Coco Das (@Coco_Das) guest hosts; Sam Goldman interviews Wajahat Ali, author of the new book Go Back to Where You Came From. Pre-order the book at wajali.com. Read his columns for the Daily Beast here and follow him on Twitter at @WajahatAli.
Mentioned by Coco Das at the start of the episode:
- Read the “The Big Money Behind The Big Lie” in the New Yorker here.
- Watch Andy Zee’s talk at Revolution Books on Episode 64 of the RNL Revolution Nothing Less show on YouTube.
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown.
Wajahat Ali 00:00
We were deluding ourselves that the guard rails of this thing called democracy would be enough to moderate and modulate Trumpism… The January 6 insurrection is not the end game, it’s a sneak preview. It’s what I call a rough draft. It’s an exhibition game, and they will perfect it and learn from it and do it again… What we’re witnessing basically is the death rattle of white supremacy that has turned into a death march, in my opinion. We’re up against a very committed, zealous, organized, well-funded counter majoritarian minority that is playing for all the marbles.
Coco Das 00:52
Welcome to episode 71 of the Refuse Fascism podcast. This podcast is brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Coco Das, one of those volunteers, guest hosting while your regular host Sam Goldman takes a much-needed vacation. Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country. In today’s episode, we are sharing a conversation Sam Goldman had with Wajahat Ali, Daily Beast columnist, public speaker, and author of the memoir Go Back to Where You Came From.
But first, let’s talk about some developments from this past week, as they relate to the continued fascist threat. This is the week that fascist mouthpiece Tucker Carlson, because he is speaking at a rightwing conference, decided to broadcast his increasingly unveiled white supremacist poison from Budapest, Hungary. In his announcement, he said, “If you care about western civilization and democracy and families and the ferocious assault on those things by the leaders of our global institutions, you should know what’s happening here, right now.”
So what is happening in Hungary? For one thing, a misogynist homophobic Christian fanatic named Viktor Orban has largely consolidated fascist rule, telling his country that they must replace liberal democracy in Hungary with “Christian democracy,” which is actually just a dictatorship with some rights for Christians and everyone else considered sub-human.
During his over ten years in power, he has accomplished things that Trump was on his way to securing before he was voted out of office, things the American fascist movement – of which Tucker Carlson is a primary driver – is desperate to bring about. Bit by bit, by chipping away at the rules and instituting new rules, such as permit requirements for journalists to report from the border, Orban has remade the legislature, the media, and the judiciary into a rubberstamp of his fascist rule. The country is gerrymandered to the point where opposing parties can’t win elections. He built a border wall and then sent the bill to the European Union, stating that they should repay Hungary for “protecting all the citizens of Europe from the flood of illegal migrants.” His rhetoric constantly demonizes Muslims and refugees and new laws attempt to associate LGBTQ people with pedofilia. This year a law went into effect that bans the dissemination of content in schools deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change. Other sweeping changes have been made to the nation’s education system that restrict what teachers can teach and promote – not based on truth but on the nationalist and fascist ideology of the ruling party. Sound familiar? And though it is technically legal, laws restricting abortion access have made it nearly impossible for women to obtain an abortion. Carlson, whose shrill attacks on Black people and immigrants and LGBTQ people and scientists and liberals, calls Orban a champion of Christianity.
Zack Beauchamp, in an article for Vox in 2018, said this about Orban’s rule: “Call it “soft fascism”: a political system that aims to stamp out dissent and seize control of every major aspect of a country’s political and social life, without needing to resort to “hard” measures like banning elections and building up a police state. One of the most disconcerting parts of observing Hungarian soft fascism up close is that it’s easy to imagine the model being exported.”
Meanwhile, Arizona continues its audit of the 2020 presidential elections, feeding the big lie that Trump would have won if not for massive voter fraud. This week an important article appeared in the New Yorker called “The Big Money Behind the Big Lie,” which details the extreme wealth funding the Arizona audit. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to highlight this quote by Chad Campbell, a Democrat who was the minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives until 2014. Campbell said that Arizona is in the midst of a “nonviolent overthrow in some ways—it’s subtle, and not in people’s faces because it’s not happening with weapons. But it’s still a complete overthrow of democracy. They’re trying to disenfranchise everyone who is not older white guys.”
But let’s be real. We know that this Republifascist movement is not above using violence. Remember what happened on January 6? In a talk at Revolution Books this past Wednesday, August 5, Andy Zee, a fellow member of the Refuse Fascism editorial board, said about the January 6 attempted coup at the Capitol, “The Republican fascist party, their media, and tens of millions of followers are speaking out of 3 contradictory sides of their large and foul mouths, saying first – it was peaceful – second, it was really Antifa and Black Lives Matter with Nancy Pelosi to blame, and 3rd, that it was a just and patriotic event with Ashli Babbit a martyr at the hands of a Black Democratic police officer. The key point here, the conclusion to draw from the illogic of these lies, is that January 6th is only a foreshadowing of what’s to come.”
Consider what it would mean if this overthrow – violent or non-violent – succeeds at any point. What would that mean for humanity if a fascist party with its utter cruelty can cement their rule in the most powerful country in the world? It would truly be an existential nightmare, making it much harder for us to secure any kind of positive future for our youth.
The new Refuse Fascism mission statement, which everyone should read and share, says this: that fascism is a qualitative change in how society is governed. Once in power, fascism’s defining feature is the essential elimination of the rule of law and democratic and civil rights. It goes on to say, “The Democratic Party will not stop this nightmare. Trump, fascist Fox News, and the Republi-fascist Party have branded them as enemies and “traitors.” Yet, the Democratic Party will consistently pull to try to work with, conciliate with and collaborate with them. There can be no reconciliation with fascism except on the terms of the fascists. Fascism must be resolutely opposed.”
What does this paragraph mean, and does it line up with what is actually happening? It doesn’t mean that they’re all the same or that the Democratic Party is also a fascist party, or that every opposition they put up is weak or false or meaningless. But the statement says they will “pull” to work with, conciliate with, and collaborate with them. This was shown to be true once again when Biden explained why he wouldn’t support the end of the filibuster which requires 60 votes for the senate to pass most legislation, but which many activists are calling for abolishing because it would allow the Democrats to act as a simple majority and enact their agenda – which includes protecting the voting rights that are under vicious assault by Republifascists across the country. Biden said that ending the filibuster would “throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done…I’m trying to bring the country together.”
But uniting this country that is filled with fascists means accepting and compromising with the virulent white supremacy, the oppressive patriarchy and misogyny, the violent and vicious xenophobia – and the all-out assault on truth that these fascists are fighting for with everything they’ve got. Uniting with this will not defeat fascism, and we cannot keep getting swayed and restrained by the Democratic Party while fascists stage their return to the White House – a return that is and will be filled with vengeance. We have to rely on ourselves, building a movement of non-violent resistance that drives this fascism out of government and society, not for ourselves alone, but for all humanity
With that, let’s listen to Sam Goldman’s interview with Wajahat Ali
Sam Goldman 10:18
More damning and stark evidence has continued to mount including in the recent January 6 Select House Committee probe about the illegal, white supremacist and Christian fascist nature of the January 6 attack on Congress. One can only honestly call it a coup attempt — failed as it was — the product of months long work by the Trump regime to overturn Biden’s electoral victory. Although the January 6 coup was unsuccessful, leading GOP members continue to legitimize the illegal and likely violent seizure of power by the fascists. The Democratic Party continues to fetishize bipartisanship with the party of rabid fascism and white supremacy. Passage of a “bipartisan” infrastructure bill, not defeating the fascist forces, not defending voting rights for Black and brown people, not protecting the planet remains Biden’s most cherished, stated objective.
Today, just about seven months post the failed fascist coup attempt, what is the state of the much reclaimed American democracy? Where are we at in the fascist DEFCON level? How did we get here? And what do we do about that? To get into this, I am thrilled to welcome Wajahat Ali to the Refuse Fascism podcast. He’s a columnist at The Daily Beast and a senior fellow at the Western States Center and Auburn Seminary. You’ve likely read his work in the New York Times where he was previously a contributing op-ed writer, or seen him on CNN or elsewhere as a commentator. He is also a recovering attorney and playwright. His forthcoming book, ‘Go Back to Where You Came From, and Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become an American’ is available for pre-order now and comes out January 25. If you’re listening to this pod, you already probably follow him on Twitter @WajahatAli. Welcome, and thanks for joining us.
Wajahat Ali 12:00
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. That introduction made me sound so awesome. I was like who is this? My wife was probably like, I want to marry HIM. Very kind of you.
Sam Goldman 12:13
Kind, but true. So let’s start with the definition of fascism that Refuse Fascism uses. We define it as not just a gross combination of horrific reactionary policies, but a qualitative change in how society is governed that once in power, fascism’s determining feature is the essential elimination of the rule of law and democratic and civil rights, that it foments and relies on xenophobia, nationalism, racism, misogyny, and the aggressive reinstitution of “traditional values.” Truth is obliterated, and fascist mobs and the threat of violence are unleashed to build their movement and consolidate power. Let’s start with what do you see as the current fascist DEF CON level?
Wajahat Ali 12:55
I would say I appreciate your use of DEF CON, because I usually use that and people are like, What are you talking about? And people oftentimes think that DEF CON 5 is the worst. Actually, and maybe your listeners know this, DEF CON 5 out of the five stages of DEF CON, DEFCON five is pretty good. It’s blue and 1 is cocked pistol, right, it’s game time, it’s on. So I will put us at 3, which I think is yellow. And it means like the Air Force is ready to go at a moment’s notice, like in 15-20 minutes. I would put us at 3.
First and foremost, I’m sure you’ve had many interview subjects who have come on and said you know, we’ve been saying this for a while and we weren’t taken seriously by many of our colleagues. People of color in particular have been saying this for a while. Scholars of authoritarianism, scholars of fascism, especially as took place in Europe. Sober folks like Timothy Snyder, the authors of ‘How Democracies Die’, Anne Applebaum, who has been a conservative her most of her life. When these individuals are writing books warning Americans like we are at a threshold right now, then you have individuals in polite society in what we call “mainstream” society, in what we call the power circles, and I’ve had a foot in that thanks to the introduction that you read, who then take it seriously. They’ve often ignored the rest of us.
For the rest of us, the Trump Administration resistance to us, especially people of color, Muslims, undocumented immigrants. Resistance to us was surviving. Resistance to us was walking outside of the home with our head held up high, having a smile on our face and telling our children that this country belongs to you, even though the president of the United States is implementing a Muslim ban and putting kids in cages. For me, I have always thought that the Trump administration — hopefully I have the receipts to back it up with my tweets and my CNN appearances and my articles — I’ve thought like this is a counter majoritarian authoritarian movement, fascism light at the time, that if given enough rope will slaughter democracy for the sake of power. Enough people, even a year and a half ago, when I tweeted this, I said, you know what makes you think Trump will leave? If you go look at the receipts people said “Wajahat, you’re being so hysterical, you’re being reactionary.” I said, I’ll bet you halal crow. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat the halal crow on air. And they’re like, we’ll get that halal crow ready. Where can we find them? Like you can find anything in New York! Maybe you can find me a halal crow.
So now finally you got, as we’re recording this podcast, you had Steve Schmidt, of all people do that thread that went viral over the weekend. I think he used the word authoritarian or perhaps fascist. You had John Dean late last night, I was awake early in the morning, this is John Dean of Watergate fame, who said, “I need to find any documentaries about the rise of Hitler. What do you guys recommend? Or the rise of the Nazi Party?” You have Anne Appelbaum, and you have individuals now with what we’re seeing, not just with the revelations that Trump tried to pressure his own Justice Department saying, “You guys just need to say that it’s rigged, and I’ll take care of the rest, the party will take care of the rest.” You’re seeing the bipartisan commission, you’re seeing the response to the bipartisan commission. You’re seeing Jim Jordan pretty much admit that he talked to Trump on January 6, but all of a sudden, he doesn’t remember what he talked about. You see Mo Brooks, Republican senator somehow just wearing body armor the day of January 6. Just normal things that people do. I don’t know about you, Samantha, when you go teach kindergarten, I’m sure you wear some Kevlar, when you just get up on the day that coincidentally happens to be a violent insurrection. And so not only are we seeing the proof now as it’s dripping, but I tell people where we’re at for the past five years. And where we were was — and the final thing I’ll say, and thank you for coming to my TED Talk, is — we were deluding ourselves that the guardrails of this thing called democracy would be enough to moderate and modulate Trumpism. And a lot of people forfeited their better judgment and were not trusting what their eyes were showing them because they were so accustomed to the way business was being run as usual. In DC. People just wanted Trump to do business as usual. This is how you scratch your back. That’s how you get your back scratched. Let’s like give them enough of a rope. And there’ll be business as usual, and it will be good for our business, and we’ll get on TV and we’ll sell some books, and don’t worry about, it because it didn’t affect them. Trumpism didn’t affect them. So they were able to delude themselves to be neutral observers as democracy was being battered in front of their faces.
I believe we’ve been at DEFCON 3 for a while. I still think we’re at DEFCON 3, even though Biden is President and Democrats have a 50/50 slim majority. Because of what you just mentioned, this strange fidelity to the filibuster, which is an archaic construction of racists and slaveholders that really has no basis in the Constitution, contrary to what Manchin said on Jake Tapper’s show over the weekend. You have Sinema, who’s just like this absurdly unserious human being. I just don’t see Biden taking the threat of this rising authoritarianism as seriously as I want him to, especially as the Republicans are nakedly and openly — they’re telling you their plan. It’s like a James Bond villain in the first act telling you exactly what he wants to do. And the rest of us are like, I don’t know, I think bipartisanship should be the answer, as they have a laser pointer to our groins. So you asked me a very simple question. I just went on a rant, but that’s how I feel DEFCON 3.
Sam Goldman 17:39
A rant that I think is right on point. I think a lot more people should be making those points. And we’d be in a different situation if people were able to not just believe what they’ve seen and heard, but follow it through to its logical conclusion. Which is if they keep doing this, if they keep telling you who they are, if they keep showing you who they are, and they say you better believe us. And each time they up the ante. Where do you think this is all going? Yeah, what’s the endgame here? And if this is their endgame, then is just decrying “We have norms and institutions” while they are seeking to abolish those norms and institutions, is that really a winnable game plan?
Wajahat Ali 18:24
No, it isn’t. Because January 6 insurrection is not the end game, it’s a sneak preview. It’s what I call a rough draft. It’s an exhibition game, and they will perfect it and learn from it and do it again. And if you don’t believe me, a majority of Republican voters thinks, disinformation, and a right wing ecosystem that has radicalized, I would say about a third of our country. When people say “Why do you say 30% or a third of our country?” Because if you see the people who consume the right wing media, it’s its own self-contained ecosystem. The problem is that it bleeds into the mainstream. And the reason why that bleeds into the mainstream is that the institutions are so committed to this false notion of the view from nowhere and bipartisanship, and we have to do both sides. I’m telling you, as a person in the media, there’s so many folks who are just they can’t help it like they’re just trained: Oh, we have to now bring the MAGA conspiracy theorist [on], we just have to. Because God forbid, if we’re seen as liberals by the people who no matter what we do, will always see us as a deep state, right? We’re dealing with bad faith actors. And what usually happens, and the Democratic Party has been held hostage by this, is that the Overton Window shifts to the right, the center shifts to the right. And then what’s considered a moderate is no longer moderate. It’s like a center right. The majority, the rest of us and the people in these institutions are hijacked by the incessant whining and bad faith of victimhood of individuals who crave power for the sake of power and give cruelty but always demand civility.
Case in point, the entire Presidency of Donald Trump decrying cancel culture, but literally canceling a free and fair election, and even Liz Cheney. Like what more do you need to see? This is what they do to Liz Cheney, who was the number three ranking Republican who was in line with Donald Trump’s agenda 95% of the time is a freaking Cheney, and his by no means a moderate or a conservative moderate. What do you think they’ll do to you? These are the Blue Lives Matter people who were fine killing a cop. And there were more than what 20 Republicans who refused to give those cops who saved their lives a Congressional Medal of Honor. What do you think they will do to you? And I think the January 6 violent insurrection was a wake up call for enough people, not everyone, but still enough people. Oh my god, the United States Capitol was overrun for the first time since 1814, and five people died, and if a few police officers were no there, Mitt Romney, I don’t know what would’ve happened to him. If they could’ve gotten their hands on Pelosi, or even Mike Pence, they’d be dead. This is Mike Pence, who literally has sold his soul for the rapture and Donald Trump. I feel like William Shatner in that Twilight Zone episode where he’s on a plane, and he’s the only one seeing the goblin, and everyone thinks he’s crazy and he’s trying to warn everyone, and in the end he’s the one who gets taken away in the straight jacket. And then the camera pans to the left and you see the torn airplane. Well, the difference is we’re all seeing the torn airplane. Joe Manchin is like: “Well, in my day, bipartisanship…”.
You still see Biden who still thinks they’re his friends and they’ll talk to him, and because we’ll get this one trillion dollar infrastructure package, maybe, maybe, we still haven’t seen it, maybe, that somehow is a victory, even though we need probably the six trillion dollar one, or the $3.5 trillion one. And you have Sinema, a Democrat, who’s saying: “Well, I’ve gotta czut something.” And you’re like: “What the hell do you want to cut?” “Just something, but you better rush this, casuse I’ve gotta go on vacation.” And you have meanwhile, these massive voter suppression bills that are literally taking a sledgehammer to democracy which will endanger the democratic rule, both Democratic, big ‘D’ and small ‘d’ in 2022, and I just don’t see the urgency. Then you gaslight yourself too, like: “Am I crazy? Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m that crazy brown Muslim guy. Maybe I’m reactionary. Maybe I spent too much time reading. And then you sit there, and you go no, no no, I’m onto something, I’m calling it, my finger’s on the button.” Even conservative scholars of authritarianism who’ve spent their lives literally warning us about the dots, and where this is going. I know I’m not crazy.”
Sam Goldman 21:57
Absolutely. You don’t need to worry. They think that the outrage at people just continuing to normalize what no one should see as normal, I think is painful. I mean, one of the things that I most appreciate about your work is that you aren’t encumbered by these rose tinted glasses, or feel compelled to perpetuate myths that everything is going to be okay because, America. That the dark days have passed, we’ve reached a new dawn, but when you look across the larger realm of punditry, you’re met with the narrative that despite all the evidence to the contrary, Trump’s days in the political spotlight are numbered, his influence is waning, accountability or justice will prevail, and there’s no need for alarm. Do you feel that sense?
Wajahat Ali 22:42
It’s an interesting balance for me. I try to hardwire myself to be an optimist, but I’m a pragmatist. In order to be an optimist, I have to have faith, because I have children, that there are better days ahead. Otherwise, you just become a nihilistic alcoholic, right? Like it’s over. But in order for those good days to arrive, there’s this famous saying, Muslims say this and many cultures say this that “have faith, but tie your camel first.” I don’t think we’re tying our camel, which means that you exercise all the effort that you can possibly muster, and do what you can do with your two hands, and then you leave it to God. And I don’t think we’re doing that. And one thing I would ask is, why do we have the filibuster? When we have bad faith actors who are in front of our face passing the most regressive voter suppression bills that we’ve seen in decades with the explicit intention to limit Democratic votes so they can have minority rule in 2022 and 2024? You’ve seen a full-scale assault on the US Capitol to cancel a free and fair election that was not just done by MAGA protesters.
Let’s not forget, it was the majority of Republican congressmen who voted to cancel that election, even though they knew it’s bullshit. And now you see a right wing media ecosystem that I believe is the most responsible for radicalizing a third of America. I believe one of the biggest villains of America — if this book is written by the people who hopefully win, which is us, the people at least care about democracy — is going to be the Murdochs. It is a self contained right wing ecosystem that has radicalized a third of this country. And when it comes to the voting population, now, it’s 50/50. And so if you just go to Barnes and Noble, sometimes you’ll see like Ben Shapiro and Mark Levin books just selling like hotcakes, and you’re like, we’ve lost people. And so when I see a third of this country radicalized when I see a third of these people — which make up about a half of the electorate or a little bit less — against vaccines, pro-plague, pro-death, as 4 million people have died in a once in a lifetime pandemic. When I see most of them think that Donald Trump is still the president, and Biden somehow cheated. When I see the white supremacist theory that originated from America, the replacement theory, being literally globalized and inspiring terrorists from New Zealand to Texas to Europe now being marshaled by Paul Gosar, a congressman and Margie Taylor Greene, and there’s no checks, there’s no balances. Kevin McCarthy, who is the “Minority” Leader, you know, does a Q whistle at a rally — just a couple of days ago as we’re recording this podcast.
You have one of the two major political parties and the entire conservative ecosystem that is drinking this Kool Aid, knowingly doing it for ratings, for power. Because you know that Tucker Carlson is vaccinated, you know Murdoch’s vaccinated. I know from talking to them in the CNN green room that they hate Trump, but they know where their bread is buttered. When you see people so cynically taking a sledgehammer to democracy, and like you said, the truth, and it represents not a minority, but a major political party, as we are hijacked by this, both sides, false equivalence, and these mainstream institutions where they all sit with each other and marry each other, have sex with each other and eat cheese with each other. And you’re like, oh, but he’s my friend. Bill Maher’s bringing on — the one who thinks that Santa is white and will die on that hill — Megyn Kelly, Andrew Sullivan, Barry Weiss, Ann Coulter. That’s the liberal Bill Maher, then you sit there and think okay, people of color, historically, what they’ve always had to do is they have to save the country from itself. And you have to do everything in your power not just to save your communities, but to save this thing called democracy that I don’t think people realize, is teetering on an edge.
The problem is that Biden’s presidency gives people a sense of catharsis and relief, which was necessary, but now they think, Oh, I could just kick back, and let me outsource everything to the Avengers, and they will come and save us. And usually when you outsource everything to one or two people, that’s when authoritarianism rises. And the final thing I’ll say is what troubles me is I think we have a flabby, moderate majority. I think the majority in this country is pro-democracy, pro-freedom, but they’re lazy and flabby. And they’re kind of drinking their Kool Aid and lemonade, and they’re chillin. And we’re up against a very committed, zealous, organized, well-funded, counter majoritarian minority that is playing for all the marbles. If you have to give me a choice between a flabby and moderate majority, and a committed zealous, organized, well funded strategic minority, I’ll take the minority. They’ll just carve us like butter. And that’s my fear.
Sam Goldman 26:32
I think it’s a really legitimate fear. I think it’s in the same way that I have hope. And I’m not full of doom constantly. I hope that a better world is possible. I have hope on a scientific basis. I know what’s needed and what’s creating the suffering. But I think in the same token, the doom that is taken advantage of by the fascist GOP, there’s a real sense in this moment of a civil war. That this country has never been as divided as it is now since the Civil War. And in some ways, it’s even in a worse position now, because those who are the most out of touch with reality, those who have the most confidence in their cause, are those who seek to annihilate whole peoples. And they’re the ones that are not just gunned up, but they’re the ones that are the most organized and recognize the division and the crisis that exists. And I think that to me, a big part of the problem is that soft middles reliance on proxies and power to stop this, that those institutions and those who they elect are going to be the guardrails to this crisis. And I think that what we’ve seen over the past five years is that the Democratic Party without a situation that that really shakes things up, I think we’ve seen that they will not oppose this fascism the way that it needs to be opposed. And I think that the point that I was making with the media is that I think that that they play a tremendous role in passifying, in my opinion, that soft middle, if you will.
Wajahat Ali 28:09
Absolutely. What we’re witnessing basically is the death rattle of white supremacy that has turned into a death march, in my opinion, both here and abroad. They’re playing for all the marbles in a zero sum game. And when I used to say this, people used to get really offended, it sent this tweet, I give this analogy that has been used before by others. And of course, it’s a metaphor and figurative language, but you can’t do that sometimes with Fox News. I said: If given a choice between renting a room to a person of color or burning down the house, they will choose to burn down the village. They will die for whiteness. And people say you’re crazy. And then January 6 happened. And when he’s mentioned civil war, Paul Gosar allegedly said that we’re in the midst of a civil war to the Oathkeepers leader in Arizona. Oathkeepers being, I would say, a white supremacist militia group, where many members were involved in the January 6 insurrection. And what people don’t realize is they’re playing for all the marbles. Look, it’s easy to think that people have horns on their head and they’re evil.
These are most likely average Americans who are living their life, but they have been radicalized to believe that there is a deep state conspiracy that is attacking their fundamental way of life. Their culture, their values, their whiteness. They’re coming after their children’s sexuality and their pronouns now. All is lost. And the only way that you can reclaim your values, your culture, your narrative against this overwhelmingly hostile force that is conspiratorial and wicked, and runs a sex trafficking operation and eats children, is to rise up and raise your guns, which is a perfect base for an authoritarian to manipulate. Voila — Donald Trump. And Donald Trump then, he’s their avatar, he’s their id, he is their shining white rage who’s willing to fight for them and fight their enemies. So they’ll make any rationalizations. That explains why evangelical Christians. They know he’s a philanderer, he’s a vulgarian, he has a carnal appetite, but it doesn’t matter. They call him Cyrus, the pagan Persian king who God nonetheless used as an instrument for something better. So he’s our Cyrus. That’s the analogy that’s been given by white evangelical leaders.
Once you have about a third of this country radicalized, in the midst of income inequality and climate change and racism and violence and uncertainty and economic collapse, they grasp on to something that gives them meaning and identity and purpose. And voila, Trumpism is that purpose of what Trump allegedly represents. And the voters for Trump, and we said this, and no one believed us, and when I say us, especially journalists of color and our colleagues, many white folks dismissed us. I write about this briefly in the book, why they dismissed us. It’s because once you’re in privelege, you’re blind to privilege and the abuses of that privilege. And also, you can afford to be a spectator to the chaos. You can afford to be a zoologist in looking at it with a detachment. The rest of us couldn’t afford it. We had to do our work, report, comment, and like I said, resist. Because this is coming after our wives and our children, our communities. But when you’re white, and you’re in power, or you’re wealthy, then you’re like, oh, business as usual. I’ll sell some books, I’ll get some ratings. The guard rails of which I’m part of will withstand this. They’re my friends, they’re not that bad. And even now, you’re seeing them saying: Well, Trump was really good for ratings. You saw Les Moonves openly admit this, the former head of CBS, who then had to resign due to numerous sexual assault allegations. You can Google this right now, Les Moonves said: You know, Trump might be bad for America. But he’s really good for CBS. And you saw Zucker say that on CNN.
Ultimately, what it comes down to, is we need journalists in particular, in those institutions, even like Robert Mueller, we needed them to be more biased in favor of democracy. Even now, it is okay for you to be a journalist and say, I’m biased for democracy against fascism. I am not going to both sides fascism. I’m not going to both sides genocide. I’m not going to both sides authoritarianism. I’m going to be for democracy and for the truth. And as such, I am not going to do a both sides false equivalence like Chuck Todd, and give my platform to a bad faith actor who will use it to now take these lies that originate from the right wing infrastructure and pollute and contaminate the moderate flabby majority. And I think slowly, we’re learning that right now. But it’s still too slow. That’s my problem, it’s still slow, too slow, Samantha. I think we’re running out of time, and I wish going back to your previous comment, question, there was a sense of urgency. Because we don’t have that much time left, and we’re still talking about infrastructure, and God knows if we’re gonna get it.
Sam Goldman 32:01
I really do appreciate what you were saying, especially about what difference it would have made had, let’s say all editorial boards for major newspapers in this country come out and said, at the time of the Muslim Ban, or kids in cages: “We won’t accept a fascist America, and we demand Trump’s immediate removal.” That would have made a tremendous difference in my opinion. So I think that it’s worth considering, not just to rehash the past, in the sense, like “We were right! They were wrong!”, but also because the past isn’t past yet, so what are we gonna do?
Wajahat Ali 32:19
The past isn’t past to the point where white rage still hijacks this country. Like, look what’s happening with CRT. The past is not over. People think, oh, we voted for Obama, once, we live in a post racial society and the rest of us are like, huh, you just wait. And, in a strange way — this is my absurd optimist coming out with some dark humor — Trump’s overt bigotry, that has been embraced by the conservative movement, and many others, at least validates the concerns and fears and warnings of so many Americans that were belittled or ignored. I’ll give you an example just from the Muslim perspective: Post 9/11, especially with the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry. People were like: “Ahh, you Muslims are always whining and complaining. Everything’s fine, relax.” And then Trump comes in with a Muslim ban, and I had a lot of liberal friends saying, oh, huh, you guys weren’t just saying that. You know, Black people forever have been saying it. So in a strange way, it’s forcing people to stop being neutral. You have to pick a side.
When people say, oh, you know, how come folks didn’t you know, Refuse Trump’s fascism, I want to tell them that 11 million more people after Trump’s first term, like we want this guy, right, this is the guy for us. This speaks deep to what exists in America. This is the death rattle of white supremacy. This is the fight for power and control of this country. This is also disinformation and fear and greed. I’ll tell you like some people of color, some Asian and South Asian were like, Trump’s good for my bottom line; that’s it. Or they chased whiteness. Oh, they’re like these Blacks and these Mexicans, they’re always so lazy and look at this crime. Or disinformation, some people are like both sides are messed up. Biden’s old, I don’t know. So it’s easy to simply sit there and go, Oh, it’s just the MAGA hat wearing folks. But enough people in the middle get converted thanks to disinformation, thanks to, propaganda, thanks to losing faith in the institution. Which is why I think it puts the onus on reporters and journalists even more to be on the side of democracy and against fascism openly. And they’re like, oh, what about both sides?
Let me put it this way real quick. Where is the right wing going to go? If you shut them out? They got Newsmax. They got One America News Network. They got the podcast, they got Fox, alright great. You’re reaching only 35%. That’s why when it’s ABC, CBS, they need them to win over enough of the independents, right? What happens if you just like seal them out? Say, I’m going to seal you out unless you literally affirmed Biden as President, don’t lie, don’t spread conspiracy theories. You’re a kindergarten teacher. If you behave, you can join the rest of the class. If not, you stay in the corner. It’s gonna hurt them. They don’t need them. But we don’t have it because we have “both sides” journalism and it’s a big club and we’re not part of it.
Sam Goldman 35:04
I want to segue into something that you touched on in terms a post-911 comment, and your friends who didn’t see certain things, but then saw certain things. It’s true that Donald Trump did not start any wars. But it’s hard to start new wars when you inherit a military bombing and murdering people all around the globe. And I was wondering if you could speak about how W. [Bush] and Obama’s war on terror helped set the stage and ushered in, if you will, the rise of American fascism?
Wajahat Ali 35:33
Yeah, the war on terror has been nurtured and supported. It’s one of the few bipartisan things left in America; by both Republicans and Democrats. Now, that being said, I’m old enough to live through the Bush administration. And yes, Bush was far worse than Obama or Trump or Biden, when it came to our foreign policy. But at the same time, what we warned back in the day was as Muslims and people of color, and those were Muslim-y. We said, fine, you guys are going against us. We’re the bad guys. And you guys are willing to trade your liberties for the false feeling of security and you’re willing to villainize us. But what are you unleashing? You’re unleashing an ecosystem that will be hard to contain. You are strengthening a beast that will turn on you eventually. You are creating this vast apparatus that allows for surveillance not just on Muslims, which you guys were perfectly fine with. But eventually it will turn on you. And you’re allowing extra-judicial killings. Yeah, you’re fighting because it’s Anwar al-Awlaki’s son and him right now. Anwar al-Awlaki was a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda. His son was just an innocent teenager, and you guys are fine with it because it’s just Muslims in the Middle East, in Yemen, who cares? But what happens if it turns on you? And that’s what happens is we’d rather be safe and be free.
Lo and behold, you see the long arm of the war on terror where the world is now a battleground. We have our local police looking like they belong from Call of Duty to walk in the streets, treating fellow Americans like we’re insurgents. You saw this in 2020. In the summer, when millions came out to protest the murder of George Floyd, look at the police state that came out to greet peaceful protesters. And I’m talking about white people in Portland, guys. Remember that? White folks, white moms, so I’m like they’re turning on white moms. They’re turning on old white grandfathers with a walker in Utah. Remember that guy who got pushed? And so this is what happens when you let power go unchecked is that you get very close to achieving a police state. I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican, why would you relinquish power voluntarily? If I have the ability to use this entire apparatus to achieve my goals, both domestically and when it comes to foreign policy? Why would I neuter myself? And you saw Trump exercise that.
I’ll give you one example. When they “cleared” peaceful protesters in front of the White House so Trump could walk with generals to the church to take a photo op, where he held the Bible upside down. Congratulations. The War on Terror is at home. Folks like Erik Prince, who is the brother of Betsy Devos, hard right fanatical anti-Muslim Christians with a type of like end game, apocalyptic zealotry, who’s literally saying: Hey, everybody, I made my money off the war on terror. I’m willing now to outsource this to any authoritarian regime. I’ll work with China, work with the Middle East. Trump, what do you want from me? And so the chickens come home to roost. I hate to say that. Voila! What we enabled and empowered and allowed due to our zealous rage against “Islam and Muslims” who are the enemy has now come home against the real Americans, which of course always means white house in the suburbs. Let’s not sit there and keep the timeline just at the war on terror, there was the war on drugs. War on drugs, Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, let’s clean up the streets. You got tanks in the “inner city,” in the ghettos. When it comes to the opioid crisis and meth affecting white folks, well, then they need our help. But once you’re introducing tanks in American streets for the “war” on drugs, where the “enemy” is oftentimes people of color, that was the precursor to the war on terror. And the war on terror now is going to be the precursor to the war against the deep state. And wait until the Republicans get back in power. What makes you think that they will practice moderation? And also Democrats?
What makes you think Democrats and Obama will practice moderation? I’ll give you an example of Obama, the extra-judicial killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. You can hate al-Awzliki, but the manner in which it was done is terrifying. Drone strikes threatening the sovereignty of another country, just raining death from the sky, not really caring about the trauma that this inflicts upon people. You know, I’ve talked to folks from Yemen, and they’ll tell you, it’s like, this is worrying. You look up in the sky, you just hear the sound, you’re like death could come at any moment that “collateral damage,” and what does that say about us? And what does that say about power? And what does that say about humanity? That you’re perfectly willing, from a base somewhere in Arizona, with someone on a joystick to reign death in another country? But it’s a Democratic president, so it’s okay. So I know you asked me a simple question. I give you my thoughts.
Sam Goldman 39:44
And I really appreciate them. And I think that this has always been true for this country since its founding, that the exceptionalism that exists that destroys people’s ability to care about lives that are other than American. I think it’s an important reminder that what we’ve allowed and what we’ve forgotten, I think is also important to remember and question why we forgotten it and why it doesn’t even produce outrage in people the way that it should.
Wajahat Ali 40:13
We’re hitting the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And oftentimes it’s easier to look back with nostalgia and romanticism and not realize that this country went mad for a couple of years. I use just one example. In 2003 the Dixie Chicks, now known as The Chicks, were the biggest band in America. They had this this amazing tour that sold like so many tickets worldwide. And Natalie Maines was the lead singer of the Chicks. All she said was, if I remember correctly, it’s almost might be the same exact quote, “I’m embarrassed that George W. Bush is from Texas, y’all.” That’s all she said. And for those of you who are young, there was a thing called CDs back in the day, and this country was so crazy, they took tractors over their CDs, they burn their CDs. And overnight just like Liz Cheney, the Dixie Chicks are like the most harmless white women on earth — you know, like these bubblegum catchy songs that crossed over from country to mainstream, like everyone loves the Dixie Chicks — were public enemy number one. That’s how crazy this country was right?
We’re perfectly fine surveilling innocent Muslims in New York. We’re perfectly fine with these really malicious prosecutions, shutting down charities, mosque crawlers, and community rakers. We were okay with it because the enemy at the time was that whoever doesn’t look like us, Muslims, Arabs, anybody, and when we only seem to care is that when it affects us. Same thing with the pandemic, you saw this a year and a half ago, some people openly said, well, it’s only affecting a certain demographic. That meant Black people and poor people. Once it started affecting them, now, they’re like: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s get these masks up. It’s like Macbeth, you’re not trying to see the blood on your hands, but eventually, you have to see it. There’s a lot of blood on our hands as America, like these two disastrous wars. And what happens? America is really good at war, it’s not good at empire building. And what happened? Biden’s like: let me just wash my hands, leave Afghanistan, and lo and behold, Taliban. In yesterday’s Washington Post, like what we’ve been hearing the Taliban’s making their assault. And so what did we accomplish? What did we accomplish at the end of the day, except death and destruction and traumatizing generations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not to mention also our soldiers? Those who came back traumatized, that’s also the legacy, I think of the war on terror, in addition to the rise of the “post 9/11 police state.”
Sam Goldman 42:14
I do encourage listeners to think about when we talk about the actions of the US government, and we talk about wars that they wage and things like that, to notice the difference that you are not the same as your government. And your government can commit incredible atrocities, but you are not the government. And that does not mean that you aren’t responsible for what your government does in your name.
Wajahat Ali 42:42
I don’t know about you Samantha, but I remember the people knew what was up. The people around the world knew that that war would be a disaster. We took to the streets, for those of you guys who remember. I mean, hundreds of thousands of us. I was a college students. We took the streets preemptively at UC Berkeley knowing that there was a war coming before it was announced. So it was one of those situations where you kind of realize the strength of grassroots activism, and also the limitations. There’s an ecosystem of resistance that’s needed. An inside and outside, push and pull. Going back to the start of this conversation, you need those people with those privileged platforms to do a little bit more. You just can’t sit there on the laurels and believe the guardrails, like you said, will save us because the guardrails did save us, but barely.
Sam Goldman 43:18
So let’s turn to COVID. For a moment. The effects of which, the actions of the Trump/Pence regime in my opinion at this point can only be called genocidal. You frame Trump’s latest declaration I thought really powerfully in your latest piece you said, “many members of America’s death cult are simply following the self-immolating steps of their infantile god king, Donald Trump. Despite surviving COVID-19, thanks to the best doctors and medicine in the world, Trump responded to the CDC’s new mask wearing guidance with an angry call, don’t surrender to COVID. Don’t go back.” It struck me how similar it was to W. [G. W. Bush] telling us back in the early 2000’s, that if we stop shopping, then the terrorists win. That was the next day. There’s big differences, and I don’t want to blend them, but I think what’s most striking is how they’ve been training their base to put on these blinders, and it works more each time, to the extent they’re almost literally self-immolating. Dousing themselves and anyone around them in COVID and then lighting the match, using their bodies to fuel the flames of this willful ignorance. I was wondering if you saw any connections.
Wajahat Ali 44:23
Yeah, it’s self-immolation for the sake of whiteness; dying for power. It’s the cult sucking on the Kool Aid, as they say. The Jim Jones analogy that is often used the last couple of years. What really infuriates me is that people like Trump and those in power don’t have the courage of their convictions. Because this mother f’ers vaccinated. Tucker’s vaccinated. Rupert Murdoch’s vaccinated. So they are perfectly fine to radicalize their base and have their base die for their profits and their power. And the base is perfectly fine willing to do that for their god King, who is their raging avatar of frustration or pain. They believe that they’re dying for their “freedoms.” No, but they’re just dying. And that’s what happens when you radicalize folks and rally them around an authoritarian leader. That authoritarian leader says, I am your soul’s redeemer. I am your only defender. Have faith in me. If I succeed, you succeed. The state is me. Everything is me. So you need to do what I tell you to do and you need to fight for me because if you’re fighting for me, you’re fighting for yourself. Because I’m fighting for you. Qaddafi did this. Saddam Hussein did this. Hitler did this. Mussolini did this. What’s the difference with Trump? He is the man who literally got access to the best health care on earth, coughing his lungs out, getting COVID, had to be friggin taken on the plane. And then after getting life-saving medicine, he takes off his mask and coughs in the White House and probably kills like five other people. Like this is a pro-death, pro-plague nihilistic cult that is in service of selfish people who don’t even care about the folks that are dying. That’s the worst part.
Tucker Carlson lives right here in DC in a multimillion dollar house with other “elites.” He’s a blue blood, bow-tied, soft-handed person who’s the heir of a fish stick magnate. This guy has never tasted any hardship. But they know that if they can feed this base rage and fear and hysteria, well, it fills their bottom line. And I think this is the tragedy, that Tucker will be fine, Trump will be fine, but the people who will be doing the dying, is this base of otherwise average Americans who just got radicalized. And now we’re hearing headline after headline saying, “I wish I took the vaccine [clears throat]. I texted my wife take the vaccine [clears throat].” And you know, I get no joy reading this, but I’m like, at the same time, it’s been a year and a half, and you chose death. And it goes back to Jonathan Metzel’s book ‘Dying for Whiteness’. There’s going to be more of that. That’s what people don’t realize. I said this before: people think I’m crazy. This is a zero sum absolutist game for them. It is the death march of whiteness. They’re gonna burn it all down, including themselves. And I said this before the pandemic and the pandemic is revealing it; that they will literally die instead of doing the right thing.
Sam Goldman 46:59
Before we go, can you tell us a little bit about your forthcoming book? Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write it now?
Wajahat Ali 47:07
The book is called Go Back to Where You Came From, and Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become an American. I’ve been trying to write a book for a while. And I felt like something during the pandemic, the birth of my third kid, right before the election, I felt there was a sense of urgency. It’s very much in tune with this conversation we’ve had, that I don’t shy away from the horrors and chaos of what we’re facing. But the book ,I believe, will be unexpectedly hopeful for many people. And I do a Trojan horse where it’s a memoir, but a self-help guide. So it’s a juxtaposition of satire and humor, to pain. Humor to heartbreak, which I think is the juxtaposition of the American narrative, that there’s the American dream, but there’s also the American nightmare. There’s the hope, but there’s pain and racism. And I felt like I was able to marry that and perhaps reflect that in the title, where I’m told almost every day, go back to where you came from, and I’m like: Oh, thank you for that helpful recommendation, will you pay for my rent in the Bay Area, California? And so with that tone I tried to booby-trap some of these stereotypes. I try to inform. I hopefully entertain, educate, and add some of the narratives that have been missing from the American story, and maybe add some of the co-protagonists who have been missing. So that’s the hope that’s the intention, the book coming out in January. I hope you guys like it. Let me know what you think.
Sam Goldman 48:13
I’m really looking forward to reading it. And I want to thank you again for joining us and sharing your refreshing perspective and expertise with us and the link to the upcoming book along with a link to Wajahat’s Daily Beast articles is going to be in the show notes, so be sure to check that.
That was Sam Goldman speaking with Wajahat Ali. Instead of dismissing those who have been sounding the alarm for five years about this fascist threat, deluding ourselves that fascism can’t happen here or the normal channels will lead us out of this nightmare while the center shifts further to the right toward all-out fascism, it is critical to understand this 21st century American fascism and bring into reality the spirit of the slogan “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” For more on the Republi-fascist strategy of the big lie, overturning elections, and what they learn from other fascists like Viktor Orban, check out the May 30 episode, which features Sam’s interview with Walden Bello, and the interview with Federico Finchelstein from the March 7 episode. You can also watch Andy Zee’s talk at Revolution Books on episode 64 of the RNL Revolution Nothing Less show on YouTube @therevcoms.
Thanks for listening to the Refuse Fascism podcast. If you want to help the show, it’s simple. You can rate and review us on Apple podcasts or your listening platform of choice. And of course, subscribe so you never miss an episode. You can chip in to support the show by clicking the donate button at RefuseFascism.org or Venmo @Refuse-Fascism, CashApp $RefuseFascism, and be sure to let us know it’s after hearing this podcast.
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