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This Wednesday, CNN will take a shot at normalizing US fascist movement leader and GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, a man who openly embraces murderous Nazis, Vladimir Putin, white supremacy, misogyny, religious bigotry, and political violence.
They will feature and fête a career criminal who over 20 women have claimed raped or sexually assaulted them.
A wannabe dictator who tried to overthrow the government of the United States and replace it with himself as a strongman ruler-for-life — and now wants the United States to let him finish that job.
A racist hater who gleefully tore brown-skinned families apart and trafficked their children into a billionaire-supported, grifter, “Christian” adoption system, leaving almost 1,000 missing to this day.
A failed businessman who had to repeatedly lie to both banks and the IRS to keep his money-laundering real estate empire afloat, while virtually all of the other businesses he involved himself with failed or were prosecuted for fraud.
And a toxic politician who lost the 2016 election by about 3 million votes and the 2020 election by over 7 million votes, all while repeatedly lying about his failures and the help he got from Russia.
One-Upping CBS? How Fascism Takes Hold
This action by CNN follows CBS’s attempt to normalize Georgia fascist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) with Leslie Stahl’s pathetic interview on 60 Minutes, a shocking echo of former CEO Les Moonves saying to CBS’s investors regarding Donald Trump’s participation in the 2016 race:
It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? …The money’s rolling in and this is fun. … I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry, it’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Keep going.
But it’s not just about the money. There is method to this madness.
Before fascism can fully seize power in a democratic nation, it must first be accepted by the people as a “patriotic” system of governance, representing the will of the majority of the nation. This is why fascists always scapegoat minorities first — delighting the privileged caste — before they acquire enough power to subjugate the entire nation itself.
They designate these minorities — typically racial, gender, or religious — as “enemies of the people” and “polluters of the culture” to justify the violence against them that inevitably follows those designations.
They equate them with insects and animals, use terms like “infestation,” “invasion,” and “perversion,” and promote that dehumanization to justify their economic, social, and physical violence.
We’ve seen this exact formula followed step-by-step in Putin’s Russia, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, Adolf Hitler’s Germany, Francisco Franco’s Spain, and Benito Mussolini’s Italy (among others).
Political violence is their touchstone. The GOP even went so far as to call the vicious assault on the US Capitol on January 6, leading to the deaths of three police officers and wounding 140 others, “legitimate political discourse.” Only a fascist organization would speak that way.
A Century-Long, On-Off Relationship
The United States has had a love/hate relationship with fascism ever since it first arose in Italy in the 1920s.
Dorothy Thompson — one of America’s most respected foreign correspondents (and the wife of Sinclair Lewis), who became Berlin Bureau Chief for The New York Post in 1925 and interviewed Hitler in 1930 (she was not impressed) — wrote in 1935 after reporting from Europe on both Hitler and Mussolini, as quoted by Helen Thomas:
No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.
Considering how fascism could one day come to the United States in future years, Thompson wrote:
When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American. And nobody will ever say “Heil” to him, nor will they call him Fuhrer or Duce. But they will greet him with one great big, universal, democratic sheeplike bleat of “Okay, Chief!”
While Ernest Hemingway was singularly unimpressed when he met Mussolini while reporting in Italy for The Toronto Daily Star (the dictator was avoiding discussions by pretending to be reading a book, but when Hemingway walked behind him to see what it was, he discovered Il Duce was holding an English-Italian dictionary upside down), most of the US press fell in love with Mussolini and Italian fascism throughout the 1920s.
The New York Times and The Saturday Evening Post (which serialized his autobiography) regularly wrote glowing articles about Mussolini in that era, apparently believing that fascism presented less of a threat to Europe than did the then-growing socialist movement. The US ambassador to Italy at the time, Richard Washburn Child, was positively giddy, calling Mussolini “a Spartan genius.”
A decade later, a more sober and informed US vice president warned us of the possible rise of fascism in the United States and for his efforts was removed from the Democratic ticket in 1944.
A Prescient, and Costly, Warning
Although most Americans remember that Harry Truman was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president when Roosevelt died in 1945 (making Truman president), Roosevelt had two previous vice presidents: John N. Garner (1933-1941) and Henry A. Wallace (1941-1945).
In early 1944, The New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, “write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?”
Wallace’s answer to those questions was published in the Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan:
The really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way.
His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.
In this, Wallace was using the classic definition of the word “fascist,” the definition Mussolini had in mind when he claimed to have invented the word. As the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is:
A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.
Mussolini was quite straightforward about all this. In a 1923 pamphlet titled “The Doctrine of Fascism,” he wrote: “If classical liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government.”
But not a government of, by, and for We the People. Instead, it would be a government of, by, and for the most wealthy individuals and powerful corporate interests in the nation, seizing power by pitting the people against each other, inflaming political, racial, and religious conflict.
Noting that “fascism is a worldwide disease,” Wallace further suggested that fascism’s “greatest threat to the United States will come after the war” and will manifest “within the United States itself.”
In a comment prescient of Donald Trump and the current GOP jihad against Black voters, banned books, drag shows, Critical Race Theory, and queer people, Wallace continued:
The symptoms of fascist thinking are colored by environment and adapted to immediate circumstances. But always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power.
It is no coincidence that the growth of modern tyrants has in every case been heralded by the growth of prejudice. It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination.
But even at this, Wallace noted, US fascists would have to lie to the people to gain power. And, because they were in bed with the nation’s largest corporations — who could gain control of newspapers and broadcast media — they would probably be able to promote their lies with ease.
It was as if Wallace had a time machine and could see today’s media landscape, with Fox “News” and 1,500 right-wing hate-radio stations:
The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy.
In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism the vice president saw bubbling under the surface in the United States, he added:
They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.
Roots in Reagan’s “Revolution”
As Wallace feared, Ronald Reagan’s 1981 embrace of neoliberalism gutted the US middle class and transferred much of their wealth to the top 1%, setting the stage for the rise of a populist fascist leader like Trump.
Over the four decades since the Reagan 1980s, the merely rich have become the morbidly rich, while average working people have gone from a middle-class lifestyle being possible with a single income to two or more wage-earners being the now-necessary norm in US households.
This crisis of economic inequality has, predictably, led working-class whites to look for villains and scapegoats, and today’s fascist GOP is happy to supply them. They’ve ginned up moral panics around trans kids, bathrooms, abortion, US history in our schools, and affirmative action, all to direct attention away from their embrace of fascism and their ongoing theft of over $50 trillion — so far — from the US middle class.
Using racism, faux nationalism, misogyny, and the corruption of both democracy and the rule of law, Republicans are cementing their power in state after state with extreme voter suppression, gerrymandering, dismantling of checks-and-balances, and packing the courts.
The Word Is Accurate and Necessary — Use It
So how can Americans best stop this growing fascist movement and the normalization of fascist politicians like Greene and Trump by corporate media?
It turns out that Democratic politicians and the US media are reluctant to call politicians fascists because the GOP reacts so violently to the label. Nonetheless, that’s what they are — and we should all be pointing it out at every opportunity.
It’s no longer even a radical idea to call Trump and the MAGA Republicans fascists. Former Arizona Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, speaking of Trump’s efforts to get him to flip that state from Biden to Trump in the 2020 election, said:
Taking away the fundamental right to vote, the idea that the legislature could nullify your election — that’s not conservative. That’s fascist. And I’m not a fascist.
Trump attacked him, the media pooh-poohed his use of the word, and he lost his re-election effort to a MAGA fascist by 30 points.
The simple reality is that MAGA fascists are embarrassed by the word fascism. Hitler gave it a bad name — particularly, in the minds of today’s US fascists, when he lost World War II.
And that’s why we must use the word to describe them when they promote fascist policies, which, tragically, is now a daily occurrence.
Apparently agreeing with this sentiment, the White House is now using the word, too, although not frequently enough. Last August, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters:
I was very clear when laying out and defining what MAGA Republicans have done and you look at the definition of fascism and you think about what they’re doing in attacking our democracy. … That is what that is. It is very clear.
President Joe Biden followed up by saying Republicans were pursuing “semi-fascism.”
Predictably, that brought a shriek of outrage from the Republican National Committee, calling Biden’s use of the word “despicable.”
Touched a nerve? Good. Let them squeal.
It’s time to call a fascist a fascist and — speaking of CNN’s upcoming attempt to rehabilitate Trump with a mostly-MAGA-audience “Town Hall” moderated by a reporter who got her start with Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller — it’s time to call fascist enablers exactly what they are, too.
Reprinted from The Hartmann Report with the author’s permission.
Thom Hartmann is a four-time Project Censored-award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of 34 books in print and the #1 progressive talk show host in America for more than a decade.