The Republican Party has embraced American fascism
A man is heavily armed in a protest against coronavirus public health measures in Indiana. Jeremy Hogan / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images
Both President Trump and his Vice President have refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if they lose the election. Militia groups encouraged by Trump tried to kidnap a Democratic governor. A GOP senator tweeted that America is not a democracy.
The GOP embraced American fascism.
Our country's unique history with fascism dates back to the south of Antebellum, when slave owners rioted against the US government to build an anti-democratic society called the Confederation.
The Confederacy's legacy has since become firmly anchored in American politics, and its ideology has been forcibly reinforced by terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. We have lost our strength, but it will probably never go away entirely.
Trump's GOP has picked up on this fascist legacy, and if we don't fight it, it will destroy our democracy again.
This is a split opinion. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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The Republican Party has embraced American fascism, an anti-democratic ideology unique to our country and deeper anchored in our collective consciousness and history than most of us have been taught.
Historians often get very close to American fascism before retiring and concluding that fascism is something foreign. Robert Paxton, an eminent historian of political philosophy, described the Ku Klux Klan (founded by senior ex-Confederate soldiers) as "the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally associated with fascism." But somehow we don't own our American fascism.
Princeton University historian David Bell, building on Paxton in the Washington Post in August, admits that Trump and the terrorist groups that support him are nationalists, yes. Anti-democratic, of course. But he says they are not fascists because they did not create a powerful mass movement - not like the movements in Europe between WWI and WWII.
This logic stinks of an American state of emergency. The fascist KKK derived its ideology from an explicitly anti-democratic mass movement to overthrow the United States government - the Confederation.
In 1861, the wealthy plantation owners of the south were able to mobilize the entire region to wage civil war. It was a movement so violent that Union soldiers were forced to stay in the southern states for years after the Confederate army surrendered to maintain democracy.
Some historians call what the Confederate slave owners did "a counter-revolution". It was an explicit rejection of a crucial line that founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence: "We take these truths for granted that all human beings are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights by their Creator. These are life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness ... "
The Confederation's opposition to equality is spelled out in its founding documents, including "The Cornerstone Speech," a landmark speech given by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens a few weeks before the outbreak of the Civil War. In it he outlined the rejection of equality by the new nation based on the superiority of the white race. His country promised wealth and opportunity, but only for a few whites.
Equality makes democracy possible. Without them, the strong can smash the weak and impose their will on the rest of society. This is how fascist governments were structured, this is how the confederation came into being, and this is how Trump's Republican Party is now welcoming.
The southern slaveholders were fascists
To justify the institution of slavery as humane and just, the wealthy planters and politicians of Antebellum Southern (they were almost always one and the same) rejected democracy and equality in the mid-19th century. Instead, they decided that their society should be built in a strict order, with the plantation owner above and the slave below.
"Thanks to Jefferson, we made a mistake ... and took the love of democracy too far," Georgian political magazine The Southern Watchman declared in 1857.
"Vulgar democracy and rampant 'freedom' are rapidly supplanting all principles of continental 'freedom'! When will the American people realize that all of our troubles result from the absurdities of deciding that the 'poor' and the 'landowner' are equally competent are administering the affairs of a country or are equally entitled to vote for those who are to? "
It was clear to the southern slaveholders that a sense of equality - or any attempt by the state to create equality - could disrupt their rule. In an attempt to hold power with power, they took equality out of the equation. They have also starved their government coffers, much like our modern GOP's agenda. The result was a society with an overwhelming inequality not only between black and white, but also between the planter class and white smallholders.
An anonymous political pamphlet circulated among southern farmers in the 1840s, signed only with the name "Brutus," described the state of South Carolina outside the planter class as follows:
"This state is supposed to have a republican form of government. It may be the form, but the substance is missing ... the great mass of people are practically disenfranchised ... He can do nothing for his family. He cannot raise his children his family are condemned to poverty ... ignorance and contempt for the preferred aristocrat. "
There could be no social mobility when all resources belonged to the planter class. Rather than seeing freedom as an individual's ability to pursue happiness, the planters of the South viewed freedom as the ability to do one's duty in the service of social order. When you were a slave you were most free when you were the best slave, when you were a woman you were submissive to your husband or father. The planter class put their aspirations at the center of their society, expecting everyone to line up. Violence and ridicule faced those who did not.
The United States waged the civil war to end slavery and preserve democracy on the continent. "The cause" the doomed confederacy fought for - for which it set up private militias - was the right to forcibly preserve an unequal society that was wholly conquered by a ruling class that imposed its will on everyone else. This is the origin of American fascism.
Connect and disconnect
The Civil War officially ended in 1865, but Union soldiers left the south 11 years later after the hotly contested presidential election of 1876. Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden refused to concede Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and only agreed to if Republicans agreed to the occupation of the South by the US Army.
Once they were gone, the southern fascists could organize their region's society in the anti-democratic way they wanted and create the Black Codes, Jim Crow, polling taxes and polling tests. In this way, fascism - a mass movement to enforce the social order of white supremacy - has grown within a democracy for generations since the civil war.
Think about what happened in the last two weeks alone.
President Donald Trump has spoken openly about refusing to accept the November election result if he doesn't win. He's not the only one in his party who has suggested disregarding the will of the people. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence dodged a question about the peaceful transfer of power in his debate against Senator Kamala Harris and refused to reject Trump's stance in favor of democracy. Trump was thrilled.
That night, Utah GOP Senator Mike Lee insisted on Twitter that democracy is not (it is) a necessary part of this American experiment. Instead, our government should strive for peace, prosperity and freedom - but who? Without democracy there is only freedom for the strong, the rich and the violent. We know this from observing undemocratic countries around the world and in history.
Just hours after Lee's tweet on Thursday, the FBI arrested 13 men in connection with a domestic terrorist attack to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Whitmer, a Democrat, has upset right-wing armed groups in her state by enforcing public health regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump counts the violent people in these groups among his supporters. Just before these allegations were announced, Trump named Whitmer "the prison queen" on Fox News. This after armed protesters in Michigan were labeled "good people" who were just a little angry.
In a press conference following the news, Governor Whitmer said Trump was involved in threatening her life. It drew a direct line between Trump's refusal to denounce armed white supremacist groups in the first presidential debate. In doing so, she rejected America's most virulent form of fascism. That is white supremacy. In our country, because of the legacy of the Confederation, white supremacy and fascism are inextricably linked.
The militia groups threatening to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer and the protesters who carried Confederate flags in Charlottesville in 2017 are all participants in this story. Their ideology is derived from the mass movement to overthrow the US government south of Antebellum, just as the ideology of today's neo-Nazis is derived from Adolf Hitler's mass movement to take over the world. Both groups are just as fascist today as they were before, even if they lack the support they had before.
In part because of our refusal to acknowledge this story, American fascism is so deeply anchored in our system that we are still fighting it on several fronts - voter suppression, right-wing terrorism, and racial injustice. That same denial has allowed men like Donald Trump and Senator Mike Lee to mistake themselves that they have some kind of commitment to freedom if they actually continue this fascist story. It is time we all recognized that.
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