If Donald Trump gets his way and rams an arch-conservative Federalist Society minion on to the Supreme Court, we all know that Roe v. Wade will immediately be in the crosshairs. But if these Republicans in robes do eviscerate the reproductive rights that have been enshrined into American law for nearly half a century, it’s what happens the very next day that’s truly scary.
Ten different states, it turns out, have so-called “trigger laws” on the books: statutes that say that if Roe is overturned, abortion will instantly become illegal. Nine states, meanwhile, still have outright bans on abortion that predate Roe, and two of those also have trigger laws, just for good measure.
That’s 17 states, home to more than 70 million people—20% of the country—where, overnight, safe and legal access to abortion would disappear. That’s not even counting states without these sorts of laws where Republicans will be motivated to enact new restraints the second they can.
Unsurprisingly, most of these states are dark red and firmly under GOP control—but not all of them. Arizona and Michigan both have old bans that would spring back into effect if Roe is demolished, and you can bet that Republicans in states like Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania would eagerly follow suit. These states are all up for grabs in 2020, including their Republican-run state legislatures.
That’s why Daily Kos has endorsed slates of stalwart progressives running to flip Republican-held seats in all of these states. If Democrats can break the GOP’s holds on state government, they can prevent Republicans from passing new abortion restrictions. And if they can win control, they can go a step further by repealing bans like Michigan’s and Arizona’s—and passing laws that guarantee the right to an abortion regardless of what the Supreme Court might do.
These Daily Kos-endorsed Democrats will fight back against the GOP’s war on women and protect reproductive rights, even if the Supreme Court tries to eliminate them. Supporting them is our best way to fight back against Trump’s scheme to pack the court.
There seems to be one Republican aware that COVID-19 relief is still necessary, possibly because all his Wall Street friends have been looking at the prolonged economic disaster it’s becoming and freaking out. Whatever the reason, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been a willing negotiator with congressional Democratic leadership. He told the Senate Banking Committee Thursday that he and Speaker Pelosi are resuming talks. “I’ve probably spoken to Speaker Pelosi 15 or 20 times in the last few days” on the short-term government funding bill, Mnuchin told the committee, “and we’ve agreed to continue to have discussions about the CARES Act.”
For her part, Pelosi said “I’m talking with my caucus, my leadership, and we’ll see what we’re going to do. […] But we’re ready for a negotiation. That’s what we’re ready for.” They are looking at a $2.4 trillion package either to be used as the new basis for negotiations or as a stand-alone bill they pass in the next week or so to amp up pressure.
The proposal would include funding for airlines—that’s been a big pressure point for Republicans in the Senate this week—as well as for restaurants, in recognition that the Paycheck Protection Program from the CARES Act hasn’t been as helpful for that industry as others. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.)
Expanded nutrition funding was included in the continuing resolution the House passed this week, which the Senate should be passing with no problems, so that won’t have to be in there, but resumed expanded unemployment insurance almost assuredly will, in one form or another. The reduced funding the administration scrabbled together will be depleted soon.
There are other pressing needs, but Republicans continue to balk at spending what needs to be spent to save the economy. Mnuchin is cautioning that $2+ trillion is too much, so there’s still a yawning gulf here. And there’s the Senate, where Mitch McConnell is far more interested in seeing if he can push a Supreme Court nominee who would be willing to hand the presidency back to Donald Trump when he loses in November than he is the health and welfare of the American people.
The top executives at the United States Postal Service were instrumental in pushing strategies that delayed mail delivery—strategies they claimed originated from lower-level managers, documents released in one of the court challenges to the USPS changes prove. The operational changes, including stopping extra and late trips by carriers to get all the mail out, were included in a PowerPoint presentation David E. Williams, the agency’s chief of logistics and processing operations, gave to officials across the country in July.
Other senior executives, The Washington Post reports, sat in on the meeting including “Robert Cintron, vice president of logistics; Angela Curtis, vice president of retail and post office operations; and vice presidents from the agency’s seven geographic areas.” Agency chiefs, including Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, have insisted that those changes were demanded by lower-tier managers on a regional level. DeJoy told a House committee last month that he encouraged all post offices and carriers to meet schedules, but didn’t issue a ban on extra or late deliveries. He might not have been lying—that could have come not from his mouth, but Williams’. Williams told the Post that the directive in his presentation was mean to be “motivational.”
Here’s how they tried to “motivate” the agency: “One of his slides dubbed the plan, ‘OUR FIRST TEST.’ Another said, ‘NO EXTRA TRANSPORTATION,’ and, ‘NO LATE TRANSPORTATION.'” The presentation also said that late or extra trips would be designated “unauthorized contractual commitments” within days, which hardly sounds like the changes were optional. And they told participants to “surrender our resistance” to the plans and overcome their “fear of failure,” “fear of repercussions and personal impacts,” “fear of making the wrong decision,” “fear of the unknown,” and “fear that the new way may not be better.” The only thing to fear, apparently, was what could happen to them if they didn’t implement the changes.
“These documents clearly show USPS leadership actions interrupted and delayed the flow of mail by requiring Postal Service employees to stop extra and late trips to deliver the mail back in July,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. The presentation was among documents turned over in response to a lawsuit he brought against DeJoy and the USPS along with California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, and North Carolina. “While Postmaster DeJoy has created confusion, it’s clear this mandate came from the top—in black and white. We’re in court right now to protect the Postal Service from this illegal attack on a critical public service,” he told the Post. This case, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, argues that these are unlawful changes in delivery service standards that should have been approved by the agency’s board of governors and required an opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission before being implemented.
What this presentation demonstrates is that the mail delays and backlogs that occurred this summer are directly tied to the top leadership at the USPS. That leadership has tried to pass the buck to their underlings, and has also tried to blame it on staffing problems stemming from coronavirus. One of those underlings, Shaun Mossman, vice president of the agency’s southern area (which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) didn’t take the presentation as a pep talk. He told his staff that same day, July 10, that late and extra trips were now prohibited with an announcement read to employees on workroom floors. “All trips will depart on time (Network, Plant and Delivery); late trips are no longer authorized or accepted,” his “stand-up talk” to the workrooms read. “Extra trips are no longer authorized or accepted.”
Three days later, “rural carriers in Buckeye, Ariz., part of USPS’s western region, were required to sign an ‘Individual Training Record,’ that said, ‘We cannot have ANY late trips or extras from delivery into the plant.’ It also said trucks could not be held back and that extra trips could not be requested ‘under any circumstances,'” the Post reports. That doesn’t sound like a pep talk. But here’s what DeJoy told Congress about that: “This was not a hard direct, ‘Everything must leave on time.’ We still have thousands of trucks a day that leave late within a certain time frame, and there are still hundreds of extra trips.” He said that “The intention was to put the mail on the trucks and have the trucks leave on time. That should not have impacted anybody.” That’s not exactly lying to Congress, technically, but it’s certainly not full transparency.
Florida Republicans always have a plan to keep preventing citizens from exercising their right to vote, and this week is no different.
The state’s attorney general, Ashley Moody, asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI to investigate the $16 million raised by Michael Bloomberg to pay off court debts so that people who have served their felony sentences can have the right to vote that Florida voters approved in a constitutional amendment in 2018.
Despite that constitutional amendment vote, Florida Republican lawmakers passed a law requiring the returning citizens to pay off fines and other court debts before they could vote. A district judge struck down that obvious poll tax, but an appeals court restored it. So advocates have been raising money for them, an effort that got a big boost when Bloomberg brought in $16 million. That money is intended to reenfranchise Black and Latino people who owe less than $1,500 and already registered to vote—more than 31,000 of them.
Moody and other Republicans are hanging their complaints about the Bloomberg money on laws against paying people to vote. But the money is not going to the individuals. It’s going to pay their fines and fees so that they can vote if they so choose. Since they already registered to vote, it seems likely they will choose to do so, but the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is not offering incentives. It’s offering help obtaining a legal right.
Florida Republicans are terrified that the people disenfranchised by a racist criminal justice system will get the legal right so long denied them. Again and again Republicans have thrown up barriers to voting. They added a poll tax to the constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote. They went to court to protect their poll tax. And now, faced with the prospect that the poll tax will be paid for even a small fraction of the 775,000 people they’re trying to prevent from voting, Republicans are calling in the FBI on an obvious pretext, pretending like paying someone’s court debts is the same as directly paying them to vote.
It’s ridiculous—but as we’ve seen, Republicans have rigged the system enough to get their way on a lot of ridiculous things.
Educator Lillian White says she was fired from the Great Hearts Western Hills charter school in San Antonio, Texas, about one week before students returned to school. Why? According to the former art teacher, she received requests from the school to stop wearing her Black Lives Matter mask. Now, at the start of the academic year, she is out of the job. In speaking to local outlet KENS 5, White said she received a text message from the assistant principal saying: “We’d like you to stop wearing these masks anymore, parents will be coming around more and we don’t discuss the current political climate.”
The school superintendent, Daniel Scoggin, released a statement to KENS 5, noting in part: “Great Hearts enacted, in this unprecedented pandemic environment, a policy that face coverings have no external messages.” But as White told the news outlet, she believes this is about “human rights” and is something that should be “promoted at our school.” White argued that by framing it as “politics,” it’s an “excuse because they’re uncomfortable with the conversation.”
First, some background: White told the outlet she first started going to in-person training sessions at Great Hearts Western Hills back in July. White, who had been working in education for about 10 years, was starting her second year teaching art at the school. She says she wore masks she made herself with phrases like “Black Lives Matter” and “Silence is Violence” on them. According to White, she actually made masks for a few teachers who asked if she had any extras after seeing her wear them at said sessions.
Then, according to White, there was the aforementioned text from the assistant principal. After that, White continued to wear the masks. Of her termination, she added it was “stressful” as she has “a financial obligation to help support my family.”
The full statement from Scoggin reads as follows:
“Great Hearts respects the privacy of all current and former employees and as a result does not issue public comment on specific personnel matters. On the question related to face coverings, Great Hearts enacted, in this unprecedented pandemic environment, a policy that face coverings have no external messages. This policy was authored by school leaders and teachers in service to the learning environment of our classrooms.
Great Hearts was founded and exists today to serve the innate dignity and worth of every human being. We stand with the Black community and all who are suffering. Great Hearts deplores bigotry and its crushing effects on all those subjected to it. Great Hearts is committed to an America where racism, violence, and injustice do not happen, because such acts find no home in the hearts of a great people.”
White is not the only person to say they have been fired over face masks worn in support of Black Lives Matter. As reported by The Washington Post, Ma’Kiya Congious, a Black woman, said she was fired from her job at Whataburger after a white customer complained about her Black Lives Matter mask. Over the summer, Taco Bell actually apologized to an employee who said they had been fired over wearing their Black Lives Matter mask to work. Starbucks also reversed course on Black Lives Matter messaging, allowing employees to wear Black Lives Matter apparel to work.
You can check out an interview with White below.
American democracy almost certainly faces a real crossroads this year: If Donald Trump—who just this week refused to say that he would make a peaceful transition, and threatened to “get rid of the ballots”—loses the popular vote on Nov. 3 to Joe Biden, as polls currently indicate, he appears poised to dismiss millions of mail-in votes. He would likely do this through the courts that he has assiduously packed over the past three years, particularly via the Supreme Court seat he and his fellow Republicans are intent on seizing just prior to the vote. The legitimacy of both our system of elections and the foundational courts that embody the rule of law will have been not just undermined, but potentially destroyed.
Fascism, historians tell us, has only ever arisen in mature democratic states, and the main condition that permits it to seize power is a crisis of legitimacy for its major democratic institutions. The election of 2020 may well bring the crisis that does the trick for America.
Many observers—notably including authors Jason Stanley and Jared Yates Sexton—have remarked that the nation’s path under a Trump presidency has much more than a passing resemblance to the descent into fascism that has befallen other societies, the best-known examples being prewar Germany and Italy. The correlations are powerful:
- Eliminationist rhetoric is the backbone of Trump’s appeal, and has been from the start. His opening salvo in the campaign—the one that first skyrocketed him to the forefront in the race poll-wise and proved wildly popular with Republican voters—was his vow (and subsequent proposed program) to deport all 12 million of the United States’ undocumented immigrants (using, of course, the deprecatory term “illegal alien”) and to erect a gigantic wall on the nation’s southern border. Significantly, the language he used to justify such plans—labeling those immigrants “criminals,” “killers,” and “rapists,” contending that they bring crime and disease—was classic rhetoric designed to demonize an entire class of people by reducing them to objects fit only for elimination. This became more refined and pronounced over the course of his presidency, as when he attacked four women Democratic congressmembers of color: “If somebody has a problem with our country, if somebody doesn’t want to be in our country, they should leave!”
- Trump’s palingenetic ultranationalism is his central theme. After the race-baiting and the ethnic fearmongering, this is the most obviously fascistic component of Trump’s presidency and its neverending campaign, embodied in those trucker hats proclaiming: “Make America Great Again.” (Trump himself puts it this way: “The silent majority is back, and we’re going to take the country back. We’re going to make America great again.”) That’s almost the letter-perfect embodiment of palingenesis—that is, the myth of the phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes of an entire society in its “golden age.” In the meantime, Trump’s nationalism is evident not just in these statement but in the entire context of his rants against Latino immigrants and Syrian refugees.
- Trump’s deep contempt not just for liberalism (which provides most of the fuel for his xenophobic rants, particularly against the media) but also for establishment conservatism. Trump’s biggest fan, Rush Limbaugh, boasts: “In parlaying this outsider status of his, he’s better at playing the insiders’ game than they are, and they are insiders. He’s running rings around all of these seasoned, lifelong, highly acclaimed professionals in both the consultant class, the adviser class, the strategist class, and the candidate class. And he’s doing it simply by being himself.”
- Trump constantly proclaimed America to be in a state of crisis that has made it “the laughingstock” of the rest of the world during the 2016 campaign, and insists that this occurred because of the failures of (primarily liberal) politicians. During his presidency, the crises varied according to Trump’s political needs—an immigrant caravan’s arrival on the border with Mexico was portrayed hysterically by Trump during the 2018 midterm elections as an existential threat, while this year, America is in grave danger (according to Trump and his fellow Republicans) from a largely imaginary “antifa threat.” The coronavirus pandemic that the world knows his incompetence allowed to kill 200,000 Americans—not so much.
- He himself embodies the fascist insistence upon male leadership by a man of destiny, and his refusal to acknowledge factual evidence of the falsity of many of his proclamations and comments embodies the fascistic notion that the leader’s instincts trump logic and reason in any event.
- Trump’s contempt for weakness (another classic fascist trait) is manifested practically every day on the campaign trail, ranging from his dissing of former GOP presidential candidate John McCain (a former prisoner of war) as “not a hero” because “I like people who weren’t captured,” to his mockery of a New York Times reporter with a disability, and more recently to his decision not to attend a ceremony at a World War II gravesite near Paris because the American soldiers there who had died in the war were “losers” and “suckers.”
Some of have argued—myself included—that Trump is not a fascist ideologue in the classic mold, but rather a living model of a right-wing-populist demagogue. But fascism, properly understood, is itself a species of right-wing populism: one that has simply turned metastatic, a cancer raging out of control in the body politic. If, as it seems, he is nonetheless leading America into fascism, it would be a distinction without a significant difference.
But, as one Twitter wag adroitly observed recently: “The road to fascism is lined with people telling you to stop overreacting.” Conservatives (see, for example, claims by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and right-wing pundit Candace Owens that the threat of white nationalism is a hoax concocted by Democrats) and centrists have unsurprisingly dismissed such observations as undue alarmism and hyperbolic exaggeration. But then, movement conservatism, as I explored in some depth more than 15 years ago, is in many regards the source of the problem, as it has been the all-too-hospitable host for the fascist cancer. Centrists and some liberals, meanwhile, seem so emotionally wedded to a belief that underneath our ongoing chaos all these things are still normal that they’re incapable of comprehending that there is nothing remotely normal at all about them.
Even within a certain bandwidth of progressive thought—primarily Glenn Greenwald and his million-plus-follower Twitter cohort—the response to the rise of a fascist threat to American democracy is greeted with a kind of sneering dismissiveness. Recently, that was how Greenwald and Co. reacted when Max Berger, the cofounder of the Jewish anti-Israeli occupation organization If Not Now, tweeted: “The most surreal part of living through a fascist coup is that we’re not even talking about it as such.”
Greenwald quote-tweeted Berger in reply:
Liberal stars have spent 4 years convincing their followers of 2 claims:
1) Their domestic opponents are Nazis, fascists, and White Supremacist Terrorists.
2) Russia is lurking everywhere, an existential threat to US democracy.
Ponder what that means for how they’ll wield power.
Greenwald’s colleague at The Intercept, Lee Fang, appeared to chime in later that day:
What motivates the ruling class is a routine desire for maintaining power and self-interest. But political storytellers need lurid emotionally driven narratives, so the far left invents a white supremacist elite in charge of the country, just as the far right imagines a pedo cabal.
This line of argumentation is nothing new for Greenwald, who has previously dismissed concerns about the rising tide of white nationalism by suggesting that the politicians and activists raising those concerns were analogical to the right-wing “neocons” who used Islamophobic rhetoric to bash Muslims after 9/11. In these tweets, he’s extending that argument to suggest not only that the threat of white nationalism is an imaginary concoction existing solely as a club to bash the right, but that Democrats are the real fascists, or at best loony-tunes conspiracists, as does Fang.
This is nothing short of an outright denial of established facts. The reality we are confronted with daily—that the United States (and the rest of the world, with no small assist from Russian interests) are awash in a tide of white nationalism and its attendant violence, and that moreover this tide has been enabled, encouraged, and empowered by Donald Trump, both on the streets of America and within his administration—is not something that can be erased with a sneer.
Predicated by his mutual embrace of the far right in the 2015-2016 campaign, Trump’s election to the presidency unleashed a Pandora’s box of white-nationalist demons, beginning with a remarkable surge in hate crimes during his first month, and then his first two years, in office. Its apotheosis has come in the form of a rising tide of far-right mass domestic terrorism and mass killings, as well the spread of armed right-wing “Boogaloo” radicals and militiamen creating mayhem amid civil unrest around the nation.
Trump’s response all along has been to dance a tango in which, after sending out a signal of encouragement (such as his “very fine people on both sides” comments after the white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville in August 2017), he follows up with an anodyne disavowal of far-right extremists that is believed by no one, least of all white nationalists. Whenever queried about whether white nationalists pose a threat—as he was after a right-wing terrorist’s lethal attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he answered: “I don’t really, I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems”—Trump has consistently downplayed the threat of the radical right.
More recently, the appearance at the very least that Trump is deliberately encouraging a violent response to his political opposition has been growing. When far-right militiamen have gathered in places like Richmond, Virginia, and Lansing, Michigan, to shake their weapons in an attempt to intimidate lawmakers and other elected government officials, Trump has tweeted out his encouragement. When a teenage militiaman in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot three Black Lives Matter protesters, two fatally, Trump defended him while mischaracterizing the shootings. When far-right conspiracy theorists created a hoax rumor that antifascists and leftists were responsible for the wildfires sweeping the rural West Coast—resulting in armed vigilantes setting up “citizens patrols” and highway checkpoints, sometimes with the encouragement of local police—Trump retweeted a meme promoting the hoax.
The reality currently confronting Americans is that the extremist right has been organizing around a strategy of intimidation and threats by armed “Patriots”—embodied by street-brawling proto-fascist groups like the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, American Guard, and the “III Percent” militias, along with their “Boogaloo” cohort, all of them eager to use their prodigious weaponry against their fellow Americans in a “civil war.” And what we have seen occurring as the 2020 campaign has progressed is that the line of demarcation between these right-wing extremists and ordinary Trump-loving Republicans has all but vanished.
Finally—and perhaps most importantly—Trump has empowered far-right white nationalist and conspiracy theorist elements within the walls of his administration, and pursued an agenda friendly to extremist elements. The architect of Trump’s immigration policies (not to mention his eliminationist scare campaigns about immigrant caravans and refugees from the Middle East) has been senior adviser Stephen Miller, whose deep ties to white nationalists were exposed last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Trump’s resulting policy agenda has been a white nationalist’s dream.
Trump’s see-no-evil approach to white nationalism meanwhile has translated into a deliberate blind spot within federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, where a whistleblower recently revealed that he was directed to skew intelligence assessments to minimize the threats of both white nationalist terrorism and Russian interference in American elections.
These are all established factual realities—in stark contrast with the utterly fantastical world of QAnon and other conspiracy theory universes that Fang seems to think they are comparable with—though Greenwald, who after all resides in Brazil, appears unfamiliar with them. Certainly his well-established blind spot for far-right extremism contributed to his decision to continue harping on Berger’s remarks a few days later, tweeting:
The United States is currently living under a “fascist coup,” and we must destroy the Nazi dictator who has seized power by spending the next 60 days vigorously campaigning against him and then obtaining more votes than he in the regularly scheduled election to be held Nov. 3.
Greenwald’s subsequent tweets in the thread laid out his argument further, pointing out that even though the Nazi party won a plurality of votes in the 1933 German election, paving Hitler’s ascension to the chancellorship, “once in power, he wasn’t susceptible to being removed by a democratic election because he was a fascist dictator.”
This is a remarkably simplistic approach to historical fascism, both in the 1930s and currently. First, as historian Robert O. Paxton explained in his definitive text The Anatomy of Fascism, neither Hitler nor Mussolini ever even won their positions of national leadership through election. Rather, they were appointed by conservative establishment powers because their democratic states were mired in significant crises of legitimacy—crises they had major roles in inflaming themselves.
Both Mussolini and Hitler were invited to take office as head of government by a head of state in the legitimate exercise of his official functions, on the advice of civilian and military counselors. Both thus became heads of government in what appeared, at least on the surface, to be legitimate exercises of constitutional authority by King Victor Emmanuel III and President Hindenburg. Both these appointments were made, it must be added at once, under conditions of extreme crisis, which the fascists had abetted.
Moreover, as Paxton pointedly observes: “We are not required to believe that fascist movements can only come to power in an exact replay of the scenario of Mussolini and Hitler. All that is required to fit our model is polarization, deadlock, mass mobilization against internal and external enemies, and complicity by existing elites.”
Greenwald’s formulation of the history completely misapprehends the nature of fascism itself, as well as how it spreads and seizes power. As Paxton explains, fascism is not a single, readily identifiable principle but a political pathology, best understood (as in psychology) as a constellation of traits. He defines it thus:
Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal constraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
Fascism is moreover highly mutative, changing shape and appearance as well with each successive phase of its development. Paxton identifies these five stages:
- The initial creation of fascist movements
- Their rooting as parties in a political system
- The acquisition of power
- The exercise of power
- Radicalization or entropy
In each phase, fascism behaves differently and pursues different agendas, often in sharp contradiction of the ideals and policies it had previously embraced. What Greenwald is describing with regard to Hitler is fascism in its fourth stage, exploiting the powers Nazis already had obtained—while the “fascist coup” Berger describes, and indeed what we are currently experiencing in the United States, is the process: namely, fascism in its third stage, that is, in the process of acquiring enough political power to declare a dictatorship.
This process can vary according to the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the established democracies that it infects. The fascists in prewar Germany and Italy—where the systems of democracy and their institutions were both comparatively recent developments and accordingly unstable—were able to rise to power through discrete and explicitly fascist political parties, seizing the political stage from outside the normal parameters of the established democracy, as it were.
In the United States, Paxton explains, fascist elements have always been present—and indeed, many threads from American history contributed powerfully to the ideologies of European fascism—but there has never been the “political space” for them to form discrete fascist parties capable of winning broad support.
The United States itself has never been exempt from fascism. Indeed, antidemocratic and xenophobic movements have flourished in America since the Native American party of 1845 and the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s. In the crisis-ridden 1930s, as in other democracies, derivative fascist movements were conspicuous in the United States: the Protestant evangelist Gerald B. Winrod’s openly pro-Hitler Defenders of the Christian Faith with their Black Legion; William Dudley Pelley’s Silver Shirts (the initials “SS” were intentional); the veteran-based Khaki Shirts (whose leader, one Art J. Smith, vanished after a heckler was killed at one of his rallies); and a hot of others. Movements with an exotic foreign look won few followers, however. George Lincoln Rockwell, flamboyant head of the American Nazi Party from 1959 until his assassination by a disgruntled follower in 1967, seemed even more “un-American” after the great anti-Nazi war.
Much more dangerous are movements that employ authentically American themes in ways that resemble fascism functionally. The Klan revived in the 1920s, took on virulent anti-Semitism, and spread to cities and the Middle West. In the 1930s, Father Charles E. Coughlin gathered a radio audience estimated at forty million around and anticommunist, anti-Wall Street, pro-soft money, and—after 1938—anti-Semitic messages broadcast from his church on the outskirts of Detroit. For a moment in early 1936 it looked as if his Union Party and its presidential candidate, North Dakota congressman William Lemke, might overwhelm Roosevelt. The plutocrat-baiting governor Huey Long of Louisiana had authentic political momentum until his assassination in 1935, but, though frequently labeled fascist at the time, he was more accurately a share-the-wealth demagogue. The fundamentalist preacher Gerald L.K. Smith, who had worked with both Coughlin and Long, turned the message more directly after World War II to the “Judeo-Communist conspiracy” and had a real impact. Today a “politics of resentment” rooted in authentic American piety and nativism sometimes leads to violence against some of the very same “internal enemies” once targeted by the Nazis, such as homosexuals and defenders of abortion rights.
As Paxton explains, in the United States, as in France and elsewhere, fascism typically failed in the second stage because it failed to become a cohesive political entity, one capable of acquiring power. But make no mistake, he says: It can happen here.
It would, true to its mutative nature, adapt its shape, appearance, rhetoric, and agenda to its peculiarly American audience:
The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans. No swastikas in American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.
Around such reassuring language and symbols in the event of some redoubtable setback to national prestige, Americans might support an enterprise of forcible national regeneration, unification, and purification. Its targets would be the First Amendment, separation of Church and State (creches on the lawns, prayers in the schools), efforts to place controls on gun ownership, desecrations of the flag, unassimilated minorities, artistic license, dissident and unusual behavior of all sorts that could be labeled antinational or decadent.
Similarly, the mechanism by which fascism can acquire power is more likely to adapt to the nature of the nation it infects. Whereas both Italian and German democracies were relatively new and unstable when fascists overwhelmed them, American democracy is the most robust and mature in the world, with over 200 years’ history behind it. Its democratic institutions are more deeply established and less susceptible to attack—which is a large reason why fascism has failed to previously obtain the political space required to attract a large enough following to succeed as a discrete party.
I have contended for many years—since at least that 2004 Orcinus series on what I then called “pseudo fascism”—that in America, fascism is far more likely to worm its way under the foundations of our democracy by taking over an established party, “the transformation of an existing party into a fascist entity from within — not necessarily by design, but by a coalescence of political forces already latent in the landscape.”
As I explained then, this mechanism was suggested by one of the significant American fascist “intellectuals” who arose in the 1930s named Lawrence Dennis. He penned an ideological blueprint entitled The Coming American Fascism. Dennis predicted that eventually, the combination of a dictatorial and bureaucratic government and big business would continue exploiting the working middle class until, in frustration, it would turn to fascism. What’s especially noteworthy was the political path he foresaw for this to happen:
Yet how infinitely better for the in-elite of the moment to have fascism come through one of the major parties of the moment than to have it fight its way to power as the program of the most embittered leaders of the out-elite.
This indeed is what has occurred. Rather than being guided consciously, this transformation has happened almost spontaneously as the forces that fascism comprises gradually have come together under their own gravity. As I explained, the takeover really occurred within the realm of movement conservatism, which by the 1980s had almost completely subsumed the Republican Party:
The primary impetus has been the change under which conservatism became a discrete movement intent on seizing the reins of power. In the process, the means—that is, the obtaining of power—became the end. And once the movement became centered around obtaining power, by any means necessary, then ideology became fungible according to the needs of its drive to acquire power, just as it was with fascism. This virtually guaranteed it would become a travesty of its original purpose. The nature of today’s “conservative movement” is no more apparent than in how distinctly un-conservative its actual conduct has been: busting budgets, falling asleep at the wheel of national security, engaging wars recklessly and without adequate planning.
Two things occurred to the conservative movement in this drive for power:
- It increasingly viewed liberals not merely as competitors but as unacceptable partners in the liberal-conservative power-sharing agreement that has been in place since at least the New Deal and the rise of modern consumer society. Ultimately, this view metastacizes into seeing liberals as objects to be eliminated.
- It became increasingly willing to countenance ideological and practical bridges with certain factions of the extremist right. This ranged from anti-abortion and religious-right extremists to the neo-Confederates who dominate Republican politics in the South to factions of the Patriot/militia movement.
The combination of these two forces exerted a powerful rightward pull on the movement, to the point where extremist ideas and agendas have increasingly been adopted by the mainstream right, flowing into an eliminationist hatred of liberalism. In the process, their own rhetoric has come to sound like that on the far right. A lot of the dabbling in far-right memes has been gratuitous, intended to “push the envelope” for talk-radio audiences in constant need of fresh outrageousness.
Back in 2004, however, the primary reason not to fear the ascension of fascism directly was that there was not, at that point, a crisis of democracy and its legitimacy, even though George W. Bush’s 2000 victory via the Electoral College decidedly set the stage for the current crisis, as did the right-wing authoritarianism his administration and its cohorts unleashed. Paxton agreed that the danger was not imminent despite the growth of far-right groups in the American body politic: “Of course the United States would have to suffer catastrophic setback and polarization for these fringe groups to find powerful allies and enter the mainstream,” he wrote.
However, that caveat has vanished because the 2020 election is unmistakably a looming crisis with effects we are already feeling. And that crisis has, historically speaking, always been the trigger that opened the door for fascists to seize power, as Paxton explains:
Fascism can appear wherever democracy is sufficiently implanted to have aroused disillusion. That suggests its spatial and temporal limits: no authentic fascism before the emergence of a massively enfranchised and politically active citizenry. In order to give birth to fascism, a society must have known political liberty — for better or for worse.
… In other words, it’s clear that the “crisis of democracy” necessary to create a genuinely fascist dynamic is a real potential that lies around many corners on our current path. The key, then, is to finding the path that does not take us there.
Paxton concludes The Anatomy of Fascism with this warning:
Fascism … is still visible today. Fascism exists at the level of Stage One within all democratic countries—not excluding the United States. “Giving up free institutions,” especially the freedoms of unpopular groups, is recurrently attractive to citizens of Western democracies, including some Americans. We know from tracing its path that fascism does not require a spectacular “march” on some capital to take root; seemingly anodyne decisions to tolerate lawless treatment of national “enemies” is enough. Something very close to classical fascism has reached Stage Two in a few deeply troubled societies. Its further progress is not inevitable, however. Further fascist advances toward power depend in part upon the severity of a crisis, but also very largely upon human choices, especially the choices of those holding economic, social, and political power. Determining the appropriate responses to fascist gains is not easy, since its cycle is not likely to repeat itself blindly. We stand a much better chance of responding wisely, however, if we understand how fascism succeeded in the past.
While there is no shortage of voices denying the reality of the fascist threat we now face, American democracy really does stand on the precipice in the 2020 election. Should we step off, then only the abyss awaits.
Twenty-seven weeks into the Pandemic Recession, hundreds of thousands of Americans are still making new claims each week for unemployment insurance, 1.5 million of them last week. This indicates that while about half the people who lost their jobs after much of the economy was shuttered in March are now back on their old job or in a new one, 11.5 million people laid off six months ago are still without work as the recovery has stalled and hiring cooled. By July 3.7 million had lost their jobs permanently, and an analysis last month put the eventual total of permanent losses at between 6.2 million and 8.7 million. Along with their jobs, millions of those out of work have also lost their employer-provided health insurance.
For the week ending Sept. 19, the Department of Labor tallied 825,000 new claims for regular unemployment insurance—seasonally adjusted to 870,000—and another 630,000 filed claims under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that covers workers ineligible for regular benefits—the self-employed, gig workers, and the like. Because of unknown amounts of double-counting, the actual tally of the PUC figures is uncertain. What’s certain is that the number of new regular UI claims each week are still coming in at four times what they were before the pandemic struck. Also certain is that millions of Americans are in serious economic pain and political maneuvering is making their situation worse. The claim of Jared Kushner that the economy would be back to normal in June and “really rocking again” by July has proved to be as ridiculous a forecast as critics said it was when he made it at the end of April.
AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed told The New York Times that the warm weather that allowed many businesses to carry on operations outdoors will now give way to colder weather in the northern states. Restaurants and other businesses in those climates can be expected to lay off workers again. “We’re losing steam, which is definitely not good heading into the winter,” she said.
At the Economic Policy Institute, Heidi Shierholz, who was chief economist to the U.S. Secretary of Labor during three years of the Obama administration, noted in her analysis Thursday that most states limit the duration of regular UI benefits to 26 weeks. The millions of workers who were laid off at the beginning of the economic shutdown and have not gone back to work have now exhausted those benefits. Because of the emergency federal extension passed under the CARES Act, they will still be able to collect benefits for another 13 weeks, meaning they’ll be cut off just before Christmas.
On average, unemployment benefits run about 40% of a worker’s wages, around $380 a week. Thanks to an extra $600 a week Congress included in the CARES Act, plus a flat $1,200 payment to everyone below a certain income who lost their jobs, a good deal of pain has been avoided. But the $600 increase expired at the end of July, and the Democrats’ efforts to renew it or provide another flat payment are highly unlikely to overcome Republican resistance to approving further relief. Shierholz points out:
Blocking the extra $600 is terrible not just on humanitarian grounds, but also on economic grounds. The extra $600 was supporting a huge amount of spending by people who now have to make drastic cuts. The spending made possible by the $600 was supporting 5.1 million jobs. Cutting that $600 means cutting those jobs—it means the workers who were providing the goods and services that UI recipients were spending that $600 on lose their jobs. […]
Failing to renew the extra $600 is also exacerbating racial inequality. Due to the impact of historic and current systemic racism, Black and brown communities have seen more job loss in this recession, and have less wealth to fall back on. They are taking a much bigger hit with the expiration of the $600. This is particularly true for Black and brown women and their families, because in this recession, these women have seen the largest job losses of all.
Like the public health inequities exposed by the spotlight of the pandemic itself, the Pandemic Recession is spotlighting the creakiness and inequities of government programs designed to assist American workers and their families through economic hardship. We’ve known this for decades, and the Great Recession brought it into sharper focus. The programs definitely help, but they don’t do as good a job as they ought to. Which makes them another item ripe for the next president and Congress to add to their priority reform list.
Since the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor on March 13, communities in Louisville and across the country have been in a state of unrest, sharing their pain and grief, and grappling with what justice for the loss of Taylor’s life would actually mean. Calls to arrest and charge the three police officers who shot and killed Taylor in her own home have been raised by activists, celebrities, and some elected officials, while critiqued by others who argue that justice cannot be found within this current system and who deftly point out that those demands stand in opposition to the movement to defund and eventually dismantle the police.
On Wednesday, in a long-awaited decision, a Kentucky grand jury chose to indict only one of the three officers who raided Taylor’s home and killed her. Officer Brett Hankison, who was fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) in June, has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing a round of shots that entered into the home of Taylor’s neighbor. The two other officers present were not indicted on any charges and remain on the Louisville police force, though they are currently on administrative leave.
The decision came in the wake of a long summer when the city of Louisville was constantly pressed to respond to ongoing outrage over Taylor’s death. In mid-June, the Louisville Metro Council passed Breonna’s Law, banning no-knock raids like the one that led to her killing, and last week, the city agreed to a $12 million settlement for the Taylor family following a wrongful death suit filed by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer.
The moment the grand jury decision was released immediately triggered rage, sorrow, and yet another wave of grief. Coverage from downtown Louisville showed community members crying, confused, and eventually taking to the streets in protest and being met with police caravans and helicopters.
To help process the news and design a way forward, organizers from Black Lives Matter hosted a panel discussion early Wednesday evening during which they reiterated a set of six demands that were originally crafted in May, but which take on renewed urgency this week.
The demands include the termination and pension revocation of all three officers who murdered Taylor and the immediate resignation of Mayor Greg Fischer, who the panelists continuously called out for his failure to adequately respond to police violence and to protect not just Black people, but Black women in particular. Other demands seek to systematically change policing in Louisville. Those include an end to the use of force by LMPD, the establishment of a local community police accountability council that operates independently from the mayor’s office and LMPD (and which would possess investigative and disciplinary powers), and the creation of policies that ensure transparent investigations into police misconduct. The coalition also calls for divestment from LMPD and investment in community building, a demand that will be facilitated by an online resource guide organizers recently created. The guide aims to help community members plan invest/divest campaigns and features targets, talking points, and information on the LMPD budget.
These demands and the panel conversation were spurred by what moderator Shauntrice Martin explained was the need for “radical imagination” and an acknowledgement that “we get to decide what’s possible.”
Metro Council member-elect JeCorey Arthur spoke on how police terrorism is just one part of a larger problem of racial oppression. He argued that an effective invest/divest strategy recognizes the ways different forms of injustices build off of one another. Diverting funds from the police budget, for example, could help remedy other social problems such as food insecurity.
In order to meaningfully respond to the grand jury decision—one that comes after 119 days of sustained protest in Louisville—organizers left the public with a host of action items. For those unable to protest, organizers encourage volunteering or donating to local food banks such as Feed the West in Louisville. They also expressed support for civil unrest such as “disturbing business as usual” by reading the demands aloud at a local restaurant, hopefully bringing new people into the conversation. Panelists also encouraged people to find a political home wherever they may be.
Finally, with less than 50 days until a closely watched national election, panelists urged people to recognize the power of local elections too, highlighting the ways local politicians’ decisions impact our day-to-day lives. For instance, the Kentucky attorney general and prosecutors who have helped shape the outcome of cases like that of Taylor are elected positions.
Notwithstanding the grand jury decision, the story of how Taylor has catalyzed change throughout Louisville is not over. As Ashley Carter of the Advancement Project shared, “Breonna Taylor’s life and memory deserves more than what we have now.”
Tamar Sarai Davis is Prism’s criminal justice staff reporter. Follow her on Twitter @TheRealTamar.
Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet that centers the people, places and issues currently underreported by our national media. Through our original reporting, analysis, and commentary, we challenge dominant, toxic narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to build a full and accurate record of what’s happening in our democracy. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Donald Trump is not fighting for reelection because he’s already lost. He’s fighting to stay in power, and he’ll do it by any means including refusing to abide by the results of the election. He’s promised that, out loud. Republican senators—basically unanimously—are helping him, and none more so than Texas’s John Cornyn.
When CNN’s Manu Raju asked him about Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power, he did say “no,” it was not appropriate. When asked if the Republicans would do something about it if Trump refused to leave office? “I’m not going to answer a hypothetical,” Cornyn said. Then he actually went onto the Senate floor and said “It’s terrifying to imagine what might come next,” if Democrats win the Senate and move to balance the Supreme Court. He’s not terrified by a Trump coup. He’s terrified by democracy.
Wrong answer, Cornyn. The right answer is in the oath of office he took when he was seated: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” That’s the answer.
Cornyn’s Democratic opponent, MJ Hegar wouldn’t have any problem answering that question correctly. She fought for that Constitution as a Major in the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard, including three tours of duty in Afghanistan.
The secret of public opinion is that it doesn’t change. We’re locked into our beliefs, and especially so when it comes to the presidency and Donald Trump. No better example of that than the pandemic: 200,000 people are dead, and it cost Trump a measly net three points in his approval ratings.
It is frustrating to see Trump avoid greater consequences for his rank incompetence, but on the other hand, it makes coming back from his deep electoral deficits incredibly difficult, and this week, just like every other week since this summer, Trump is lagging far behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the race for the White House.
Before we take a look at the latest polling composites, it’s important to understand that Trump is no longer trying to win this election. He’s not trying to appeal to the disaffected college-educated suburban white women who voted for him in 2016, but migrated en masse to the Democrats in 2018 (when Democrats won 38 suburban House seats, out of their total 41-seat pickup).
No, he’s not trying to win the election, he’s trying to stay in power. He’s not even hiding his goal anymore. So keep that in mind every time he opens his mouth. Nothing he does is geared toward winning a majority of the vote. Rather, it’s all geared toward sowing doubt, division, inviting foreign meddling, and installing a friendly judiciary that will allow him to steal the election. The quicker everyone understands this, including the media, the better we’ll be able to handle this serious threat to our democracy—a democracy that is far more fragile than we could’ve ever believed.
Let’s start with our baseline map, which for the first time has Texas as a battleground contested state. Texas!
Maine and Nebraska both apportion electoral votes statewide and by congressional district, and each has a battleground vote at stake. Hillary Clinton won Maine handily in 2016, yet Donald Trump won its rural 2nd congressional district. Trump won Nebraska handily, yet Clinton came within two points of picking up the Omaha-based 2nd. Polling this year has shown Biden carrying both of those districts this year. Also, polling has shown Alaska and Montana as competitive. Both are hard-to-poll states with minimal polling, so I’m leaving them in the Trump column for now, but if you want to wow your friends with your political acumen, predict that both will be close this year. In fact, predict that Alaska will turn Blue, and odds are good you’ll come out looking like a genius.
Here are the polling aggregates for the battleground states, using The Economist’s data. The baseline assigns the Nebraska and Maine district-level electoral votes to Biden:
Pennsylvania remains the tipping-point state, by a long shot. In fact, Biden is leading by over 5 points in enough states to clinch the victory. I wouldn’t be upset if he and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris merely rotated through Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, lather, rinse, repeat.
I’m also going to go on record as saying that I think likely voter screens are undercounting Democratic support. For example, look at this Pennsylvania poll by Franklin & Marshall College. It has Biden leading 49-40 among registered voters, and 48-42 among likely voters. This “likely voter screen” is used by pollsters to predict actual turnout, since who votes is as determinative of the final outcome as how each demographic votes. If 100% of 18-35 year olds voted, results would look a lot different than if only 50% vote (which is more likely).
This likely voter screen is an educated guess, and each pollster approaches it differently. If you want to know how a Republican pollster like Rasmussen gets such rosy numbers for Trump, it’s via their screens. You want a Trumpier result, just weigh more strongly toward old white men.
So historically, pollsters haven’t really gone wrong by assuming that actual turnout will be more Republican than the registered voter pool. Indeed, old white people are the most likely demographic to vote, while those least likely to vote are our base groups—young voters, people of color, and single women.
But I suspect pollsters that make that assumption this year will have egg on their face. Are we really going to argue that conservatives are currently more fired up to vote than base liberals? In fact, I’m going to predict that we’ll see more new voters than anytime in history, and those new voters (young, or with no history of past voting) are exactly the voters who are excluded in “likely voter” screens.
Yet the early vote suggests massive new voters—in the Georgia early vote, over 20% are new voters, while in North Carolina, it’s currently almost 23%. Those are not voters that will be reflected in most likely voter screens.
For context, we saw 14 million new voters in 2018, and they preferred Democrats by a 20-point margin. As a percentage of the total electorate? Only 12%. This year is shaping up to be lights out.
Of course, it’s okay if the polls underestimate Biden a bit. So many of you want to pretend we’re losing, so a seemingly tighter race plays to those fears of complacency.
But I prefer to look at the possibilities of an utter blowout, a mass repudiation of the Republican Party and its efforts to subvert our American democracy. Either way, we work hard. Victory is just over five weeks away. Let’s make it a Blue Wave.
Oh, and this: