Two Stupid Titles, a Deflating Anthology, and the Remarkable Persistence of Academic Fascism Denial

Image by Jon Tyson.

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, Did It Happen Here? Perspectives on Fascism and America (New York: WW Norton, “2024”)

But something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

+ Bob Dylan, 1965

Now that the Trump era has officially ended…it seems clear that there are still many social and psychological variable to map.

* Professor Moira Weigel, 2022

Never underestimate the lethal buffoonery of academics who can’t take the menace of Amerikan fascism seriously until it’s too late.

Here is a useful definition of “the F-word” from the website of Refuse Fascism, an organization that was formed in the immediate wake of Trump’s first election victory with the goal of forcing out the Trump-Pence regime through mass pressure in the streets and public squares:

“Fascism foments and relies on xenophobic nationalism, racism, misogyny, and the aggressive re-institution of oppressive ‘traditional values.’ Fascist mobs and threats of violence are unleashed to build the movement and consolidate power. What is crucial to understand is that once in power fascism essentially eliminates traditional democratic rights…Fascism has direction and momentum. Dissent is piece by piece criminalized. The truth is bludgeoned. Group after group is demonized and targeted along a trajectory that leads to real horrors. All of this took dramatic leaps under the Trump Regime. History has shown that fascism must be stopped before it becomes too late.”

The first three chapters of my 2021 book This Happened Here: Neoliberals, Amerikaners, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2021) explained in detail how Donald “Vermin” Trump, Trumpism, and the first Trump presidency were fundamentally fascist. It wasn’t difficult to detect core fascist tendencies and the essential fascist goal – the elimination of democracy and rule of law –in the Trump phenomenon and presidency. The main challenge in This Happened Here was empirical: keeping up with and documenting the plentiful fascistic conduct of Trump and his allies and supporters.

Any doubts as to the fascist nature and ambitions of the Trump phenomenon and presidency should have ended with the Trump-sparked January 6th Capitol Riot, the bloody culmination of a long rolling Republifascist coup attempt dedicated to first subverting and then reversing the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. After the attack on the US Capitol, only an academic fool could have denied the obviously fascist nature of Trump and Trumpism.

Refusing to Acknowledge Fascism, 2019-2020

Speaking of ivory towered idiocy, the fourth chapter of This Happened Here was titled “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial,” a turn of phrase suggested by my fellow Refuse Fascism Editorial Board member Coco Das. This was a play on the title of historian Robert Paxton’s oft-cited book on 20th Century European fascism The Anatomy of Fascism. Paxton was a leading name among a roster of academics who went on record mistakenly denying the fascist nature of Trump and Trumpism as late as October 2020. Some if not most of these academics persisted in sticking their heads in the historical sand even after January 6. To his credit, Paxton changed his mind after Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Trump sent his frothing mob to “get wild” on Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence and try to block the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.

The “Anatomy of Fascism Denial” chapter presented a parade of elite professors who assured us that Trump, Trumpism and the Trump presidency didn’t really merit designation with “the F-word.” This pompous club included Eliah Bures, historian and Senior Fellow at the University of California-Berkely’s Center for Right Wing Studies, Bruce Neuborne, the Norman Dorsan Professor of Civil Liberties at NYU’s Law School (who prefaced his denialism with accurate reflections on Trump’s strong parallels with Adolph Hitler!), pre-January 6 Paxton, Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science in the Department of History at Columbia University, Stanley Payne, the Jaune Vicens Vives Hillsdale professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin, Oxford historian Roger Griffin, Columbia University political scientist Sheri Berman, University of Texas government professor Jason Brownlee, NYU political scientist Cory Robin, and Samuel Moyn, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence and history professor at Yale University. Even the NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat (who knew very well that Trump and Trumpism were essentially fascist) stated (somewhat unconvincingly) a preference for not upsetting her fellow academics by using the “F-word” to describe the “authoritarian” Trump.

Below I summarize leading denialist narratives of the time in italics and mention in boldface the problems with each narrative:

The United States did not become a fully consolidated fascist regime with a rapid shutdown of democracy and political thugs in the streets when Trump became president, as if anybody was arguing that full fascist consolidation had taken place in the US. (Look at the RF statement above: “All of this [took] dramatic leaps under the Trump Regime. History has shown that fascism must be stopped before it becomes too late.” There was and is no sense here that fascism consolidated power in the US under Trump; just that it advanced dramatically and must be halted before such consolidation occurs, with grave consequences. )

Trump rose to power through an election, not through violence, as if fascism can’t and hasn’t in the past risen through elections!

The clownish narcissist and grifter Trump did not exhibit have a strong intellectual grasp of classic fascist doctrine, as if that was required for him to channel fascist political ideas and stand atop a movement that checked off all the boxes defining fascist politics and ideology – and as if fascism is about intellectual rigor and coherence.

Trump didn’t wage a giant territorial war meant to kill and/or enslave masses of people deemed biologically unworthy and to organize the world on hierarchical racial lines, as if a politician, movement, and presidency can’t be fascist until a nation goes full Third Reich and launches a replica of World War II.

Trump didn’t show any desire to carry out state management and command of the economy, as if such command and control was a defining feature of fascist ideology and politics.

Trump’s rhetoric and clowning persona was loaded with self-admiring and bizarre performative theateras if that somehow negated his fascist essence and the fascist nature of the politics and movement he represented.

Trump as president was just a pockets-lining wheeler and dealeras if that’s all he was and as if fascism hasn’t always contained abundant space for financial corruption and deal-making.

Trump was a “populist,” not fascist, as if populism is about the attempt to overthrow previously normative bourgeois democracy and establish capitalist rule with a boot on the peoples’ necks and in the name of racial purity, fierce patriarchy, and palingenetic ultra-nationalism.

Trump lost the election and his 2020-21 attempt failed to block the ascendancy of Joe Biden, as if fascism can’t be fascist unless it succeeds in its nefarious designs.

The European fascism analogy does not work in the US-American historical context”…as if the United States does not have (as some writing in the Black radical tradition most especially remind us) its own rich fascist characteristics and traditions that provided critical inspiration for the classic European fascism and fascist regimes that academic Trumpism-as-fascism-deniers reserve for legitimate application of “the F-word” – and as if the United States did not undergo its own dry run of at least proto-fascism during and right after World War One, as Adam Hochschild shows in his remarkable book American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis.

Much of what the denialist narratives came down to was a stubborn refusal to see fascism without doctrinaire and mustachioed early-mid-20th Century European dictators in full militarized state power readying and waging inter-imperialist war and exterminating masses deemed racially and otherwise biologically inferior and dangerous at home and abroad. The deniers believed that fascism was an in-the-books historical phenomenon, something that happened only in mid-20th Century Western Europe and that therefore could not happen in the 21st Century USA.

The fourth chapter of This Happened Here tore these narratives to shreds, showing that none of them remotely negated the obvious fact – well understood from the start by a number of astute thinkers of various liberal and radical orientations (including Henry Giroux, Robert Reich, Cornel West, Jason Stanley, Bob Avakian, Sunsara Taylor, Adam Gopnik, to name a handful) – that Trump and Trumpism and hence the first Trump presidency were fundamentally fascist.

Channeling Hitler, 2023-24

The denialism continues even now, three years and three months after the Capitol Riot, as we stare into the abyss of a distinctly possible second Trump administration. How pathetic. If Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors” Trump and Trumpism passed the “F-word” entrance exam during his first presidency (as I showed in exhausting detail in the third chapter of This Happened Here), he is now promising to earn his fascism degree with honors during his next stay in the White House. Ex-POTUS Trump has: called for the “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution;” openly donned the symbols and language of the neo-Nazi QAnon cult; hosted Kyle Rittenhouse (the teenage fascist militia member who killed two people with an illegally owned AR-15 at a Back Lives march in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August of 2020) and the neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago; advocated the extra-judicial execution of suspected shoplifters and suggested that former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley should be executed for reaching out to China’s military command (to reassure them that Trump would not start a nuclear war after losing the 2020 election). Trump is now openly channeling Hitler and otherwise revealing his fascist essence by: saying that nonwhite immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country;” promising to undertake a giant immigrant round-up, detention and deportation program; swearing to rid the country of Marxist “vermin;” pledging “retribution” against his political enemies; intimidating witnesses, prosecutors, and judges who dare to try to uphold the rule of law against him; threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act on the day of his 2025 inauguration; claiming that he will end urban crime “in one day” (a not-so veiled call for military executions in ghetto neighborhoods); announcing his desire to be a “dictator… “for one day;” portraying himself as a messianic figure who alone can save and redeem a once great nation ruined by “the left;” claiming to possess king-like immunity from prosecution for any and all crimes he has committed during and since his tine in the White House; posing as a victim of “radical left” persecution; calling his incarcerated January 6 putschist thugs “political hostages” and “unbelievable patriots” and promising to pardon them. Three weeks ago, Trump told one of his hate rallies in Ohio that nonwhite immigrants are “not people” and said that the US will descend into mass violence if he is not re-elected: “Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a blood bath for the whole country.”

All of which renders ridiculous the title of a recent widely read Andrew Marantz essay in The New Yorker: “Why We Can’t Stop Arguing About Whether Donald Trump is a Fascist,” by Andrew Marantz. The “we” in the title is liberal and “left” intellectuals whose “argument” is on with a debate about whether Mookie Betts is a baseball player.[1]

Did ..It Happen Here?

Meanwhile, the Republi-fascist cult leader and leading 2024 presidential contender Donald “Poisoning the Blood of Our Country” Trump continues with the Big Hitlerian Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, an openly preposterous and multiply and legally disproven claim that goes unchallenged by anyone who wants to stay afloat in a post-republican Republi-fascist Party that has bowed completely before its orange-hued Dear Leader. And this time, unlike in 2016, Herr Donald has a vast “mainstream” Republikan policy network on board. Led by the Heritage Foundation, this right-wing army of revanchist ideologues, hacks, and wonks has worked up Project 2025, a massive, detailed, detailed and ambitious program for the Christian white nationalist/neofascist takeover and makeover of American government and society. The Trump mission this time includes filling the executive branch from top to bottom with functionaries whose primary qualification for “serving” is loyalty to the Master in the Orange, I mean White House. The Supreme Court is in Republi-fascist hands and the lineup for the 2024 Senate elections strongly favor the nation’s right-/Reich-most major party.

Out across the country, Trumpist Republi-fascists rule half the country’s powerful state governments and are wreaking revanchist havoc both inside and outside of government. They have undertaken a literal physical-military nullificationist challenge to the federal government on the southern Texas border They harass and intimidate teachers, school boards, librarians, public health workers, election officials, election workers, voters. A recent report from Religion Dispatches details the lethal threat posed to voting rights, fair elections and social justice activism and public assembly by far-right white nationalist/Trumpist militias that are collaborating with county boards of supervisors and sheriffs. They stand ready to be activated for political violence by their tangerine-tinted Fuhrer, who is running well ahead of the hapless warmonger “Genocide Joe” Biden in the handful of contested states that absurdly determine presidential outcomes under the archaic slaveowners’ Electoral College. A spate of county resolutions seeking formal legal recognition of these paramilitary bodies “are part of a larger far-right plan to take control of county governments and put them on a war footing—as guerillas when Democrats are in control, and as pro-state paramilitaries when MAGA Republicans are in charge.”

A second Trump presidency – distinctly possible at the current Biden-burdened stage of bourgeois-democratic collapse – will significantly transcend the first one when it comes to making “dramatic leaps” (see the RF definition of fascism above) toward American fascist rule.

“It” vs. “This”

Which brings us to a second foolish title…With all this terrifying history as background, let us try to fathom the idiocy of the name of a new book of mostly academic essays edited by the historian Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins: Did It Happen Here? Perspectives on Fascism and America – the book reviewed in Marantz’s essay.

What is meant by the “It” in Did It Happen Here? The title is a play on Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here. Lewis portrayed the takeover of the United States by a fascist president who outlaws dissent, disembowels Congress, incarcerates political enemies in concentration camps, trains and arms a paramilitary force that terrorizes citizens, imposes regressive corporatist polices, and cancels women’s and minority rights. Political enemies are sent before kangaroo courts presided over by military judges.

Neither me nor anyone else among those commentator and activists who consider Trump, Trumpism, and the first Trump presidency to have been legitimately fascist ever argued that “it” – fully consolidated fascist power across US government – happened during the first Trump presidency. We think rather and only that, to quote Refuse Fascism (RF) again (see my third paragraph above) “all of this” – with “this” meaning fascist ideology, politics, movement, and to some degree policy – “took dramatic leaps under the Trump Regime. History,” RF adds “has shown that fascism must be stopped before it becomes too late.”

My 2021 book on the Trump phenomenon and presidency was titled This Happened Here, NOT It Happened Here. My “This” was the takeover of the White House (for four years) and the (post-republican) Republican (Republi-fascist) Party (this is ongoing and has in fact deepened under Biden) by a fascist leader atop a movement animated by fascist narratives, ideology, and politics. My fellow student of 21st Century Amerikaner fascism and occasional past co-author Anthony DiMaggio’s book on the Trump years is titled Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here.

“Did”? – a Historiographical Debate About the Past?

And what’s with the past tense in Steinmetz-Jenkins’ title?! Did it? Did? Really? What, as if the country’s fascism problem is in the dead past? Seriously, as if it’s now all about a historiographical debate over a long-ago period and phenomenon across the Atlantic Ocean? Have Steinmetz-Jenkins, his editor, and his publisher been paying attention to current US events and politics?

Tellingly enough, all but one of the essays collected Did It Happen Here? were first published before 2023. More than twenty of the thirty essays included in the anthology originally came out between 2020 and 2022 and a handful were published long before Trump was first elected. I only found one solitary primary or secondary source dated after 2022 in the book’s endnotes. Even Steinmetz-Jenkins’ introduction to a “2024”anthology cites sources just from 2017 to 2021, with one exception (Bruce Kuklick’s condescending and denialist volume Fascism Comes to America: A Century of Obsession in Politics and Culture.)

“Now That the Trump Era Has Ended”!

Here is a remarkable and sadly outdated statement from Mora Weigel, one of Steinmetz-Jenkins’ contributors, near the end of an essay whose endnotes contain no sources later than 2020: “Now that the Trump era has officially ended, and yet stochastic acts of racist violence and the macabre strangeness of [fascist] Q’Anon persist, it seems clear that there are still many social and psychological variable to map” (p. 269 in Did It Happen Here?)

What the F*#k (if I might use the original F-word)! “Map” away, professors, but here’s a news flash in 2024: the Trump era has NOT ended, officially or otherwise and academic denialism is party of why.

Leanings and Angles

Can “it” – consolidated across-the-broad fascism – happen here? We are about to find out, and to his credit Steinmetz-Jenkins includes a few essays (from liberal academics Paxton, Ben-Ghiat, Sarah Churchwell, and Jason Stanley) arguing with obvious accuracy that fascism is alive and well in America today. But Steinmetz-Jenkins and his favorite two contributors, the Trunmpenleftish Yale law professor/historian and high academic priest of “progressive” fascism-denial Samuel Moyn, and NYU political “scientist” Cory Robin (who has smart things to say about the right-leaning Minority Rule US constitutional governance order) prefer to help the petty-bourgeois professoriate stick its head in the sand and thereby avoid sticking its neck out on real dangers afoot. As Ben-Ghiat said in July of 2020, explaining to Salon’s Chauncy de Vega why she felt pressured to “use the word ‘fascistic’ instead of ‘fascist’ to describe Trump…one of the things that so many people are scared is that to admit the truth about Trump ….means they would have to do something about it. Many people do not want to take that leap.” It’s not too much of a leap to suggest that the primary “people” to which Ben-Ghiat was referring at the time were her fellow academics and, further, that their reluctance to “take that leap” was about the danger doing so would pose to their careers. (Look at the new McCarthyism terrorizing students and academics who dare to speak up for Palestine and the people of Gaza today.)

Academics have their leanings,” writes Marantz, “and Steinmetz-Jenkins angles his volume so that it inclines away from alarmism and toward what can be called deflationism.” Marantz is right about “leanings” but wrong on “angle”: the correct formulation is “angles his volume so that it inclines away from the reality of the American fascist menace and toward what can be called denialism!

The lead, Yale-minted “deflationist” Moyn’s essay in Did it Happen Here? is based on a false dichotomy between (a) seeing the obviously fascist Trump and Trumpism as an “abnormal” departure (with what call the modern bourgeois-democratic record of major party US politics) and (b) seeing Trump and Trumpism as “quintessentially American, the expression of enduring indigenous syndromes” and the product of the pre-Trump “status quo ante.” Both (a) and (b) can be and are in fact true. Recent US sociopolitical history in the long Neoliberal era has brought the longstanding main racist/white supremacist, patriarchal, cultist, authoritarian, nativist, anti-intellectual, fundamentalist, violent, ultra-nationalist and fascist currents of US-American politics and society to open predominance atop one of the two viable US capitalist-imperialist political parties – a party that is deeply favored by the right-tilted structure of the archaic US governance order. This ugly process is both quintessentially American and a radical departure from what was previously normal in modern US politics.

Notice the subtitle of Steinmetz-Jenkins’ Moynian-“deflationist” anthology: Perspectives on Fascism and America, not Perspectives on American Fascism, a reflection of the denier-deflators’ refusal or inability to see fascism as meaningfully American.

The “Way Forward” is to Call Serious Analysts “Neurotic”

This is the actual conclusion of Steinmetz-Jenkins’ introduction to Did It Happen Here?:

“The way forward is to put the fascism debate to rest, even as we try to come to terms with the neurosis it revealed in us – a purpose that this anthology serves. ‘The past may live inside the present,’ observes the historian Matt Karp, ‘but it does not govern our growth.’ Instead of letting fear distort politics, the goal now should be to push forward with the hope of building a better society for a new age.”

Read that again. As Marantz observes, the “put the fascism debate to rest” line at end of an introduction to an anthology dedicated at the “fascism debate” is “a bit like welcoming guests to a dinner party by promising them it will be over soon.”

But that’s hardly the worst thing about Steinmetz-Jenkins’ wrap-up. Considerably more insulting and lethal are Steinmetz-Jenkins’ presumptions that fascism is essentially a thing of “the past,” that observing a real and present fascist danger in the contemporary US is a sign of a negative mental condition (“neurosis”!), and that our politics and hopes for a better world – how about a revolutionary socialist one in which the social and political conditions that give rise to fascism are overcome and overthrown? – are enhanced rather than undermined by sticking our heads in the sand (the metaphor bears repeating) about 21st Century US-Amerikaner Trumpism-fascism.

Steinmetz-Jenkins might want to send notes of apology to the minority of his contributors who explicitly (Jason Stanley, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Geoff Mann, and Robert Paxton) or implicitly (Sarah Churchwell, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Kathleen Belew) take seriously the American fascist menace in 2024. After all, his introduction suggests that they are “neurotics” stuck in the past and unable to properly move forward in life! The contributors who push back on the denialist take could easily counter that it is Steinmetz-Jenkins and Moyn et al. who are stuck in the past when it6 comes to understanding fascism today.

“Plenty of Marxist Thinkers”

On a happier note, Marantz and Steinmetz-Jenkins deserve credit for shooting down a fatuous confusion advanced by many of the disproportionately old, white, and male Trumpenlefties I have encountered in the last eight years – the moronic notion that to identify Trump and Trumpism as fascist is necessarily to mark oneself as an ally, defender, and enabler of the capitalist-imperialist Democrats. “Like everything else,” Marantz notes, the “fascism debate” has “passed through the negative polarization filters of American politics…Once mainstream Democrats started talking about Trump as a unique threat to democracy…the question of whether Trumpism represented a democratic emergency got al mixed up with the question of whether you wanted to be the kind of person who agrees with mainstream Democrats.”

Steinmetz-Jenkins drills down deeper on this question, noting the tendency of some portside-aligned commentators and activists to “see the fascism debate as the continuation of the debate between those who supported Hillary Clinton being the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 versus those who preferred the socialist candidate Bernie Sanders [it should be “and those,” not “versus those” and “the social-democratish candidate Bernie Sanders,” not “the socialist candidate Bernie Sanders – Street].” Through this (distorted) lens, Steinmetz-Jenkins grasps, “those who invoke charges of fascism against Trump are viewed by their critics on the left as part of the political establishment that has dominated the Democratic Party for decades.” Steinmetz-Jenkins correctly notes that this “left” take on the matter “telescopes the fascism debate into a narrow political perspective that does not do justice to its diverse perspectives and concerns.” Further:

“It also doesn’t map onto key figures of the fascism debate when it presumably should. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), a key figure of the fascism debate [really? – P.S] along with plenty of Marxist thinkers critical of liberalism, for instance, think that the United States has a real problem with fascism. At the same time, many liberal thinkers…and conservatives are equally critical of comparing the present to Europe’s fascist past.”

(Fun fact: AOC had to be shamed into calling Trump and the Republi-fascists fascist by RF activists back in the day)

But this raises a question for Steinmetz-Jenkins: where the F are any of those “plent[iful] Marxist thinkers” who take the Amerikaner Trumpist fascist menace seriously in his anthology?! I am talking about contemporary socialist and communist analysts of the US today, not the ancient essays by Leon Trotsky (1940) and Angela Davis (1971) that Steinmetz-Jenkins includes in Part 1 (titled “Classic Texts”) of his badly titled new book. Good grief, but did Steinmetz-Jenkins think to reach out to Henry Giroux, Anthony DiMaggio, me, John Bellamy Foster, the revolutionary communist leader and writer Bob Avakian, Carl Boggs, Refuse Fascism, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Socialist Equality Party (whose World Socialist Website has been strong in characterizing Trump and Trumpism as fascist)? How about the left presidential candidate Cornel West, an early backer of RF? None of these names or organizations (Refuse Fascism? Hello?) appear anywhere in Steinmetz-Jenkins’ index even when some of those names have published polished academic historical and social science monographs on precisely the topics covered in Steinmetz-Jenkins’ anthology. This omission is creepy but less than surprising in the self-protective bourgeois racket that is so-called higher education in the neoliberal era.


1. It’s a bit ironic to see Marantz’s denialist essay in The New Yorker. That journal was the venue for an early concise and on point (if less than comprehensive) Adam Gopnik essay breaking down some key aspects of Trump’s obviously fascist nature in May of 2016, six months before Trump defeated the dismal neoliberal imperialist Hillary Clinton. “There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump,” Gopnik wrote:

“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 other 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.” (Adam Gopnik, “Going There with Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, May 11, 2016)

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