Has the Republican Party become full-on fascist?

Washington, DC - January 6, 2021: Smoke rises after explosure police used pepper-spray ball gun against Pro-Trump protesters rally around Capitol building before they breached it and overrun it
Washington, DC - January 6, 2021: Smoke rises after explosure police used pepper-spray ball gun against Pro-Trump protesters rally around Capitol building before they breached it and overrun it Photo: Shutterstock

In political terms, a “strongman” is one who leads by force within an overarching authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial regime. Sometimes the formal head of state, sometimes another political or military leader, the strongman exerts influence and control over the government more than traditional laws or constitutional mandates sanction.

On the right-wing side of the dictatorial strongman’s political spectrum, we find the philosophy and practice of fascism. While also deployed as an epithet by some, fascism developed as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism in early-20th-century Europe in response to liberalism and Marxism on the left.

Political scientist Lawrence Britt enumerates 14 tenets of fascism:

1. Powerful and continuing nationalism

2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause

4. Rampant sexism

5. Supremacy of the military

6. Controlled mass media

7. Obsession with national security

8. Religion and government are intertwined

9. Corporate power is protected

10. Labor power is suppressed

11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts

12. Obsession with crime and punishment

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption

14. Fraudulent elections

While many governmental leaders and candidates for public office may use a number of these tactics while still remaining outside the definition of “fascist,” the cumulative effect increases depending on the severity of and the degree to which they initiate these measures.

So, let’s look at the current Republican Party through the lens of Lawrence Britt’s tenets of fascism:

1. Appeals to “nationalism,” presented in the guise of “popularism,” feeding on people’s fears and prejudices, which has already resulted in the segregation of people and nations from one another, as well as threats and dangers of violence – CHECK!

2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights, and rolling back many of the rights and protections in the name of “anti-wokeness” that marginalized people have tirelessly fought for: reproductive rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, anti-torture guarantees, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, freedom of religion, marriage equality, the rights of trans people to quality healthcare and gender-affirming procedures – CHECK!

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause by singling out already disenfranchised identity categories as the internal and external enemies of the United States: Muslims and anyone from Muslim-majority countries, Mexicans and all Latinx people, urban “thugs,” the press, Somalis, LGBTQ+ people, drag queens, George Soros (representing an alleged world Jewish financial and political conspiracy), the ACLU, Democrats, etc. – CHECK!

4. Rampant sexism and toxic misogynistic utterances and allegations primarily against women of color, state leaders opposing the Republican Party’s political agenda, and credible charges of sexual harassment against the current leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, by numerous women reaching historic proportions – CHECK!

5. Supremacy of the military by perennially proposing exponentially high increases in the budget for the pentagon, and, for example, under the Trump regime, employing the military for civil projects, like stationing service members on the southern border to engage in duties not directly specified for the military, and even considering instituting martial law rather than leave the White House after the new president had been inaugurated  CHECK!  

6. Controlled mass media, and threats to employ libel laws to sue the “crooked and lying” media (Lügenpresse, “lying press”, was popularized by the German Nazis to silence opposition), banning books and other school curricular materials like Critical Race Theory and any discussions related to the truth presented (age-appropriately) about some of the “hard” history of the United States, as well as the banning of discussions of LGBTQ+ topics and topics of gender, all in the name of supposedly “protecting parental rights”  – CHECK!

7. Obsession with national security with continual cries against “Islamic jihadist terrorists” as the number one threat to our nation, rather than the real threat: Domestic terrorists aiming to bring down the so-called “Deep State” – CHECK!

8. Religion and government are intertwined through a tight network of Christian nationalists using selected passages from the Christian testament as justification for its right-wing stances; and the former president’s appearances at conservative Christian conferences and universities like Liberty University, with calls to “Make America Great Again” giving the subliminal dog-whistle message of making America white and Protestant again – CHECK!

9. Corporate power is protected with promises of a deregulated corporate business climate with massive tax cuts and other financial incentives to the wealthy class –CHECK!

10. Labor power is suppressed with anti-labor actions to reduce the rights of workers to organize and negotiate collective bargaining agreements, privatization of entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, advocacy for the abolition of a national minimum wage, and other “neo-liberal” actions – CHECK!  

11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts with resentment and attacks on the political, media, and intellectual “elites” to the point of instigating scorn and harassment against the so-called Washington “liberal elites” – CHECK!

12. Obsession with crime and punishment with calls for “law and order” involving draconian (and possibly unconstitutional) measures of torture and surveillance against groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa, but certainly not toward what they refer to as “the patriots” of January 6, 2021, who stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC, and not toward the ongoing investigations around former President Donald Trump’s alleged payment of a porn star with campaign funds, his large cache of classified documents he stored at his seaside Florida resort, and his possible involvement in the January 6th insurrection, which some in the Republican Party define as a “legal First Amendment protest” – CHECK!

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption by the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, ceding power to conspiracy theorists and incompetent legislators like Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA), Matt Gaetz(R-FL), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and others in order to hold the gavel. The Party “boasts” many right-wing members of the House of Representatives such as Phil Roe, Andy Harris, Scott Perry, Andy Biggs, and in the U.S. Senate people like Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Rick Scott, Josh Hawley, Lindsey Graham, Michael Braun, Kevin Cramer, and others, and Governors like Kay Ivey, Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis, Brian Kemp, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others.

And as President, Trump increasingly deployed his adult children and son-in-law as close trusted political operatives, who even met with visiting diplomats and were sent to foreign capitals to negotiate political and personal business deals. Plus, they engaged in continuously unresolved conflict-of-interest issues between the position of President and his worldwide business interests – CHECK!  

14. Fraudulent elections assisted by the larger Republican Party and the Supreme Court by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights law, which has resulted in voter suppression campaigns effectively reducing the number of polling stations in primarily marginalized communities, and limiting days and times for pre-election-day voting. In addition, another fascist ruler, Vladimir Putin, weighed in on Trump’s side to sway the presidential election in their (Putin & Trump’s) favor. While often claiming “election fraud” whenever they lose elections, no such fraud has been found in the states and in the courts to have swayed any election that they claimed was fraudulent – CHECK!  

With the attack on our nation’s capital in January 2021 and the precipitous rise and deployment of right-wing extremists to the center of Republican Party politics – we can now ask to what extent is the United States considered a “democracy”?

“This is democracy’s most challenging hour since Fort Sumter,” historian John Meacham argued last year.

In her book How Civil Wars Start, Barbara F. Walter, U.S. political scientist and Rohr Professor of International Affairs at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego, warns:

“We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe…No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline or headed toward war,” but, “if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America…you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”

Indeed, the United States has already gone through what the CIA identifies as the first two phases of insurgency: 1. The “pre-insurgency” phase, and 2. The “incipient conflict” phase, and only time will tell whether the final phase is fully activated: The “open insurgency” phase, begun with the sacking of the Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters on January 6, 2021.

Things deteriorated so dramatically under Trump, in fact, that the United States no longer technically qualifies as a democracy. Citing the Center for Systemic Peace’s “Polity” data set – the one the CIA task force has found to be most reliable in predicting instability and violence – Walter writes that the United States is now an “anocracy,” somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state.

U.S. democracy had received the Polity index’s top score of 10, or close to it, for much of its history. But in the five years of the Trump era, it tumbled precipitously into the anocracy zone.

By the end of Trump’s presidency, the U.S. score had fallen to a 5, making the country a partial democracy for the first time since 1800.

“We are no longer the world’s oldest continuous democracy,” Walter writes. “That honor is now held by Switzerland, followed by New Zealand, and then Canada. We are no longer a peer to nations like Canada, Costa Rica, and Japan, which are all rated a +10 on the Polity index.”

Dropping five points in five years greatly increases the risk of civil war. “A partial democracy is three times as likely to experience civil war as a full democracy,” Walter states.

“A country standing on this threshold – as America is now at +5 – can easily be pushed toward conflict through a combination of bad governance and increasingly undemocratic measures that further weaken its institutions.”

Others have reached similar findings. The Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance puts the United States on a list of “backsliding democracies” in a report in November 2021.

“The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself,” the report said.

And a survey found that about 12% of those interviewed believed that it was at least “sometimes justified” to use violence to return Donald Trump to the presidency.  

Walters says that once countries enter the “open insurgency” stage, the CIA predicts“sustained violence as increasingly active extremists launch attacks that involve terrorism and guerrilla warfare including assassinations and ambushes.”

Benjamin Franklin was one of the nation’s founders who attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to draft our now-famous founding document. At the age of 81, though a perennial optimist, he had no illusions and thought it impossible to expect any group of people, no matter how wise or brilliant, to create a “perfect production.”

Even “with all its faults,” however, Franklin believed that this Constitution was far superior to any alternative that could possibly emerge. 

He had a warning, though. As the story is told, when departing the Constitutional Convention, a group of citizens approached Franklin and asked him what kind of government had the delegates created?

His response: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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