What is Fascism and What Does American Fascism Look Like?

American fascism, what is fascism, fascism in america, charlottesville,
This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Fascism in America

The coming posts will address some fascist phenomena–and how they do or don’t manifest in American fascism–as well as related terms like nationalism, authoritarianism, etc.

American fascism, what is fascism, fascism in america, charlottesville,

(09-30-2017, updated 07-12-2018)  I was invited to speak at an anti-fascist group meeting today, to talk about the German Occupation of the Netherlands during World War Two and American fascism. I had way too much information just getting through a definition. That’s okay, though. It gave me fodder for another series of posts (and a year later  it’s the reason I’m starting a separate blog on the topic, and which will serve as a suppository of material for a future book! 07-12-2018).

I’ve never been asked to come and talk anywhere before–note to self: next time ask how much time I get to talk, because it turned out I had to rush through it, which meant I couldn’t elaborate or give examples to clearly state my case, and I fear I may have been somewhat misunderstood by some. In fact, one person concluded at the end that I had painted a caricature of Americans, and that was not my intention at all, but it probably came across that way because I had to race through bullet points that I had only meant as reminders of what I was going to discuss next. No time for nuance. On their part, the members probably have their own note to self now: be careful what we wish for! Anyway, it gave me fodder for another series of posts where I can elaborate all I want about American fascism.

The Netherlands in WWII

For Dutch society, the German Occupation (1940 – 1945) was a watershed moment. It changed us as a people. It changed the way we viewed authority and obedience. Fascism has since been the very real worst-case scenario that all  social change and all laws are measured against. Would this law withstand a fascist take-over? What would be the next step if this law is adopted? Is it the first step on a slippery slope? We assume that anything that could conceivably happen will happen unless we arm ourselves against it. If you want to know more about the German Occupation of the Netherlands during WWII, you can read the series of posts I wrote on the subject, which starts here.

Fascism in the Eye of the Beholder

I wanted to start the talk by asking what people thought of when they thought of American fascism, but I didn’t, again, because I was pressed for time. So, I’ll ask it here: Americans, what did you learn in high school history that you still remember? And in present-day America, what or who comes to mind? What is fascism to you? My guess is that you think of Charlottesville, of neo-Nazis wearing swastikas on their sleeves, and of white supremacists and the KKK shouting racial and antisemitic slurs. You think of obviously racist thugs with intimidating guns. Many of you think of Trump and Bannon. Correct me if I’m wrong. And you’d be right, those folks are clearly fascists, no doubt about it.

It’s possible that, because I’m Dutch, I’m more aware of it, or more sensitive to fascism, but I have seen and personally experienced it in America since the day I got here, decades ago. Yet I have never personally met a member of the KKK; I have never been anywhere near a rally where white supremacists with swastikas and tiki torches shout racist slurs. Most of the fascism I encounter is expressed by people who would be shocked and insulted to be associated with the extremists marching with guns and tiki torches in Charlottesville. I believe that most of the people I’m thinking of honestly have no idea, but it’s much more pervasive and ubiquitous than white supremacist rallies, and therefore more dangerous. It has led, among other things, to the election of Trump as president of the United States.

So What Are We Talking About? What is Fascism?

Nationalism and fascism go hand in hand, so let me first give the definitions of the terms according to Merriam Webster:

NATIONALISM definition: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness, exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational organizations.

FASCISM definition: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Elements of Fascism

Below are brief descriptions of the main elements of fascism, which I have based in part on this definition in the Urban Dictionary.  

  • Strong, idolized leader / dictator;
  • Totalitarianism:  centralized control by an autocratic authority; the state is supreme–the individual must totally submit to an absolute state authority and to the interests of the whole;
  • Authoritarianism: favoring blind submission to authorities, favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people. So no labor unions, no strikes, power lies with corporations, police, government;
  • Use of violence and intimidation. Breakdown of distinction between civilians and militants in society – a military citizenship. Also, war often considered a tool for rebirth;
  • Forcible suppression of opposition: questioning the government is not tolerated. If you are not for us, you are against us, and therefore the enemy;
  • Education and media used as a tool for nationalist indoctrination and propaganda rather than as ways to convey factual information;
  • Promotion of masculinity and femininity and traditional gender roles.

In the following posts I will address the elements of nationalism and fascism and their presence in American society, and what it would take, in my opinion, to prevent further harm from being done. For those of you who have been following my Resident Alien blog for a while, I will repeat myself here and there, but I feel the need to address the issue in a more systematic way than I have before.

This post is Part 1 in the series Fascism in America. Here is the next one, about American exceptionalism.

(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “Fascism in America 1: Introduction”, 09-30-2017)

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2 thoughts on “What is Fascism and What Does American Fascism Look Like?

  1. I’m curious what group you were speaking to. I’m also glad that I may have contributed to getting you this invitation because you attended and spoke out at the last meeting I hosted 🙂 – Mike Ig

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