Teaching peace requires teaching about the world as it is, the world as it can be without violence, and practical steps toward that peaceful world. It is important also to teach that we do not have to start from scratch. Much work has been done over the last century. Civil society organizations and institutions with great potential have come into being. Unfortunately, however, teaching about the world as it is also requires alerting people about setbacks. Because Canada marches in lockstep with the U.S., it is important for Canadians to know as early as possible of dangerous developments there.
Some U.S. mainstream media outlets are gingerly beginning to hint at the “F Word”. Their timidity is understandable. After decades of willing participation in “shining city on the hill” and “leader of the free world” propaganda, how could any of them dare suggest that the U.S. could be drifting into fascism? Yet a comparison with pre-WWII Italy strongly suggests this possibility. A discussion is in order because the machinery is in place to make the transition from democracy to fascism happen as rapidly as it did in Italy.
Such a transition would further threaten 80 years of work by peace forces around the world. The U.S. is already the most powerful and dangerous country on the planet, with military bases everywhere. It is a country awash in nuclear weapons and often contemptuous of international law.
Hyperbole? Far left fantasizing? Let us start with an accepted definition of fascism, then see how the experience of the U.S. currently and that of Italy 1921-1943 relate to the components of the definition.
Fascism: A far right, authoritarian, ultra nationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and the economy.
It would be unwise to rely on the current state of democratic institutions in the U.S. as a bulwark against fascism. It can’t happen here? Let’s see.
Italy Fascists lost parliamentary elections badly in 1921. Yet 18 months later, they were in power. Their charismatic leader, Benito Mussolini, pointed to others as the cause of the country’s problems by instigating racial hostility and antagonism between the resident population and immigrants. The fascist movement grew rapidly, drawing adherents ranging from gangsters to sincere patriots. The center left government did not appreciate the seriousness of the threat.
U.S. A fascist minority could well gain power in 2022, enabled by many of the same factors. Going beyond gerrymandering, right wing Republican legislatures will bring that about. Currently, 19 states where it was already difficult to vote have enacted laws targeting people of color, the old, and those with disabilities. The laws purposely reduce the number of polling places available to them, as well as reducing the number of drop boxes for ballots, and limiting early voting. In two states it is a crime to help an elderly or disabled person return a ballot. In one it is a crime to give water or food to anyone waiting in line to vote.
There may well never be another opposition candidate declared the winner of a close statewide election. Because of the aforementioned suppression laws and others, there will be very few such races. But just in case, the voter suppression laws also give state legislatures power to interfere with certification by election officials, sometimes making them criminals for doing their job.
There is no remedy at the federal level for this, thanks to the current version of an old, racist, user-friendly device called the filibuster and lack of will from the current government.
Aside from suppression of the opposition, there will be no shortage of legitimate voters for fascism. Trumpian fascism has also drawn adherents ranging from gangsters to sincere patriots. The gangsters had a dress rehearsal on 6 January 2021. Many others all along the spectrum recently won an election in Virginia, which is not even a voter suppression state. The current center-left government is unconcerned, convinced it can “out organize” voter suppression. See how well that worked out in Virginia?
But a fascist takeover requires a considerable degree of violence, doesn’t it? Yes.
Italy Militias, known as black shirts, engaged in a widespread campaign of violence and intimidation against opponents.
U.S. Right wing militias are on the rise, in numbers and openness. Almost all Republican office holders are fine with that. Even the few remaining mainstream Republicans are increasingly subject to threats and intimidation against themselves and their families. Police and vigilante violence against people of color continues unabated. The largest expense item at the trial of people accused in the violent 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. was security for the victims. Threats and violence are increasingly the province of those asserting a right to spread a deadly disease.
But the policy pendulum swings and it always swings back, right?
Not this time. Not for a long time and a period of massive injustice.
Italy Mussolini really had no policy agenda except the regimentation of society on behalf of the wealthy interests who largely financed his rise, including the suppression or organized labor. The trains were already running on time. His primary policy objective was to stay in power.
U.S. Republican legislators, drinking of the Trump cult Kool-aid, are exactly the same. With the exception of an interest in regimentation of society and pro-rich economic policies, they only have slogans: “Freedom!”; “Make American Great Again!”. Try to name one current Republican policy other than staying in power. And unfortunately, staying in office is the principal goal of the opposition. No one is acting on the wisdom expressed by candidate Pete Buttigieg in 2020: “Do the right thing, then explain it.”
Policy on regimentation of society, known popularly as the “culture war”, is another matter. Fascists have a keen interest in that. In addition to always showing the public who their enemies are, blaming all problems on them, and never accepting any responsibility themselves, fascists do have policies about regimenting society in their image. Two of the most important policy areas are women and education.
Italy The fascists’ stated mission was to “rescue women from emancipation”, essentially to limit the role of women to motherhood.
U.S. Abortion is effectively unavailable to the poor now and soon will be even less available to all women. A 19-year-old women who used drugs during pregnancy is currently serving 4 years in prison after having a miscarriage. There are sexual predators in Congress, on the Supreme Court, and of course in the person of the last President.
Italy Educational policy under Mussolini was the inculcation of a national religion of nationalism, all ostensibly in conformity with the doctrines of the Catholic church.
U.S. Would-be fascists work for an educational system that is “one nation under God”, by which they mean their version of the Christian god. Already forbidden, not by federal statute but school district by school district, is any criticism of current “no risk” capitalism, or U.S. exceptionalism. Discussion of historical truths about racism and colonialism is likewise forbidden. Overall, critical thinking has not been taught for decades.
No analogy, of course, is perfect. And the purpose of this essay is not to make the case that the U.S. will descend into fascism, especially in exactly the way that happened in Italy. Rather, it is to contend that it is time to put aside the patriotic nonsense that was so important to the rise of fascism and talk about the U.S. as it is. To examine it realistically, and without hatred or rancor. After all, for Canadians it is that elephant that has grown even larger since Trudeau the elder identified it. From such an examination, I suggest we will find that the U.S. is a country whose government and people are no better or worse than any other. A country as susceptible of adopting violent oppression of its people and others as were Italy and Germany. It has at least the potential to do more harm than those nations could ever dream of. So, it is past time to open the discussion about the “F Word.”