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America, Fascism and Politics

Written by: on February 2, 2017

…there was no type of background – of religious, cultural, or national tradition – that made a country immune to fascism, once the conditions for its emergence were given.“[1]

I had a colleague say “History is written by those in power”. This statement is absolutely true! I am reminded of the national debate with the state of Texas, how they wanted to eradicate specific tragic moments in American history from their textbooks. It was appalling to so many historians and Americans. To deny truth is not a solution to absolve the issues that exist in our country. It was a dawning of a day. A day I was told would repeat itself but yet I was not ready for. I cannot help but sometimes see history as “his story” meaning that it is truly an account of men in power within a specific time period. I do not want to discredit their account entirely but what to bring to the surface the reality that many great women and people of color who have been systematically marginalize were written out of many of these accounts. Unfortunately, once we were enlightened to more of the truth we have become subject to the scrutiny of those who refuse to believe otherwise. Karl Polanyi ,while attempting a much greater end goal than my post will ever reach ,is very descriptive about the historical events and thereby the implications of such. In reading America the Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time by Karl Polanyi appear to be written as a timeless historical narrative. As I read his book, it was as if in some regard he was commentating on current affairs. When I look at the current state of America, under our new American President, it has been widely noted that his ideals resonate with those who would be labeled and yet not self identified as Fascists. Merriam-Webster defines a fascism as “ a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition“[2].  It is of this very philosophical belief that many who identify would assert that it is important to  unify under one party making a democracy that is indicative of any liberal emphasis a necessary enemy that must become obsolete. In Chapter Twenty  “History  in the Gear of Social Change”,he writes “in its struggle for political power fascism is entirely free to disregard or to use local issues, at will.  Its aims transcend the political and economic framework: it is social.  It puts a political religion into the service of a degenerative process.  In its rise it excludes only a very few emotion from its orchestra; yet once victorious it bars from the band wagon all but a very small group of motivations, though again extremely characteristic ones “[3].

There was an article published in October of 2016 in the Washington post by what our President may  deem “fake news” that outlined the ways in which he wasn’t a text book fascist. Although I would not want to engage in a political debate, I do think that some of the points articulated in this article can be discussed with merit. The article entitled “How fascist is Donald Trump? There’s actually a formula for that” by John McNeill  a Georgetown University professor of history[4]. There were five out of eleven points where he scored a 3 or 4 (four being the highest). The top five were: Fetishization of masculinity, Leader cult, Lost-golden-age syndrome, Self-definition by opposition, and Theatricality. Two of the strongest of the five I will include in this post. As it relates to Fetishization of masculinity, the author says “ Fascists trumpeted what they saw as masculine virtues and supported male authority within family and society, urging women to confine their sphere to home and children (the more of which the better). Trump shares much of this outlook, lauding his own stamina and accusing his femalerival, Hillary Clinton, of lacking it. He mocks men whom he deems deficient in virility… Trump’s vision of the proper woman seems to be a supermodel, more in line with Hugh Hefner’s ideology than Mussolini’s. Nonetheless, on swaggering machismo he gets full marks.“[5] The second was Leader Cult. John McNeill states “Fascists always looked to a leader who was bold, decisive, manly, uncompromising and cruel when necessary — because the parlous state of the nation required such qualities… Trump, although not a war veteran, fully embraces the cult of the leader. He offers his business experience as evidence of his decisive leadership and is very testy when his business acumen is doubted. He also claims to channel the common man, enjoying a connection all other politicians lack.“[6] Even though this article was published before he was voted into office as President, evidence of Fascism was witnessed in his choice for Supreme Court.  This week his nominee for Supreme Court Judge ,Neil Gorsuch,  has been rumored to hold Fascist ideals very closely. Although the antics enacted by our president bear to reveal the familiarity with the historical narrative that evolves under Fascist leadership, I am not using this platform to definitively denoted him as such. I am intending to call into question the association that exists between the familiarity of Fascist ideals Polanyi noted in his book and our current American events. I am interested in the opinions and perspectives of my colleagues. Please feel free to respond as you see fit. Do you see any similarities with our American President and Fascism? If so, how? If not, how does he differentiate himself from these ideals?

[1] Karl Polanyi, The great transformation: the political and economic origins of our time (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001), 246.

[2] Merriam-Webster, , accessed February 02, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism.

[3] Karl Polanyi, The great transformation: the political and economic origins of our time (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001), 249.

[4] John McNeill, “How fascist is Donald Trump? There’s actually a formula for that.,” The Washington Post, October 21, 2016, , accessed February 02, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/10/21/how-fascist-is-donald-trump-theres-actually-a-formula-for-that/?utm_term=.8389264d1240.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

 

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

18 responses to “America, Fascism and Politics”

  1. Geoff Lee says:

    As an outsider, I am surprised at the comparisons of Trump with Hitler, fascism, the holocaust etc. I think this is hyperbolic and slightly hysterical. Trump appears to be egotistical (to put it mildly!) and to have a number of character flaws. He may or may not make a terrible president. However, I don’t think people are engaging with him or his nascent presidency at a very rational level?

    • Geoff,
      As a historian, on one level I completely agree with you….Trump himself is an uninformed narcissist and that comes with some pretty predictable downsides. Perhaps the most predictable is that it makes a great deal of difference who he surrounds himself with.
      This is where, I fear, we are not taking this threat nearly seriously enough.
      People like Steve Bannon (who describes himself as a Leninist that wants to ‘destroy the state’ are (in most people’s opinions) incredibly misguided, but they aren’t stupid and they aren’t uninformed.
      I truly hope you are right and the hysteria about Trump is much ado over, well not nothing, but not anything society crumbling…. but on the other hand, as we look at the rise of fascists and dictators in history, they almost always took full advantage of those that didn’t take them seriously – and often, many didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation until it was too late.

    • Geoff! I sincerely appreciate your opinion and reflections because you see our nation in a different light than we do as citizens. By no means would I say he is the most fascist leader but I think we cannot ignore the reality of the ways in which he embodies fascist behavior. To ignore or downplay it is more dangerous than to acknowledge that it exists and proceed cautiously. I also know the danger of sensationalism as an alternative extreme.

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Christal, I’m totally with you on this one!
    “When I look at the current state of America, under our new American President, it has been widely noted that his ideals resonate with those who would be labeled and yet not self identified as Fascists.”
    A description of Fascism I heard was “The unity of government and big business.”
    We certainly have that!! I really enjoyed your post and I’m going to look up the article you mentioned.
    One of the things you found is especially pertinent – ‘not yet self identified as Fascists’ Well, why would they? They are smart enough to know that the American people don’t want Fascism. Part of their “propaganda” if you will is to rewrite history.
    I don’t know what the answer is. As leaders or influencers maybe we can have discussions with people and try to help them see. Do you have any other ideas?

    • Stu,
      You are absolutely correct to highlight how we ‘gloss over’ what Mao and Stalin have done – I would argue that we care less about what Stalin did and we just don’t know what Mao did (I am talking generally here).
      I think we have to admit that some of that is a racial/ethnic/cultural bias…. Hitler and Mussolini get center stage because of where they were located and what they looked like (and what the people they killed looked like)…. While we care less about Stalin the further away he gets from Western Europe….. which is why most don’t even have a basic knowledge of what Mao did.

      On the other hand, I would pushback a little bit on your comment about the west still flirting with communism. While that is certainly true in college classrooms and probably the stereotypical urban, leftist coffeeshop or bookstore…. I don’t think many or any in power consider it seriously.
      Socialism is different to communism and shouldn’t be conflated.

    • Mary great reflections! I would say that it must start with having conversations. I sat in a plane this weekend and had a very enlightened conversation with a white male who wanted to know how he can use his power and privilege to change the system that he benefits from every single day! It was an awesome and real discussion. We both gained so much understanding and were even able to discuss some steps to ensure that our conversation would be applied in a practical way. If we remain afraid to be honest and speak truth in love we will never see change.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    First Thought: The twentieth century was one of the bloodiest in world history. While I agree that Hitler and Mussolini showed us the perils of Fascism, I am amazed that Mao and Stalin (who far more people that Hitler and Mussolini) seem to get a pass. Fascism, which Hitler utilized to kill millions, is considered evil. Even the term “Fascist” is utilized in slang as someone evil. Communism, which was utilized by Stalin and Mao to kill more millions, is still flirted with in the West. It seems to me that both political philosophies, in the hands of powerful men, leads to destruction.

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Second Thought: I read Jung Chang’s biography of Mao last year. It amazed me that your dictionary definition of Facsism, and your 5 points that you identified as being “fascist” characterize Mao Tse-Tung completely.

    Mao built he political career as a Communist leader, fighting the Fascists. In the end, he became a dictator who was worshipped as a god by his people (one story documents how a man was tortured by officials for accidentally defacing Mao’s picture in a newspaper).

    He had many “purges” where all of his political enemies and most of his political friends were killed or exiled. Mao was obsessed with staying in power.

    A related note: one of the greatest inventions of the U.S. democracy is presidential term limits.

  5. Christal,
    Great, well-reasoned and researched piece as always…. What is both important to study and understand and depressing about the rise of fascist movements in how often they have been successful in co-opting Christians individually and churches generally.
    The question then is: how do we insulate ourselves and our churches from this danger?
    Or maybe even more important for our particular american context, how do we speak prophetically in to our situation without becoming (or being perceived as) partisan?

    • Chip great reflection and questions! I think their is a tension that exists between faith and politics within our country. The unfortunate reality is that the many within the Christian faith refuse to see the “inherent danger”. It is that inability to see it keeps us from being able to have vision and prophetic insight.

  6. Christal,
    That was a lot and I have discussed with myself that I would not speak on everything that the American President speaks on. I do address his actions of social injustice because our Jesus did. I do address the actions of his party and political choices.
    I do believe that we need an effective team of politicians that are committed to the people of American, the future of American, the respect of American, and the compassion of America. I believe that needs to be term limits on for our congress and senators. America needs to be purged and maybe this is what is happening. We see the truth of those we believed were our friends, neighbors, coworkers, Christain leaders who cared for us to find that they were only pretending. America is being purged. We now see the weeds among the wheat. Matt 13:24-30

    • Lynda you reflections bring to light the feelings many people have that can be overlooked in these discussions. Many people feel betrayed by those who they feel should be in their corner and walk with them side by side. I too have shared this sentiment. Many men ans women I have ministered with and served with have chosen to openly show disregard for the marginalized in their political stance. In order to do so, they ignore the blatant character flaws and even criminal behavior in hopes of benefitting financially and otherwise by executive orders and laws that are harmful for the progress of our nation. It is conflicting as to discerning when to comment and when not too. What I have witnessed is that there are times when silence gives more power to oppressors than speaking out and advocating for change whether I am directly affected or not.

  7. mm Katy Lines says:

    My first thought on the potential fascist-leaning tendencies of the new administration is that we need to maintain a separation between what is conservative that progressives may not agree with (such as the repealing of the ACA) and what is power-grabbing and/or fascist. One of the hallmarks of our government is the system of checks and balances.

  8. Thanks for a good, thought-provoking post, Christal. I think there are many things happening in our government now that point to the development of fascism. I also believe that our checks-and-balances system is equipped to handle it, if we hold our elected officials accountable. This is why resistance movements are crucial.
    What worries me more than fascism (or communism, for that matter) is apathy that gives rise to defacto dictatorships. When people in a republic take the view that their role ends with the election, the unscrupulous will take advantage. (And I think we have established that the Trump/Bannon administration is unscrupulous.) Whether it is economic development, immigration policy, or the Secretary of Education, it is our job as citizens to apply pressure.
    Thank you for stepping out with this post!

    • Yes Kristin so true!!! This is the reason why our midterm elections have such a low turn out and most people never do adequate research on elected officials appointed to cabinet positions. Even worse is that we do not take accountability for the local state, county and city individuals who make decisions that have immediate and direct impact on our lives. If anything we must not only become aware but fight and advocate for change that moves our country forward and not backwards.

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