Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history at New York University and the author of Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present talks with Sam Goldman about the continuing effects of Trump’s lies and how the entire GOP has changed in the aftermath of the Trump years and Jan 6th coup attempt. Sign up for her new newsletter “Lucid,” follow her on Twitter at @RuthBenGhiat, and check out her website ruthbenghiat.com.
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Ruth Ben-Ghiat 00:00
The way propaganda works is propagandists don’t care about the contradictions. Effective propaganda builds on a grain of what people already feel and then it leads them further down that road. Sometimes it builds on a grain of truth. And this is the ultimate power move of the authoritarian to get people to lose confidence in their own critical faculties and listen to the leader, the over 30,000 lies that Trump told primed the audience for January 6. Thousands and thousands of small lies prepared people for the big lie.
Sam Goldman 00:52
Welcome to Episode 56 of the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I am Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers, and host of the show. Today we’re sharing an interview with historian of fascism, Dr. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strong Men from Mussolini to the Present, on the enduring legacy and impact of Trump and his co-conspirators’ lies, and her new project Lucid. With Trump out of office, my introductory remarks have become shorter. There aren’t hundreds of tweets a day to sift through. There aren’t the dizzying array of atrocities, shocking in both quantity and magnitude. We’ve also seen week after week in the three months since Trump’s departure from the White House, that the forces of fascism are still on the move, hardening and regrouping resiliently and with ferocity and sometimes in insidious ways that too few notice. It is also true, I think, that any so-called opposition has become pacified and reliant on terms set by the Democratic Party. Here are some examples of both the fascists’ initiative and the pacification of the decent people just from this past week.
Like many of you, I cried with relief when I heard the Derek Chauvin verdict of guilty, guilty, guilty. Derek Chauvin is in jail, bail revoked, a real victory. And I was immediately struck by what it took for even one cop to be held accountable for a murder, caught on video and displayed before the whole world over and over and over. This was the product of the biggest uprising this country has ever seen. People in the streets not backing down for justice for Black lives. Millions, including many of you, poured into the streets and stayed in the streets. You made this happen. While the conviction of a killer cop who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds should not seem like a reason to celebrate, but be a given, cops almost never get convicted for their thousands of murders. Since 2005, only five on-duty cops have been convicted for murder. Seeing Chauvin cuffed, guilty on all counts, bail revoked, gives us the feels Convicting cops, after they lynch Black people is but a hint of justice. In the 24 hours following the Chauvin verdict, cops killed six people, including Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16 year old Black woman in Columbus, Ohio, who had called the police for help. In my opinion, the whole damn system is guilty. The police murders that have happened and that we’ve learned about over the last weeks have brought to light that there is no normal functioning of this system that isn’t based in white supremacy and oppression. That after Trump and everything he represents, the ruling class cannot just go back to any kind of normal anyhow. And that to the fascists, that normal white supremacy is not nearly genocidal enough.
What did the GOP which can only be called the GFP, the F for fascist, if it wasn’t clear at this point, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Chauvin trial? They were enabling Black Lives Matter protesters to be run over by cars and moved to censure Maxine Waters for having the audacity to say that people should protest should there be a not guilty verdict. It is important to note that 210 House Republicans voted to censure Maxine Waters for standing with Black lives matter versus eleven House Republicans who voted to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene of committee assignments for trafficking white supremacist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and encouraging straight up violence against political opponents. GOP legislators have introduced 81 anti-protest bills in 34 states. That’s more than twice as many as in any other year. This proposed legislation seeks to bar people who protest from accessing student loans or food stamps, to enhance penalties for so-called unlawful assembly and immunize drivers who weaponize their cars and run over protesters. On Monday, the day closing arguments were being made in the Derrick Chauvin trial, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s protege, signed into law the nation’s most strident restrictions on protest. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said this is not an anti-riot bill regardless of what supporters claim. It is a bill that criminalizes peaceful protests. They went on to say that each and every provision harkens back to Jim Crow. According to the ACLU of Florida, it could result in a person’s being charged with a felony for just being at a protest that becomes violent, even if the person wasn’t involved in any violent activity. This pro-confederacy law enhances the charges for damaging Confederate monuments or even the Confederate flag, making the events a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. What else does this law do? Well, it makes peaceful protesting that disrupts business as usual, such as blocking a highway, a felony, and with no right for the person to seek bail. And the day after the Chauvin verdict this past Wednesday, Oklahoma’s Republican governor Kevin Stitt made law a bill that enacts criminal penalties for people who blocked the street while peacefully protesting, while simultaneously granting criminal and civil immunity to drivers who harm protesters in fleeing said protests. As Dean Obeidallah, MSNBC opinion columnist wrote, “These laws being championed by the GOP are not about protecting the peace. They’re about silencing dissent. They are yet another alarming example of the GOP’s increasing embrace of authoritarianism and rejection of our democratic values in the pursuit of power.”
Fueled by the lie of a stolen election, and half a year after Trump’s defeat, a recount is underway in Mariposa County, Arizona, amplifying toxic lies with pro fascist One America Network as a non- partisan observer. Of course, they’re live streaming it and Trump is cheering from the sidelines, demanding protection for these patriots. In Jones v. Mississippi, the fascist dominated Supreme Court overturned precedent to enable the criminally racist and unjust justice system to condemn youth to life in prison without even the chance for parole. In a country that’s 73% white, 70% of the children condemned to die in prison are children of color. This decision will undoubtedly expand this cruel and unusual practice, ironically, but without a hint of humor, this majority decision was written by Brett Kavanaugh, whose backers were so adamant that his egregious and potentially criminal frat boy behavior in high school and college should have no bearing on his ascension to the highest court in the land. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor makes clear that Kavanaugh and company have not only overturned precedent, but entirely changed the facts of the law and previous decisions to suit their deadly aims. One more set of lies to add to the tens of thousands espoused by this fascist movement, bludgeoning objective reality.
In today’s episode, we pull back the lens on the new lies of the GOP, the continued power of the biggest lies and what this all means for humanity. Now my interview with Dr. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, recorded earlier this week. I am excited to welcome Dr. Ben-Ghiat, historian of fascism, and a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, one of my alma maters. She has written extensively for The Washington Post and CNN and Dr. Ben-Ghiat was one of the strongest voices on the danger posed by Trump’s presidency and the likelihood he would refuse to leave. She was one of our first guests on the podcast. She did a live show with us back in June. Much has changed since then, most importantly, that Trump is out of power. But personally, Professor Ben-Ghiat has also released her book, “Strong Men, Mussolini to the Present,” and launched Lucid, a publication about threats to democracy and abuses of power. And out of the dozens of scholars and writers I’ve interviewed for this podcast, she always stands out to me for her global perspective that she doesn’t just look at fascism, or autocrats through a European context, but she looks at the whole world and consistently connects to what the people in those countries do, or fail to do, and the role of resistance. I find that a really important contribution. There’s so much I’ve been wanting to discuss with Dr. Ben-Ghiat yet, but today, we are going to focus on our most recent op ed on CNN, and the exciting work she is doing with Lucid. So welcome back, Dr. Ben-ghiat. Thanks for joining us.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 10:55
Thank you for having me back. I’m thrilled to be speaking with you.
Sam Goldman 10:59
Your latest piece up on CNN was “The New Lies of the GOP and Tucker Carlson.” Tens of thousands of lies throughout his campaign and short term. But now the big lies about a stolen election regarding January 6. They’re setting it seems a whole new framework. What do you see happening here? What do you think, as time unfolds, we will see?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 11:24
Yeah, I wrote that piece, because I’m very concerned that as time passes, there’ll be more of an attempt to bury the violence of January 6, and almost have people forget about it, because it actually poses a huge problem in some ways that for the Republicans, who are so pro-police, and they had cemented William Barr, former Attorney General had been saying really scary things for years to police. And then we all know how that paid off during the 2020 protests. And here we have these insurgents who go and attack policemen and guards. Over 140 law enforcement people were injured, some very badly, and several died of their injuries. That’s a huge problem for the GOP. So I started seeing this new talking points from Tucker Carlson and Trump himself about how Tucker Carlson says, “oh, there weren’t any guns there.” And Trump said, “Oh, instead actually,” — the writers or the I forgot what he called them probably didn’t use the word riot — “they were hugging and kissing the police.” So this is a classic authoritarian flip the script. That’s a tried and true propaganda thing where you turn violence into literally hugs and kisses. So I had to write this piece to call this out. And the other part is, it’s kind of a piece about how propaganda works. Because on the one hand, they’re denying the violence. But at the same time, they’re also saying, “Well, if there was violence, it was Antifa.” Sometimes my students will say, “Well, how could both things be true?” But the way propaganda works is propagandists don’t care about the contradictions, because actually, they know they have several audiences for these lies. Some people will find convincing that there was no violence, and others who already hated the left will find more convincing that it was all Antifa’s fault.
Sam Goldman 13:20
I think that that last part is connects to a conversation that I was having in the last episode with Matthew Rozsa where we were talking about how people can believe these lies. You know, when you’re thinking about the different audiences and thinking about what they already believe, and what’s confirming that bias, I think that that’s a really good way of looking at it.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 13:39
This is confirmation bias, also, that effective propaganda builds on a grain of what people already feel, and then it leads them further down that road. And the other thing that propaganda does is that sometimes it builds on a grain of truth. In fact, January 6, when it first happened, there were some cops who were being very nice and helping out the rioters. So that’s this grain of truth. Somebody said, “Oh, I saw that. Well, Trump must be right.” But the piece was about how the GOP, they’re on the defensive. So they’re having to up their propaganda game, and it’s really a full court, all hands on deck effort to make January 6 fit into their narrative the way they need it to.
Sam Goldman 14:26
That’s important. In the article, one of the things that you referenced was the data of the percentage of Republicans that continue to support, because of these lies in many ways. You remind people that more than half of the Republicans questioned agree that January 6 was the work of violent left wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad. I was wondering, why do you think that is. Why do you think that so many people don’t believe their eyes in terms of what they actually saw?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 14:54
You know, the more documentation there is of an event, the more of a challenge and more of a thrill it is to get people to not believe their own eyes. I start the piece with Trump speaking to veterans in 2018 or 2019. He says what you’re seeing and hearing is not what’s happening. And this is the ultimate power move of the authoritarian to get people to disbelieve their own critical faculties and lose confidence in their own critical faculties and listen to the leader. So that is going on. The over 30,000 lies that Trump told and which were amplified by Tucker Carlson and all the other people participating in this. They primed the audience for January 6. And in fact, I had written an earlier piece for CNN that the big lie, justifiably we focus on, that they pulled off for millions of Republican voters. This total again flipped the script that actually Trump won the election. But thousands and thousands of small lies or smaller lies, prepared people for the big lie. And that’s also how propaganda works. And Trump has been extremely skillful. As you know, I’m no fan of Trump. He’s a nightmare fascist, but he’s an extremely skillful propagandist. He had around himself from the very beginning, people like Steven Bannon and Roger Stone, who have decades of experience with authoritarian propaganda. They literally worked for dictators like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, or in Bannon’s case, they’ve been studying and practicing far right propaganda for years. So it’s a very formidable crew that unleashed a disinformation barrage that’s unequaled in American history in its volume. But also Trump in the leader cult, cultivated people. So I make a big deal in anything I write about January 6 that January 6, was also like a leader rescue operation. And it’s very important that at the rally before the assault, he told them, that he loved themn that they were special, and that their journey was just beginning. And this is part of the cultivation. You make the subversive people feel special, and then they’re going to commit violence on your behalf. But he’s been doing this, cultivating them, elevating them into specialness for almost six years, if you count, from the beginning of his campaign. So that’s enough time to have a public that is more than primed to accept whatever lies are told about January 6,
Sam Goldman 17:28
You know, a lot of people say, “Well, isn’t it time to move on? Yes, he lied. But he’s out of power now. And why do we need to keep talking about his lies?” And I was wondering, how do Trump’s lies still have power? Now that he is out of office?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 17:46
That’s a great question. I certainly encounter Trump fatigue. When I give talks, if I’m giving a talk about strong men, where I’m talking about all kinds of people, the moment Trump is mentioned, if it’s a talk where you’re seeing everybody on Zoom, there’s like some people just don’t want to hear it, or they start posting in the chat like, “oh, the same old thing.” You know, there are many reasons people can want to move on. Some reasons are that they never wanted to believe the seriousness of the threat to democracy. And so indeed, the system did work. We got rid of him, and we voted him out. And I often say this at the end of what might be a grim talk: we have to hold on to this, that we did something that’s unusual. We voted this guy out, and under very difficult circumstances with voter suppression and threats and the pandemic, but we did it. And the whole Georgia runoff.
So some people — and they could be on the left or the right — they think “okay, it’s over the emergency is over, or it never was really an emergency, It was all exaggerated what you were saying.” And so they want to move on, or they feel it’s negative to keep dwelling on this. But we can’t. We can’t move on because the lies that Trump and company told are still very much determining our environment today. And the lesson of the lawlessness is that Trump didn’t invent a lot of these things. The GOP was already moving into a far right party. And that’s why they accepted all the things that he did. But I have an essay in Lucid, a Substack newsletter. So it’s [email protected] It’s called “One nation, Two Political Realities.” It’s about we have to face the fact that we have a supposedly bipartisan system, and only one of the parties is anchored in democracy now. The other is going toward autocracy. It doesn’t want to play anymore the democratic game. That’s the legacy of Trump and January 6, so we can’t move on when millions of people still think Trump won the election. So it’s literally unsolved for all those people, and which will mean they’re not done with it. So because they’re not done, we can’t be done either. We have to be on guard. And in fact, we have to be more on guard than ever. One can say people are also exhausted. Because we’ve had the pandemic and it’s also exhausting to be an activist. So people need a break. So it’s such a great question because for myriad reasons, from every political point of view, indeed, it can be that right now many Americans are done with it. I do feel that I’m going to keep not being done with it. I’m gonna keep talking. But I, I have felt in the last month in particular, the fatigue of people who I’m addressing.
Sam Goldman 20:33
There was a lot of what you said that really resonated. In particular, the fact that they aren’t moving on. That these fascist forces didn’t succeed in overturning the election does not change what it was. It was a violent coup attempt by fascists in and out of government fighting to stay in power, fighting with everything they had, so that they could rule over everyone else with their white supremacy and their misogyny and their xenophobic terror. And while they have been voted out, which really, you know, as you said, it was a tremendous thing. This doesn’t happen. This doesn’t happen. It wasn’t granted to us. And I think, imagine had the results been any closer what we would be living in right now. The fascism hasn’t been removed. More than possibly ever before it’s clear that this country is filled with fascists, tens of millions. The behavior that we’ve seen be normalized, like threats to hang opposition, to eliminate dissenters. What if somebody’s more skilled steps in with that framework? What are the implications of that? So some of what you were saying made me think of this.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 21:42
Yes. And I’m sorry if you have to feel like good about this, but I’m doubly glad that 1/3 of my book “Strongman” is about coups, because I am an expert on fascism, but I had to learn all about coups to do the book. And what we know is that failed coups are learning experiences. When Trump refused to recognize his loss, I knew that this was going to be a really rocky time. So I started a video blog called The Transition. And all of the videos are in my Twitter @RuthBenGhiat. I think they’re also on YouTube. And I was chronicling. I felt like I had to document this because I had an intuition that all the things that would happen would be absorbed into the GOP and they could linger after. Indeed, that’s what happened because all the drawn out attempts to manipulate the election, to re-litigate it, fraudulent finding votes, all of this is part of what authoritarians in other countries already do. So Erdogan in Turkey, who we really don’t hear enough about, is famous for if results don’t go away once he has the electoral commission that is staffed with his people to declare it invalid. Do you know Putin in his whole I call it “lawfare.” You find technicalities, you find legal inconsistencies, you find anything you need to have an excuse to shut down an election or maybe a local election or keep people off the ballot. So this has already been done. And it didn’t work for Trump. And that’s where he went to the nuclear option, which is the coup. But unfortunately, because the GOP really is very frightening, they had an out. Because even Mitch McConnell, when he was in the Senate, he said “we’re we’re going to take a step we’ve never taken.” I can’t remember exact content, but it was that day. So they had an “out” if they had wanted to kind of discard Trump. This is their politicians, they’re cynical, they could have actually just pinned everything on him. They knew because they knew way more than we did, how much he incited it, who he was. And then they could have moved on to some perhaps slight, always very far right wing vote suppression, but slightly less nakedly autocratic move of slightly more moderate and saved a lot of votes, let’s say. But they chose to double down even though Trump is under investigation and could indeed in the Southern District of New York be indicted one day. It’s really striking, even if he had opposition research on everyone, which, you know, there’s there’s hundreds of them. It’s very striking that they did that. And very, very serious. Every time GOP people went on television last month to defend Trump and try and minimize the coup, they’re telling you that the party now accepts violence as a way of staying in power. They’re telling Americans that anything they need to do — election fraud, violence that gets people killed — they have now assimilated that into the way they are doing politics. That’s, again, why we can’t put it aside and why it’s how it’s continuing. What Trump did is continuing on.
Sam Goldman 24:48
This point about vigilance I think is a really key one. We see this doubling down in so many ways, including with the voter suppression. There’s response and boycotts and protests to the voter suppression. And instead of backing down he goes more at it and says “we’re going to punish those who speak out.” So I think this is a really key phenomena that we see happening more intensely. One of the things that we’ve said before is this notion that an unpunished coup attempt becomes a training exercise and a green light for them to return to power. We’ve talked with others before about how in 1923, Hitler was lightly punished for an attempted coup and was in power 10 years later. Not that things replicate in the same way, but that it’s something to learn from. In your op-ed on CNN, you wrote “history shows that burying violence creates the conditions for its repetition. If there is no accountability for January 6, we can be sure that unscrupulous elements within the GOP will take that as a green light for them to try other lawless maneuvers in the future in order to return to power and stay there. The time to set the record straight is now.” And so how do you see setting the record straight?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 26:09
I think calling out their lies in real time, refuting what they’re doing, showing the logic behind how they’re using propaganda. Also talking about what the GOP has become, and how it, I think is going toward what’s called an electoral autocracy. I think also reaching out to Republican voters one might know and in one’s family or friends, as we can go back to more social things, which can be an off-putting thing perhaps to do. But it is important to try and bring them back to reality. And so all of that has to be done. But really being on guard and monitoring their propaganda and refuting it and debunking it and not letting them get away with, and pressuring, also I think is very important. The military started some kind of reckoning with extremist in its ranks. I think supporting those efforts, as far as they’re going to go for justice, and also racial justice. It’s all connected. This is why organizing at the grassroots and every level, and pressure is more important than ever, even though people are tired.
Sam Goldman 27:20
Let’s talk about Lucid. I’ve subscribed and already I’ve gotten articles on topics like shock events and coup attempts. I’ve read interviews that Dr. Ben-Ghiat has done, such as the one that she did with art activist Robin Bell. And I’ve been invited to, but have not yet been able to attend, chats with Professor Ben-Ghiat on topics like propaganda and counter propaganda. All of this is incredibly interesting. And I’m sure my listeners will want to check it out. Dr. Ben-ghiat, can you tell us a little bit about Lucid? What it is to you, why you launched it?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 27:52
I published my book, it came out in November, and I still write articles for CNN, etc. But exactly, because what we’re talking about that this is a time to double down. When I had the chance to start this newsletter, I wanted to take it because I’ve also been feeling I don’t have any trouble getting op eds done. But there’s also a kind of writing which maybe doesn’t fit within the strictures of a CNN op-ed or a Washington Post, for example. There’s only so much history people want. And one of the things I do in the book that I think helps people learn is show how what happened in the past does recur in the present. And we can learn from that. And I’ve always done that with fascism and Trump. So I decided to start this. And so my first essay was “Drain the Swamp,” about the hypocrisy of these authoritarians. I do Mussolini, Putin and Trump who say they’re going to clean up, they’re going to be anti-corruption and clean up. And then of course, they’re the most corrupt people in the world. So I have one essay a week, and I’m trying to alternate between kind of so I have an essay on resistance and how it’s changed over 100 years. And then I have an interview that comes out the day after the essay. And right now they’ve been kind of twins, they relate. I interviewed Robin Bell, the projection artist who was projecting on Trump International, and that went together in some way with the resistance. So it’s a kind of a combination of a reckoning with what the heck we went through for the last four years. And I’m going to have things on recovery and social trauma. And so the interviews I’m doing, I’m used to being interviewed, but I find I’m finding it very gratifying to interview others, like in depth interviews. So I’m going to have psychologists and people who can help us to understand what we’ve gone through. So we can also refresh because of precisely what we’ve been talking about.
So the last part is I am a historian of propaganda and I’m very concerned with our media environment, disinformation. So that’s a theme of Lucid. I have an interview coming out with Jim Acosta of CNN who was a White House correspondent and also had his press pass taken away and was one of the most combative journalists with Trump. And I am going to have a series of interviews with former White House correspondents like what did we learn? Because the media was very criticized. The media was kind of in this hard place, because it was the brunt of Trump and company’s aggressions and became a hate object. How do we get by 2020 to journalists being assaulted and arrested when they covered the Black Lives Matter protests? So they had that. On the other hand, a lot of the public was very impatient with the media, feeling that they weren’t speaking truth to power enough, that they should have been doing more. So I thought it would be interesting to actually interview these White House correspondents and see what they think. It’s a kind of debriefing, processing debriefing, so a combination of that, and then the live chats are me with whoever signs up. I find that if I do just a Periscope or a live Instagram, given the topics I talked about, you can get unpleasantness. So the live chat, it’s free. It’s called subscribing, the Substack model, but it’s free. And then I send a link. And so there’s a kind of protected space. And those have been really good. And we just I answer questions, we talk about what has happened in the news that week, principles of propaganda. So it’s really like civic education, and collective processing of what’s gone on.
Sam Goldman 31:28
I think that that’s a lot of what’s needed. I mean, people haven’t fully processed what we so narrowly escaped, or what we did endure. It needs to be talked about. We need to dig into where this came from, what gave rise to it, and how we can make sure that these forces never come to power ever again.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 31:50
Yeah, and creating a safe space. And so I’ve done two. Lucid was only launched less than three weeks ago. I think maybe today is three weeks. So I’ve done two of them. But some people they say I’m nervous about asking questions, because I’ve never asked a question in public. I teach and so I’m used to speaking to people, but those are all people enrolled at NYU, or other places I’ve taught. This is different. And it feels like there’s a responsibility in a nice way, in the best way to create this kind of safe space for a free discussion. And some people have said that it’s cathartic to do it. So I’ve been very happy. I’m always gonna have these live chats as long as people are interested. It’s a fundamental part of this Lucid project. The title Lucid is, of course, from light illumination, that we all can become more clear about what we went through, where we’re going and how we’re feeling and all of that
Sam Goldman 32:46
This network that you’re developing and people deepening their understanding and also, remaining vigilant is a critical one. In your essay earlier this month, “In Resistance Messages of Hope and Solidarity,” you wrote that “autocracy thrives when people lose hope that things can ever be different. Resistance in its many forms keeps alive the possibility of change and inspires others to work for a better future, even if the outlines of that future are at the moment unclear.” It just struck me then and it strikes me even more today, where the verdict came in for Derek Chauvin as guilty on all counts. Because autocracy thrives when people lose hope that things can ever be different so that they don’t act and the inaction actually creates more fertile ground for the entrenching, I would call of fascism. I think that this becomes like a loop. People don’t see resistance, so they don’t resist and it goes on and on. And I think that the way that you broke it down was just really beautiful. I was thinking about this past summer, and how people were in the streets in this unprecedented uprising for Black lives. And even your point about the outlines of that future being unclear. People also didn’t fully agree on the future that they want. And people didn’t agree on every policy or the way that this might be. They just knew that this couldn’t happen anymore, that no more mothers can have their sons stolen from, that no more mothers can have their daughters stolen from them, that murder by police needed to end and I think that that was what we saw. And then people felt their power. It strikes me as something that we need to popularize in a profound way right now is the power.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: 34:39
You know how when you write, sometimes you think, oh, that came out well, and that was one of my favorite lines from that essay. And what I was thinking about what I wrote was not only all the historical and contemporary circumstances because not knowing what the future will be is especially when you’re trying to sink a real regime, you can’t have any idea what’s possible. And if we think how brave these people are, who they’ve only known some kind of dictatorship, and yet they’re out there, not even knowing what exactly freedom would look like, but they’re out there. But I was also thinking of something Trump had said, which is the quintessential authoritarian line when he was told about the latest COVID death rate. He said, “it is what it is.” And that quote, I will never forget it. I wrote it down. I think about it all the time. Because it is a whole philosophy of resignation. “It is what it is” means don’t bother to try. You can’t change anything. It takes away agency. It presents life is like flat. It is what it is. Don’t delve, don’t think critically, don’t try and get any meaning from life. And above all, you can’t change it. It’s useless to try. That’s where you get authoritarians want people to be resigned and hopeless and atomized. I will never forget that.
That’s part of the danger. And we lived under this psychological warfare. That particularly crystallizes things, but we lived under constant barrage. Trump was sending out over 100 tweets a day, and I unfollowed him years ago. But many people, even if they hated him, they were still looking at his tweets. So we have been through a huge barrage of negativity and attempts to have an engineered hopelessness or emotions that are negative, as I said, like rage, grievance. And so what are the effects of this on us? Now we saw from Black Lives Matter protests, which were I read recently, if you take all the events, the largest mobilization in the country’s history, and that was during the pandemic. So enough people did not feel resigned and hopeless. They went out anyway. But now he’s out of power. I feel like we need to regroup because I think we will be in the streets again in the future, because the GOP is not giving up.
Sam Goldman 37:02
Thank you, Dr. Ben-Ghiat, for sharing your expertise with us. And I know our listeners will be joining me and subscribing to Lucid and we hope to continue to find ways to collaborate with you and the community that you’re fostering.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 37:16
Thank you so much.
Sam Goldman 37:17
Now you can find a link to this Substack in the show notes for this episode. And can you tell people how you would like them to follow you on Twitter @RuthBenGhiat?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 37:30
That’s my major platform. I’m also on Instagram the same handle as Twitter, use the link to my website, which has all my writings haven’t put the Lucid ones up there yet. And there’s a link to Lucid as well, so you can subscribe.
Sam Goldman 37:45
Thanks for listening to the Refuse Fascism podcast. We hope you’re rate and review the show on Apple podcasts, or your platform of choice to help us reach more listeners. And yeah, I want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on this episode, the show in general, your ideas for topics and guests questions you have. You can find me on Twitter at Sandy Goldman or email [email protected] And yes, you can chip in to support the show by donating at RefuseFascism.org. For Venmo Refuse-Fascism, CashApp $RefuseFascism.
This week if you donate $25 or more, you’ll get an “I am Human” beautiful an enamel pin designed by friend of the show CyberAmaris. A link to the beautiful pin is in the show notes. Again, thanks for listening. I’ll be back next Sunday with an interview with Brian Tannehill on the republi-fascist tsunami of anti-trans legislation sweeping this nation, so be sure to hit subscribe so you can get it as soon as it uploads. Thanks to Richie Marini and Lina Thorne for helping produce this episode. Thanks to Mark Tinkleman for help with research. As always, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America. Stay safe, not silent.