The Face of Fascism

Earlier in his campaign for the GOP nomination, Donald J. Trump stated with intensity that the United States must prohibit the entry of any Muslim to our nation.  This remark elicited a huge response, and some of the comments included references to the words "fascism/fascist."  Former Democratic Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley stated that Donald Trump is a "fascist demagogue." 

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Using a clever play on words and a eerily unsettling image, the Philadelphia Daily News carried this picture on its front page.

On Tuesday, 12/8, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow devoted her introductory segment to a brief overview of fascism.  To be clear, many Americans are not really familiar with the concept.  Many conflate it with socialism or communism, which could not be further from the truth:  on the spectrum of political ideology fascism is found on the far right, socialism and communism on the left.   And there has been a tendency to speak about fascism in low whispers.  This article is intended to shed some light on the nature of fascism.

In a November 29th post on The Daily Beast, Mark Summer weighed in on how fascism has never left:  “It didn’t win on the battlefield. It didn’t win right away. It won because the same fears, the same greed, the same hatred that fueled its growth in the first part of the twentieth century never went away.”  He quotes French poet Charles Baudelaire who said, “the finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist."  Summer goes on to say “The finest trick of the modern fascist? The same. Nothing is ever fascist. It’s just “very conservative.”

Perhaps because they are not being taken seriously and consequently not challenged, the extreme rhetoric from the Right is beginning to attain overt characteristics of fascism.  In 2003, Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes.  He found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
  4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
  6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.
  9. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business / government relationship and power elite.
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Three years ago, some of these characteristics seemed to apply.  Alarmingly, based on current analysis, it now looks more like at least twelve of the fourteen are no longer hidden, and the other two are gaining ground.  Historically, fascists have triumphed by taking advantage of dire economic and social circumstances to dupe people into believing that in order to keep them safe, these measures were critical.  However, it is imperative to note that the removal of Mr. Trump as a candidate for President of the United States will not make the ever growing danger of this ultra-right ideology go away.  The characteristics noted above ARE already entrenched in segments of our current culture.

Let us not allow ourselves to be fooled – or remain silent! 


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  • commented 2016-05-06 12:17:56 -0500
    Another feature common to fascist regimes is the “indirect” reliance on paramilitary groups of hooligans and thugs who are often used to do the government’s dirty work.
    An excellent review of a disturbingly relevant topic !

    Mark Gennis