Coco Das (@Coco_Das) speaks to an activist who traveled to Washington DC this week to protest for abortion rights as the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the case which is primed to overturn Roe v. Wade and enable abortion bans in more than half the states in the US. Mentioned in this conversation: Will Supreme Court conservatives overturn Roe? Their casual contempt for women is not a good sign by Amanda Marcotte on Salon.
Then, Coco talks to Paul Street about the state of fascism and the state of fascism denial as we near the close of 2021. Paul Street is the author of ten books including his latest, This Happened Here: Neoliberals, Amerikaners, and the Trumping of America, which is about to be published. Follow his work at paulstreet.org.
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown.
Sun, 12/5 10:31AM • 53:10
This is ringing the sound bell like we are in a serious emergency. They are going to get rid of Roe v. Wade. We need to be in the streets raising the temperature, building a mass movement of people that supports a woman’s right to choose.
Paul Street 00:11
We now have a right wing 6 to 3 fascistic Supreme Court clearly poised to abolish Roe v. Wade and take away women’s reproductive rights.
Coco Das 00:39
Welcome to Episode 88 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 this week’s episode. Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes, and stands against the very real danger of fascism coming to power in this country. In today’s episode, I’ll be sharing my conversation with writer historian Paul Street, who is also my friend and colleague on the editorial board of RefuseFascism.org. We’ll be talking about the state of fascism and fascism denial as we reach the end of 2021. First I’ll be talking to Koyuki, an activist with the Revolution Club about the scene on the ground in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, December 1, when oral arguments began in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and legal abortion coming from the state of Mississippi.
Those who were following the arguments were horrified by the questions and comments coming from the six anti-abortion justices: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Amanda Marcotte wrote for Salon, “Wednesday’s oral arguments were full of contempt for women’s lives, contempt for women’s intelligence, contempt for women’s privacy and contempt for women’s very humanity. Perhaps the most repulsive moment of the morning came courtesy of Justice Sam Alito, in response to Elizabeth Prelogar’s argument that American women have come to rely on abortion rights, Alito sneeringly argued that the South had also come to rely on white supremacy after Plessy v. Ferguson, but that didn’t stop the court from overturning it in Brown v. Board of Education. Yes, you read that correctly. Alito compared a woman’s right to control her own body to upholding Jim Crow.” Justice Alito also talked about the interests of the fetus, and Kavanaugh, with his snarling misogyny, said, “You can’t accommodate both interests”, meaning the interests of the fetus and the interests of the woman. “You have to pick. That’s the fundamental problem. And one interest has to prevail over the other at any given point in time. And that’s why this is so challenging.”
But to borrow from some tweets from Sunsara Taylor, “fetuses don’t have interests. They’re not people. Women are people. This is not challenging, but in fact very simple. Forced motherhood is female enslavement.” It’s important to note that while the streets should be filled with millions of people right now demanding abortion on demand without apology, the scene outside of SCOTUS was at least contentious, instead of dominated by the so-called pro-life forces, with hundreds of people actually speaking up, making noise and waging a political fight to keep abortion legal. The Women’s March mobilized people around the slogan “Hold the line for abortion justice,” while around the country activists with Refuse Fascism held demonstrations in Atlanta, Seattle, Honolulu, Chicago and other cities with the slogan “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology.” StrikeforChoice.org called nationwide actions and a boycott on work and purchases.
We send a special salute, love and solidarity to the folks who were arrested for civil disobedience on December 1 outside of SCOTUS, including Derenda Hancock who escorts women at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic. Much more of this is needed, and you can hear Derenda talk more about the stakes of losing Roe v. Wade in a conversation with Sunsara Taylor in episode 69 of the podcast titled, “Terry Kanefield: Democracy & Oligarchy + Derenda Hancock: Roe v. Wade on the Line.” Also in the mix, the Revolution Clubs called protests in LA, Chicago, Berkeley and Washington, DC to say, “Forced Motherhood Is Female Enslavement. Break All the Chains — Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution.”
Women, non-binary people, have the right to choose their life. We have the right to choose. It’s not about when viability is. It’s about who chooses their life. Let me tell you, friends, we are at a crossroads right now. We learned on January 6 what Trump and his fascist program was going to do: overturn this election. Let me tell you, this is not victory under Biden. What this is, is a holding space for their fascist program as they attack the courts, and change everything that we have been taught in American history, which is that fascism can come to power in the United States, and we’re watching it before our very eyes.
Coco Das 05:38
You just heard Koyuki from the ground in DC on December 1, and I’m really happy to be able to talk to Koyuki right now and hear a little bit more about what it was like to be there in front of SCOTUS on Wednesday, December 1, when the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the Mississippi case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. So welcome, Koyuki. I’m really glad you’re here.
Hi, Coco, thank you so much. I’m happy to be on the podcast. In preparing to go to DC, I used a couple of Refuse Fascism podcast episodes to refresh my memory, but also to get a better political sense of what was going on. So I absolutely appreciate this podcast and the work that Sam does, and you and all the other volunteers that make this work. I really appreciate that politically, to get my act together.
Coco Das 06:27
So great to hear. That’s the intended outcome. I’m wondering if you could talk first about what led you to the decision to go to DC. What made you feel like you needed to be there, and what message were you trying to bring and contribute?
The decision to go to DC when particularly Supreme Court cases or particular cases in general, or when the anti-abortionists are in DC is always on my mind. Those are things that I have tucked away trying to figure out how to maneuver my life around to make sure that I can be there. This particular case particularly when the Texas abortion ban happened, that everyone talked about. This December 1 was the day that the Supreme Court was going to hear the oral arguments, so that was something that I’ve just constantly been thinking about. But in addition to that, this question about forced pregnancy, forced parenthood, forced motherhood — do women have control of their lives? — has always been an issue that I’ve always really, really risen to the occasion of and really been affected by. This is something that I’ve always been thinking about and particularly going and defending abortion rights, because I’ve been in the streets calling for abortion rights since I was 14 years old.
Part of that is understanding who controls our body and the fact that the state and this fascist Christian fundamentalist movement has been talking about controlling women’s bodies. But part of it, too, is that when you actually go to alot of these protests, you really see their program; these fascists who are really calling for forced parenthood and enforced motherhood. When you see that, everything crystallizes of what’s at stake here. And so being able to defend abortion rights, and actually being in the streets trying to change public opinion, is something that I think is really important. So going to DC on December 1 to the Supreme Court was something that I thought was really, really important.
Coco Das 08:09
Can you describe the scene a little bit, you know, what was your sense of who was there? You can also talk about who you were with, what was in contention. As objectively as you can, what did you see there?
I went with the Revolution Club in New York City. I got there around noon, when the larger Women’s March was scheduled to start. If you look at the pictures, and if you read about what happened in the morning, you can see that there were anti-abortionists, there were pro-choice forces. Usually there is a huge scene at the Supreme Court; it’s almost like a three ring circus. When I was able to get there during the Women’s March, and in between it too, it was still a whole scene. There are so many anti-abortion protesters. They were there in the morning, for sure. Usually, there’s different factions of people. There are the religious people that usually come who are anti-abortion. Then there are usually a lot of high school students that come, and then just people on their own, other kinds of religious people who are not organized any way, like usually there’s nuns and priests that come in an unorganized way.
These anti-abortionists are quite aggressive and violent. So being able to be on the sidewalk of the Supreme Court, you’re always being stopped, you’re trying to talk while someone’s putting, usually, a poster in front of your face. There was a lot of different kinds of pro-choice people that are there. The Women’s March grouping of people had their “Hold the Line” for abortion rights. They were all in green, so they had green masks and green bandanas. There were people who had the traditional “Keep Abortion Legal”, NOW sort of posters that are in that circle form. There were also a lot of “Liberate Abortion” signs, and they’re the circle signs that people had. And then there are always homemade signs that people have and just people who are on their own that just came for the protest.
So it was a mixed grouping, but the stark thing was that we were able to have this kind of speak-out, in the midst of all of this, that the Revolution Club helped put together and we had a really big sign, and our sign was different than many other people’s signs. Our sign stated “We Won’t Go Back. We Won’t Surrender, Abortion on Demand and Without Apology.” I had my Abortion on Demand and Without Apology t-shirt on. We had a banner, we had a bullhorn, and we were able to create somewhat of a scene. I think it’s so important to carve out that space.
There was such a contrast to me from the Amy Coney Barrett hearings where it seemed like the Christian fascist forces were out there celebrating and giving very little room. The women’s rights groups, from what I could see, really did not show up, very few forces out there to really bring out the stakes of this hearing at a time when actually it could have been stopped. I was at the Supreme Court during Amy Coney Barrett’s hearings, and there were a lot more anti-abortionists and they were being extremely aggressive. Lots of young women who are very aggressive who fling their body on you. But it’s not just young women. The older women holding their rosaries… usually organized forces of religious people like a bunch of nuns or people who are carrying around the rosaries, they would like definitely push themselves in front of you. Some of these men who are priests push themselves in front of you. Lots of times, usually there’s posters that are in your face.
During the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation, there were so many young women, it was very stark, and it was very disturbing. A lot of times the forces are also in schools, Catholic, whatever, they’ll have all the same t-shirts on, whatever high school or college that they’re from. The march I went on for the Women’s March was on the sidewalk. We marched the whole way. But we marched the whole way on the sidewalk. We could have been on the street, but there wasn’t that many numbers. Even with more pro-choice people, it wasn’t a lot.
Coco Das 11:35
Far short of what it needs to be. The street to be filled right now. During the speakout, what did people seem to understand or even the people that you met there? What do people seem to understand about the stakes? And what do you think was not understood? What’s your sense of how are people seeing this? As if it’s no big deal to carry.
I got a chance to hear some of the hearing before I went on on the sidewalk of the Supreme Court. I got a chance to hear some of the arguments and some of what the justices were talking about, and some of the talking heads in the aftermath of it. When I was actually there on the ground, I had a really, really strong understanding that Roe v. Wade is never going to be what we know it to be, and that abortion being legal and safe across this country in all states is not going to happen. So my anger was really strong, because some of the language that people have — like “we’re not going to let Roe be gone” — with abortion being legal and safe across this country in all states is not going to happen. It was very clear where particularly these three fascist judges — there’s obviously six of them but the three that Trump appointed are very clear where they were standing, and many legal talking heads for the last year have been like, well, we really don’t know where people are gonna stand.
Well, guess what? We’ve f’ing got a clue this time and we heard what they really said. What was really stark to me, and when I was on the ground I really talked about this a lot when I was agitating is this conversation around Amy Coney Barrett that everyone’s been talking about so much. Her questioning the need for abortions when adoptions are available. This idea of forced motherhood, that women and people with uteruses will be forced to have children, that they are incubators, that we’re just a vessel, that this is one of the roles that we play — as if it’s an easy thing to give birth. This difference between birthing a child and raising a child. To some extent there’s some truth to that, but in the context of abortion, that is right out of The Handmaid’s Tale. This is right out of this book of fiction that people have been reading for the last 30 years that is now come to real life. Then also this question around birth control. There’s not so much about it, but this question about if there’s birth control, if there’s such easy access — hahaha — if there’s such easy access to birth control, then why do we actually need abortions? This idea, too, that birth control can actually stop abortions.
Coco Das 14:01
As if they’re not also going after birth control.
As if they’re not going after birth control. It is as if people are divorced from reality. This is the world that they live in, right? So you make these decisions, and then you justify them with b.s. explanations like, well, birth control wasn’t as available in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided, so that’s why you needed it then, but now that birth control is so easily available and healthcare so easily available — hahaha — why would we need abortions? Just seeing how disconnected these just start from, from actually looking at the real question at hand, which is who controls a woman’s body? What is the role of patriarchy and white supremacy in determining what people do with their lives, how their sights are set, what are their aspirations, what is the role of sex in our society? All these questions, they skidded right over them. They talked about things like viability and explanations that really don’t get to the heart of why women have the right to control of their bodies and the problems and the real fascist program of the state and these religious fundamentalists determining these questions.
Coco Das 15:03
What was some of the response to your message? Do people seem to see forced motherhood as female enslavement? Do they see this as part of a fascist assault or a crisis in the system of capitalism, imperialism, which outcomes bring more of that analysis? It’s not what Refuse Fascism brings, but what was some of the response to what you all were bringing?
There’s two parts: One is that there’s a feeling of distress, but there isn’t a feeling of serious urgency. That was something that I think the Revolution Club was really bringing forward: We are in the emergency now. This is ringing the town bell. We are in a serious emergency. They are going to get rid of Roe v. Wade. Even some of the language I think you are talking about, even on stage of the Women’s March is like we’re not going to let them take Roe. It’s gone! What, do we have to sit around for five months to wait for the decision in late May, or whenever they decide that? It’s clear what’s actually happening. So there wasn’t a sense of real urgency, and then there wasn’t a sense of what’s the solution. That’s something that the Revolution Club really went down and I went down to DC to really bring forward — grounding people on how serious the situation is. Grounding people in recognizing the attack on abortion are broader threat of fascism in this country, connecting the January 6 insurrection, the white supremacy, the xenophobia, the Christian fundamentalism, that patriarchal system that is moving forward and marching along, and some of the movement of people, their militia and their people that are organized to change the society. We were really posing to people on the street that we are at a crossroads in our society right now. If you do not see it, then you’re being blinded.
The majority of people who we talked to, they sense that. In fact, people came up to me afterwards and were like: You need to talk more about the patriarchy. You need to talk more about making these connections around white supremacy. These are things we need to really ground people in understanding the fuller picture of fascism and the history of this country.
Then the next question moves to: What do we do to actually stop this? That was something that I was posing and the Revolution Club was posing too. The work of Bob Avakian — on December 13, he’s going to be coming out with some new work called “Something Terrible, or Something Truly Emancipating: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, The Looming Possibility of Civil War And the Revolution That Is Urgently Needed.” It’s a long title, but it’s really posing to people: what are our choices now, folks? We can sit around or wait until we hear what the Supreme Court’s gonna say, which has been very clear what they’re gonna do. We need to be in the street, raising the temperature, building a mass movement of people that supports a woman’s right to choose, that abortion rights needs to happen all across the country, and that people need to be protesting in the streets with the mass of people in this. And then people need to get with the program that we need a radically different kind of society and check out the work of Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party and recognize that we need leadership and a real program to be able to fundamentally transform our society that we have now.
Coco Das 17:58
Well, you answered my last question, so I want to really, thank you. I think people need to follow your example. We really do need many, many more people to step out and actually be in the streets. Yes, it looks at this moment, like Roe is going to be overturned. But we actually have several months to raise the temperature, as you said, and actually put something on the line and bring out a whole mass movement that actually says: No! When the Women’s March says, No, you’re not going to take Roe, how are you going to back that up? How are you going to stop them from taking Roe? We do have choices, we do have things that we can do in this moment and it’s not waiting. It’s not waiting for an electoral swing. It’s not waiting for the decision and then people react. This is actually a moment where if we act, we can change the political calculus. So I really want to thank you for being with me and talking with us and telling us about your experience in DC.
Thanks so much. If anyone has more ideas about how we can build this and act in a unified way in building a mass determined resistance movement, we need to get into trying to figure out how to do that now; sooner than later.
Coco Das 19:04
I’m really happy to be speaking with my friend and Refuse Fascism Editorial Board comrade Paul Street. Paul is an independent progressive policy researcher, award- winning journalist, historian and speaker. He’s the author of nine books, most recently Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement. Paul writes regularly for Counterpunch. You can also find some of his speeches and commentary at RefuseFascism.org. About his forthcoming book: ‘This Happened Here’, the scholar Henry Giroux wrote: “Street puts to rest the endless arguments claiming Trump is not a fascist, and does so by drawing upon the resources of history, political theory, sociology, and the best type of investigative analysis.” So, welcome Paul. Good to have you on.
Paul Street 19:55
Thank you, Coco.
Coco Das 19:56
Let’s jump in. I wanted to talk with you today about where we are in this moment. Let’s take stock of where we are. We’re almost at the end of 2021 and almost a year past the January 6 coup attempt, almost a full year into Biden’s presidency. The last two weeks, I’m sure you would agree have been pretty momentous. We had the outrageous verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, giving a green light to fascist vigilante murder. There were also two other pretty important trials and verdicts. There was the guilty verdict in the trial of the McMichaels and their accomplice who killed Ahmaud Arbery for jogging while Black, and a civil trial of the organizers of Charlottesville. I don’t know how much you were following that. It did find them liable for damages and loss of life during their 2017 Unite the Right riot. This past week, of course, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments that could overturn Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion. I just threw a lot at you with all that. What do you think we should take away from this year?
Paul Street 21:03
What I think we’re in right now is the price of not removing Trump the way Refuse Fascism wanted him removed, and that would have been through mass action and a popular upheaval. In other words, removed the way Ricky Rosario was removed by people of Puerto Rico some time ago. Yeah, we did have to vote Trump out. We absolutely had to vote Trump out. Refuse Fascism said that. A lot of us, I think, broke form with our normal alienation from major party electoral politics in 2020 and voted — not really for Biden but for the only viable candidate on the ballot to get rid of Trump. We did that because of Trump’s pandemicism, the out of control murderous pandemicide that he was committing. Because the openly, extremely ecocidal nature of his presidency. Otherwise, I would abhor doing that because Biden has just done a bunch of really nasty stuff in terms of opening up oil for drilling and things of that nature. And best of all because Trump is a fascist.
To have removed Trump beyond just the electoral avenue would have been to set new terms and different kinds of terms for Biden and the Democrats — maybe I should say, for Bernie and the Democrats. If there had been a popular upheaval that there ought to have been, it’s at least conceivable that the ruling class might have felt it necessary to permit Bernie Sanders, believe it or not, to become president. In any event, there would have been new terms for the incoming Democrat. We would have been in the streets, in the public squares, in the workplaces, the offices all over, and we would not be putting up with any of this get-along bipartisan reach-across-the-aisle crap with the GOP. We wouldn’t have been sucked into this kind of definition of politics as being about going into a voting booth or filling out a mail-in ballot and making a mark next to a ruling class candidate; it takes about 10 minutes and do that once every four years. We would have had a broader kind of mindset of politics. We would not have demobilized after the election. We would have understood the election as just a small part of our total politics in the streets. We’ve been off the streets in large measure, really since the election.
The last time I saw big numbers of people in the streets was momentarily celebrations when it was announced that Trump had in fact lost. In fact, the right wingers held the streets. The fascists have held the streets by and large since the election, with certain small and rare exceptions. This whole thing of get along with Republicans, guess what? The GOP, the Republican Party, which still feels oddly — it’s really bizarre, but it’s the way the American system is set up, unfortunately, as some kind of a minority rule system — they still feel like they’re the party in power, even though technically the executive branch is in Democratic hands and there’s a very small and narrow Democratic majority. They don’t want to get along. They’ve gone fascist.
The Republican Party is now a fascist party. They don’t accept elections that they lose anymore, and they’re doing everything they can to make sure at the state level that there are no more lost elections — either at the federal level or the state level. They’re engaged in open voter suppression. They are engaged in open election de-legitimization. They are engaged in open election nullification, which is sort of chilling and worse than just voter suppression. We are in the midst of a wave of Republican Americana right wing neo-fascist violence from coast to coast. Election officials, state and local county election officials, are under violent death threats. School board members who tried to enforce basic public health protections in the middle the pandemic or under death threats and under violence. School nurses trying to do tracking after a kid shows up with COVID-19. Bills are being passed that enable motorists to run down protesters. This is in red states, and a lot of stuff that’s very advanced is in the red states. There are bills that have been passed against teaching the truth about history with regard to race and gender in this country.
We’ve had a Fugitive Slave Act of vigilante economic terrorism, abolition of abortion rights in the state of Texas. We now have a right wing 6 to 3 fascistic Supreme Court, so far to the right wing of American public opinion it’s ridiculous. It’s just clearly poised to abolish Roe v. Wade and take away women’s reproductive rights. It’s also poised, incidentally, in this current session to undo local gun regulation, which is all part of the whole violence thing. So, it’s a pretty nasty place that we’re in.
It’s almost normative now and understood — even one sort of cable news, liberal talking heads — that January 6, sort of the ultimate proof, if people still needed, that the Trump administration was fascist. January 6 is, in many ways, just a prologue to future incoming electoral and perhaps extra-legal and extra-electoral coups coming. I just saw on the news today that the Republi-fascist governor of Florida wants to use taxpayer money to form a private neo-fascistic militia under his own command, because he’s worried about the military of the federal government. It feels like civil war. It really does. It’s the red versus blue, civil war. I think sometimes we have to be careful with that analogy. You hear a lot about it.
I actually hear people that I never thought I’d hear saying things about secession and making analogies to 1860, and red versus blue America. I’m a little skeptical about the phrase red state versus blue America for a few reasons. One is I don’t get Republican right wing states being called red. Red is the color of communism. That pisses me off. How did you get to be red? More importantly, it’s not really red states versus blue states. There is a concentration of neo-fascist forces in the South and also in some western regions, states, and in places like the Dakotas and Iowa, Upper Midwest or Great Plains, whatever. It’s not that sectional, because there are all kinds of blue regions, so-called, within red states. You’re in one right now. Austin — I assume Austin is bright blue.
When I’m in Iowa City, I’m in a very bright blue location. When someone’s in Madison, Wisconsin, they’re in a bright blue location. It’s really more rural and exurban areas versus metropolitan areas. I’m in Illinois, in Chicago, it’s a blue state. It’s a blue state, because of Chicago. Because of bright blue Democratic Chicago, full of people of color, full of disadvantaged people, full of the most truly oppressed people in the country on the West and the South Sides. But I don’t have to go all that far outside of Chicago to be in Trump territory.
1860s Civil War, there really was two different societies, in many ways, on either side of the Mason Dixon Line — both with different and distinctive kinds of capitalist modes of production, and different sorts of society, obviously related to race — built up upon those different modes of production, both inserted within global and American capitalism,. But nonetheless, they were different societies with different material bases. We don’t have that. The civil war, if we’re going to have one, and we really might — I’m hearing things from people that I just have never heard before, like, we will not submit to Trump stealing or DeSantis or some other Republi-fascist stealing the election in 2024. I actually am hearing liberals and progressives saying things that I haven’t heard in the past. If we’re gonna have something along the lines of a civil war, maybe a sort of low-grade burning civil war with just accumulating violence, which is always a menace in this country because of the guns. There is no country on earth with the dissemination of, not just guns, but military style weaponry. If we’re going to have that, it might be something more along the model of Yugoslavia, because it’s not quite that clear cut.
Coco Das 28:17
I’m really struck by what you said about us losing a chance to reset the terms by not actually creating a mass movement. I know that you had a conversation with Andy Zee on the RNL show, where you talked about how divided this country is. Two different countries living along one border, and others have talked about it. Tony Norman said something interesting when Sam interviewed him, he said that SB 8 in Texas almost felt like a soft secession from Texas; “We’re not going to be bound by federal law.” I think that there’s definitely this reality and I think people need to confront that this GOP, this fascist party, is preparing for civil war, which they hope will be just a one-sided slaughter.
Paul Street 29:02
This new story that I just heard today about DeSantis wanting in his own private army because he doesn’t trust the federal government, that goes back to the founding of this country and the Second Amendment. Refuse Fascism just had a great interview with Carol Anderson, in her book about the Second Amendment and guns in America. It’s right out of Carol Andersons’s work, it’s just extraordinary.
Coco Das 29:21
That was a very informative interview. I learned so much of the history about the Second Amendment. It is a very dire situation, yet all is not lost. There are actually opportunities and openings. I think we saw too with the beautiful rising of millions of people in the streets after George Floyd was murdered last year how the fascists were put on the defensive. For a short time, we sent Trump to his bunker. They were not showing up in the streets, like they were before. They weren’t storming the state houses and they received the initiative, but I think it’s really important for people to actually, as you said, see and seize their power in the streets, in the public square, through sustained nonviolent protests, all the while knowing that the situation is sharpening up very, very drastically. I want to turn a little bit to your book. Your upcoming book has the provocative title, ‘This Happened Here:’ — I love that title — ‘…Amerikaners, Neoliberals and the Trumping of America’. You cover a lot in this book, and I can’t wait for it to be available to all our listeners. I was hoping you could give us a little taste or preview of what you cover in this book.
Paul Street 30:34
Yeah, thank you. This book is already available for pre-order. All you’ve got to do to find it online is Google Paul Street + ROUTLEDGE, and it will come right up. It’s got a cover with a picture of January 6 right on top of it. It’s a history of the Trump years. That title is a play on the Sinclair Lewis novel about fascist takeover in America in the 1930s, which was called, ironically, ‘It Can’t Happen Here’. The Sinclair Lewis novel was all story hop of how it can happen. I didn’t call it It Happened Here. I decided to leave it a little bit more ambiguous and called it ‘This Happened Here’, because in the Sinclair Lewis novel, you really do have a full-on total takeover of the government, and it ends up becoming a military takeover and you have a consolidated fascist regime.
We didn’t get a full-on consolidated fascist regime in the Trump years, but we did get a genuine bona fide, if clumsy, and maybe more instinctive than doctrinal, and obviously very narcissistic, fascist in the White House. We had a fascist in the White House for four years, which is absolutely extraordinary. The book is about how that’s an accurate description of it, what it was. Why this White House was fascist. How and why it happened when it did. How it was interestingly and curiously enough that Sinclair Lewis’s nightmarish scenario resonated more with the second decade of the 21st century than it actually did with the mid-1930s, when actually America arguably went left and had its leftmost moment, with the rise of New Deal and the second New Deal in the mid 1930’s. Because the story, and I’m sort of interested in why things happen when they did.
Some of my Trump and left critics will be happy to know that there’s a very strong role played by the Democrats and the neoliberal turn of the Democratic Party, and the neoliberal era and the stages of an undevelopment of American capitalism are behind it. Why the denial about the fascist nature of this White House is a really big pre-occupation, and this in particular is a whole chapter. Coco, as you know, I stole a title from you. Your suggested title to name a chapter called The Anatomy of Fascism Denial, which I really highly recommend to readers because it goes through one liberal and often the left intellectual or activist after another who’s in denial about the fascist nature of the Trump administration. It gets into a very specific kind of way.
I have a chapter on what the Trump base is, and without belaboring that chapter too much, I’ll say it’s a much less working class, much less proletarian than a lot of people seem to — from the left all the way over to the right — fantasize the Trump base where there’s a whole proletarian populism mythology about Trumpism. I really tear that apart in the chapter on that. I have a chapter about how Trump and Trumpism and the Trump administration are actually deeply and richly consistent with American — and fascism is — deeply consistent with American history, with American racism, American Nativism, from the founding of this country back to slavery, and back to the Native American genocide. And I have a chapter about what is to be done, obviously. That’s an overview of it. All of that, I hope, there’s a reason that everybody will buy multiple copies for themselves and all their friends and relatives to put under their Christmas tree.
Coco Das 32:02
Exactly. So we’ll link to the show notes, we’ll make sure that people get their hands on the book. I wanted to ask you in particular about the word ‘Amerikaners.’ Who are those people and why is that an appropriate term?
Paul Street 34:00
You know, I was kind of kidding around when I first used it somewhere in Counterpunch. Then I realized it wasn’t a joke. Same thing with a word/phrase “Trumpenleft,” which I use in the book. It turns out that some people on the alt-right actually use it, which makes sense. It’s a play off of Afrikaner. It’s a play off of the South African, Dutch and Anglo white settlers who felt surrounded by a Black majority and created an apartheid state in 20th century South Africa. The notion of creating a racist national ethno-state is really a big part of what makes up the connective fascistic tissue of the Republican Party today. They are horrified by numbers indicating that whites are a declining demographic in this country. The 2020 census state reinforced this for them because it did show declining white identification or white race presence in America. I keep hearing — I’ve heard it forever — that by 2050 whites, the European so-called settlers — the Unsettlers of North America — will be technically a minority in United States and this freaks them out and really drives them crazy and gives a certain amount of demographic juice, or legitimacy to their racial paranoia and their racial nationalism. I found that apartheid analogy and that South African term to actually be useful. Apparently people seem to like it. It’s really caught on, and so it’s not uncommon here.
Coco Das 35:22
Well, it’s very evocative. I really appreciate how you have this sort of encyclopedic recording of what happened during the Trump years, which is so important. People are already forgetting. We’re already forgetting January 6. We’re forgetting things that just happened. So I really appreciate your pieces for Counterpunch that really go at this, with just a lot of evidence of what actually happened under Trump and why that is a fascist threat. I just want to express appreciation on that. I just finished reading your last book, Hollow Resistance, Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement, and I thought again you showed a lot of evidence of both Trump being sort of apocalyptic. I really recommend this book too, because you open with Obama saying the apocalypse is not here. But that actually foreshadowed a lot of the concessions the Democratic Party made, or the downplaying of the threat, even though we know Obama used the word fascist in 2016
Paul Street 36:21
Right. All too privately.
Coco Das 36:23
So, at best, the Democrats have underplayed this threat, and at worst, they’ve been complicit. So that’s a particular kind of fascism denial, the “this can’t happen here” kind. At the same time, then among what you call the Trumpenleft there have been a lot of really clueless, willful dangerous fascism denial, which you’ve really taken on with your writings and Counterpunch. I’m wondering though, just in this year, these past few months, even the past few weeks, do you see any shift in either of these: the fascism denial of liberals, mainstream Democrats or the Democratic Party leadership?
Paul Street 36:34
Which I might add, is actually a big theme in the Sinclair Lewis novel. Doremus Jessup, and a lot of the protagonists in the novel just can’t process, they just can’t deal with what’s happening. My book is about a lot of Doremus Jessups who just kind of had their heads up their rear ends, frankly, about this. It’s really kind of depressing in many ways. I name names and I can call out a lot of high level intellectuals — people with much more prestige and income than me on this topic, and I had great fun doing it. I’m right and they’re wrong. I still hear from Trumpenlefties. I hear from them less than I used to, and I think there’s probably good reasons for that.
When I say Trumpenleft, basically it’s just kind of an online, but not exclusively, it’s white guys, many of whom at least call themselves Marxist, who are so caught up in how they’re so proud of themselves that they’re owning the libs, that they can’t see the right-wing menace that’s staring us in the face. What’s happening now in America doesn’t fully match the fully consolidated fascist regimes in Europe, they say it’s not fascism. They’re obsessed with the political economic definition of fascist, which insists that fascism is all about the merger of the corporation and the state. When they do that, they are completely dismissing the role of race, the role of ethnicity, the role of gender, the role of patriarchy.
Above all, the importance of the key definitional aspects of fascism, which are the break with constitutional law, a break with previous normative bourgeois democracy, and the embrace of mob paramilitary and government violence against democracy. So these guys who were a dime a dozen before — I used to hear from them once a day — seem less prevalent than they used to. I think that’s just because it’s so undeniable. January 6 was a real watershed moment. Really, it was hard to deny that the Republicans had gone fascist. It was hard to deny that Trump was a fascist and his backers. Then all this stuff that’s going on now, we’re just making it abundantly clear that they are prepared to refuse to accept any elections that they don’t win, to rig the system to make sure that they win every election.
They have this two-track strategy: They want to rig the elections, nullify elections that don’t work their way. Get inside the electoral process, and direct it for their own permanent hegemony. The system was already rigged for the Republicans even before they got in and started doing all the stuff they’re doing right now, in the name of the Big Lie. By the way, the Big Lie is just classic fascist textbook, truth obliteration. But if that doesn’t work, then Ron DeSantis’ private army and the paramilitary options are all there. I think it’s undeniable that now you do see Mary Trump, Trump’s niece, she’ll go on Joy Reid on MSNBC, and they will throw the F word around and refer to Trump as fascist or refer to Trumpist menace. It isn’t just Mehdi Hassan on MSNBC. It’s a whole bunch of people that you’ll see coming on MSNBC, and I suppose sometimes on CNN, with the Lincoln Project who are technically Republicans, who make analogies with Nazi Germany in the 1930s and refer to the Republican Party as a fascist party. It’s kind of hard to ignore it.
There have been demonstrations recently in Chicago, they’re too small. But I see some left parties like the Party for Socialism and Liberation joining outfits like Refuse Fascism and the RCP, the RevComs in identifying the enemy on the right as fascism. So there does seem to be an increased openness to reality about what it is we’re up against, to acknowledge that one of the two capitalist parties has actually crossed into authoritarian white nationalist and violent neo-fascist space. That’s really kind of interesting, but you know, especially in the liberal spheres and the Democratic spheres, while you can hear all this kind of hand wringing about this existential crisis that we’re up against, there’s still just very little on what is to be done about it. It’s just incredibly reluctant, and still looking at serious left anti-fascist out of the side of their mouth.
We talk about the need for mass action, mass mobilization in the streets and confronting the reality that the ruling class has come to the point that they’re letting, or have given rise to, a right-wing party that is ready to undertake a civil war in this country. They just don’t want to deal with it. They seem to say we can get out of that by just voting harder. I guess some of them just think we need to get more woke and get more people of color or women on to the Supreme Court some day. We need to vote harder. We need to vote more often. There’s a lot of retreating into self right now. There’s a lot of, well, I can’t do anything. There’s a lot of defeatism; there’s a lot of pessimism. There’s a lot of well, all I can do is take care of myself. I call this internal exile. You’re still in the country. You’re not a full expatriate, but you’ve withdrawn from politics. There’s a lot of fear.
I worry about the Rittenhouse verdict, which is a green light to fascist paramilitary killing of protesters. I worry that’s going to reinforce this tendency towards withdrawing into self, when in fact the appropriate response is fascism is the opposite. So, you do get people who say, okay, you were right. It was fascism, which frankly, some of us on the left were saying from very early on, not after January 6, but like day one. Or, okay, you were right about that, but it’s just part of a defeatism and pessimistic narrative, whereas when I hear that, I think it matters to call it out for what it is. It lights a fire under my butt and says we’ve all got to get off our ass and do something about it.
That’s why I’ve managed to call it fascism. But be careful, we get serious about reality. There are people it might reinforce them demobilizing themselves. How to talk to those folks? It’s the broad mass of people who are actually decent people, but have very little passion and very little intensity. That, I think, is one of the really big problems we’re dealing with in the worst people, the most hideous, offensive, sexist, racist, white nationalist, anti-truth, evangelical, fundamentalist, authoritarian personality people — they’re the outraged ones. They’re the Leninists, they’re that mobilized ones, they’ve got the passionate intensity. We need to have the passion and intensity and we need to figure out how to turn it into a good virus and infect others with it to save any chance of a decent future.
Coco Das 43:12
Absolutely. I’m here referring to the Yeats poem, “The Second Coming,” where “the worst are filled with passionate intensity, the best lack all conviction.” That’s something we really need to change. I do think that it’s important to confront this as fascism. What that means is actually stopping it, first of all, going back to — I think one of the first calls from Refuse Fascism — to move heaven and earth to stop a fascist America. Most of these people really don’t want to live in that kind of world. But it’s not going to be stopped by us retreating into our private lives. It’s not going to be stopped by just trying to vote them out. It really is going to take people coming together and stepping outside of normal channels to not let it advance.
I really want to thank you for being with me. I wanted to end with reading a little bit from the mission statement of RefuseFascism.org, which was revised this year since Trump and Pence are not in power. Although, as you said at the beginning, it’s amazing how much initiative the GOP has managed to retain even without the executive branch. So from the last paragraph of our mission, “RefuseFascism.org unites with people from diverse perspectives to sound the alarm and prevent the consolidation of this American fascism. Through our website, podcast, Social Media and Publications, we engage in dialogue and debate with a broad array of writers, scholars, legal experts and people from different walks of life, to educate people on the roots, nature, trajectory of the real and present danger of fascism. And through our engagement and networking with people and social movements, we are forging understanding and relationships aimed at preventing the consolidation of fascism. Since the founding of RefuseFascism.org, our stand and resolve have not wavered. We pledged to the people of the world, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.”
I think when your book comes out, be great to have you come back, and let’s really think about how we can use these conversations and get into debates with people, where the aim is really preventing the consolidation of fascism in this country. So thank you, Paul. Is there anything you want to leave us with?
Paul Street 45:29
You read that statement, I just want to say that I dedicated this book actually to friends and comrades in Refuse Fascism. I remember early on before I joined the organization, hearing people say they’re hysterical, they’re using fascism — that was one track — and other charges, like they’re using fascism sort of as a juvenile, meaningless term to throw out against anything they don’t like. And the third thing I would hear often as well, you know, that’s just what they all say, they’re all calling the GOP fascist. Everyone says it. But first of all, it wasn’t historical. It was coming. It’s a real menace. The GOP, actually, guess what, is one of the two major capitalist parties — it’s the one that’s most structurally embedded, and enabled in this country — is a fascist party.
Second of all, Refuse Fascism never used the term in some sort of broad generic childish juvenile way, but rather in very specific, very real and defined kinds of ways, relating to the embrace of violence and the breaking of a constitutional rule of law and democracy. My research that’s shown in this book that’s just come out, shows that very few people were saying it, and it was incredible, shocking reluctance to tell the truth about what Trump is and was, and about what we’re up against at the highest levels of intellectual culture in the society. So, thank you to Refuse Fascism. You were there, I think before I was Coco, for the courage and the intelligence to tell the truth about this situation and what we need to do.
Coco Das 46:51
Thank you so much, Paul. We’ll talk again soon. We really can’t overstate the importance of having a presence in the streets, in the public square over the next few months. Much is made of the eight out of 10 Americans who support Roe v. Wade, but it’s meaningless to simply state that without backing it up. The history of fascism has shown us that dominating the public square and the public discourse, whether or not they have majority opinion on their side goes a long way in determining whether fascism prevails or not. Eight out of ten obedient Americans are no obstacle to these Christian fascists.
But 8 out of 10 people or even 5 out of 10, 3 out of 10 waging a sustained nonviolent struggle to say, hell no, you’re not slamming women back to the days of back alley abortions and forced pregnancy. This makes it known to the whole world who the majority is and what they’re willing to put on the line. Between now and the spring when the Supreme Court’s ruling is expected to come down, sustained nonviolent protest and waging a truly urgent political struggle for abortion rights, can change the whole political landscape and force the Supreme Court to make a political calculation in favor of Roe v. Wade.
Protest doesn’t do any good, you say? Tell that to the farmers in India who did not let up for an entire year, forcing the fascist Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal the farm laws that would have destroyed their lives. Tell that to the women in Mexico who waged a fierce and mighty struggle to win abortion rights there. Tell that to the brave activists who sat in at segregated lunch counters when the institutions and public opinion were against them. But, with the whole world watching they forced people to make a moral choice. There has been far too much conceding and surrendering in advance. With people being urged to accept the end of Roe v. Wade. The passivity and conciliation of the pro-choice and women’s organizations tied to the Democratic Party in this country has been catastrophic.
Once again, we have to talk about the Democrats and why they will not stop this nightmare. For example, let’s interrogate Don Winslow’s tweet from December 1st saying, “Amy Coney Barrett’s comments today about pregnant women were horrific. And she was in the position to say them in part because of the ‘don’t be alarmed crowd’, because of this ‘stay home and don’t vote crowd’, because of the ‘protest vote crowd’, and because of the ‘no Hillary’ crowd.” First of all, the system that vomited up the orange turd Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate is a system that has some serious problems built into it. While it’s true that there’s been a decade’s long assault on abortion rights in this country, that took a huge leap when Trump and Pence took office.
Let’s be honest about the role of elections and the Democratic Party leadership in this fight for abortion rights. The right to abortion has been a lever to get the Democrats into power, but they haven’t really used their power or their resources to secure or expand abortion rights, or destigmatize abortion itself. At key moments in the struggle, the Democrats have half-stepped, back-pedaled and all-out betrayed the fight to uphold the right to abortion. When Democrats had the White House under Obama and Biden, as well as the House and Senate Majority, why didn’t they sign abortion rights into law and repeal the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion?
In fact, in order to get the Affordable Care Act passed, abortion was thrown under the bus with Obama’s executive order 13535, which stated a commitment to upholding the Hyde Amendment. With all of the escalating attacks on abortion, doctors and clinics, why has the Democratic Party not urged people to take action in the streets, launched educational campaigns, especially where abortion is unpopular, and challenged the patriarchal churches preaching male chauvinist hate? They would not do this, even when the GOP stole one Supreme Court seat from Obama, and then another one from the president-elect Biden. They won’t do it even now with a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. While legal abortion hangs in the balance, Biden is more concerned with the stability of the system that produced Trump — something that depends on unity and compromise with these fascists.
So who can defend abortion rights? You can. Not just with your vote or donation or even your retweet. You, we, need to take visible courageous collective action urgently demanding abortion on demand and without apology. Thanks for listening to the Refuse Fascism podcast. Want to support the show? It’s simple. Show us some love by rating and reviewing on Apple podcasts or your listening platform of choice, and hit subscribe so you never miss an episode.
If you want to help reach more listeners, you can also donate to help pay for ads at RefuseFascism.org or Venmo @Refuse-Fascism. Thanks to Sam Goldman, Lina Thorne, Richard Marini, Mark Tinkleman and Emma Kaplan for helping produce this episode. Thanks to incredible volunteers, we have transcripts available for each episode. So be sure to visit RefuseFascism.org and sign up to get them in your inbox each week. We’ll be back next Sunday. Until then, in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America