Biden’s Use of the F-Word
On August 25 President Biden likened ardent Trumpism to “semi-fascism.” The response has been predictable. The majority of Americans are either unruffled or approving. MAGA Republicans, those ultimate snowflakes who love to dish out disrespect but can’t take it, are outraged. And a few outliers, including me, wonder about how Biden defines the term fascism. (I prefer the term “right-wing authoritarians” for MAGA Republicans and their ilk across the globe.)
Then I remembered the best definition of fascism I ever read. It was in a 1995 New York Review of Books article by the Italian polymath Umberto Eco. He was raised during the Mussolini years and at age ten received an award for his response to the question “Should we die for the glory of Mussolini and the immortal destiny of Italy?” Eco’s answer was a precociously articulate yes. But he grew up fast and renounced his childhood indoctrination after Italy was liberated and he began to understand what had really happened to his country.
Half a century later, lamenting that fascism had become a catchall term (“Why was an expression like fascist pig used by American radicals thirty years later to refer to a cop who did not approve of their smoking habits?”), he penned his essay on Ur-Fascism to describe the pernicious political mindset that brought Italy to ruin — but can manifest anywhere. Eco’s Ur-Fascism has fourteen characteristics, not all of which need to be present for a regime to qualify as Ur-Fascistic. Let’s see how many apply to MAGA Republicans. (Quotes below are excerpts from Eco’s essay.)
- Veneration of tradition, even though that tradition is often syncretistic (i.e. a mish-mash) and contradictory. “There can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.”
- Rejection of modernism, except for technology. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
- Action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
- Rejection of science and critical analysis. “In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.”
- Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
- Appeal to a frustrated middle class “suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
- Obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside.”
- Enemies are at the same time characterized as too weak and too strong. Think of how those to the left of center are simultaneously regarded as “libtards” too brain-damaged to get anything right and the most formidable threat to the nation.
- Life consists of permanent warfare. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
- Rigid hierarchy and contempt for subordinates. The leader “knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors.”
- Everybody is educated to be a hero, and heroism is linked to death. “The Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.”
- Machismo. “Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.”
- Selective populism. “The People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter.”
- Use of impoverished vocabulary and elementary syntax “to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
After reading those fourteen points, written back when Trump was still married to Marla Maples and had filed only one casino bankruptcy, my reaction was, semi-fascist? Why did Biden hedge?