Demystifying America’s Rising Fascist Movement

Gary G. Kohls, MD

The United States is only one of many nations around the world that is experiencing a dramatic rise in fascist political movements.  NeoFascist political parties have been achieving sizable minorities in several European countries over the past generation, and now American is experiencing the same phenomenon. Hard right-wing political parties in American have been around forever, but they have always been numerically insignificant – until now. Citizens who meet the definition of fascist have come out of the shadows in the US since Donald Trump started campaigning for president of the United States.

Of course the current xenophobia (fear of foreigners – a cardinal sign of fascism) has developed strength ever since the United States military destabilized the entire MidEast with its stupid and illegal invasions spawned the Syrian refugee crisis caused millions of desperate war refugees to seek shelter from the wars in foreign countries that can’t be expected to harbor all of them humanely. 

And, of course the hatred that generated by America’s state-sponsored terrorism, cruelty, massacres, inhumanity, bombings, international war crimes (that have gone unpunished) and ours don’t give a damn attitude about all the chaos and suffering has provoked understandable acts of retaliation that we call Islamic terrorism.

Friendly American Fascism

I have been observing the tendencies toward fascism in American for several decades now, but democracy in America has always been just strong enough to keep the movement from over-whelming our supposed democratic ideals. 

I used to call what I saw happening to American politics and commerce “Friendly” American Fascism, because of the smiles that have I have seen on the faces of so many of those leaders that are gradually  emasculating our democracy. The contrast from the perpetual frowns on the faces of the infamous Nazis that we all loved to hate was striking.

I realize now that I have been deceived over the past few decades by the smiles on hard-right wing politicians like Mike Pence, hard right-wing Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia, hard right-wing commentators on TV like Bill O’Reilly, hard right-wing Christian clergypersons like Pat Robertson and hard right-wing multibillionaires like the Koch Brothers that have been greedily gaining control over more and more of our nation, our political system, our courts, our cops, our churches, our media, our wealth, and our corporations. 

By their appearance of niceness, they have been cunningly gaining control over everything, especially since the Christian Fundamentalists and the Tea Party took over the Republican Party and corporations were granted the privileges of personhood in the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision. “Friendly American Fascism” doesn’t seem so friendly anymore. 

The frightening rise in bigotry, white nationalism, white racism, the KKK, neo-fascism, authoritarianism, the Gestapo tactics of our increasingly militarized police, voting rights pull-backs for minorities, the vicious xenophobia, intolerance, homophobia, white supremacism, anti-intellectualism, and the obvious tendency for many voters to ignore science and restrict the civil rights of others is, by definition, fascism.

Therefore it seems way past time for somebody to put down in writing some essential definitions that we should all have learned in civics class (but didn’t) that should make what is happening all around us less mysterious. So below are a number of definitions of political, economic and social realities that I found online and abridged, mostly from Wikipedia. I hope readers study it, take it seriously and re-read it as needed and perhaps pass it around. 

The future of our democracy – not to mention the success of any political discussions you may have with your illiberal friends - may depend on it.

Left-wing politics: supports social equality and egalitarianism, often in opposition to social hierarchy and social inequality. It typically involves a concern for those in society whom its adherents perceive as disadvantaged relative to others as well as a belief that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished (by advocating for social justice).

The political terms Left and Right were coined during the French Revolution (1789–1799), referring to the seating arrangement in the Estates General: those who sat on the left generally opposed the monarchy and supported the revolution, the creation of a republic and secularization (against church involvement in government). 

Those delegates who sat on the right were supportive of the traditional institutions of the Old Regime. The word “wing” was appended to Left and Right in the late 19th century, usually with disparaging intent, and “left-wing” was applied to those who were unorthodox or heretical in their religious or political views.

The term was later applied to a number of movements, especially republicanism during the French Revolution in the 18th century, followed by socialism, communism, anarchism and social democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since then, the term left-wing has been applied to a broad range of movements including civil rights movements, feminist movements, anti-war movements and environmental movements, as well as a wide range of parties.

Right-wing politics: Although the right-wing originated with traditional conservatives, monarchists and reactionaries, the term extreme right-wing has also been applied to movements including fascists, Nazis, and racial supremacists. 
In the United States, the right includes both economic and social conservatives. In Europe, and the Right includes nationalists, nativists (opposed to immigration) and religious conservatives.

Democracy (Literally “rule of the commoners”) is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Democracy is sometimes referred to as “rule of the majority”. 

According to political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements:

1) a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections;

2) the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life;

3) protection of the human rights of all citizens, and

4) the rule of law , in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by an individual, as in an absolute monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy (rule by “the few”). Most governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements. Karl Popper defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or rule by a tyrant (tyranny), thus focusing on opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution.

Plutocracy (from Greek ploutos, meaning “wealth”, and kratos, meaning “power, dominion, rule”) is a form of oligarchy that defines a society ruled or controlled by a small minority of the wealthiest citizens. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy. The concept of plutocracy may be advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, though the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.

Liberalism is a political philosophy founded on ideas of liberty and equality (egalitarianism). Whereas classical liberalism emphasizes the role of liberty, social liberalism stresses the importance of equality.

Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas and programs such as

1) freedom of speech,

2) freedom of the press,

3)freedom of religion,

4) free markets,

5) civil rights,

6) democratic societies,

7) secular governments,

8) gender equality, and

9) international cooperation.

Socialist political movements includes a diverse array of political philosophies that originated amid the revolutionary movements of the mid-to-late 1700s and of a general concern for the social problems that were associated with capitalism. 

Socialist politics has been both centralist and decentralized; internationalist and nationalist in orientation; organized through political parties and opposed to party politics; at times overlapping with trade unions and at other times independent of unions.

The term “democratic socialism” is often used to highlight its advocates’ high value for democratic processes in the economy.The term is frequently used to draw contrast to the political system of the Soviet Union, which operated in an authoritarian fashion.  

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels critiqued the economic dynamics of capitalism. For them “socialism” had come to signify opposition to capitalism and advocacy for a post-capitalist system based on some form of social ownership of the means of production. By the 1920s, social democracy and communism became the two dominant political tendencies within the international socialist movement. Socialism proceeded to emerge as the most influential secular political-economic worldview of the twentieth century. 

Socialist parties and ideas remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence in all continents, heading national governments in many countries around the world. Today, some socialists have adopted the causes of other social movements, such as environmentalism, feminism, and liberalism. 

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. Conservatives seek to preserve institutions like the Church, monarchy and the social hierarchy as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while the more extreme elements called reactionaries seek a return to “the way things were”. Conservatism has been historically associated with right-wing politics.

Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism  that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Violently opposed to liberalism, Marxism and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left-right spectrum. 

Fascists saw World War I as a revolution that brought massive changes to the nature of war, society, the state, and technology. The advent of total war and the total mass mobilization of society had broken down the distinction between civilians and combatants. All citizens were involved with the military in some manner during the war. The war had resulted in the rise of a powerful state capable of mobilizing millions of people to serve on the front lines and provide economic production and logistics to support them, as well as having unprecedented authority to intervene in the lives of citizens.

Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete, and they regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties. Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. 

Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature, and views political violence, war and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascist-leaning movements urge large budgetary outlays for war-making and “defense”.

Political conservatism, in most modern democracies, seeks to uphold traditional family structures and “values”. 

Cultural conservatives support the preservation of the heritage of one nation, and they hold fast to traditional ways of thinking even in the face of monumental change. They believe strongly in traditional values and traditional politics, and often have an urgent sense of nationalism.

A social conservative wants to preserve traditional morality and social mores, often by opposing what they consider radical policies or social engineering. Social change is generally regarded as suspect.
Christian conservatives principally seek to apply the theological teachings to politics, sometimes by merely proclaiming the value of those teachings, at other times by having those teachings influence laws. Christian conservatives typically oppose abortion, homosexuality, drug use, and sexual activity outside of marriage. For the past generation, many American Christian conservatives have been very active in politics, even envisioning a Christian  theocratic state.

Authoritarian conservatism refers to autocratic regimes that center their ideology around conservative nationalism and even anti-Semitism. Authoritarian conservative movements show strong devotion towards religion, tradition, and culture and were prominent in the same era as fascism, with which it sometimes clashed. 

Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism) refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These included privatization, fiscal authority, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector  in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980. The implementation of neoliberal policies and the acceptance of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s are seen by some academics as the root of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. 

The term “neoliberal” was reintroduced in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet’s [fascist] economic reforms in Chile. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economist Milton Friedman, along with politicians and policy-makers such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan. By 1994, with the passage of NAFTA and the Zapatistas reaction to this development in Chiapas, the term re-entered global circulation.

Neoconservatism (NeoCon) is a political movement born in the United States during the 1960s among conservative-leaning Democrats who became disenchanted with the party’s non-interventionist foreign policy. Many of its adherents became politically famous during the Republican presidential administrations of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. 

Neoconservatives peaked in influence during the administration of George W. Bush, when they played a major role in promoting and planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Prominent neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration included Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle and Paul Bremer. Senior officials Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, while not identifying as neoconservatives, listened closely to neoconservative advisers regarding their aggressive foreign policy plans, especially the defense of Israel and interventions in the Middle East.

Neoconservatives typically advocate the promotion of American national interest in international affairs, including by means of military force.

Libertarianism seeks to maximize political freedom and autonomy, emphasizing freedom of choice, voluntary association, self-ownership and the rule of law. 

Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power. However, they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing political and economic systems, often calling to restrict or to dissolve coercive social institutions, such as health care, social security, human rights.

Libertarians usually advocate laissez-faire capitalism and strong private property rights, such as in land, infrastructure, and natural resources.