So throw everything out the window and start over. We no longer are talking about wannabe fascists, fascist-lite, or fly-by -night fascists. The real fascists showed up dragging the cult of leadership with them. Granted, they did not wear brownshirts, but were dressed like they were going to a high school football game, albeit slightly better armed.
These combination hooligan/militia partisans are not quite the equivalent of the Storm troopers in Nazi Germany or the Arditti in Italy, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Trump gave very explicit directions on January 6 and the Proud Boys and other like-minded groups obediently besieged the Capital building imprudently chanting Trump’s name. However awful the scene was, the participants were not a tightly organized private party army. The SA and other similar organizations had consistent uniforms, a clear hierarchy of command, and a presence in every community. Every effort should be made to prevent that from developing.
None of this has fully materialized. Yet.
January 6 marked the ascension of Trump from a narcissistic incompetent buffoon into a serious contender for the future of the Republican party. He still lacks a direction, which apparently suits his followers just fine because then they don’t have to defend anything. The previously chaotic radical right now has a leader and, for the first time in recent memory in this country, a faint glimmer of coordination. Cue in the Cult Leader.
The coalition of what Timothy Snyder calls gamers and bashers got Trump to the presidency. If the Republican Party manages to bridge the immense gap between the roughneck and ironed white collar types with Trump as its head, it would bear some similarity to the mass parties that formed around Hitler and Mussolini. Fear of actual communists, the health of the economy, and the immediate legacies from World War I drove many richer folk to support fascism. Many hoped for a return to order which, of course, meant the retention of existing hierarchies under new names. They were often surprised when that did not happen. But those surprises tend to happen to blind supporters of a cult leader. Such conditions are not fully formed here. At some point, someone might let slip that communism has been dead for thirty years.
The Republicans may have bridged the gap before January 6, with the moderate political veterans thinking they could control the wilder instincts of their base, but Trump ripped the curtain away and It will now be more difficult for the more moderate factions to pretend they are in control, or even wanted.
This nascent movement still lacks something important, namely a strong unifying liberating idea. Although we focus on the things fascists didn’t like, depicting it as mostly an anti-movement, they usually had a liberating, positive vision of the future. They claimed that the current world was irredeemably decadent, and the fascists were going to facilitate its decline in order to build a new world. This utopia incorporated an imaginary past when things were good, men were men and women knew their place with a substantial dose of modern innovations appropriately bent to the will of the purged and perfected community.
White Supremacy is almost a liberating idea, but it lacks appeal when it comes blinking out into the light. Potential supporters might passively accept it, but would prefer to not be confronted with it. It goes without saying it wouldn’t do much for people of color, whose demographic strength is growing steadily. Keep in mind, Jews were a tiny minority of less than one percent of Germany’s total population. It was relatively easy to target them, which may be why antisemitism is on the rise today. No matter how much gerrymanding and whipping up new Jim Crow measures the Republicans do, the Black vote seriously limits the chances of taking power legitimately. Catching us by surprise was their one chance. At this point, White Supremacy, while certainly dangerous and poisonous, lacks the ability to create a utopian vision that could attract anything like a majority of Americans. White Supremacy could only work if it is perceived as a non-issue, or a more hidden motivation, drafting behind a more acceptable common grievance. That leaves the old-fashioned violent seizure of power.
The second amendment, anti-abortion sentiment, and immigration fail to add up to a presentable case for recasting society. They create a movement of negatives, and will undoubtedly attract many supporters simply on the basis of single-issue politics. Such is already the case. It could be a serviceable coalition for short-term mobilization against a non-functioning government, but would fall apart quickly unless there is a stronger linking idea. MAGA might, if anybody knew what it really entails, be that vision, but currently doesn’t offer a clear vision.
In the short term, the radical right has momentum. Americans need to keep the right from turning these breakthroughs into more lasting structures. Prevent the formation of any kind of organized national private or party army. Keep White Supremacy from spreading and present a positive vision of the future before the Right does. Keep the Republican Party fragmented. Make government work.
I think the country needs to be reminded what is wrong with fascism and Nazism. It isn’t simply the Shoah, although that should be sufficient cause for alarm.