The other day Joe Biden accused voters of the opposition party of turning to “semi-fascism.” This is probably the first time in American history a president has openly attacked the opposing party’s constituents in this way. Grammatically speaking, the accusation could use a little work. What Biden probably meant to say was that 74 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 are “quasi-fascist” or “increasingly fascistic.”
Then again, Biden, who once alleged that the chaste Mitt Romney was harboring a desire to bring back chattel slavery, is prone to stupid hyperbole. And it’s true that most people who throw around the word “fascist” fail to do so with much precision.* Anyway, our president will probably further explain his thinking on the matter of “semi-fascism” when he gives a prime-time speech about threats to our “democracy” this Thursday—a week after he broke millions of existing contracts and unilaterally “forgave” student loans by executive decree. Biden has engaged in historic and unprecedented abuses of White House power. Sometimes, the chutzpah is staggering.
These days, the word “democracy,” like “fascism,” has lost all meaning. According to Democrats, asking someone to show ID before voting is an attack on “democracy,” but so is the Supreme Court’s handing back power to voters on the abortion issue. When you have no limiting principles of governance, anything that inhibits your exertion of power is seen as anti-“democracy.” If students have loans to be paid, “forgive” them. If you can’t pass a bill, the executive branch should do it by fiat. If the court stops it, pack it. Power is only to be limited when the opposition holds it. When Donald Trump wants to divert money to secure the southern border, it evokes images of 1930s Germany. When Barack Obama unilaterally bestows amnesty on millions of newcomers, without any debate or due process, it is just and moral … and shut up racists.
A microcosm of this confused thinking can be found in the recent spate of hysterical media pieces about alleged Republican “book banning.” The use of “ban” by the media is more than a category error, it’s an effort to paint parents who use the very same exact democratic powers the left has relied on for decades as book burners. Public school curricula and book selection are political questions decided by school and library boards. Neither have a duty to carry every single volume on racial identitarianism or sexually explicit material simply demanded by some busybody at the American Library Association. We can debate whether these books are harmful or not, but it is neither fascism nor authoritarian to make those decisions.
Anyway, you’re not just anti-democratic for supporting a Republican presidential candidate, you’re now a semi-fascist. Henry Olson disagrees, noting that:
Classic 20th-century fascism was a political philosophy that comprehensively denounced modern liberal democracy. Fascists believed that multiparty democracy weakened the nation, and that competitive capitalism was wasteful and exploitative. Their alternative was a one-party state that guided the economy through regulation and sector-based accords between labor and business.
It’s somewhat more complicated, as most fascist regimes were also propelled by ethno-nationalism and jingoism. The left tends to confuse, or conflate, the blood-and-soil European variety with American nationalism — the kind that a few Nazis in Charlottesville embraced, but which is not even close to the predominant position of Republican voters.
But it is the left that champions government intervention in the economy, with never-ending regulations, subsidies, and mandates that effectively allow for controlling the means of production. Leftists—some incrementally, some less so—are the proponents of nationalizing the health-care system, the energy sector, and education. Again, if progressives have any limiting principles when it comes to intervention in our economic lives, I’d love to hear about them.
The most vociferous defenders of “democracy” are also the ones who sound suspiciously like they want a one-party state. Modern Democrats have stopped debating policy or accepting the legitimacy of anyone who stands in their way. They will pass massive, generational reforms using parliamentary tricks, without any input from the minority. And they don’t merely champion their work as beneficial, they claim these bills are needed for the survival of “democracy” and “civilization” – nay, the survival of the planet. Anyone who opposes saving Mother Earth is surely a fascist. There is nothing to debate. The villainization of political opponents isn’t new, but we are breaking new ground. We live in an era where a failed former CIA director, Michael Hayden—the man who was on watch during 9/11—says that he has “never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous & contemptible than today’s Republicans.”
Some may find it a bit fascist-y that the FBI feels free to instruct giant rent-seeking corporations to censor news to help elect their preferred candidate. Or that the White House is in the business of “flagging” “problematic posts” or in the habit of threatening corporations to “root out” “misleading” speech or be held accountable. A “Disinformation Governance Board” that sifts through speech the administration dislikes or a Justice Department that treats those protesting authoritarian school boards as “domestic terrorists” is semi-fascism. When Democrats challenge the veracity of election results, and rely on law enforcement and media to con the public, it is merely democracy at work. When Republicans do it, it’s the “Big Lie” worthy of not only condemnation but state-endorsed censorship.
The modern left, which increasingly sees the world in identitarian terms, is also the enemy of true diversity. As one of my favorites, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, noted long ago, the progressives won’t rest until the person who opposes their orthodoxy “lives outside the gates, or is utterly humiliated.” This sounds quite familiar to anyone living in an era where the media and government work to deplatform and chase anyone who diverges from orthodoxy out of the public square. There are entire genres of journalism dedicated to helping the left circumvent debate by falsely claiming to have a monopoly on “facts.”
It is curious, as well, that the same people who control basically all major institutions in American life—academia, media, unions, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, trade associations, public schools, publishing, the entire D.C. bureaucracy, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, not to mention the presidency and Congress—claim to be victims of budding authoritarianism. The only major institution free of progressives’ grip right now is the Supreme Court. And the left is engaged in a systematic effort to delegitimize the court for doing its job and limiting the state’s power.
None of this is to say that the right is innocent. I often find myself debating the populist right on issues ranging from the free markets and the role of the state. Abuses of the Constitution should be called out no matter who engages in them. However, progressivism’s crusade to destroy separation of powers, its attacks on religious freedom and free speech, its undermining of civil society, its binding of the economy to the state, and its fostering of perpetual dependency and victimhood, are far bigger long-term threats to the republic than Trumpism—and far closer to the definition of “semi-fascism” than the Republican agenda.
*I am guilty of this, as well. In my book “Nanny State,” I called anyone who proposed limiting my air conditioning a “fascistic monster” and accused those proposing to limit soda sizes of being “Twinkie fascists” who wouldn’t stop until we were saying “Sieg Health” as we choked down cauliflower. But, of course, I’m not the president.