MSM is Finally Using the Other F-Word

Image of anti-Trump poster.

Image by Gayatri Malhotra.

As a Jew I never understood how the German people – creators of one of the world’s most advanced and

sophisticated cultures – could turn to savage Nazism for their salvation. Following their defeat in World War I in

1918, the draconian post-war reparations called for in the Versailles Treaty, a 50% unemployment rate during

the Depression [America’s topped at 35%], and being the world’s pariahs helped me to better understand the

appeal of Hitler and fascism, the other F-word.

Then came Donald Trump. Known as the “accelerant” or Band-Aid remover” for the unleashing of

America’s just-beneath-the-surface reactionary demons, fears and hatreds, future historians may ask “What took

you so long America?”

Lying deep beneath America’s historical stratigraphy are layers of racial discrimination, such as the early 20th century eugenics program centered in California and Long Island, which Hitler enthusiastically praised in his autobiographical classic Mein Kampf. From eugenics and Jim Crow, through the Southern Strategy of the Nixon years, on to the Willie Horton ad in 1988, the current invasion of our southern border, and all the way up to the Great Replacement Theory trumpeted by Tucker Carlson et al., we find overwhelming evidence of America’s obsession with race. Add into the mix the 492 anti-LGBTQ+ bills pending in state legislatures for an update on the current formulation of the feared and despised “Other.”

As Lee Atwater, former avatar of the Republican Party and co-creator of the 1968 Southern Strategy used by Nixon, and the later infamous “Willie Horton” ad, admitted in 1981:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”

The Germans did not become Nazis overnight: It took many years of deeply immersive propaganda for a beleaguered populace suffering from international humiliation topped by a brutal economy to succumb to the allure of regaining dignity and control over their lives and place in the world. Like Homer’s Siren’s tempting Odysseus’ crew with their sweet and lustful temptations, Hitler offered a 1,000-year glorious Reich to the beaten down German people starving for rectitude.

The problem in America is the lack of imagination about the word “fascism.” Our corporatized mainstream media [MSM] have failed to accurately portray the Trumpism cult for what it is. Most Americans still think of jack-booted Nazis, wearing swastika armbands and marching in formation to the goose step. Or they recall images from master-propaganda filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl’s 1935 classic “Triumph of the Will” with aerial shots of tens of thousands of Nazis in perfect formation yelling “Heil Hitler” in unison with ubiquitous swastikas waving in the breeze.

Now think of a bloated aging man, wearing an ill-fitting suit and a patented too-long red tie, with an American flag lapel pin. Fascism doesn’t immediately come to mind, given our tired and popularized stereotypical images of Hitler and Mussolini. But as many have pointed out [see Madelein Albright’s “Fascism: A Warning” and Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present”] an early form of fascism is here and now, no looking away. Cruelty, violence, retribution and “owning the Libs” are the modus operandi of Trump and his supporters.

It is instructive to re-visit the late, esteemed journalist Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil,” a term she coined while observing the very mundane and pedestrian Adolf Eichmann testify at his 1961 Jerusalem trial. Arendt’s idea is that all of us have the potential to become monsters, under the right circumstances. Eichmann, who seemed rather shy and demure during his trial and could have passed for an itinerant shoe salesperson, was a key architect of the Holocaust, having a special zeal and talent for rounding up European Jews and sending them to the death camps.

Are conspiracy theories new to America? Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay published in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” was borne out of the failed far-right presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s run for the White House. Hofstadter realized that a significant number of Americans were easy prey for believing in conspiracy theories. While several QAnon devotees are now in the House of Representatives, and 69% of Republicans believe that Biden stole the 2020 election, it is no surprise that RFK Jr. is polling near 20%.

RFK Jr., who believes that chemicals in drinking water causes gender dysphoria, that near-folk hero Anthony Fauci nearly fomented a coup against Western civilization, also believes that 5G transmitters cause “brain leakage.” His anti-vaccine influence in 2019 in British Samoa resulted in the measle deaths of 68 children who refused the measles vaccine. And his recent unsubstantiated allegation that Ashkenazi Jews and the Chinese are immune to the Covid-19 virus has caused the predictable uproar.

I am encouraged that finally more on-air TV cable pundits on MSNBC and CNN are using the word fascism to describe what is happening to our country currently in the throes of anti-democratic Trumpism, from the Supreme Court down to local school boards. Threats to American democracy have never been more acute, immediate and real: It is not hyperbole to say that, in the unlikely event, if Trump were to re-capture the White House, democracy as we know it will cease to exist. Trump’s role models and heroes are Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Erdogan in Turkey, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Vladmir Putin in Russia.

Determining the etiology and history of a disease precedes a cure. Our disease is incipient fascism creeping incrementally into the American bloodstream, and will only be exposed and neutralized through our understanding of some ugly realities. Perhaps 25-30% of Americans prefer the nativist and proto-fascist model over the multicultural and democratic one. This is the same demographic that followed Trump while he led the “Birther” movement to de-legitimize our first non-white president. These are the people Trump correctly predicted would still vote for him if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

The remaining 70% of us should take comfort in the fact that we still possess the majoritarian view of reality. The trick will be to flood the zone [hello Steve Bannon] with Democratic voters next year so that we can begin to undo the disastrous gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts by many state legislatures that allows a minority of Americans to rule over the majority.

Generation Z [9-24 years old] promises to help produce that Democratic majority with gun violence, attacks on women [aka the repeal of Roe], the environmental emergency denied by Republicans, student loan forgiveness, and the repeal of affirmative action for college admissions fueling Gen Z’s impressive voter turnout in the 2022 mid-term elections and their expected massive turnout for next year’s presidential election.

Voter turnout next November will determine if this nation moves to the right- as we see in Hungary, Spain, Italy, Greece, and possibly France – or if the preference for democracy prevails. I have been teaching cultural anthropology to undergraduate students for thirty years, and have never felt so elated by our newest Generation Z’s activism and demand for rapid social change.

And I’m also elated that the MSM is beginning to finally do it’s job by helping Americans understand that the proper word to describe the modern Republican party under the hypnotic and dystopic influence of Trump is fascism.