Geoffrey Cain’s deconstruction of fascism for The New Republic is frustrating because he argues that circumstances today are more merely fascistic than outright fascism but the only thing from his own elemental lists that he seems to think is missing are paramilitary militias roaming the streets beating up leftists.
Today, we have no true mass fascist movement: We lack paramilitary squads roaming the streets, and a communist uprising that supposedly merits destruction by a one-party fascist state.
Except that’s not actually missing because it’s literally what the Proud Boys and their fellow fascistic travelers want to be, all while the Republican Party, the party of the President, seeks legally to declare not them but antifa as domestic terrorists, and rhetorically declare Democrats as socialists. Is it a mass movement? Not on the ground, but also: why should we wait until then to call it what it is?
It’s like Cain is playing some weird and dangerous semantic game just because we don’t precisely and exactly ape the circumstances and specifics of early-twentieth-century Italy, except we do in all the most important ways Cain cites, at least in nascent ways. But “nascent” doesn’t mean “irrelevant”.
Italian fascists called for a national renewal, founded on physical strength, a fusing of tradition and modernism, higher birth rates, and industrial and military might as the antidote to economic woes.
Just because Trumpism might be bad at some of these things doesn’t mean it doesn’t in fact describe Trumpism. Cain seems to think that because “Yale emeritus historian Robert Paxton” argued that fascism tends to arise through a progression of certain steps in a specific order, there’s no other process. If the first step typically is “the initial creation of fascist movements”, that doesn’t mean the movement has to come first, or that it has to be overt, or that a fascist can’t take advantage of an existing proto-fascist movement such as what the Republican Party has become over my lifetime.
Fascist leaders everywhere convinced their early followers that their nation had descended from a glorious heritage, hijacked and destroyed by a corrupt elite.
This, literally and seriously, is Trumpism.
So, I’m not entirely sure what Cain is doing here, and it gives me some of the same sick feeling as I got when people were cautioning against calling the new American concentration camps by that name simply because they didn’t have feeder lines of boxcars and terminal endpoints of gas chambers.
If you wait until fascism or nazism look exactly the way they did in the past at the point at which they were defeated, it will be far, far too late for too many people. You have to call it out at the beginning, before it ever has the chance to get that far.