“All people (are) shaken to their inner-most core by an irresistible desire to submit to a strong man and, at the same time, to hold sway over the defenseless. They are ready to kiss the shoes of any new master as long as they too are given someone to trample on.” Benito Mussolini, from “M: Son of the Century,” 2018
A week ago, Americans celebrated Veterans Day, honoring those who defend our country. Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, celebrated the end of World War I in 1918. The armistice was signed at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. WWI was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.”
Since then, that hopeful phrase has proved to be tragically wrong. It took just 21 years for World War II to begin, another war to defend democracy against those who would destroy it. This time, the enemy was an anti-democratic dogma called fascism.
In 1919, Benito Mussolini founded what became the National Fascist Party of Italy. As the quote above states, he understood that many people are happy to submit to an authoritarian leader as long as they are promised that they will be taken care of and they have someone else to trample on. In Germany, Adolph Hitler supported Mussolini and formed the Nazi Party. Why would people have allowed this perverted philosophy to become so powerful?
Scholars studying fascism have found several characteristics common to all fascist movements, including many which are gaining strength today.
Belligerent nationalism. This includes the constant use of patriotic symbols and slogans. It also implies the nation is no longer bound by treaties or laws; the state itself, and its leaders, are over all.
Common enemies identified. Leaders identify a common “enemy” which the people can rally against. This “enemy” is blamed for all the nation’s problems. It gives the people someone to hold responsible for their failures.
Contempt for human rights. Because of the fear generated by the leaders, people are willing to surrender their rights to gain security. Individual rights are ignored. Legislative and judicial bodies disregard abuses. Anyone who disagrees is bullied into submission.
Corporate power increased and protected. The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary describes fascism as “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership.” This joining of government and business is one reason corporations often support fascist governments.
Scorn for intellectuals. Free thought is challenged, ridiculed and stamped out. Teachers are attacked, fired, and arrested. Books that don’t support government ideology are banned. School curriculums are established by the state, with no room for dissent.
Election processes questioned. Claims of fraud and corruption are spread. Voters are intimidated. As elections become more disordered, the government steps in and delays or cancels elections, leaving the fascist leaders in power.
These characteristics are often enforced by violence. Recently, presidential historian Jon Meacham said, “The normalization of political violence is a symptom of the beginning of the end of a republic.” This is what is unfolding before us.
On Jan. 6, 2021, insurrectionists attacked our Capitol, resulting in at least five deaths. On Oct. 28, an intruder looking for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attacked her husband. He wanted to break Ms. Pelosi’s kneecaps. He did fracture Mr. Pelosi’s skull.
Election workers across the country have been threatened and attacked. “You will all be executed.” (Maricopa County, Ariz.) What is the Republican response to this violence? They excuse the Jan. 6 insurrectionists and mock Paul Pelosi for getting injured. They ignore right-wing threats against election workers.
By not condemning the Jan. 6 violence or the attack on Pelosi, Republicans give a green light to those who think violence is a way to solve our problems. This implicitly condones violence against elected officials.
Michael Fanone is a former D.C. police officer who was brutalized by the insurrectionists on Jan. 6. As a result, he’s unable to work. He has testified to Congress about the events of that day. He knows what is at stake.
“Americans need to understand why this election is so different: It is our first chance since Jan. 6 to reject fascism. And it’s perhaps our last chance to preserve democracy.” (The Hill, Nov. 3)
The national election results show this trend toward an authoritarian fascist-type government is still a threat. We who love democracy mustn’t get discouraged. We need to keep fighting for the country we love.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.