “Marxist” It Can’t Happen Here reprimand wrongly assumes a level of elite ruling class political cohesion that simply does not exist. Who exactly is “the” ruling class these days? In an important 2021 essay titled “Take Me to Your Leader: The Rot of the American Ruling Class,” the Brooklyn-based Marxian author and radio commentator Doug Henwood rightly suggested that the answer is less simple than often assumed on “the left”:
“You could say the ruling class is the capitalist class, of course, but what does that mean? CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Their shareholders, to whom they allegedly answer? What about the owner of a chain of franchised auto parts stores in the Midwest? The owner may be able to get his congressperson on the phone — a senator might be harder — to get a tax break slipped unobtrusively into a larger bill, but what influence does he have over larger state policy? Are car dealers part of the ruling class? If so, what about new versus used? And what about someone like Henry Kissinger, a man who started as a clever functionary and ended up shaping US foreign policy in much of the 1970s, and who still has an influence over how diplomats and politicians think? How about less grand politicians and high government officials? Are they employees of the ruling class or its partners — or shapers, even? It’s not at all obvious.”
We are now well past the long New Deal and Cold War eras when different sections of the US bourgeoisie coalesced around a campaign to contain and roll back the labor movement and incipient social democracy at home and socialist states (the Soviet bloc and revolutionary China) and Third World anti-imperialism abroad. These real and perceived threats to the US capitalist order have been defeated, removing key sources of intra-capitalist unity. The loss of the old “power elite” cohesion resulting from the defeat of these perils to capital has combined with the related expansion of anarchic global economic competition and a virulent domestic right-wing backlash against post-WWII social movement victories and related capitalism-generated transformations in the nation’s racial, ethnic, sexual, and educational relations to unearth old rifts and fuel new political and ideological divisions within the American capitalist class, which (like any national bourgeoisie) has always been torn by internal fractures.
At the same time, as Henwood shows, the geographical, institutional, and cultural markers that pointed to the existence of a cohesive Eastern seaboard US ruling class and power elite from the United States’ founding through the last two decades of the 20th Century frayed under the pressures of a “new competitive structure” that took hold in the 1970s. The once “coherent ruing class” of Northeastern and upper Midwestern “White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), who more or less owned and ran the United States from its founding through the 1970s” was now joined by “Jews, Eastern and Southern European ethnics, and even [some] blacks and Latinos” as “the old-line [WASP owned and managed] manufacturing companies…fell to Japanese competition and squeezed profits.” Further:
“Inflation and multiple generations of inheritance ate away at old WASP fortunes. And the deregulation of Wall Street that began in the mid-1970s turned the genteel world of white-shoe investment banking (and associated law firms) into a ruthlessly competitive one. Gone were the days when a well-bred young man could pop out of Yale and into a quiet job as a bond salesman. All those old WASP ties of blood and club were replaced by principles of pure profit maximization. To use the language of finance theory, the transaction replaced the relationship…Firms that had dealt with the same investment bank for decades shopped around to find out who could give them the best deal.”
The new de-centered “greed is good” capitalist class of the wild west neoliberal era included rapacious “takeover artists” like Carl Icahn, real estate mobsters like Donald Trump, and oil and other natural resource moguls in the South and West – people like the Koch Brothers, who had no interest in and much contempt for the regulatory-Keynesian New Deal state and the measured “managerial capitalism” of the corporate liberal era, which put constraints on short-run shareholder profit maximization in the name and interest of longer-term firm and system stability. Consistent with the rising weight of the still largely revanchist and Christian fundamentalist South and West in the newly empowered destructive de-developmental wings of capital included many who rejected not just the regulatory “administrative state” (demonized as “socialist”), social welfare, collective bargaining, and managerial planning but also the progressive anti-racist, environmental, feminist, and gay rights sentiments and victories the great social movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
+4. Capital and Republi-fascism, 2016 to Present
During Trump’s Presidency
Fourth, there’s the record of the Trump years and “beyond” (perhaps we are still in the Trump years). Contrary to the childish myth of Trump as some kind of populist hero who rose to power on a wave of working-class support and contributions (see DiMaggio’s total empirical demolition of that moronic storyline here), Trump ascended with significant and essential backing from lords of capital. Trump got a big, indirect capitalist boost from elite corporate and financial Democratic election investors who helped Clinton defeat the populist-progressive Bernie Sanders — who by many indicators stood a better chance against Trump than she did. Those same investors then helped convince Clinton to run a campaign that stayed fatally silent on policy matters of critical significance to working-class voters and to thereby demobilize much of the Democrats’ base, opening the door for the malignant fascist reptile Donald.
Trump also was backed directly by the ruling class. In the 2016 Republican primaries, Trump was able to leapfrog over the heads of his less wealthy Republican rivals thanks largely to disproportionate media attention and to his own fortune — worth $2 billion by The New York Times’ estimation in mid-March of 2016. (A Republican candidate dependent on the usual elite bankrollers would never have been able to get away with Trump’s crowd-pleasing and rating-boosting antics.) After Trump won the Republican nomination, however, he could no longer go it alone when it came to campaign funding. During the Republican National Convention and in the late summer of 2016, Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen have shown, Trump’s flagging, formerly solo campaign was “rescued by major industries plainly hoping for tariff relief, waves of other billionaires from the far, far right of the already far right Republican Party, and the most disruption-exalting corners of Wall Street.”
The Trump general election campaign relied on “a giant wave of dark money — one that towered over anything in 2016 or even Mitt Romney’s munificently financed 2012 effort — to say nothing of any Russian Facebook experiments.” Along with colossal contributions from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife ($11 million), Sands Casino employees ($20 million) and Silicon Valley executives, Trump garnered a campaign finance torrent from big hedge funds and “large private equity firms, the part of Wall Street which had long championed hostile takeovers.” This critical surge of right-wing capitalist money came after Trump moved to rescue his flagging campaign by handing its direction from the Russia-tainted Paul Manafort to the far more effective white-nationalist Breitbart executive Steve Bannon. Bannon was strongly connected to the eccentric, right-wing, hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who poured a vast sum – $26 million (making him Trump’s third-largest backer) – into the Trump campaign.
Where was “the” capitalist ruling classes hatred for and opposition to Trump during his horrific fascist presidency? There were no real big capital complaints until the disturbing finale, replete with a mass and paramilitary assault on the Capitol. As Henwood noted:
“Trump was not the bourgeoisie’s favorite candidate…When he took office and immediately began ransacking, one wondered if the deep state would rein him in. Maybe the CIA would even arrange a malfunction in Air Force One’s fuel line. But it was not to be. Tax cuts and deregulation made capital forget all their reservations about Trump, and the stock market made 128 fresh daily highs — on average, one every six days — between inauguration and the onset of the coronavirus crisis. It took his encouragement of an attack on the US Capitol for the big bourgeoisie to complain openly — 99 percent of the way through his time in office.”
As Henwood might have added, the big bourgeoisie’s reluctance to trash Trump was further fueled by his remarkable propensity for placing its members and representatives in top government posts in brazen defiance of his “drain the swamp” campaign rhetoric.
Post January 6th Republi-fascist Megadonors
What about the period since January 6th? If anything, the fascist essence of the Republican Party has come into sharper relief since the failed coup, for reasons discussed (under Point 1) above. Has “the” capitalist class pulled the plug on the Amerikaner Party of Trump in 2021and 2022? Not at all. According to the Times, some of the big “megadonors” who are stepping up to fill the Republican campaign finance breach left by the death of Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brother(s)’s declining interest in bankrolling campaigns include a “newer breed” that “has often leaned harder toward the Trump end of the [Republican] party…For example, there’s Richard Uihlein, a construction magnate who backs many hard-right candidates, and Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who financed J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona…. Rebekah and Robert Mercer, the daughter and father who operate a conservative foundation… Mike Lindell, the pillow entrepreneur, has plowed his relatively meager fortune into Trump-friendly ‘Stop the Steal’ candidates across the country.”
A cursory look at the officially reported campaign finance data at the Center for Responsive Politics’ venerable Open Secrets website reveals a slew of big capitalist companies giving massive contributions to the now fascist GOP and its candidates and campaign committees: Fisher Investments (a $188 billion money management firm founded in Camas, Washington in 1979), Uline Inc (a privately held business supply and shipping firm headquartered in Wisconsin and founded in 1980), Sequoia Capital (an $85 billion venture capital partnership formed in California in 1972), Stephens Inc. (a privately held financial services firms in Little Rock, Arkansas), Western National Group (a real estate and property management firm located in California), Mountaire Corporation (the nation’s fourth largest slaughterer of chickens and the fifth largest contributor to Trump’s 2016 campaign), Abc Supply (a major private roofing supply companybased in Beloit, Wisconsin), G.H. Palmer Associates (a California-based real estate company), the Charles Schwab Corporation (the seventh largest financial service and banking institution in the US), J.W. Childs Associates (a 27-year old private equity venture capital firm), and…the list goes on and on.
DeSantis’s “Barely Hidden Fascism”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis currently oversees the nation’s leading state-level fascist test kitchen. As the national columnist Will Bunch writes, “The time for mincing words is over.” DeSantis’ mendacious campaign against the utterly fake problem of “left wing voter fraud” is “the latest and most alarming manifestation of a now barely hidden fascism by the head of America’s third-largest state, and one of the handful of serious contenders for the White House.” Further:
“Look at the… event that DeSantis staged right before he boarded the jet for his Rust Belt road swing — a full-on display of what 21st-century American fascism looks like. In heavily Democratic Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the 5-foot-9 DeSantis — the modern fulfillment of the Jimmy Breslin-ism about a small man in search of a balcony — elevated himself on a podium, flanked as he so often is by armed and uniformed men and women of law enforcement, to highlight his crackdown on supposed voter fraud ahead of November’s election….DeSantis’ push for voter suppression and the increasingly paramilitaristic vibe of his public appearances prove the Floridian is the one we’ve been warning about: A post-Trump Republican taking a war on democracy to an even more dangerous place, minus the buffoonish narcissism of the 45th president…DeSantis has embraced a politics that has absolutely nothing to do with traditional conservative blather about freedom and everything to do with raw power. This 43-year-old rising force has already surpassed the dark promise of Donald Trump by going after corporations who’ve dared to criticize him, seeking to chill classroom discussions about race or gender, and even overriding the results of a democratic election for a large-county prosecutor whose offense was having a differing opinion…In this context, DeSantis’ national campaign swing — which came to Pennsylvania this weekend with his controversial embrace of our extremist and Christian nationalist GOP gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano — marks a major turning point as America looks warily toward a 2024 election that already has a kind of 1860 feel to it. Right now, DeSantis — the only serious Republican rival to Trump, according to the polls — is demolishing the myth that The Former Guy would be challenged by a moderate. Instead, DeSantis is taking the loose ideology of Trumpism to new extremes of demonizing The Other and positioning the GOP as an anti-democracy movement.”
Fascism historian Ruth ben-Ghiat notes that DeSantis’ Florida and Greg Abbot’s Texas are “becoming laboratories of American autocracy, passing legislation that institutionalizes homophobia, and racism” and that “what [DeSantis] is doing in Florida [is] a rehearsal for illiberalism on a national scale.” Further:
“DeSantis, who seems intent on creating his own mini-autocracy in Florida, to be scaled up in 2024, has interfered in areas previously beyond gubernatorial authority, asserting his power to make appointments, including to the State Supreme Court, without Cabinet approval. The governor is ‘essentially the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court right now,’ says a sitting Republican state legislator, speaking anonymously…DeSantis may cast himself as the savior of ‘freedom’ in Florida, but the real meaning of his idea of liberty is clear. He wants to be free of any constraints on his ability to govern in ways that benefit the consolidation of his personal power. That’s how autocrats think. His defeat in 2022 –and if it comes to it, in 2024–is imperative for the future of American democracy.”
Many informed observers consider the Yale history major and Harvard Law graduate DeSantis more dangerous than Trump given his clearly superior cognitive capacities and his greater ability to appeal to moderate Republicans
Who is funding this fascist uber-asshole, who gives his speeches “flanked by armed and uniformed mean and women of law enforcement” (Bunch)? Deep pockets capitalists who couldn’t give a flying F**k that DeSantis is what ben-Ghiat rightly calls “a particularly dangerous individual” who epitomizes “the Republican party[‘s] adopt[ion of] an authoritarian political culture [that] rejects democratic norms and ideals…” Bloomberg News reports that:
“Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has raised more money than Donald Trump since the former president left office, relying on deep-pocketed donors rather than the small-dollar contributors he’ll need if he seeks the White House in 2024. DeSantis, running unopposed in Tuesday’s primary as he goes for a second term, has amassed $142 million from the start of 2021 through Aug. 5 this year from donors including the hedge fund billionaires Ken Griffin and Paul Tudor Jones…Unlike Trump, who relies largely on a network of small-dollar donors to fund his post-presidential political operations, DeSantis has raised the bulk of his money from a small number of wealthy donors writing him giant checks. That gives him plenty of money for his re-election effort in Florida, where laws allow unlimited contributions.”
And here we are only talking about campaign contributions that are publicly known, leaving out the vast networks of shadowy and largely “dark money” – political spending by nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors and that can receive unlimited donations from corporations and individuals under the Supreme Court’s arch-plutocratic 2010 Citizens United decision.
The now lethally rightmost of the two major and exclusively viable US capitalist parties (the neoliberal Dems and the neofascist Republicans) is profiting handsomely from profit masters’ contributions to such “nonprofit” groups. A recent and remarkable example is electronics manufacturing mogul Barry Seid’s gargantuan grant of $1.6 billion – possibly the single largest donation ever gifted to a politically focused nonprofit – to what the Times calls “a new political group controlled by Leonard A. Leo, an activist who has used his connections to Republican donors and politicians to help engineer the conservative dominance of the Supreme Court and to finance battles over abortion rights, voting rules and climate change policy.” Translation: Seid is a fabulously wealthy capitalist funding racist, sexist, and ecocidal Republi-fascist assaults on women’s reproductive rights, Black voting rights, electoral democracy, and climate sanity.
I’ll leave it to others with more resources to engage in the difficult, grant-funded work of tracing all the campaign finance connections (dark and otherwise), but it seems clear that considerable sections of “the” capitalist ruling class are quite happy to play ball with the double down-on-fascism Amerikaner Party of Trump, DeSantis, Gaetz, and Taylor-Greene these days.
Billionaire “Stealth Politics”
That real live billionaires are funding the nation’s fascist major party may seem counter-intuitive to many. The billionaire class has a deceptively liberal reputation. That’s because billionaires typically practice a powerful but quiet form of “stealth politics” whereby they tend to make relatively few public political statements. When they do make such statements, they make them only about issues in which they are aligned with majority public opinion.
The stealth involves two key deceptions. The first deceit – the illusion of disinterest – hides the fact that they are in fact quite significantly engaged in the influence of policy through political engagement. When political scientists Benjamin Page, Jason Seawright, and Matthew Lacombe came out with their pathbreaking study Billionaires and Stealth Politics in 2018, billionaires who made political contributions gave on average $500,000. This was just by reported contributions, excluding “dark money, the political giving by undisclosed donors that was blessed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.” At the same time, as Page told the Times last April “A lot of really wealthy Americans probably can pick up the phone and talk to somebody on a high-level position in Washington pretty much anytime.” (There’s no “probably” about it. It happens all the time. Ask any decently placed Congressional staffer about that.)
The second deceit concerns what really matters most to most billionaires. The small number of billionaires who speak publicly about political issues at all tend to do so around “cultural” or “social” issues that most citizens support – things like abortion rights and gay marriage. With no small fake-populist help from FOX News, right-wing talk radio, and Republican politicos, this helps link them to liberalism and the Democrats in the public’s weak understanding. In reality, however, billionaires mainly stay silent on “social issues” because they know that emotions run very high on such matters and that staking out a position on things like abortion and gay marriage could unprofitably alienate consumers of the goods and services they sell. At the same time, they stay close to mum on “economic issues like taxes and Social Security,” where their positions stand far to the neoliberal/capitalist right of the popular majority. And, not surprisingly, billionaires tend to value economic issues above all, so that their common or occasional liberal positions on “social issues” take a distant second place to their regressive and plutocratic desires for low taxes, a weak regulatory state, and a threadbare social safety net. This aligns them with the Republicans no matter how toxic and indeed neofascist the GOP has become in relation to questions of gender, race, sexual identity, nationality, education, science, and religion. By all indications, even the GOP’s clear break with previously normative bourgeois electoral democracy and rule of law – glaring hallmarks of late fascization – is not enough to break many billionaires and multi-millionaires away from stealthily backing the now fascist Republican Party out of economic self-interest. Hard-to-trace dark money is preferred here for obvious reasons. The more complex the tracking, moreover, the better from a “stealth politics” perspective. Look at how the electronics oligarch Seid got his $1.6 billion to the leading fossil fascist political operative Leo:
“The cash infusion was arranged through an unusual series of transactions that appear to have avoided tax liabilities. It originated with Mr. Seid, a longtime conservative donor who made a fortune as the chairman and chief executive of an electrical device manufacturing company in Chicago now known as Tripp Lite. Rather than merely giving cash, Mr. Seid donated 100 percent of the shares of Tripp Lite to Mr. Leo’s nonprofit group before the company was sold to an Irish conglomerate for $1.65 billion, according to tax records provided to The New York Times, corporate filings and a person with knowledge of the matter. The nonprofit, called the Marble Freedom Trust, then received all of the proceeds from the sale, in a transaction that appears to have been structured to allow the nonprofit group and Mr. Seid to avoid paying taxes on the proceeds.”
It helps keep the billionaires’ “stealth politics” out of the public eye that, as Jamie Lowe notes, much of it is conducted at “the state and local levels, where many crucial pocketbook issues are decided, often outside the scrutiny of the national media. In some states, that has meant a reduction in the pensions and collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers and the rejection of Medicaid extensions.”
+5. Can (Divided) Capital Stop Republifascism Even if it Wants to?
Fifth, it’s not entirely clear that capital can stop Republi-fascism from achieving national political ascendancy and consolidation even if “it” wants to. The idiosyncratic US governance order is not simply the instrumental plaything of the ruling class. The nation’s party and election system and governance order is tilted far to the revanchist racist, sexist, and Christian fundamentalist right by an interconnected slew of horrific institutions and practices significantly inherited from late 18th Century slaveowners and other propertied elites for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare: the Electoral College, the absurdly malapportioned and powerful Senate (where low-population right wing states have the same number of representatives as giant population liberal states), the racist Second Amendment, the gerrymandered US House, gerrymandered state legislatures, states’ rights, judicial review, strictly time-staggered winner- take-all two-capitalist-party-only elections plagued by unchecked big money control mandated corrupt and oligarchic campaign finance rules and practices.
“The Trump Republican Party,” Frum wrote last July 27th, “faces a strategic problem and a constitutional opportunity. The problem is that under Trump, the Republican Party is a minority force in American life. The opportunity is that an ever more unbalanced federal structure can enable a minority party based in many small states to control the majority population that lives in fewer big states.”
That “unbalanced federal structure” holds without small-donor Trump no less than with him and will redound to the reactionary advantage of a candidate DeSantis or whoever else the Republifascist Party lethally shits up for the world’s most powerful job.
Defeating the great underlying post-republican Republi-fascist drift that is so absurdly empowered by the nation’s preposterously complex and archaic, right-tilted aristo-republican system requires a massive, dedicated, and unflagging popular mobilization beneath and beyond the major party candidate-centered electoral extravaganzas that are sold to the masses as “politics” – the only politics that matters. This means looking far beyond and beneath the Democratic Party, which is no less if not more captive than the Republifascist Party to concentrated capitalist wealth. The Democratic misleaders abhor and work to destroy the kind of mass organization, resistance, and vision required to smash fascism and put humanity on the path to a socialist order that alone can sweep fascism into history’s proverbial dustbin.
That’s another way in which “the” capitalist class underwrites and enables the lethal fascization of the world’s most powerful country: turning the other, non-fascist major political organization into a “party of inauthentic opposition” and passive resistance. Sorry, not sorry for the repetition there. It bears reprise and reiteration as the dismal “climate suicide pact” Dems head into the mid-terms with so little of a positive and program for the people that their main electoral strategy seems to be to encourage the awfulness of the other major party.