Are Trump’s Republicans Fascists? | UB today

The January 6 insurgents were violent and undemocratic, but critics are mistaken in calling them fascists, says BU historian Jonathan Zatlin. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana


No, says BU historian Jonathan Zatlin, but they can still be dangerous

“Calling someone who endorses violence against the duly elected government a ‘Republican’ is itself Orwellian. More precise words exist for such a person. One of them is “fascist”.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank dropped the f-word after the Republican National Committee (RNC) on February 4 declared the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol as “legitimate political speech.” The RNC also censured U.S. Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) for serving on the House committee investigating the Capitol attack.

Others – former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum and Democratic journalist Ed Kilgore among them – agree that the GOP that appeases Trump is akin to the European fascists who rose to power between the two world wars. The concern predates the RNC’s endorsement of violence. Frum noted the insurrection itself, while Kilgore detected such parallels to interwar fascism as a “fundamental” lie (Nazi claims of German betrayals after World War I, claims of the Trump supporters on stealing an election) and alliances with “reactionary religious interests and radical elements among police and military veterans.

Jonathan Zatlin. Photo by BU Photography

This semester, Jonathan Zatlin, Associate Professor of History in the College of Arts and Sciences, teaches Comparative European Fascism, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and similar regimes that engaged in violence, to racism and repression. He says Trumpers critics cast the “fascist” easily and without historical reference. But that doesn’t mean there’s no danger of violent Trumpers, he adds, as well as Republicans like Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who thought they could hold Trump back. . McConnell, for the record, publicly criticized the RNC earlier this week for censoring Cheney and Kinzinger and for normalizing the Capitol attack. He said it was “a violent insurgency in an effort to try to prevent a peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to another.”

UB today asked Zatlin for his thoughts on MAGA’s analogy to Hitler and Mussolini.


With Jonathan Zatlin

UB today: Could the Republican Party be called fascist or fascist-leaning?

Jonathan Zatlin: From the historian’s perspective, fascism was a response to post-1918 problems – the collapse of multi-ethnic empires, economic crises – that we don’t have today. If we are experiencing crises, they are crises that only superficially resemble what was happening in the interwar period: high inflation, pandemic [of] the Spanish flu. What we’ve been through for the past two years are just very different situations. And we don’t have a four-year war that killed millions and traumatized an entire generation of young people who struggled to reintegrate into society and work 9 to 5 and then later experienced a mass employment and a Depression that lasts for years. This, together with the weakness of democratic traditions, led many Europeans to conclude that democracy was a source of crisis and poverty, and that only authoritarian regimes could ensure prosperity and stability.

Fascism was a response to long-term trends and what was happening after 1918. What you see today, what Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Greene say, is absolutely not original. It is an attempt to resurrect these interwar responses to democratic and liberal rule. It is not clear to me that they can be called fascists, since fascism was a historical phenomenon. Just because you think violence is good and racism is good doesn’t mean you’re a fascist.

There is a libertarian undercurrent in American politics, dating back to 1776, which is used to interpret January 6 as a moment of positive anti-authoritarianism. If you think of Rosa Parks defying bad law, there’s nothing violent about it. Almost all of the January 6 insurgents – I wouldn’t call [them] fascists, because fascists are people who were involved in the interwar period. But there is no doubt that they are violent anti-democrats who are also violently racist. And the Republican Party risks becoming the party of violence, anti-democracy and racism. If there is a kind of similarity with the interwar period, it is that you have conservatives ready to collaborate for political reasons with people who are often violent, racist and undemocratic.

UB today: Some observers argue that local Republican officials and Republican judges thwarted Trump’s attempt to void the 2020 election, so we’re not heading toward autocracy. Any validity to this argument?

Jonathan Zatlin: If you look at the interwar period, there is no doubt that the civil service, especially in Germany, where democracy was linked to economic crises and the defeat of the [First World] War — was opposed to democracy. And that’s just not the case in the United States. I don’t think it has anything to do with Republicans, actually; I think it’s because we’ve all been taught that democracy is a very important value.

Having said that, the last president tried – and it seems the Republican parties are trying both at the local level and at the state level – to put in office officials who don’t value democracy, who believe that violence is a legitimate part of public life. discourse, which it obviously is not. It is a deeply inconvenient form of politics because it means the Republican Party has allied itself with undemocratic values, violence and racism.

UB today: Is there a fascist analogue on the American left?

Jonathan Zatlin: It’s one of those rhetorical questions that you easily get rid of. There is no fascism in the American left. There could be violence on the American left, although there is far less than there is on the right. This is a tactical maneuver by the right to deny its own responsibility.

UB today: Whatever you call today’s violent, racist, and undemocratic forces in the United States, are there lessons that history offers for countering them?

Jonathan Zatlin: You don’t compromise with them. You have to call those things. It is important to expose conspiracy theories and debunk them. It’s a hard thing to do, but all of these things need to be called out. You can’t make alliances with people like that because those ideas are so corrosive. [They] will swallow you whole. You can’t make silly statements like violence is part of democratic discourse.

Conservatives thought they could contain the fascists in the interwar period and seem to think the same today. They bear the responsibility not only for having generated some of the ideas, but also for collaborating with and tolerating much of the violence and racism. I see Conservatives walking down a really precarious path, a path that will put us all at risk.

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