PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Politics

Can We Say the F Word Yet? On Fascism and Humor

Image: DriftGlass

In light of the decrees and executive orders signed thus far by Donald Trump, we might reasonably ask: is fascism relevant to America's current political state?

Fascism... cannot be evaluated purely through the prism of historical precedent; it must be recognized as a human condition we must closely monitor lest it periodically rear its head.
In a recent article in The Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham reported that “fascism” has recently soared into the top one-percent of words being looked up in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. He also noted that George Orwell’s allegory of totalitarianism, 1984, has been given a new literary lease on life, landing in the upper echelons of Amazon’s bestseller list. One might interpret such developments positively, as signaling a new-found interest in history and literature; sadly, this is clearly not the reason. Over the last year or so, pundits, historians, politicians, and citizens have been dusting off the “F” word, assessing its prior features and manifestations in light of Donald Trump and the Trumpism phenomena.

A new debate has consequently emerged as to the helpfulness of invoking such highly-charged words as “fascism”, when on so many fronts (class, race, gender, religion, etc.) the nation is so currently divided. “Donald Trump is actually a fascist”, proclaims Michael Kinsley of The Washington Post. “An actual fascist is now your official president”, cries an exasperated Chauncey Devega in Salon. “Trump’s Emerging Fascism Threatens the Nation”, warns the Huffington Post’s William Lynn.

Neither enthused nor amused by the “liberal” (ab)use of the “F” word are conservative critics like John Daniel Davidson, who has used two outlets to dispute comparisons between Trump and the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. “Stop Calling Donald Trump a Fascist, Because He’s Not One”, he instructs in The Federalist, and “Trump is no Fascist”, he more succinctly declares in The Guardian. Davidson is joined in this rhetorical wing of “see no fascism, hear no fascism” by Will Gore, who argues, “No, we shouldn’t call Donald Trump a ‘Nazi’” in The Independent.

Use of the “F” word has increased to such levels that Trumpers have taken to dispensing with customary defensive postures, instead employing the Orwellian methods that have served them so well in disseminating “alternative facts” and denouncing “fake news”. Adopting the playground methodological approach of “I know you are, but what am I?” battalions of Bannon disciples are now using “fascism” as a descriptor for any and all institutions critical of the new administration: universities, the mainstream media, street protesters, opposition party politicians, even certain judges. Fascism has not only become the buzzword of the day, but it's being evoked with a regularity we have not seen since Ric Mayall, portraying a stereotypical trendy lefty student in the '80s comedy, The Young Ones, who tagged as “a fascist” anyone who dared to disagree with him.

American attorney Mike Godwin contemplated our predilection for going for the rhetorical jugular when introducing us to Godwin’s Law in 1990. His assertion was that at some point in all political arguments someone will insert a Hitler comparison in an attempt to invalidate the argument of his/her combatant. Sometimes regarded as a fallacy of irrelevance or as just an ad hominem attack, words like “fascism”, “Nazi”, and “Hitler” are employed not to further one’s position but to derail another’s. Godwin hoped that by shining a light on this aggressive urge, we would curtail our hyperbole and only use such inflammatory terms where appropriate. Thus, while recognizing Godwin’s council, we still might reasonably ask: is fascism relevant to our current political state?

Again, responses suggest that America is a nation divided. For the right, liberals bandying around the term “fascism” is little more than hysterical fear-mongering. Will Gore calls its current use “a catch-all insult” and “playground stuff”. Rachel Lu, despite recognizing the old adage that those that do not learn from history are destined to repeat it, sees few similarities between Trump and past dictators. She jests that the fascist profile is ordinarily of a militarist rather than a draft-dodger! John Daniel Davidson similarly points to the expansionist militarism of past fascist regimes in contrast to the more isolationist foreign policy outlined on the campaign trail by Trump. Davidson’s assertion, it might be noted, was made prior to the recent illegal missile attack on Syria and the military spending proposal made by the new administration. Furthermore, as prior fascist states have demonstrated, their totalitarian transformations usually arrive piecemeal, not all at once. In this regard, history also shows us that reticence in recognizing or calling out proto-fascism, coupled with blind faith that the republic (or democracy) will survive attempts to dismantle it, can open a window of opportunity for fascists that later cannot be closed.

Advocates for the excavation of the “F” word are not only hoping to set off alarm bells, though; they are also citing daily evidence that points towards a trending totalitarianism. Trumpism, they say, has either dog-whistled or openly encouraged the following: the stoking of majority group resentments, feeding it nostalgic dreams of a mythical national “great”-ness; expelling foreign elements (based on criteria of race and religion) deemed threatening to the state; pursuing isolationist trade policies that shore up nationalist sentiments; threatening and saber-rattling with other nations while proposing huge increases in military spending. If the jackboot fits, argue those who see as ominous such developments in such a short period of time.

Firing the “F” word at right-wing governments is, of course, not an unprecedented activity in American political discourse. Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Jr. were all hit with it; even Johnson (over Vietnam) and Obama (over most Fox talking points) have been victims of Godwin’s Law. In recent decades, fascism has been associated particularly with those administrations that cozied up too closely with the theocratic forces of fundamentalist Christianity. Mel White, a former ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Billy Graham, even wrote a mea culpa book in 2006, entitled Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right (Penguin), in which he warned of the entrenched forces that threaten the American republic. Although his concerns are largely about how Falwell et al were intent on breaking down the wall separating church and state, he's not shy in aligning the Moral Majority’s mission with fascism.

As perceived in Trumpism today, White highlights the powerful myth rhetoric that fuels the fascist impulse, how it speaks to a restoration of an idyllic past that never actually existed. For him, “Fascism is not an ideological apparatus frozen in a particular historical period but a theoretical and political signpost for understanding how democracy can be subverted, if not destroyed” (p.214). Such “understanding” recognizes that fascism is always alive in the “very primitive parts of us”, that it thrives in our “default settings” of seeing and desiring “in-groups” and “out-groups” (p. 222). Seen this way, fascism in its current form cannot be evaluated purely through the prism of historical precedent; it must be recognized as a human condition we must closely monitor lest it periodically rears its head.

Next Page

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.