Several prominent commentators and journalists are starting to ask some hard questions about the direction of travel in the US. Is it evolving in slow motion towards being a Fascist state? It is early days, but there are worrying signs.
What is Fascism? It is not actually an easy question to answer, as Fascism is an extension of Marxism and combines Marxism with Nationalism. It is anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, authoritarian, collectivist, and, as Mussolini described it: “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” As I have discussed in an essay elsewhere, there is actually very little difference between the evil ideologies of the 20th century in their actual practice. In another essay, I propose that Wokeism, the evil ideology of our time, is a mixture of elements from the evil ideologies of the 20th century. As such, I would reframe the question as follows: Is the US slipping under the spell of a new variant of the evil ideologies of the 20th century? The fact that some commentators are suggesting that the US is moving towards Fascism suggests that a slide into an evil ideology may indeed be taking place.
The source of the concern of commentators is the behaviour of the Democrat Party, which seems to be increasingly adopting the ideology of Wokeism. This includes President Biden, albeit it is sometimes difficult to believe that his ideas are his own; his acute cognitive decline is more apparent with each passing day. However, the adoption of Wokeism also appears to be more broad-based than the presidential office and extends through the House of Representatives, the Senate, and state-level politics. This is not to say that all Democrats are falling under the spell of Wokeism, but rather that the ideology seems to be rapidly achieving dominance in the Democrat Party.
One of the complicating factors in determining whether the US is falling under the authoritarian rule of Wokeism is that the US is still operating, in most respects, as a fully functioning liberal democracy, and this creates constraints on any kind of authoritarianism. The (arguably much-abused) US constitution still provides some protection, as does the Supreme Court (currently with a conservative majority). There are also centres of Republican power in the states (e.g. Florida). Set against this, at the federal level, the Democrats have the Presidency, a very narrow functional majority in the Senate, and a small majority in the House. However, in the Senate, the use of the Filibuster, which requires 60 out of 100 majorities for legislation to pass, provides a significant constraint on the Democrat’s ability to pass legislation without some degree of Republican support.
In consideration of the constraints that remain in the US system, why are commentators raising concern about Fascism?
Perhaps more than anything else, it is the deepening collaboration between the Biden administration and the Social Media companies. In a recent press conference, Jen Psaki, the Whitehouse Press Secretary, openly admitted that the administration was working closely with social media companies to ensure that only official stances on Covid would be allowed or gain traction and to ensure that any heterodox voices are silenced:
“We are in regular touch with the social media platforms and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff and also members of our COVID-19 team — given as Dr. Murthy conveyed, this is a big issue, of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic,” Psaki said.
She added: “We’ve increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General’s Office. We are flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”
Psaki added, “it’s important to take faster action against harmful posts … and Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful violative posts.”
As many commentators are pointing out (e.g. here), the use of social media companies to do censoring on behalf of the government can be seen as an attempt to work around / subvert the freedom of speech provisions of the 1st Amendment (see below for the wording). I will quote Glenn Greenwald, a non-woke liberal (in the US sense) journalist:
“I have been trying to make the point for well over a year now [that] lot of people think that this censorship is coming from executives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which really isn’t true,” Greenwald said Thursday.
The journalist added that Big Tech appeared cowed by liberal journalists “shaming” them for not censoring enough during the Trump era as the Democrats “increased in power” – while Democratic lawmakers kept summoning tech CEOs to Capitol Hill to further “threaten” them if they neglected to censor what the left considers “hate speech” or “misinformation.”
“It’s really a merger of state and corporate power which is ironically is the classic definition of fascism,” said Greenwald.
A similar point is made by Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative author, filmmaker, and commentator. D’Souza proposes that the government is creating a shadow state in which media and other corporations are being mobilised/cajoled by the government to do things that the government cannot do. What particularly alarmed D’Souza was Jen Psaki’s proposal that giving “misinformation” on one social media platform should lead to bans on all platforms. D’Souza then notes that the government is also recruiting corporations to enforce mask requirements and to force people to be vaccinated i.e. to use non-state actors to collaborate in the coercion of the population. It is not just in the US that the problems are being observed. The Australian Sky New commentator Alan Jones, also expressed concern at the ever-tighter relationship between the US government and social media companies, quoting Glenn Greenwald’s point about this looking like Fascism.
When reading all of the above, it would be easy to suggest that the close collaboration between the Biden administration and social media is concerning, but also that it is still a long way from the US falling to an evil ideology. And this would be a reasonable point, as the commentators in each case are narrowly focused on some particular concerns. What is missing is the broader context of what has been happening over the last few years, and also the broader context of the Biden administration. Undoubtedly, this broader context sits underneath their evaluations.
Perhaps the ground zero of all the concerns has been the way in which the January 6th Capitol riot has been treated. As Glenn Greenwald observes, the reporting on the incident has been characterised by lies; for example, the story that a policeman died at the hands of the mob was spread through the media with no evidence whatsoever, and it was only a long time after that the falsity of the claim was exposed. All of this mattered as the aim was to give the riot a greater significance than was justified. This from Greenwald:
Then, perhaps most importantly, is the ongoing insistence on calling the Capitol riot an armed insurrection. Under the law, an insurrection is one of the most serious crises that can arise. It allows virtually unlimited presidential powers — which is why there was so much angst when Tom Cotton proposed it in his New York Times op-ed over the summer, publication of which resulted in the departure of two editors. Insurrection even allows for the suspension by the president of habeas corpus: the right to be heard in court if you are detained.
So it matters a great deal legally, but also politically, if the U.S. really did suffer an armed insurrection and continues to face one. Though there is no controlling, clear definition, that term usually connotes not a three-hour riot but an ongoing, serious plot by a faction of the citizenry to overthrow or otherwise subvert the government.
The reality is that only one person died in the riot, and that was an unarmed rioter who was shot in the face by the police. As is now commonplace, the media was moving in lockstep with the Democrats in providing alarmist coverage. Meanwhile, Biden absurdly described the riot as the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Minority Leader at the time, proposed that, rather than rioters, those involved were domestic terrorists. This was the start of a broader narrative of a widespread threat to the United States from right-wing extremists and white supremacists; both were promoted to be hugely consequential threats to democracy. Furthermore, there was a deliberate drift in the meaning of both terms to implicitly pull Trump supporters within the bounds of these labels. The rhetoric around January 6th has not moderated with time but seems to be growing more extreme, as in the video copied in the Tweet below:
Just as disturbing is the rhetoric coming from General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has made comparisons between January 6th with the incident of the Reichstag fire which served to help the Nazis solidify Hitler’s dictatorship and overtly compared Trump and his supporters to Nazis. This is the same general who defended the inclusion of books on critical race theory in US military training. Unsurprisingly, the introduction of critical race theory into the US military is seen as causing a multitude of problems including resignations of personnel, poor morale, and the fomenting of division in place of cohesion. It also represents an ideological takeover of what is supposed to be a politically neutral institution and the institution that has the potential to be the greatest danger to democracy. Just as worrying are the attempts to root out “extremism” from the military, with no actual definition of what “extremism” actually means. A pilot for monitoring the social media accounts of military personnel has already been established. Then there is the advisor who is leading the effort against extremism:
Bishop Garrison, a senior adviser to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tasked with addressing “extremism” in the armed forces, would appear to have his own history of extremist views, as it emerges that he has claimed all Trump voters support racism and has called for curbing free speech online.
In two series of tweets, both written in the summer of 2019, Garrison went after fans and donors of the former commander-in-chief, arguing that those who defended the 45th president were supporting “a racist” and “ALL his beliefs.”
If wishing to start an authoritarian takeover of a country, a good place to start is with the military. Even if not using the military directly, it would be wise to neutralise any opposition from the military. Introducing extremist indoctrination and vetting into the military is, therefore, a disturbing idea. To these concerns, we can add concerns about the various security services, such as the NSA, FBI, and CIA. Again, Glen Greenwald provides insights into what is taking place. Citing a declassified report from the Department of Homeland Security, he observes that the definition of Domestic Violent Extremists is extremely broad, and opens the doors to considerable discretion for the security services to engage in domestic surveillance, etc. He also notes that it seems that the production of the report involved agencies such as the CIA which are specifically barred from domestic activities. Greenwald notes that such activity is not new, is broadening, but also that there are worrying signs that the activity is about to be expanded even further:
As I have been repeatedly noting over the last two months, the Biden administration, along with leading Democrats such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), have been stating explicitly that one of their top priorities is the adoption of new laws designed to import the Bush/Cheney/Obama War on Terror onto U.S. soil for domestic purposes. As recently as February 14, The Washington Post — under the headline: “The agency founded because of 9/11 is shifting to face the threat of domestic terrorism” —noted that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is now demanding that homeland security resources be re-directed toward domestic extremists, and “lawmakers of both parties spoke favorably of new legislation to specifically address domestic terrorism.”
Nobody from the Biden administration or Congressional members demanding enactment of Schiff’s proposed new “domestic terrorism” law can identify any activities that are not now criminal that they believe ought to be. Unless it is to permit intelligence agencies to start policing constitutionally protected speech and associational activities among U.S. citizens, why are any new laws needed? Unless it is to empower them to escalate their already-aggressive use of War on Terror tactics against U.S. citizens, what do they want security state agencies to be able to do on U.S. soil that they cannot now do?
None of this is encouraging. However, even in a long discussion such as this one, what I cannot do is capture the almost relentless drumbeat of authoritarianism that is coming from the Democrats directly, or from the majority of the corporate media. It is relentless.
I have only just touched on the surface of a wave of dangerous rhetoric and a disturbing direction of travel. One thing is very clear. The aim is to increasingly delegitimise any voices which express opposition to Democrats and Democrat policy and, moreover, to gin up excuses to use security services to go after any opposition to Democrat goals. The Democrats have a long history of using smears to go after their Republican opponents, but the current action is not just about demonising their opponents but also shutting them down. This is all done in conjunction with a media that is acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the Democrats. The latest strategy of working with social media companies to stop alleged misinformation is just a deepening of a process already underway under the Trump Presidency.
These are all worrying signs, but is it, as commentators suggest, Fascism (or more accurately, the enactment of authoritarian Wokeism)?
I think that, at this stage, the direction of travel is authoritarian but there are two problems facing the Democrats who are driving that direction. Within their own party, there will still be people who will feel increasingly discomfited if they move too far in the direction of authoritarianism. Joe Manchin, a Democrat Senator, is an exemplar of what still remains as a more moderate wing of the party and that wing is starting to ring alarm bells. However, although difficult to demonstrate, my own belief is that the influence of the moderates is in steep decline. The other factor that is hindering the move to authoritarianism is that the US is still a liberal democracy, with all of the checks and balances that go with that status. This may be true, but the Democrats are increasingly willing to subvert the system and checks and balances e.g. changes to voter law, abolition of the electoral college, statehood for Washington DC, abolition of the filibuster, packing the supreme court. Any of these positions, on its own, might raise eyebrows. When put together, they are alarming. Indeed, when seen collectively, they are a rejection of the fundamental norms of the US system.
I think the best way to understand the US situation, given the discussion above, is to see the Democrats as a party that is in the process of moving in an increasingly authoritarian direction, and increasingly motivated and driven by the extremist ideology of Wokeism. As such, I think the commentators accusing the party of Fascism are broadly in the right direction if only a little premature. There are factors that might see a change. For example, if the mid-term elections go very badly for the Democrats, it may be possible for the more moderate elements within the party to increase their influence. Set against this, the element of the party that has fully embraced Wokeism will not give any ground, as their ideology is characterised by fanatacism, rigidity and their mode of operation is aggression and demonisation. Bearing this in mind, I am not sure the moderates have the stomach for the fight that will be necessary to return their party to more moderate positions.
One thing is certain. The liberal democratic norms in the United States are now under grave threat. It is, therefore, no surprise to see the country is fracturing, and that there is growing pessimism about where the United States will finally land. Only time will tell what will happen, but it is certain that genuine liberalism (in the British sense of the word) will need a robust defence if it is to survive. Wokeism is a dangerous, powerful and highly motivating ideology.
1st Amendment text (from here): Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.