Now that Trump has been seen off (or not?), let’s look again at fascism: From the Honest History vault

Whether the 45th president of the United States is or was a fascist was a subject of considerable popular and academic debate. Most recently, there was this thoughtful piece by Timothy Snyder in the New York Times. ‘Trump’s coup attempt of 2020-21, like other failed coup attempts’, Snyder wrote, ‘is a warning for those who care about the rule of law and a lesson for those who do not. His pre-fascism revealed a possibility for American politics.’

For what Snyder means by ‘pre-fascism’, read the piece. Essentially, post-truth was pre-fascism (and Trump was the post-truth president), but real fascism required the leader ‘to enforce some truly big lie, some fantasy that created an alternative reality where people could live and die’. Trump had ‘no vision that is greater than himself or what his admirers project upon him’.

Over the years, Honest History has posted a number of items on fascism and its variations. Here’s a link to some of them. We noted there that is not a matter of ticking a box marked ‘fascist’ on the basis of certain events or behaviours, such as waving a bible in front of a church or turning police onto peaceful protesters.

We reposted there a link to this 2014 piece by one Paul Cannon, a poet and Anglican priest. Cannon riffs off earlier work by Umberto Eco and Lawrence Britt and uses Britt’s 14 characteristics of fascism (nationalism, disdain for human rights, scapegoatism, supremacy of the military, obsession with national security, and so on). He comes to some conclusions about how many of the boxes with these labels Australia in 2014 ticked.

The more sophisticated way to use such lists, though, is to ask ‘how much of this characteristic do we – or they, the US – have now, ‘how much can we/they stand?’ and ‘who is cranking up the gauge carrying that label?’ Of course, the drawback with using gauges is somewhat akin to the frog in the boiling water: the gauges might get to danger point without us noticing. Snyder’s pre-fascism concept might also be useful in this exercise.

Other Honest History items on fascism from Alison Broinowski, Jeff Sparrow, David Stephens (applies Cannon’s list to Australia), and VG Venturini.

David Stephens

25 January 2021

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