Keep Down the Fascism Detectors: Elise Stefanik, the New York Times, and the Appeasement-by-Deletion of Fascism

Image by Marco Lenti.

Never underestimate the often subtle, smooth, and sophisticated complicity of liberal journalists in normalizing and appeasing the fascisation and the related lethal farceification (I apologize for making up words) of US American politics.

Take New York Times’ “Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter” Nicholas Confessore’s recent 8100 word-plus Times report on the “MAGA transformation” of Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the number three Republican (Republifascist) in the US House of Representatives.

From Disdaining to Embracing a Fascist President and Another Politician Who Praised Hitler

Confessore’s essay, titled “The Invention of Elise Stefanik,” is a great success by the usual reportorial and literary standards at the nation’s longstanding “newspaper of record.” With abundant detail and elegance, Confessore and his editors tell the unsettling saga of Rep. Stefanik’s dramatic post-2018 conversion from traditional establishment Republicanism to fervent Trumpism. “With breathtaking speed and alacrity,” Confessore writes, Stefanik dropped her initial “loathing” of the “whack job” (her description of the future 45th POTUS in 2015) and went full MAGA after the 2018 mid-terms elections. Shedding her contempt for Trump’s sexism and racism, the “reinvented” Stefanik “adopted [Trump’s] over-torqued style on Twitter and embraced the conspiracy theories that animate his base, amplifying debunked allegations of dead voters casting ballots in Atlanta and unspecified ‘irregularities’ involving voting-machine software in 2020 swing states.”

How far right and to the dark/Trump side did Stefanik go? She went hard MAGA, Confessore tells five ugly stories:

+ “Two weeks after a young white man killed 10 people at a supermarket this past May in a largely Black neighborhood in Buffalo, accusing his victims of seeking to ‘ethnically replace my own people,’ Ms. Stefanik endorsed Carl Paladino, a developer and Trump friend running for Congress, who had suggested online that the massacre might have been a false-flag operation meant to help Democrats ‘revoke the 2nd amendment.’ (Within days of Ms. Stefanik’s endorsement, audio surfaced of Mr. Paladino praising Adolf Hitler as ‘the kind of leader we need today.’ The congresswoman told HuffPost that his comment had been taken out of context.)”

+ “Last January, she joined the Two weeks  New York Young Republican Club, a longtime redoubt of Rockefeller Republicanism recently taken over by MAGA enthusiasts. In May, the club announced a partnership with the youth wing of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party, proclaiming a shared interest in ‘ending illegal immigration undertaken with the interest of eradicating the traditional people of a land.’ Guests at the club’s annual holiday banquet in December included Peter Brimelow, founder of the nativist website VDare, and Jack Posobiec, a far-right commentator known for promoting the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory.”

+ “In spring 2020, she flew with the president on Air Force One to witness the SpaceX rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Aboard the plane, according to a former White House official who was there, the president made a derogatory comment about the sex life of one of his most loyal and senior female aides. Ms. Stefanik had once criticized Mr. Trump’s demeaning comments toward women; now she simply plastered a smile on her face…Ms. Stefanik’s spokesman denied the account, saying it ‘never happened.’”

+ Stefanik creepily deleted previous tweets praising Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the federal response to Covid-19, and called for Fauci’s head after Fauci became “firmly established as a right-wing punching bag.”

+ Stefanik totally signed on with Trump’s fascist Big Lie of a stolen election after he was defeated by Biden in the fall of 2020. “Repeating a string of already debunked assertions,” Confessore reports, Stefanik lied to her constituents and fanned right-wing paranoia by falsely “claim[ing] that local officials had counted the votes of dead people, or tossed out procedures intended to prevent fraud, or illegally counted late-arriving votes.” She made preposterous and disproven charges of voter fraud in an open letter emailed to her district on the morning of Jan 6.

On the evening of January 6, 2021, after Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with the Assault Rifles Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump’s mob was finally removed from the US Capitol, Stefanik naturally joined 138 other House Republicans in voting against the certification of duly elected Biden Electors.

Elise Stefanik, “the onetime future of hopeful, aspirational politics in America,” Confessore writes (the description is quite overblown), “now assails Democrats as ‘the party of Socialists, illegals, criminals, Communist Truth Ministers & media stenographers.’ In the process, she has rocketed from the backbench to the party’s No. 3 House leadership job, presiding over the conference’s overall messaging.”

“No Radicalization”

Confessore spends a lot of ink showing how “moderate” Stefanik used to be and how “disappointed” many of her old friends and her onetime US House mentor, the “libertarian” former House Speaker Paul Ryan, have been with Stefanik since her move to the full MAGA right. All of which is fine storytelling and interesting in a perverse and gossipy way.

More depressing is Confessore’s description of how well Stefanik’s shift in Trump, Bannon, Paul Gosar et al.’s sick direction worked for her. By Confessore’s skillful account, Stefanik raked in massive sums of out-of-district money once she dropped what she later denounced as “Trump derangement syndrome” and embraced the tangerine-tinted tyrant and his demented Christian white nationalist base. Thanks to the wild new campaign finance surplus and approval she got from MAGA world, Stefanik became an overnight “Republican star” and a high-level player in the Republican House Conference, over whose “overall messaging” she now “presides.”

Most chilling of all is how cold-blooded and purely selfish Stefanik’s “reinvention” has been and how consistent it is with her longstanding morally hollow pursuit of personal advancement and power. Relying on “dozens of interviews” with “former aides, advisers and friends going back to Ms. Stefanik’s Harvard days,” Confessore shows that Stefanik has undergone no core and heartfelt ideological change. By Confessore’s account, his interview subjects:

“struggled to identify any of her deeply held political beliefs at all…[instead they] recalled her generic loyalty to the Republican Party, her intense competitiveness and her unerring ability to absorb what she thought people around her wanted and to reflect it back at them. Eager to advance, skilled at impressing more powerful figures with her intelligence and work ethic, she has spent years embedding herself wherever the action seems to be at the time. ‘She knows exactly what she’s signed up for,’ said Kate Yearwood Young, a former friend from Harvard. ‘There was no radicalization’” (emphasis added).

Helping the Right Brand Neofascism as “Populism”

So what’s wrong with Confessore’s lengthy report? Three key things. The first and most severe problem is his inability or unwillingness to properly identify as Christian white nationalist and indeed fascist what Stefanik has so “shockingly’ embraced since late 2018. Confessore moronically (I know it must sound strange to use such a word in connection with a Pulitzer Prize-winner – sorry!) calls the arch-plutocratic billionaire and fascist Trump a “populist president” and doubts that Stefanik has any real allegiance to what Confessore calls “Trump-style populism.”

I do not have time or space in this current essay to go into the differences between populism and fascism or to describe in detail the essential characteristics of contemporary fascist politics and ideology. I have published many previous commentaries on these topics (see this for one of many examples), which are taken up at richly annotated length in my latest book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America. The second chapter of that book is titled “The Fascist Wolf Defined and Foretold.” The Third Chapter is titled “A Fascist in the White House, 2017-2021.” The fourth chapter, titled “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial,” examines U.S. journalists and academics’ distressing and often spineless refusal to properly name the political-ideological beast that took up residence in the executive branch of the world’s most powerful nation for four years – the Amerikaner neofascism that captured one of the nation’s two dominant capitalist political parties during the Obama years. A common practice in this cringing denialism is to play along with the Republi-fascists’ deceptive and absurd branding of themselves as “populist” and “working-class.”

The F-word (fascism) does not appear once in Confessore’s essay, which shows Stefanik: (a) backing and running interference for a far-right congressional candidate who praised Adolf Hitler; (b) joining an organization that is allied with an Austrian fascist party; (c) backing and justifying the attempted overthrow of previously normative bourgeois electoral democracy and rule of law before and after the Capitol Riot; (d) calling (in classic fascist style) the militantly capitalist-imperialist Democratic Party a “party of Socialists and Communist Truth Ministers.” Quite an accomplishment, but all too par for the course in the nation’s dominant corporate Weimer media.

Power as the Goal

Second, Confessore misses a key part of the unmentionably fascistic continuity between pre- and post-MAGA Stefanik. Fascism has always involved a morally unprincipled, ruthless, and sociopathic pursuit of power as the supreme goal in and of itself. Like any good fascist, pre-Trumpist Stefanik wanted to win, to prevail over others, to climb higher on the holy pyramid of power. Having no moral center and being perfectly willing to lose and disdain old friends and allies is part of the game. Fascism has no problem with self-centered individual accumulation of wealth and/or power. To the contrary, its Social Darwinian ethos celebrates such accumulation in the name of natural selection, survival of the fittest, and proper social hierarchy.

Confessore might want to reflect on how Stefanik’s path to fascism (what Confessore and many other liberal and even left commentators help the right brand as “populism”) is perhaps worse than the full-throated extremism exhibited by such openly demented white nationalist freaks and blood-libel conspiratorialists as Gosar, Loren Bobert, and Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Stefanik brings a measure of Harvard-minted sophistication and cynicism to the faux-populist neofascism that could soon be led not by Trump but by an insidious and potentially more dangerous wannabe “strongman” – the Harvard and Yale Law graduate Ron DeSantis.

The “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Party Wants to “To Govern Effectively …Right

Third, Confessore says something that deserves serious and related criticism. “As Republicans prepare to take control of the House in the coming days,” Confessore writes, Stefanik’s “climb to MAGA stardom may also be a cautionary tale. Mr. Trump’s obsession with litigating his own defeat has left him at once the party’s most potent force and its greatest liability, blamed by many Republicans for their failure to win the Senate in November and for a House majority that, some fear, may be too narrow to govern effectively” (emphasis added).

Excuse me? Where did Confessore did get the ridiculous notion that the Republifascists want “to govern effectively.”

Let’s be clear about something: no love for the capitalist-imperialist Weimar Democrats here, but the Republican Party is now a white Christian ethno-nationalist and neofascist “them” versus “us” entity that wants to keep women pregnant and at home (and otherwise subordinate to men), saturate the nation with weapons, burn every fossil fuel US-Americans can get their hands on, strip basic environmental protections, smash unions, outlaw non-fascist political protest, officially re-whitewash American history, roll back Black civil rights, ramp up the giant racist police state, terrorize and marginalize cities, merge church and state, demolish much of higher education, end immigrant rights, terrorize gay and transgender people, close off nonwhite immigration, spread pandemics, and much more terrible to contemplate including of course the stripping of basic bourgeois-democratic voting rights from those it considers unworthy of citizenship (feminists, immigrants, nonwhites, liberals, progressives, socialists) in an increasingly nonwhite, secular and secular nation.

“Govern effectively”? Confessore can’t be serious. I wonder what he thinks about the very first thing the Republifascists did on assuming power in the US House this week: they took down the metal (weapon) detectors that were installed outside the House chamber entrance in the wake of the fascist Capitol Riot!

I wonder also how Confessore has been enjoying the Republikaner shit-show currently underway in the US House of Representatives, whose Republifascist majority can’t agree on a Speaker. As a sharp Refuse Fascism comrade writes from California, “the super crazed, fascist lunatic wing is fighting the ordinary fascist wing of the Republican Party” for supremacy. Another such comrade from Chicago adds this:

“Yes, in a sense, there is in fact a real ideological dimension to ‘the intra-Republican madness in the House.’…there’s an uncompromising fanaticism (even towards their own side) to the ‘never Kevin [McCarthy]’ crowd on full(er) display in the halls of power. What signal is it sending to the armed fascist militias? And it’s not going away, regardless of who’s elected speaker. This is where appeasement of fascism goes, and that applies to Democrats too.”

The McCarthy speakership imbroglio exposes as a farce any claim these power-mad neo-fascist post-republican Republican (Republifascist) lunatics have to the goal of responsible governance. It is part of the “appeasement…that applies to Democrats” that the Times and their star reporter Nicholas Confessore take seriously the ridiculous notion that the Republicans would like “to govern effectively.”

The essay originally appeared on The Paul Street Report.

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