Fascism: We already have a word to describe the MAGA New Right, and not as an insult
The word “fascist” loses its usefulness when reduced to just a generalized invective. This is the problem with words so fraught as “fascist” and “fascism” — few can use them objectively and not as snarl words. If this weren’t the case, and if it weren’t so bogged down with historical baggage, I believe that American fascists such as Sohrab Ahmedi, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Josh Hawley would have embraced the label. Instead, both they and their critics are left dancing around the truth, resorting to less accurate labels like “Trumpism” or “MAGAism” or “America First.” If Bernie and AOC could reclaim “socialism,” then these guys should also be able to use “fascism” without shame — or at least, without shame among the Right. We should all be able to use a right and proper political concept without simultaneously calling people Nazis. So before I get accused of Godwinning, let’s start with some thoughts on what “fascism” means, starting with:
- Fascism not a synonym for Nazism. Hitler’s, uh, take on the movement was just one among many at that time period. Different flavors arose in Italy, Spain, Austria, and Japan, and only the latter can be accused of being nearly as bloodthirsty. It’s a mark of intellectual laziness among some lefties to use “fascist” when they mean “Nazi,” or vice-versa; some even use the word the way Republicans use “socialist,” that is, to mean “this is something that I don’t like.”
- Fascism is not a synonym for dictatorship or authoritarianism. If Nazism is a subset of fascism, then fascism is just one type of authoritarianism. Anti-democracy is a necessary, but not sufficient, component of fascism, as is state media control. See, the majority of today’s dictators are like the kings, warlords, and tribal chieftains that have defined human rulership since the dawn of the species. Then as now, typical dictators are focused on two things: solidifying their rule, and reaping the rewards for themselves and their most loyal lieutenants. They are not too interested in ideology or religion, even if they have to pay lip service like a medieval king mouthing proper deference to the Lord. Robert Mugabe was the perfect example of this, as are typical Middle Eastern rulers like Egypt’s Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Say what you will about these guys, and Syria’s Assad in particular is not a very nice man… but they are not fascists. (Stop using the word “fascist” when you really just mean “bad”!) And on that note:
- Fascism is ideological. If you’re only on the throne to rule and to loot, you’re not a fascist. You may not be a particularly beneficial leader for your country, but you’re not a fascist. But you aren’t a communist, either — that other political gift of the 20th century. Following some kind of grand vision most likely involving fundamental change to society is another requirement for the budding fascist, then, although the specifics matter. Yeah yeah, horseshoe theory, I know; but there’s reasons why “fascist” and “communist” are not synonyms that we’ll touch on further down, although they have the next bullet-point in common:
- Fascism is revolutionary. I talked more about this here and here, but don’t let their paeans to the Constitution fool you. MAGA is no less revolutionary than the Bolsheviks, the Sandinistas, or the Jacobins. In their zeal to “protect the Constitution,” they will assuredly edit said Constitution into something unrecognizable if they get their way, probably via Article V Convention. When today’s Republicans talk fondly of secession or civil war, it isn’t just idle daydreaming. They are deadly serious. If their Leader had not eventually folded on Jan. 6, 2021, they very well may have had their wish.
- Fascism is patriarchal. This is partly why most if not all fascist regimes depend on a single male ruler slash father figure; even the oligarchy ruling Imperial Japan relied on Hirohito as the figurehead. (France’s Marie Le Pen violates both this rule and the next; my only explanation is, well, France.) “But literally every society is patriarchal,” some may argue here; while this is true, fascism takes it to an extreme. This is why women were welcomed into the wartime factories of both America and the Soviet Union, but not of Germany. For America in particular, misogyny serves as a major feeder to both America-First fascism and neo-Nazism. Now, MAGA fascism has been unusually welcome of women in their ranks, as videos of the Capitol insurrection proved as well as the elections of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert; still, they will only ever accept a male overall leader of their peculiar movement. Which is to say, only Donald Jr. or Eric could ever succeed The Great Donald in Republican eyes, and never Ivanka. However, this may not be much of a concern, because…
- Fascism is not a hereditary fiefdom. This is surprising, and may be more of a historical quirk than intentional. Most fascist regimes of the 20th century did not survive long enough to begin worrying about successors. Also, fascists often take a shine to the Roman Empire, which also famously did not pass the imperial title from father to son. But whatever the case, when Franco’s time to step down came, he was succeeded not by a son but, first, by his right-hand man and then, after his death, by a restoration of the Spanish monarchy. So while Donnie Jr. is in the early mix for 2024, he’s still being led by Mike Pence in the polls, with this one also putting Lyin’ Ted ahead. DeSantis is also talked about as an up-and-comer.
A lot of people besides the large adult son clearly see themselves as potential successors to the Pumpkin King should he choose not to accept the 2024 nomination.
- Fascism relies on conservative institutions. The question of whether fascism is conservative is… a fraught one. Conservatives wrote books trying to paint it as a creature of the left instead. Nevertheless, there is no question that fascists rely on pre-existing conservative institutions to gain power. This would include conservative political parties of the democracy they aim to dismantle; the aristocracy; the church; the military and/or military veteran organizations; and, if applicable, the Crown. None of the above would be on board with a Communist revolution, we may safely assume.
- Fascism is religious. Part of this is as an intentional contrast to the atheistic Communists; whatever the case, while fascists would never respect the authority of the Pope, they will always include a religion as a core part of their values, whether that religion be Catholicism, evangelism, Shintoism, or the Germans’ weird neo-Paganism. The religion of MAGA includes a mixture of the worst of evangelism, hard-core Catholicism, and QAnon. White evangelism in particular has been an insidious threat to democracy and moral decency since long before Trump came along. (This is not to say that literally all evangelicals are as rotten, degenerate and godless as Jerry Falwell Jr.; however, those with ethics and goodness, those who still value Christian witness as something higher than an MLM scheme, do not find themselves welcome in the pews anymore.) Whatever the case, religious fascists won’t emphasize their religion’s words about compassion or love or turning the other cheek. They’ll go straight to the witch-burning stuff, and this is because…
- Fascism is highly negative. All fascists hold hating some kind of Other as just as important as worship of the Leader. In fact, fanatical opposition to the existence of some class of humans is in my opinion the most important qualifier for fascism, the key that sets it apart from run-of-the-mill dictatorships or even communism. Who this “Other” may be can be vague, such as a nebulous “them” out to reduce society to degeneracy, grab your guns, and cancel the Cat in the Hat. Other times, it can be highly specific, leading to some of the worst horrors in human history. This hatred tends to preclude thoughts about positive works or projects from their own side or State. For instance, if you ask a Trumper how they could worship such a ridiculous clown, they will respond not by citing Trump’s accomplishments but by attacking the questioner, the libs, or the media. This hatred and the leadership cult reinforce one another; whenever a party member might start to entertain distaste of the dictator, he can be brought back by a reminder of the shared hatred of the Other, and vice versa.
- Fascism is anti-intellectual. This limp-wristed term does not simply mean being opposed to pointy-headed liberal professors. Rather, those among the radical Right reject the whole Enlightenment and all of its values, first and foremost that there is an objective reality that is not simply what we want it to be. They also have no use for such 18th-century concepts as equality/fraternity, liberty, freedom, democracy, or the rule of law. All of these serve as obstacles for doing what needs to be done, and for whom these things need to be done to. As one small example, this is why most conservatives honestly feel the 2020 election was stolen: not because it is true, but because they need it to be true.
- Fascism is anti-capitalist. This is the one that most likely gets people conflating fascism with communism via the horseshoe theory, and also the one that makes old-school conservatives most uncomfortable with their more radical cousins. It certainly makes it hard to square a fascist’s rants about socialism/communism with their desire to put business under the heel of the State like everything else. (As an aside, a Trump voter talking in any way about “small government” is always worth a laugh.) But they stop short of fully seizing the means of production, so that they don’t become just like the hated Reds. Instead, fascists want the State to dictate to private businesses whatever they want, whenever they want. Josh Hawley doesn’t want Twitter nationalized; he just thinks the federal government should be able to tell it what to do. How this corporatism differs substantially from China’s planned economy is, at times, hard to discern. A good example of the New Right turning on capitalism is this piece from Marco Rubio, a senator who submitted and let himself be converted from a Reagan Republican to a MAGA dittohead by the former president. Rubio situationally embraces labor unions — that great nemesis of the Old Right — not because he gives a damn about the workers, but as a cudgel to use against a corporation with incorrect politics. Rubio means to put all American corporations on notice: they may only enjoy the free market if they toe the Trumpian line. Or, to put it another way: they say that in Hungary, nobody gets rich without dictator Viktor Orbán’s say-so.
If a Trumper in good standing laid out the fundamentals of fascism like this (more objectively and minus the insults, I guess… look, I at least tried), and if they directly and repeatedly stripped the term of the false equivalence to Nazism, explaining it as proper and valid political belief, I think we could get Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to stop running from the word. Either that or we need to come up with a proper synonym, the way liberals starting using “progressive” once the L-word became tainted. “Trumpism” is too clumsy a term, especially as American fascism has been around since long before 2016, and Trump himself is not too concerned with any ideology besides his own narrow self-interest. The radicalism of MAGA needs a proper term to finally divorce it from the old conservatism of Eisenhower and Buckley, and we have one right here from history.