Who You Calling a Fascist?

Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” calling the police chief a fascist in “The Big Lebowski.” The term is more of a mere insult these days, but if used as an actual political label to describe someone or something, it a serious accusation due to its negative historical context.

As discussed below, there are some key features and requirements everyone seems to agree are necessary to define an actual fascist regime and adherents to fascist ideology. As the term has been commonly used by the likes of Lebowski, Biden and an incalculable number of partisan individuals in between however, it seems the term “fascist” now has come to mean something completely different. This new definition of a “fascist” seems to be, “Anyone of a different political persuasion to which the speaker can apply any combination of real or perceived negative “isms,” or traits to express disapproval of their policies or practices.” More ad hominem than critique, use of the term in this manner seems more the mark of a lazy mind than a statement of substance.

With Lebowski’s comedic utterance of the term in the movie, the audience is meant to process it in the context of his character. He has no trust in the system, rejects the standard notions of virtue and duty, and, following with another theme in the film, seems disillusioned by America’s perceived militarism and blunders in Vietnam. He sees the police chief in this way, hence the “fascist” outburst. What about Biden? Aside from merely using the term politically to fire up his base, Biden’s use of the term applied to his Republican rivals reflects not only a profound misunderstanding of fascism, but also traditional American values, the general Republican position, and the impact his Democrat Party has had on the nation and the current divisiveness we are experiencing. If we were to generally apply the term as defined above, it could be argued that Biden and his Democrat Party have been, and continue to be, more “fascist” than any Republicans have been throughout our history. At least, they have set up the conditions for future fascism more so than Republicans. I don’t recommend the use of this label though, as it is more useful to address the various points and critiques head on, but just for the sake of argument, let’s explore some of the key tenets and requirements of fascism and match them up to the general positions of both the Democrat and Republican parties in America.

Italian strongman Benito Mussolini was the first to use the term “fascism” and was a chief architect and practitioner of the doctrine.

Whether you are reading Benito Mussolini’s 1932 “The Doctrine of Fascism,” or the works of scholars surveying the various studies and definitions of the concept since World War II, it is impossible to imagine fascism without an all-powerful state at its center. This one defining requirement alone makes the idea that Republicans in America are more “fascist” than Democrats laughable. It has long been the goal of the Democrat Party – from the early 20th Century Progressives to the modern “woke” political voting blocks – to grow government beyond Constitutional limits; to increase bureaucratic power at the expense of the People’s Representatives, to concentrate power at the top as much as possible at the expense of checks and balances and the rightful authority of lower jurisdictions, and to subject the individual to the will of the state contrary to fundamental rights “for the greater good.” Classical conceptions of liberalism have been largely disregarded and often demonized, as the Constitutional notion of “American Democracy” within the structure of our Republic has given way to appeals for more democracy (small “d”) along with the rise of a state-sanctioned, corporate-approved political correctness guiding the new cultural norms and nationalistic intersectional “in-group” “out-group” identity. The traditional notion of the state as a protector of fundamental rights (negative rights) has transitioned into a role of the state as a provider of positive “rights,” often at the expense of the free will of individuals and responsible, sustainable action. The merging of the massive state bureaucracy with corporate interests to guide domestic policy and programs and even dreams of one day expanding this system to a new order of global governance are completely in line with the Democrat mentality and contrary to that of traditional Republicans. To the extent Republicans have gone along with this regime, we can criticize them mainly for playing the Democrat’s game, or selling out their stated principles for pragmatic reasons at best, selfish reasons at worst. While modern Republican Party platforms have been compatible with the current machinations of government out of necessity, they are undeniably at heart closer to the limited, checked, individual rights-driven, Constitutional government of our Founders than that of the Democrats. Simply put, if properly followed, fascism could not survive under ideal Republican conditions, but it could emerge and thrive under ideal Democrat conditions. This is what motivates most Republicans, including most MAGA Republicans, and Biden’s cherry-picking and attacks on strawmen cannot replace this general positioning as the dominant narrative about their underlying beliefs.

This woman expresses a common MAGA theme regarding the intended degradation of the Constitution and Founding principles by “liberals” (modern day useage of the label) during the Southern California Make America Great Again march.
Patrick T. Fallon / Reuters

Extreme militarism is another stated general criteria of fascist regimes. While Trump supported the military during his term, he generally did not misuse it overseas to the extent of his predecessors, starting no new conflicts and ending a lot of covert actions and proxy wars favored by the Deep State warmongers. Biden himself certainly helped foster such militaristic activity over his long career in government, more so than any MAGA supporter. Domestic police forces had similarly been beefing up long before Trump, and any accusation of fascist tendencies in this expansion would have to transcend his Administration. The fascist labeling also pops up regarding Trump and MAGA supporters regarding their support for the “thin blue line” mentality, but again, this seems to be more of a reaction to the anti-cop rhetoric and proposed policy of leftist agitators than it is support for a growth of a police state. This, after all, would contradict the “don’t tread on me” mentality most MAGA supporters hold. The reasonable idea regarding police forces has always been for there to be a “law and order” justice system in place just big enough to do the job and not big enough to turn tyrannical. Confusion over this point emanates from both political “sides,” but it is more reflective of a misunderstanding of Constitutional foundations than it is of calls for a fascist state.

Fascists also require enterprise and economic activity to heavily bolster the state with heavy with state involvement in even private commerce. The US has no doubt been moving in this direction over the decades but hardly to the point one could reasonably call it proper fascism. State-corporate cooperation under Trump was also rather par for the course, as he (like any President these days) was largely powerless to stop it. As we saw during the COVID pandemic for example, the already-existing bureaucratic might and influence of Big Pharma/Medical-Industrial Complex was alive and well before, during, and after Trump. Ask yourself; is the stereotype of the Republican corporate “fat cat” really still the dominant image in the minds of Americans? When it comes to state-corporate merging of power, isn’t the “elite class” now comprised of Progressive technocrats and ideological Democratic donors at least as much as it is self-interested Republican businessmen and industrialists? The bureaucracy is overwhelmingly filled with Democrats and Progressives to be sure, and these people are meeting with lobbyists and making deals every single day. The growth of bureaucracy, corporate cooperation with the state, and regulations favorable to big business via lobbyist activity are aided, not hindered by, Democrat-favored policy.

Extreme nationalism and populism are also thought to be a major requirement of a fascist regime. Labeling Trump “racist,” “sexist,” and “xenophobic” became the distraction from serious discussion about socioeconomic problems, police reform, the border wall, etc. The idea Trump was instigating fascist, right-wing nationalistic tendencies on these fronts bypasses all the honest argument about them, instead assuming the truth of the opposition’s conclusion in the premises when addressing them. If anything, the way the mass media collaborated with Trump’s detractors and opponents to frame these issues during Trump’s time in the White House and beyond is much more indicative of media under a fascist regime than a free and fair press – a point Trump himself has made as indicated in an excerpt from one of his speeches below. Nationalism and populism in themselves are not inherently authoritarian as fascism is inherently authoritarian. There seems to be selective criticism and a lot of unwarranted accusations thrown around when discussing these points regarding Trump and his tendencies. The same is not done regarding Democrats such as Biden or Obama.

This brings us to the last of the main “fascist” talking points regarding Trump; the “attack on democracy” that was January 6th and the controversy over the 2020 election. MAGA supporters are “fascists,” this thinking goes, because fascists reject democracy and democratic elections just like Trump’s supporters question the legitimacy of the 2020 election and protested the transition of power to Biden on January 6th. This is again conflating two concepts. The questioning of the 2020 election and the events of January 6th cannot be extended to the accusation that those involved reject democracy outright or want to overrule the system of elections in the country. On the contrary, the protests were due to the idea that there were irregularities with the system and that the democratic process was compromised. Looking at it this way, the protestors were trying to defend democracy and its role in our Constitutional Republic rather than to upend or reject it. And remember, Democrats spent the entire Trump presidency denying its legitimacy on less reasonable suspicion (that has turned out to be false and actually somewhat self-incriminating) than that of the wide-ranging accusations of improper conduct nationwide in the 2020 election. One does not have to agree with their conclusions to understand the reasons the vast majority of them were actually protesting. It could be argued that the long-standing push by Democrats towards more direct democracy and populist messaging, often contrary to Constitutional norms and the Rule of Law, is more accommodating to future fascism than the balanced system created by our Founders and preferred by Republicans, including MAGA supporters.

President Trump & First Lady Melania Trump at Mount Rushmore, July 4th, 2020

While the Lebowski in us sometimes gets the best of us all and we blurt out insults and less-than-accurate labels to describe our dislike of various people and policies, when discussing such ideas professionally we ought to be more careful. Certainly, people occupying elected offices must do so, especially those that claim to be trying to unite the populace. But we also must be ready to call a spade a spade. Accurate terms do not need to be watered down. We must remember, if we overuse a term and misapply it enough, it loses its meaning. This seems to be the fate of the term “fascist.” I suppose we are all fascists now in someone’s mind.

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