As I recall, it all started when things at the Charlottesville protest got out of hand back in August of 2017. Violence erupted between protesters and anti-protesters, and several people were injured. Eventually, one guy snapped and rammed his car into a crowd. He was sentenced for murder the other day; he got life-plus, which is a very good thing.
The word “Nazis” was floating around all through the summer during a wave of Confederate monument removals and cemetery vandalism, but it was the day after the killing that it became widespread. The driver had expressed pro-Nazi sentiments on social media and a handful of neo-Nazis were at the protest. Donald Trump had previously Tweeted lukewarm support for those protesting monument removal. Naturally, by mid-August the internet had determined that all conservatives and especially the Trump Administration were Fascists, Nazis and white supremacists.
The theme has continued with great effect. The militant counter-protesters have branded themselves as “AntiFa” — anti-Fascist — as a way to legitimize their political violence. Immigration enforcement agents are generally referred to as Gestapo-style jackbooted thugs. The other day, AOC publicly labeled immigration processing centers as “concentration camps”.
Credit where it’s due: Clichéd slogan is a highly effective way to smear your political opponents, and it instantly ends a discussion. If you don’t believe me, go call someone a Fascist and see what happens. I think of it as “orange pitch” — sticky, highly visible, and almost impossible to remove without industrial solvents. It’s brilliant technique, and it could very well win the next election for the Democrats.
Trouble is, the world contains very real Fascists, Nazis, and concentration camps. Republicans are not Nazis by default; Donald Trump is barely a Republican, much less a Nazi. And “Fascism” is a word with a real meaning, not just a label to be stuck on whatever you don’t happen to like. Misusing these words dangerously minimizes acts of mass murder around the world while unnecessarily unifying the conservative political camp under Trump.
Lest people start calling me a Fascist right now for the foul crime of disagreeing with them, I’m going to quote Roger Griffin, author of “The Nature of Fascism”, in his description of Trump:
“You can be a total xenophobic racist male chauvinist bastard and still not be a fascist.”
So yes, I’m a member of the political orthodoxy in that I consider Donald Trump an odious man. However, the fact that I have a legitimate and justifiable fear of being condemned for thoughtcrime for failing to damn Trump at every turn is certainly itself food for thought. It reminds me that Fascism itself is anti-thought, anti-democracy, and anti-discussion. If you truly want to fight Fascism, you must engage in reasonable, thoughtful, civil debate on the issues.
I’ll let you mull that over while we return to the practical problems of calling Trump supporters Nazis. We’ll begin with the political:
I don’t want to see Donald Trump re-elected in 2020. However, Democrats, by branding all conservatives as Nazis, are driving half the population of the United States away from their own camp. Some people who despise Trump and thus voted for Clinton in 2016 will be so offended by being labeled Nazis that they’ll reflexively oppose anyone who insults them in this fashion. Yes, as a tactic it scares moderates, but it has at least equal power to energize Republicans. After all, what better way to motivate people to vote than by accusing them of being anti-democracy when they are militantly in favor of it?
Concentration camps are in use around the world today; American immigration processing facilities are a pale shadow. Vast numbers of China’s native Muslim Uyghur population are being held in re-education camps in Xinjiang; it’s often called an ongoing genocide. In North Korea, around 200,000 people reside at any given time in the Kwan-li-so political labor camps; the death toll is high, and so is replacement. Chechnya is allegedly operating death camps for their native gay population; the absence of living witnesses is making confirmation difficult. Israel’s governance of the West Bank is said by many to qualify. And the United States operated Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Bhagram in Afghanistan, and Gitmo in Cubo — all prison camps where torture and other excesses were routine.
Mark me well: Every time we compare our immigration processing facilities to concentration camps, we make light of these and other very real horrors. Again, I’m not making light of the problems at our border — but they are a separate issue with a very different and highly complex structure. We need to shed light on it, bring conditions into the open, and generate an immediate policy shift, not merely use rhetoric in order to profit from it during the 2020 election cycle.
There are actual fascists in power around the world, and they’re not in the United States. Maduro in Venezuela is arguably fascist; he’s a totalitarian dictator exercising power against the democratically elected parliament, employing roving gangs of nationalist thugs to enforce his will just as Mussolini did in the 1920s. Assad of Syria is similarly anti-democracy; his government regularly executes organized dissenters. Erdogan of Turkey has taken steps in the same direction, and he’s wildly popular as a result.
But the true danger of using the term “fascism” here is that there exist two far more popular counter-democratic movements: right-wing ultra-nationalists are gaining power throughout Europe, and totalitarian socialism is growing in Asia, Africa, and South America. Both movements have large numbers of adherents in the US; Trump’s political organization can properly be called ultra-nationalist.
Which is my main point: Fascism is outdated, and we won’t see it rise again in the United States. It is not the enemy. We have, however, witnessed a nationalist resurgence, and we’re also observing a counter-movement toward the totalitarian brand of socialism. The former classifies the press as the “enemy of the people”; the latter is typified by that intellectual dogmatism that wipes history from YouTube and makes this article appear a thoughtcrime.
For in the end, these factions are not the opposites they appear. In reality, they march together in syncopated goose-step and buy their jackboots at opposite sides of the same counter. Their doctrine and methods differ, but the method of each is the same — the death of thought by imposing clichéd slogan in its stead: “Make America Great Again!” “Black Lives Matter!” “Blue Lives Matter!” “All Lives Matter!” and “Trump’s A Nazi!” I’ll tell ya: Goebbels would have been impressed.
So yes — Fight Trump if you want. Remove him from power and install someone better. That’s what our election process is for; make use of it. But don’t call him a Fascist; label him the backward right-wing nationalist that he so obviously is. List the ways he’s odious; I assure you, you won’t soon run out.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.