I often think about that old quote asserting that “there is nothing new under the sun.”
Of course, there are obviously lots of things that are “new under the sun,” (these days, AI comes to mind) but the very human tendency to use words as labels or weapons, rather than as tools for communication, isn’t one of them. That probably began when the snake sold Adam and Eve on eating the apple.
The problem is, when we use words as signals or epithets, rather than transmittals of descriptive content, it becomes very difficult to engage in meaningful conversation, let alone political debate.
Today, terms like “fascist” and “woke” are used to label political opponents rather than to describe particular beliefs or behaviors .
Much like “woke,” (which apparently means “not members of my MAGA tribe”) “fascist” tends to cover a lot of political ground. Which leads me to that saying about nothing being new under the sun, at least when it comes to political discourse.
Back in the day, right-wingers scorned undefined “liberals,” turning the word into a negative accusation. As a consequence, those of a liberal political bent began to self-identify as “progressive.” And as long as I can remember, those on the political far right have reliably labeled any and all social programs as “socialism,” depriving that term of any descriptive use. Etc.
When words lose their meaning, it becomes very difficult to assess where we are as a nation. Are we on the road to totalitarianism? Fascism? Given the Supreme Court’s current fondness for returning questions of fundamental rights to the various (and very different) states, is it even possible to talk about a “we”?
What triggered me, and led to this disquisition, was an article warning that America was dangerously close to fascism. (My immediate take, for what it is worth, is that the farce that is our current Congress defies comparison to any coherent system. It’s as though we elected the Keystone Kops.) Like so many articles of the sort, this one didn’t bother to define fascism–but how do we answer the question “are we there yet” unless we know where “there” is?
In my little book Talking Politics, I offered definitions of these very fraught terms.
As I noted, socialism may be the least precise of these political labels. It generally gets (mis)applied to mixed economies where the social safety net is much broader and the tax burden somewhat higher than in the U.S.—Scandinavian countries are an example. Those are more accurately called welfare states, or examples of democratic socialism, since genuinely socialist systems are those in which a fairly autocratic government owns the means of production. It is really important to draw that distinction. When Republicans scream about “socialism,” what they usually warn against is communism; socialism can be an “interim step” toward communism.
Communism begins with the belief that equality is defined by equal results; this is summed up in the well-known adage “From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.” All property is owned communally, by everyone (hence the term “communism”). In practice, this meant that all property was owned by the government, ostensibly on behalf of the people. In theory, communism erases all class distinctions, and wealth is redistributed so that everyone gets the same share. In practice, the government controls the means of production and most individual decisions are made by the state. Since the quality and quantity of work is divorced from reward, there is little incentive to innovate or produce, and ultimately, countries that have tried to create a communist system have collapsed (the USSR) or moved toward a more mixed economy (China).
Fascism is sometimes called “national Socialism,” and people who are unaware of history (and ignorant of political philosophy) sometimes get them mixed up, despite the fact that fascism differs significantly from socialism. The most striking aspect of fascist systems is the elevation of the nation—a fervent nationalism (MAGA??) is central to fascist philosophy. There is a union between business and the state; although there is nominally private property, government controls business decisions. Fascist regimes tend to be focused upon a (mythical) glorious past, and to uphold traditional class structures and gender roles as necessary to maintain the social order.
Fascism generally involves a radical authoritarian nationalism, with fascists seeking to unify the nation through the elevation of the state over the individual, and to mobilize the national community through discipline, indoctrination, and physical training. Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy are the most notable examples of Fascist regimes.
Now that we’ve defined our terms (and noted some disquieting parallels), we can ask: where are we heading? And I sure hope we’re not there yet.
17 thoughts on “Are We There Yet?”
The Holocaust Museum has a list of 14 signs of Fascism. Guess which party meets almost all the signs? ( hint: its not the one with a President currently in the Oval Office). Most of the time right wingers use “Communism” ,”Socialism”, Marxism”, even “fascism” as terms to mean something they disagree with and don’t, or more likely can’t be bothered, to understand. When progressives use fascism to describe todays right wing they are using the term not as a brainless insult but as an accurate description of their tactics and “policies”. I have to wonder if the GOP I thought I joined in the 1970s and supported for 4 decades ever really existed or if it was all a show designed to fool people into supporting autocracy and theocracy.
Thank you for these clarifications. America needs your course in political science.
“Are We There Yet?” When the GOP posts poll numbers showing Trump ahead of DeSantis from such sources as a Twitter post, are they at the bottom of the litter box or the outhouse yet when relying on Elon Musk’s private social media? “Maddow apologized as she talked about a Trump-aligned super PAC that just brandished a poll showing the ex-president dominating Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a hypothetical Republican primary vote. The poll was also picked up by Trump on Truth Social, and Maddow gleefully directed viewers’ attention to where the numbers came from.
“Very, very exciting for them, right? If you look closely, you can see that the source for this poll is… Oh, @catturd2!” Maddow chirped. “Congratulations, sir! Who among us has not longed for the day in which we can claim victory in the acclaimed @catturd2 presidential poll?”
“When words lose their meaning, it becomes very difficult to assess where we are as a nation.”
The meaning of the words “presidential poll” used to be trusted for factual information; we are staring dead in the face of facism taking over the White House again in the reorganized form of Trump’s MAGA White Nationalist evangelical Republican party. It is now strong enough within our sitting House and Senate that it no longer needs Trump at its head; his legacy is being drug along behind such as McCarthy, Jordan, Graham, Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene like an incomplete abortion. Stopped midway by the Supreme Court as the fight continues to save democracy in the form of civil and human rights afforded us as Americans by the Constitution and its Amendments.
Sheila writes, “Fascism generally involves a radical authoritarian nationalism…”
Generally, being the keyword.
It’s why most political writers use the term Neofascism.
Because, yes, there are new things under the sun. Did you know James Whitcomb Riley was involved in snake oil sales – magic elixirs- and was best friends with Eugene Debs, Indiana’s famous Socialist?
The fusion between the Robber Barons and the government has existed since day one. Eisenhower added the Military-Industrial Complex, which sabotages energy pipelines and peace agreements to keep war relevant. Even occupies foreign lands illegally (Syria) to steal oil.
Global capitalism is destroying the planet, and those who insist on using the old model will see Scandavian-style capitalism replace it (democratic socialism).
The solution to what ails us is socialism or central planning – not the brand Sheila wrote about today, but via Einstein’s dictum. I’d say closer to China’s hegemony expanding globally versus the USA’s version, where we call all the shots.
George Orwell considered himself to be a Socialist. In one of his newspaper columns, from 1944, he said that “Socialists don’t claim to be able to make the world perfect: they claim to be able to make it better.”
Capitalism, Communism, and Socialism are economic systems. Democracy, Aristocracy, and Autocracy are political systems. All require a vigilant populace to function even remotely well. Remember the best advice to the “Prince” was centered on keeping the people on his side.
Capitalism tends, without regulation, to engender greed. Communism requires the subjugation of ego, which is why it only works for cloistered nuns. Socialism has fewer issues, but it can lead to economic ennui.
Aristocracy and Autocracy can range from brutal to benevolent, depending on the level of madness of a single individual. Democracy is more flexible, but still requires an engaged and civically literate populace to function properly.
We can’t get there without knowing where there is. As of now, we don’t have a clue. We only know that we can’t keep ignoring the obvious.
Why do we need a “name”? How about just some principles that are universal and the bedrock of the country/culture? I would suggest some starters: equality of opportunity, no one is above the law…need more folks to chime in…there’s more.
“Democracy is more flexible, but still requires an engaged and civically literate populace to function properly.”
Yes, Peggy, that last phrase says it all.
From behind my eyes, we are much too close to fascist state than ever before. Jordan, one of the Tea Party
founders, as I have read, and his crew of misfits, have been the Koch Brothers foot soldiers, working to re-create
the country in the Koch image, and have been all too successful.
When Obama was running for his second term, the scare word being used was “Communist,” in my old
neighborhood, in N.J. Too many people do not understand diddly about these concepts!
Lester, checks and balances, independent judiciary, etc. We know that whatever name we select, the opposition will turn into a “negative accusation” to quote Sheila. Maybe we can call ourselves Americans???
Sharon – yes – our own “ism” – “Americanism” – take the principles of the Founders and “round them up” – higher and higher….
the republican party now holds their hands out for: anyone who can manipulate the media/social media and idiots who feel we need a authtortarian style life. allowing the maga group to enter congress after the tea party( im a believer that sees gordon kahl in NoDak was the primer for the teabaggers) those who pick and choose todays,er,the lasts decades runners for office,keep the keys to the next chapter in advancing the cause. weve seen where Bernie was kicked to the curb by hilarys camp of money,,along with his open eye politics. they shut him up just for that reason. today weve lost ground to the maggot bunch. seens fitting for such a name feeding off the decaying flesh of the republican party. there today we have one democracy,barely held by one party, while another controls most aspects of media. do the math,media is money,and its roll has been pure goebbels.any and every commercial news face.
it doesnt matter if its left or right,the real story isnt in the daily news on air,its been folded,spindled and mutilated. but we still listed to it? if were not,then its controling the naritive beyond its paid for dish and 900 worthless channels. i dont see much,or read much in making a claim,and holding those accountable in that pasty face news,er propaganda ministers. seems the very air waves of deciet and lies dont have a oppasite movement to condem on facts. i see that direct t.v has bought back newsmax,placed again in front and back of freespeech,first news. seems ATT is caving to the greed factors of congress to make them number one in so called conservitve news,now its with a banner mentioning 6 news sites all right wing propaganda. No matter what type of political headbanging we do, its of little use until we have a better communication with those who,like here in thos blog,get a place we can start to drill a naritive of how that system of maggots will only kill your democracy. i find freespeech for its content good, but many shows on freespeech are as enjoyable as watching dirt dry. this has become the norm,and were not even on the friggen map.,, link tv died.set between religious tv..
ive had many contacts (since 1987)with the teabaggers here in NoDak.buisness wise and socially. many of them are seeds from gordon kahl. everyone is a nutcase. armed,and dangerous. thats how they want it,armed and dangerous.
living in rural NoDak isnt for the blind. know who you are dealing with,and thats easy,just be a Bernie liberal like myself, and they avoid ya like ,well they dont care about covid either..
Have words lost their meaning or have they lost the context within which they have meaning, and if the latter what do those who would destroy such context have in mind as the new context for our socioeconomic order? We have seen fascism and capitalism can co-exist, so glorification of the state is thus not necessarily at odds with regulated greed, as opposed to underregulated greed under which our democracy is straining to exist these days with Koch-owned politicians at the helm under the rubric of “free enterprise.”
So what is a healthy political and economic relationship between citizens and the state? I think the Greeks in their agoras got it right long ago, i.e., rule by majority vote. Of course, democracy is subject to change, too, as the Greeks did not have the problems we have today with our huge increase in global population, scientific advance, and lately, global pollution; but then, we don’t have the problems today the Greeks of that day had, either. Chariot wrecks are rare.
We have various “isms” from which to choose (or have chosen for us by radicals) in implementing a socioeconomic order within which we can live and prosper. My choice (one itself subject to change as evolving conditions require) is democracy and a capitalism fairly regulated in the public interest as well as corporate bottom lines.
I find it confusing when MAGA people refer to progressives as Communists; yet they support Russia, North Korea and China (Communist countries? Go figure)
Gerald – “rule by majority vote” – not so simple….depends on how you define that. Per the processes of the time, wasn’t Hitler elected that way? How about The Duck? And many others…
Peggy – excellent delineation – one note, Israel still has a thriving set of kibbutzim, but their real problem is that the children don’t want to be farmers when the can live in Tel Aviv (like “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”)
I don’t really see this as a new phenomenon, but one I’ve seen my whole live (and learned about from my toddler days). The Republicans have long called their Democratic opponents “radical liberal/progressive/woke/socialists” just like a certain Republican ad flooding the Indianapolis airwaves is not new in denouncing how the “failed policies/leadership” of the Democrats have turned our city into a third-world, murder capital, decaying mess.
I also learned about old “Tricky Dicky” and his “pink lady” (Helen Gahagan Douglas) slurs when he ran for Senate.
The real problems are two-fold: First, there is the asymmetry. The right has always felt comfortable slinging “liberal” (with a sneer) and “socialist”, while people on the left were always chastising each other for using “Nazi” or “fascist”.
The second problem is, what happens when it’s true? For the longest time, we have refused to call Trump, MAGA, or the Tea Party by the accurate term, “liar”. We are now faced with racist nationalist and we can’t call them the fascists that they are. It is an extension of the left (and center) discussing Marquis of Queensberry rules while the fascists parade with automatic rifles and body armor. We have to wake and call a spade a spade, not “something that might or might not be used for digging a hole.” – sorry – that’s “woke”, isn’t it
Sheila, I’m familiar with the meanings of these political labels because, well, I read and studied Government; it’s a pity those “in charge” appear to have not done so. However, I do thank you for causing me to look up the meaning of “disquisition”, and I will be using it in the future!
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