Hard truths are often hidden in grim realities. Time and again, far-reaching events appear in societies suggesting a profound political and moral reordering of the social fabric. Yet while these events are often warning signs — flashes of impending danger — they are largely ignored by political and financial elites as well as by the corporate media, all of whom have an inclination to isolate such events and deal with them unconnected from each other. Treated in isolation, they are quickly devoured and disappear into a neoliberal-driven image society dominated by a culture of short attention spans. In a capitalist order that has turned dark and increasingly unable to deliver on its promises, social and systemic problems appear disconnected, individualized and reduced to personal narratives, and quickly disappear in a neoliberal disimagination machine that relentlessly tries to normalize an existing misery-soaked state of affairs.
Notable events, warnings and crises are now rendered digestible, insulated and politically insignificant, eliminating the necessity for in-depth analyses. This ideologically and pedagogically regressive approach to understanding the world offers no threat to the systemic capitalist relations of power and its darker mechanisms and effects, which are often hidden from view. Lost here are the connections between the pending crisis of environmental collapse, rampant inequality, the threat of a nuclear war, rising authoritarianism, collapse of civic society, rising antisemitism and the war on women's reproductive rights. When disconnected, such events do not raise enough cause for serious alarm. Under such circumstances, the disruptions that emerge out of and lead to a broader crisis are not merely overlooked but covered up. At the same time, engaged and informed critique and the critical institutions that support a strong democracy are viewed with contempt. One consequence is that such warnings quickly disappear from public attention in spite of the fact that they speak to profound changes percolating in society that necessitate a critical understanding of the emergence of new political formations, more impending forms of domination and potential modes of resistance.
The discourses of liberal, mainstream and dominant politics are too often disconnected from a fascist past and from the overlapping connections of the social problems they attempt to address. In this instance, they are marked by an analytic approach that treats issues in a disconnected and isolated manner, making such approaches incapable of making visible how various moments of violence and oppression inform and relate to each other. There is little understanding of how the attack on public schools, usually in the form of being defunded, is related to the neoliberal scourge of expanding inequality and the staggering concentration of wealth in the hands of the financial elite. Nor is the attack understood as part of a broader assault on public goods and critical institutions. At the same time, the rise of mass shootings is unrelated to a culture of violence that has been central to fascist politics — a culture that includes sports, the militarization of everything, mass entertainment and video game culture.
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The discourse of mainstream politics is too often disconnected from the fascist past, and marked by an analytic approach that treats issues as disconnected and isolated.
Book banning in the U.S. cannot be removed from right-wing attempts to flood the schools with white Christian fundamentalist and white supremacist ideologies. Violence against people of color is too often disconnected from the rise of the carceral and punishing state. Attacks on the welfare state and public goods are rarely analyzed as part of the unchecked drive for profit under a savage neoliberal capitalism. The demonization of those considered unworthy of citizenship along with the rise of antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, nativism and the war against transgender youth are habitually removed from the legacy of fascism and its drive for racial purity and cultural genocide.
When the media fails to connect Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' shameful treatment of migrants and politics of disposability with the rapper Ye's use of his celebrity status to promote his virulent brand of antisemitism, and reports of former President Donald Trump dining with both Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) and an incorrigible white supremacist, it is more than a serious political mistake. It is a form of complicity that contributes to the emergence of fascist politics in the United States. Furthermore, while some pundits have connected these specific events to an emerging authoritarianism, they still fail to both name the ongoing development of fascism in the U.S. and recognize that it takes different forms in different societies and historical formations. Nor do they equate Trumpism itself with a brand of fascist politics.
As I have noted repeatedly, Primo Levi was right to state that every age reproduces its own fascism. Fascism is not some abstract idea that is permanently located in the past, it is a definable set of attributes that people such as Trump, Hungary's leader Viktor Orbán, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi know how to exploit and magnify. As renowned historians such as Timothy Snyder, Sarah Churchill, Jason Stanley and Ruth Ben-Ghiat make clear, fascism is never entirely interred in the past; it is a dangerous ideology that may go into remission but never disappears.
Fascism is far more dangerous than authoritarianism; the latter is too general a category and does not signal the specificity of a dangerous movement that includes the current brand of fascist politics. Fascism is a recurrent and infinitely translatable phenomenon and points to atrocities, banning books and bodies, withdrawal of citizens' rights and the unimaginable horrors of the camps. As a present danger, it must be confronted. There is no room for silence or complicity. In the face of a culture with limited political horizons, it is crucial to learn from history and cultivate a critical consciousness in order to overcome the moral vacuity, manufactured ignorance and incitement to stupidity that gives rise to the fascist subject. Kelly Hayes writes in Truthout:
We must also understand that there can be no ethical silence in the face of fascism. Silence is complicity and cooperation, which helps facilitate atrocity. That might likewise be hard to hear. But how many liberals and leftists have fallen silent on trans issues as the Republicans make the elimination of trans people from public life the new centerpiece of their politics?
Authoritarian signals appear everywhere in American society. Racism, antisemitism, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, a culture of cruelty, raging inequality and an expanded politics of exclusion and disposability are burning democracy to the ground. Yet in too many cases, the larger significance of these incendiary calamities is missed because they are disconnected from each other. Examples of the landscape of disconnections and the fascist conjuncture that it supports are not difficult to find. The three seemingly disparate events I mentioned above: DeSantis' demonization of migrants, the public displays of antisemitism by Kanye West, and Trump's hosting of Nick Fuentes, a well-known white supremacist, antisemite and Holocaust denier at his Mar-a-Lago resort, received a great deal of attention but were easily forgotten.
These events were largely decontextualized in the mainstream and corporate-controlled media, treated as isolated issues, and as such illustrate the hegemonic power of a politics of disconnection. In the first instance, DeSantis ordered two planeloads of migrants from Venezuela transported to Martha's Vineyard. The two planes left from Texas filled with lawful asylum seekers who were told by DeSantis' staff that they would be provided with jobs and "up to eight months of cash assistance for income-eligible refugees in Massachusetts, apparently mimicking benefits offered to refugees who arrive in the United States through the country's official resettlement program, which the Venezuelans were not part of." They were also provided with a fake brochure titled "Refugee Migrant Benefits," although they did not qualify for such benefits.
Judd Legum reports, "Several migrants told NPR they were told the flight was going to Boston, not Martha's Vineyard. According to the migrants, a woman who identified herself as Perla also said that, if they traveled to Boston, they could receive 'expedited work papers." Legum adds, "The allegation that the migrants were misled is legally significant. It would mean that the flights were not just heartless, but potentially criminal." DeSantis was criticized in the liberal media on a number of counts, including lying, committing a criminal offense, engaging in illegal trafficking, misusing state funds, kidnaping and using this cruel stunt as a publicity device to showcase his reactionary ideology regarding immigration.
Very few analyses connected DeSantis' stunt to the long-standing policy of right-wing GOP members in propping up a white nationalist agenda. Nor did they give much attention to how the stunt smacked of a segregationist past in which White Citizens' Councils in the American South resisted activists of the early 1960s who traveled there as Freedom Riders "with the goal of integrating interstate buses and bus terminals." Not only did segregationists and armed mobs confront the freedom riders when they pulled into Southern cities "with bats and firebombs," they also "passed out leaflets and placed want ads in Southern newspapers to recruit Black families with the promise of jobs up north."
Like DeSantis, Southern segregationists wanted to retaliate against Northern liberals. Unfortunately, the story of how this segregationist past was reproduced by DeSantis, echoing the Jim Crow era of racist policies and violence, was underplayed in the mainstream and liberal media. Almost nothing was said about how DeSantis' politics of disposability was part of a similar logic carried to extremes in the past in fascist regimes such as Nazi Germany. Not only did DeSantis build on the legacy of American white supremacists such as former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, he also took a lesson from the history of fascism in trying to ride white supremacy and nationalism to further his political career.
Almost nothing was said about how DeSantis' Martha's Vineyard stunt echoed the logic of fascist regimes and built on the Jim Crow-era legacy of American white supremacists like George Wallace.
DeSantis' publicity stunt of using migrants as political pawns was also disconnected in the mainstream and liberal media from his attempt to erase the Jim Crow era as part of his larger project of a politics of disposability. For instance, little was said connecting this racist policy to DeSantis' enacting laws banning books about African American history and racial narratives from schools and libraries along with limiting what teachers can teach about racism — a policy that clearly indicates how DeSantis is following in the footsteps of the Nazification of education in Hitter's Germany. Almost nothing was said connecting these incidents with DeSantis' ignorant historical claim that it was the "American revolution that caused people to question slavery [and that] nobody had questioned it before we decided as Americans that we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights and that we are all created equal. Then that birthed abolition movements."
As Sarah Pearsall notes, "The claim by DeSantis is completely incorrect. Plenty of people had questioned slavery before the American Revolution. Of course enslaved people had resisted the system since its inception, but there were also tracts by colonists [and] early abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic [including] Quakers; their efforts in some cases predated the outbreak of the American Revolution."
DeSantis' lies, policies and embrace of historical revisionism cannot be separated from either an egregious fascist history or the current attempts by the GOP to erase migrants and Black and brown people from history in order to prop up a white nationalist agenda. Meaghan Ellis, citing the work of Brown University historian Seth Rockman, argues that DeSantis' reading of slavery is especially "pernicious because it places black people outside the category of 'we' and 'Americans' [while pretending] that enslaved African and African-descended people aren't worth taking seriously as people whose opinions about slavery might matter, then or now."
James Baldwin was right to argue that this whitewashing of history makes clear that white people do not want to know the sordid racist past of American history and as a result are "barricaded inside their history." DeSantis' historical ignorance is about more than refusing a future free of racism, and the enactment of a more just world, it is part of a broader legacy deeply rooted in America's fascist past. It is part of a legacy in which Trump and his right-wing extremist supporters refuse to tell the truth about America's past while building the present in the image of a Jim Crow past. Writing in Salon, historian Robert S. McElvaine captures this GOP return to a racist past:
Today's right-wing extremists seek to "Take Back America" in two senses: back from those who are not white or not male and back to the time when straight white males were in charge. An essential part of their overall quest to effect a second "Restoration" of white man's rule is an attempt to restore the ignorance of American history that had prevailed before 1964.
The stark elements of a fascist past, reproduced in the pathologies of the current historical moment, took place in 2022 in another series of events, which stemmed from the same display of racism and embrace of a politics of disposability. From October to December 2022, the rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) spent a considerable amount of time performing as the celebrity poster child for spewing out a barrage of dangerous antisemitic comments. Joining a number of other celebrities who have massive followings, such as Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, online conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Ye found himself squarely in the company of neo-Nazis, proto-fascists and a gaggle of diverse demagogues who shared his hateful views.
Ye appeared to delight in flooding the media, along with his nearly 32 million followers, with hateful rhetoric that stoked fear, normalized white supremacy and ramped "up the risk of violence in a country already experiencing a sharp increase in antisemitism." Indifferent to how his antisemitic rhetoric is aligned with both a Nazi history of genocide and current acts of violence against the Jewish community, particularly the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Ye acted out his hatred of Jews and support for white supremacy with impunity while endorsing vitriolic ideas, concepts and actions that not only incite violence but are potentially murderous.
Ye has a disturbing history of antisemitism that has become more menacing over time. During the past decade, his quest for media attention, cultural power and political influence has become more vitriolic and alarming as he moved from uttering offensive anti-Jewish and self-hating anti-Black racist remarks to playing with a fascist aesthetic and more recently providing a full-fledged apology for Nazi ideology. Early on in the last decade, he began to integrate white supremacist symbols into his fashion aesthetic. For instance, he turned a Confederate flag into a shirt in 2013 and a decade later donned a sweater at the Yeezy Paris Fashion Week show emblazoned with the phrase "White Lives Matter" on its back. The phase has been adopted by white supremacist groups in response to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. In October, Ye's antisemitic outburst took a dangerous turn when he tweeted that he would be going "death con 3 on Jewish people," a dark and possibly confused reference to the defense readiness condition (DEFCON) used by the U.S. military.
While appearing on Infowars with far-right Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Ye said, "I see good things about Hitler," claimed to love Nazis, denied the Holocaust took place, "accused Jews of being pedophiles" and chastised the "Jewish media" for claiming that the "Nazis and Hitler never offered us anything of value to the world." Soon after airing his antisemitic and pro-Nazi views with Jones, he stooped to another low, reinforcing his image as "a vile repellent bigot" by posting an image of a swastika inside the star of David. He then added, "Let's always remember this as my final tweet."
Ye has emerged as a public menace, a symbol of vindictive chaos and a warning sign of a rising fascism in the United States. His contempt for racial justice, equality and civic integrity correlates perfectly with his personal embrace of fascism and is symptomatic of the plague of authoritarianism that now bears down on every aspect of cultural, political and economic life in the United States. Fascism begins with hateful and dehumanizing language, opening the space for unimaginable violence. Ye's language fundamentally structures as much as it expresses white supremacist and antisemitic thought and in doing so functions in the service of violence, deception and cruelty while collapsing the distinction between truth and lies, good and evil.
Ye's lies, comments and actions merge the hateful and the delusional and in so doing help to mainstream and normalize fascist politics and its politics of terminal exclusion, social abandonment and dehumanization. His bigoted ideas and comments offer support to a range of white supremacists and antisemitic extremists who brazenly occupy public spaces with their fascist symbols and ideas. Celebrity wealth and power carry a lot of weight for real world consequences. For instance, on Oct. 22, Ye's followers in Los Angeles rallied on a freeway overpass, displaying a banner declaring "Kanye is right about the Jews."
Ye's antisemitic rhetoric fuels and legitimates the hateful messages and videos produced in a range of media platforms used by white supremacists to wage violence against trans and queer people and other marginalized groups who "are at disproportionate risk of experiencing violence and mental trauma." As a public figure, he has a massive following, especially among the young, and his influence does more than legitimize conspiracy theories and fascist ideology, it also shapes consciousness, normalizes bigotry, lowers the tolerance for violence, inspires racially motivated death threats and creates a culture of fear and rage. Ye's language and actions are just one indication that we live at a time when totalitarian forms are with us again.
Ye's antisemitic rhetoric fuels and legitimates hateful messages across many media platforms directed against trans and queer people and other marginalized groups.
Ye's influence and racist ideology expands far beyond his public persona. Prior to his interview with Alex Jones, he dined with Donald Trump at his home in Florida. The dinner came as no surprise since Ye has long supported Trump and his white supremacist politics. What caught the mainstream media's attention was that Ye was accompanied by Nick Fuentes, an architect of the "Groyper" movement of internet trolls whose project is to protect and preserve white, European-American identity and culture. Matthew Chapman describes Fuentes as a high-profile extremist who seeks "to push white supremacist ideology into the political mainstream, has previously compared himself to Adolf Hitler, and advocates the creation of a white, Christian theocratic ethnostate in which Jews and nonwhite people are barred from political power."
Jacob Crosse adds that "Fuentes is not just another 'far-right' operative. He is an unapologetic racist, Christian reactionary, admirer of Adolf Hitler and Holocaust denier. In addition to glorifying Hitler, Fuentes has called for violence against Black people, Jews, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ persons. Fuentes' words have led to real-life violence and death." In the face of adverse publicity, Trump subsequently denied knowing Fuentes, but at the same time the former president "has refused to condemn Fuentes's white supremacist views" — a pattern that links back to his first presidential campaign.
Some prominent Republicans criticized the outrageous dinner event but declined to condemn Trump for hosting racist antisemites — a further example of the degree to which the GOP and Trump have embraced and welcomed white supremacists, antisemites, neo-Nazis and a fringe group of ideological fanatics into the highest levels of political power. Of course the GOP has a long history of hypocrisy around this issue. For instance, most Republicans remained silent in the face of Trump's association with overt racists such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. They failed to condemn his claim that there were "very fine people" among the Charlottesville neo-Nazis, not to mention his apparent embrace of the Proud Boys in a 2020 debate with Joe Biden.
Given the mainstreaming of American fascism, it is understandable, as Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview, that the majority of American Jews live in fear of being objects of violence. And rightly so, given that "not only are incidents of violence against Jews at their highest levels since the 1970s, but the level of public animosity toward Jews is higher than it's been in recent memory." Of course this widespread fear of violence is not limited to the Jewish community, as made clear by the violence being waged by the right against Black and brown people, women and the LGBTQ community. When analyzed as isolated events, Ye's comments and actions cover up a wider and long-standing history of racial cleansing and violence rooted in the same principles of antisemitism and racism that led to past policies of extermination that gave birth to unimaginable horrors and intolerable acts of mass violence.
While these events deal with different issues, they are connected to each other as part of what Clarence Lusane characterizes as "a neoliberal, race-based version of all-American authoritarianism [that is] targeting every facet of public life." He adds, "Don't think of this phenomenon as right-wing conservativism either, but as a more dangerous, even violent movement whose ultimate aim is to overthrow liberal democracy." He is only partly right, perhaps too cautious to name America's current slide into racist demagoguery and bigotry as what amounts to a rebranded crisis of fascism. Fascism is not on the horizon; it is present at the highest level of politics. It saturates everyday life, culture and politics with its ominous and dangerous racial threats, lies, conspiracy theories and a constant barrage of rage, revenge and macho ebullience, echoed in the whining discourse of white replacement theory and its false appeal to the loss of white privilege.
This updated fascism, as Geoff Mann notes, does not draw its energy from calls for a "rebirth of classical fascism's New Man":
This is a world in which [an] emergent fascism draws much of its energy from the dark and bitter nostalgia that fuels the contemporary right…. [T]oday's emergent fascism is a political programme that indicts the present as a crime against the past. For much of its white base, the point is that the life they have "always lived" was not a disaster, that they are being "replaced" on the stage of history, that progressive politics turns what was a source of pride into an object of shame.
To his credit, Lusane states that "a true authoritarianism could indeed come to power in this country. And as history has shown, that could just be a prelude to a full-blown fascism." We may not have a full-blown fascism yet, but we do have a Republican Party along with a range of financial institutions, media pundits, politicians and Supreme Court justices who support the GOP's deeply authoritarian politics. We also have the ghosts of fascism re-emerging in the hard-wiring of the public imagination regarding white racist notions of citizenship, support for racial hierarchies, anti-Jewish hatred and a frozen conception of cultural differences and histories. In this context, as David Graeber has observed, fascism travels easily in a society "with extremely limited political horizons, indifferent to the habits of oligarchy, as though no other politics are possible."
Neoliberal capitalism's emphasis on economic and moral individualism has paved the way for a fascist politics. It prospers on separating individuals from society and furthers the collapse of the critical institutions crucial to a substantive democracy. In this discourse, there is no self-determining collective subject in politics, only disembodied individuals held together by the allure of cults, demagogues and the strong odor of hate. It denies that individuals are interconnected and that, as Albert Einstein once argued, reproduces the greatest crisis of the time, which leads people to believe that meaningful social relations have no value and that the notion that we are bound together as human beings via the workings of the democratic social state is a liability.
Neoliberal capitalism's emphasis on economic and moral individualism has paved the way for a resurgence of fascist politics, rooted in separating individuals from society.
This call to reclaim, strengthen and expand the social state, the collective tissue of mutual care and the common good must be matched by theoretical discourses and a politics that can deal with social issues within a broader comprehensive politics. It must reclaim those spaces in which books, blogs, journals, social media and the like create a formative culture in which people become critical thinkers and are politicized rather than depoliticized. It means learning from history in order to claim a sense of collective agency, love and care.
The project of creating a socialist democracy begins with a vision of who we are, what kind of society we want to live in and how we articulate ideas into actions to make it possible. One might add that an emancipatory politics means that freedom cannot be either individualized or removed from the quest for economic and social justice. The late cultural critic Audre Lorde furthered this argument by insisting that any viable leftist politics must refashion struggle in collective and intersectional terms. In her words, "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives."
Khalid Lyamlahy adds to Lorde's call for a united front, arguing for a return to a politics focused on "silent questions and neglected connections" that plays "with the limits of the obvious," develops a language that generates a "more active affinity between people" and engages in pedagogical practices and cultural work highlighting a politics that refuses to "divorce itself from social institutions and material relations of power and domination."
Such a language would make clear, for instance, that DeSantis' migration policies share with Ye's and Trump's anti-Jewish hatred the rewriting of citizenship as the exclusive domain of white Christians and "is not only restrictive but has let loose the hounds of social violence." In this discourse, citizenship is no longer equated with human dignity; this abuse is reinforced if not normalized with a larger discourse of dehumanization, racial capitalism and white supremacy, and must be addressed within a broader discourse of rights. Within a politics of connections and totality, the importance of historical consciousness, memory, moral witnessing, inclusive citizenship and equal rights provide a more capacious analytic scaffolding that makes visible overlapping themes, often hidden connections and visible relations of power that fuel a fascist politics.
The United States is once again in the presence of a modern form of barbarity. This new barbarity parading as an upgraded fascism thrives in a broad-based socioeconomic context that disappears when its varied features — ranging from racial cleansing and the censoring of history to ultra-nationalism — are separated from each other. Under such circumstances, the violent histories of the past disappear, along with the notion that the future does not have to replicate the present. Under neoliberal fascism, historical memory, cultural memory, social solidarity and the living world of human interconnections fade into oblivion under the force of an annihilating nihilism.
Khalid Lyamlahy argues for a united-front politics focused on "silent questions and neglected connections" that plays "with the limits of the obvious" and develops a "more active affinity between people."
Fascism blossoms in a society that fails to address its overlapping forms of oppression, ignores broader symbolic and material constraints and limits its analyses to narrow, distinct issues. Fascism is a language of erasure and suppression, and uses words as theater to provide spectacles that offer audiences the thrill of cathartic violence. Fascism thrives on the language of dehumanization, bolstered by a politics of disconnection. As a discourse of erasure, fascism embraces ignorance and thoughtlessness. It eliminates those protecting spaces that enable individuals to question, think, analyze and hold power accountable. Wedded to a politics of disconnection, it refuses to align the struggle over immediate needs with a call for broader structural changes. Fascism in its updated form is the enemy of historical consciousness because it does not want its dark history revealed, especially disguised in new forms. Not only is fascism a discourse of terror and displacement, it is a project that assaults those ideas and institutions that enable individuals to understand the potential of education, language and theory to reveal how power and resistance are interconnected and can be woven into the landscapes of politics.
Progressives and the left need a language and politics that address root causes in their interconnections. Rather than focusing on individual solutions, there is a dire need to confront the structural, cultural, educational and institutional underpinnings of authoritarianism in all its forms. Reframing the present in order to challenge the abyss of fascism demands a new language, politics, ethical grammar and sense of political agency, and a renewed effort to make matters of consciousness and education central to politics.
The fracturing of politics has become a form of complicity with neoliberal fascism, and it must be challenged in order to imagine a society free from the scourge of hatred, bigotry, inequality, racism and a crippling individualism. Progressives and the left need a robust language, energized politics and international social movement that captures the enormity of the danger fascism poses in the current historical moment. This should be a language that rebuilds and reimagines, believes another world is possible and insists on radical change. Given the existence and danger of a fascist threat that refuses to go away, the urgency of the times demands the resurgence of a mass movement — "more attentive to the intersections of race, gender, disability, and climate catastrophe" — willing to act, resist and give democracy room to breathe again. In an age of capitalist corruption, mass suffering and social atomization, it is crucial to develop new forms of solidarity, along with a new understanding of what we share in terms of values, visions and the kind of society in which we want to live. Socialist democracy is no longer an ideal waiting to be born; it must be grasped as an urgency essential to a future in which we can realize life beyond the nightmares of neoliberal fascism.
---originally published on Salon with permission from the author.
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