Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes, and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country. Through this show Refuse Fascism has engaged, dialogued, and debated with a broad array of writers, scholars, legal experts, and people from different walks of life on the roots, nature, and trajectory of fascism in this country. Through our engagement and networking with people and social movements, we are forging understanding and relationships aimed at preventing the consolidation of fascism.
Here’s a sampling of the impressive range of voices that have participated in this show over the past year:
- Andy Zee
- Rosanna Arquette
- Rev. William Lamar, IV
- Cornel West
- Ruth Ben-Ghiat
- Federico Finchelstein
- Rosie O’Donnell
- Jason Stanley
- Anthea Butler
- Sarah Posner
- Jared Yates Sexton
- Bandy Lee
- Paul Street
- Dahlia Lithwick
- Eric Boehlert
- Walden Bello
- Brynn Tannehill
- Wajahat Ali
- David Atkins
- Tony Norman
- Carol Anderson
Listen to the past episodes that these clips are from at anchor.fm or your listening platform of choice.
Refuse Fascism is more than just a podcast! You can get involved at RefuseFascism.org.
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown.
December 26 2021
Coco Das, Eric Boehlert, Cornel West, Rev. William H. Lamar IV, Tony Norman, Wajahat Ali, Federico Finchelstein, Jason Stanley, Jared Yates Sexton, Sarah Posner, Rosie O’Donnell, Anthea Butler, Rosanna Arquette, Andy Zee, Carol Anderson, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Paul Street, David Atkins, Dr. Bandy Lee, Brynn Tannehill, Walden Bello, Dahlia Lithwick, Sunsara Taylor, Sam Goldman
Sam Goldman 00:22
Welcome to Episode 91 of the Refuse Fascism podcast. This podcast is brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of the show. Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes, and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country. Through this show, Refuse Fascism has engaged, dialogued and debated with a broad array of writers, scholars, legal experts, and people from different walks of life on the roots, nature and trajectory of fascism in this country. Through our engagement and networking with people and social movements, we are forging understanding relationships aimed at preventing the consolidation of fascism.
Today, we’re sharing a sampling of the range of voices that have participated in this show over the past year. This is the last episode of 2021. So we’re looking back on a year that was marked, not so much by healing and hope after the Trump years, but by the continued aggression and achievements of an embittered fascist movement, with the lack of any accountability for the damage they did while in the White House, and what they did to try to hold on to power. These are ominous warnings from people who know and understand the stakes for humanity.
While I don’t have tidings of comfort and joy for you, we do have a reason to hope for something better, based on the decent people, the majority of people, coming together with moral clarity and determination to resolutely refuse fascism. There are insights here that will help inspire the courage and confidence that we can do just that, and the means to do so. We’ll start by going all the way back to January sixth, the violent culmination of Trump’s month-long attempted self coup. We broadcast an emergency press conference the day after the fascist insurrection. Andy Zee, one of the co-initiators of Refuse Fascism and the host of the RNL show, the Revolution Nothing Less show, introduced the topic of the day.
Andy Zee 02:36
We’ve just gone through a milestone in US history, an attempted self-coup organized by the President. And that is unprecedented. Okay, for now and overwhelmingly likely, this coup has been defeated, but the fascist movement that we have been enduring for four years at the highest levels of power in the US and thus of world power, will likely be set back for a while. But that may only be a matter of time. We face real danger in the next 13 days, and in very stark reality for the whole next period. So the message of today’s press conference is that the decent people, all those who are opposed to injustice, who care about and who want to work for the future of humanity that is in real existential peril, and is even greater peril under the rule of the Trump-Pence fascist regime and whatever formation this fascism might take in the future.
Now, at last, people do need to stand up again, in appropriate ways in the public square. Before I go further with my remarks, I’m honored to be able to ask the actress and director and activist Rosanna Arquette to read the statement that some of us who are signatories of the Refuse Fascism Pledge to the People of the World issued last night. So, I wonder if, Rosanna, you could read that now and then I will make some further comments on the developments since.
Rosanna Arquette 04:02
On Wednesday, January 6, we saw President Trump call forth and unleash fascist mobs to storm the US Capitol. This was an attempt at a coup. It did not succeed this time. But the danger from even a failed coup is to be taken seriously, setting the stage for them to come back sooner or later to receive power with or without Trump. It leaves a block of elected officials who view and act as if the Biden administration is illegitimate, and an armed street fighting force on call to dominate the public square. They will continue to fight for their white supremacist, xenophobic and patriarchal program. And they will continue to undermine the very concept of truth, leaving tens of millions to be susceptible to the calls of demagogues and the vilest conspiracy theories. Trump is still in power.
There are 13 days in which he and/or his followers present a real and present danger to humanity. The question is, will the decent people make clear our determination and act to stop this fascist danger? A united public show of revulsion against Trump and repudiation of his regime’s fascist program through nonviolent sustained protest and resistance has been overdue for years. Biden won, but the streets and the discourse has been dominated by Trump and his followers to create, to cede the public square. And it has consequences. We saw this yesterday. That’s why on Thursday, January 7, in cities across the country, Refuse Fascism is calling for safe social-distanced, nonviolent protests, and please wear a mask (and masks PPE will be provided). It is time for people to stand up and say No More. No to the Fascist Coup. Trump-Pence Out Now! They lost. They need to pack their bags and go.
Andy Zee 06:13
Thank you, Rosanna. Let me just say this. It does seem that a section, a large section of the people who rule this country have decided to distance themselves now from Trump after yesterday. And like I said, likely that this particular coup d’etat was a self-coup, auto-coup, will be defeated, although it’s not over yet, and there’s a lot of damage he can do in 13 days, and there’s a lot of reason why he should be removed from power right away.
But let’s just pull the lens back a little bit. We have to look at nearly 150 Republican Congressmen, including two leaders of the Republican delegation along with seven Republican senators still voted to illegally deprive Biden of office even after that mob had been put down. An overnight poll cited in the Washington Post claimed that Republican voters surveyed favored, favored, the reactionary rampage by a 45% to 43% margin. The fascist organization and the movements are still forged. They will be and they are already, and they will be filled with revenge, and they will now have their martyr, not only in Trump but in the QAnon woman who was killed in this assault, and they will have a battle cry.
We don’t have much time for a lot of American history. Those who recall, the defeat at the Alamo became a battle cry: “Remember the Alamo”. We should be cognizant of the possibility and probably the likelihood that “Remember 2020” will be a rallying cry for these fascist forces for some years to come. Now, you’ve heard for the press and for others who were watching us for the first time that Refuse Fascism in its name, and it said this is fascism. Just very briefly, Refuse Fascism has said that fascism is not just a gross combination of horrific reactionary policies. It is a qualitative change in how society is governed. Fascism foments and relies on xenophobic nationalism, racism, misogyny, and the aggressive reinstitution of oppressive traditional values. Fascist mobs and threats of violence are unleashed to build the movement and to consolidate power.
As we saw yesterday, to attempt to seize power back after they have lost the legitimate election. I think it’s important to say that we have to understand that this core is going to continue to exist. There are tenss of millions of people in this country who have been led, organized and shaped in a fascist direction. They have their own media, their schools, their institutions, and they’ve been conditioned to view all of the people on this call, Black people, Latino people, people of color, Native American people, LGBTQ people, all these people as illegitimate and undeserving of a voice. This is a continuation in a very real sense of the Confederacy.
I’ll make just two points about that. One, you saw it, you saw those Confederate flags, along with the American flag and the Trump flag; you saw that Confederate flag there. Then you had Ted Cruz, in his remarks, invoking 1876 as the precedent for overturning this election and the deal that was made to deny people the rights that had been won in the Civil War and to begin the betrayal of reconstruction. So, the point of our press conference is to say there can be no more waiting. There is a need for the decent people to make clear our determination to stop this fascist danger, which has been overdue for years now.
Where does this term “the decent people” come from? It comes from an example in Nazi Germany where a scholar said that in a particular town, they could have prevented fascism but for one thing — after one family had been deported, taken to the camps, and a second family stood up and they were taken. Nobody else did anything. He said there was an opportunity then for the decent people to form a united front around it and to oppose this. That’s what we need to do. There can be no more waiting today.
What we saw yesterday is the payment for the passivity in the face of Charlottesville. Passivity in the face of refugee children ripped from their parents and abandoned in cages. Passivity in terms of the violent attacks and unanswered defamation of the movement for Black lives. So, we do have to learn our lesson, and now has to be the time to get together in nonviolent, massive numbers, but to stand up now — and yes, it should be done safely in terms of the danger of COVID. In some cities, we are calling for car caravans. In other cities, there’s ways to do outdoor large protests that are at a safe-distance and also wearing masks, as Rosanna brought forward. But to wait longer, to hold back now would amount to be giving clear freedom to these people to continue to dominate the public square. So, today at five o’clock we’re having protests in several cities, but especially the editorial board wants to call for massive demonstrations on Saturday, this coming Saturday, 48 hours. We’re asking all the other participants in this call and many, many others to go reach out to these movements that have not taken to the streets that are busy signing petitions for impeachment or for the 25th Amendment, all of which is good.
There comes a time when you have to put something on the line. We have seen over four years if we simply rely on the normal political processes, they will be squandered and abandoned. That was true in the impeachment, when they wouldn’t call witnesses, and it will be true here too. This is a call, an urgent call for people to stand up and to stand with us to come bring your demands. Bring your heart and bring your soul.
Sam Goldman 11:52
Reverend William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, DC described what was happening in DC that day and the days leading up to it.
Rev. William H. Lamar IV 12:07
We continue in the words of Langston Hughes to dream a world. So, the dreaming of what is possible when human beings together exist in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multiracial political economy, something that has yet to fully flower in the United States of America. When the Capitol was stormed, when the coup occurred yesterday, I was at Metropolitan AME church, the church that I’m pleased to serve. I knew that they were coming, because they had come before and they had defiled our property. I got there at 6 am yesterday and stayed until our security team begged me to leave. This is interesting.
You saw all of the symbolism yesterday: Confederate flags, Trump flags, all of the other symbolism. They raised a cross and they also put up a noose. We need to be very clear that they were deploying symbols. They were dispatching symbols to communicate that these were the theological and philosophical impetus behind what it is that they were doing. They said that it was about God. They said it was about saving the nation. They said they flew flags that said Jesus sayings. But yesterday, our Chief of Security who is middle aged gentlemen, good-looking, strong, strapping, he had on his uniform, his vest, his weapon. There was one of the ladies who had come to support Mr. Trump in the coup. She was in a wheelchair. She was being wheeled past him. She stopped in front of him, and she said, “We are here because we hate niggers.” If you pay attention to all that has been said, what Lily [Wachowski] said, what Dr. West said, it is very clear that this movement is not so much about liberty, not so much about freedom, not so much about God as it is about fascist leadership and purging undesirables.
Sam Goldman 14:05
On January 5, the day before the fascist assault on the Capitol, Sunsara Taylor hosted a roundtable titled, What Is the Lasting Danger of Trump’s Attempt to Overturn the Election? This discussion was aired live on Sunsara Taylor’s radio show, We Only Want the World, on WPFW-WBAI and streamed live on our social media. Dr. Cornel West spoke about the contributions from Refuse Fascism activists to the movement to stop fascism since the beginning of Trump’s term in office, and the importance of political clarity about what we’ve been up against.
Cornel West 14:43
We check it out and see what’s going on in Washington, DC, because you think about the impact of the presence in the New York Times and that goes back five years and then five years later, there it is again, and people think, who is this Refuse Fascism? What are they talking about fascism? I heard someone say, “I heard you talk about it, Brother West, you call him a neo-fascist gangster for five years. I think you’re going too far. He’s not fascist. He’s just somebody you disagree with.” Hey, get off the crack pipe. We ain’t using this language just haphazardly. It was really the Refuse Fascism movement in with the Revolutionary Communist Party’s analysis, vision, sacrifice, service, led very much by Sunsara in the streets and then with brother Andy and Carl and Brother Avakian’s steering, has really put fascism on the map for the last five years. That needs to be said. It’s very important. I hope we get this link because I’m gonna put this on my Facebook and my Twitter. You know what I mean? So they get a chance to listen to the different voices in this regard as it relates to both fascism, what happens the next few days, the relation of religion, prophetic religion, to revolutionary struggle, the role of science, all the good stuff, and wonderful laughter and a little bit of the Coltrane and arts and Curtis Mayfield thing, and Nina Simone that we get in there. Absolutely.
Sam Goldman 16:21
There’s a lot more to unpack about the nature and dynamics of the fascist movement that Trump galvanized, whether it’s a critical importance to having some basic clarity about the nature of the GOP post-Trump. They are fascists. How we understand what that means, what their immediate and long term goals are, and the methods for achieving those goals, makes a difference for understanding what to do about this mess. For example, is the Trump base mainly motivated by economic grievance? If that’s true, why are they picking battles like whether the true history of racist oppression is taught in schools? Since the fascist attack institutions like the courts, is the answer to rely on the courts or the DOJ to combat them? Why are these so fixated on suppressing our fundamental right to control our bodies through abortion and birth control? How have the roots of genocide and slavery given birth to this grotesque and bizarre 21st century phenomenon, with internet trolls helping to organize anti-science mobs led by a rich old reality show host? For many of these questions, we have to turn to people who’ve dedicated their whole lives to studying fascism as an ideology and a political movement.
Sam Goldman 17:00
In your article, one of the things that you referenced was the data on the percentage of Republicans that continue to support because of these lies, in many ways. You remind people that more than half of the Republicans questioned agreed that January 6, was the work of violent left wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad. I was wondering, why do you think that is? Why do you think that so many people don’t believe their eyes in terms of what they actually saw?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 18:03
The more documentation there is of an event, the more of a challenge and more of a thrill it is to get people to not believe their own eyes. I start the piece with Trump speaking to veterans, I forgot what year it was, like 2018 or 19. He says, what you’re seeing and hearing is not what’s happening. This is the ultimate power move of the authoritarian to get people to disbelieve their own critical faculties and lose confidence in their own critical faculties and listen to the leader. So that is going on. The over 30,000 lies that Trump told, which were amplified by Tucker Carlson and all the other people participating in this, they primed the audience for January 6.
I had written an earlier piece for CNN that the Big Lie, justifiably, we focus on, that they pulled off for millions of Republican voters — this total, again, flip the script — that actually Trump won the election, but thousands and thousands of small lies or smaller lies prepared people for the Big Lie. That’s also how propaganda works. Trump has been extremely skillful. As you know, I’m no fan of Trump. He’s a nightmare fascist, but he’s an extremely skillful propagandist. He had around himself from the very beginning people like Steven Bannon, Roger Stone, who have decades of experience with authoritarian propaganda. They literally worked for dictators like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, or in Bannon’s case, they’ve been studying and practicing far right propaganda for years.
So, it’s a very formidable crew that unleashed a disinformation barrage that’s unequaled in American history in its volume. But also, Trump in the leader cult, he cultivated people, so I make a big deal of anything I read about January 6, that January 6 was also like a leader rescue operation. It’s very important that at the rally before the assault, he told them that he loved them, that they were special, and that their journey was just beginning. This is part of the cultivation. You make the subversive people feel special and then they’re going to commit violence on your behalf. He’s been doing this, cultivating them, elevating them into specialness for almost six years, if you count from the beginning of his campaign. That’s enough time to have a public that is more than primed to accept whatever lies are told about January 6.
Sam Goldman 20:37
A lot of people say: “Well, isn’t it time to move on? Yes, he lied but he’s out of power now and why do we need to keep talking about his lies?” How do Trump’s lies still have power now that he is out of office?
Ruth Ben-Ghiat 20:55
That’s a great question. I certainly encounter Trump fatigue. When I give talks, if I’m giving a talk about strongmen where I’m talking about all kinds of people, the moment Trump is mentioned, if it’s a talk where you’re seeing everybody on Zoom, it’s like some people just don’t want to hear it, or they start posting in the chat, like, oh, the same old thing. There are many reasons people can want to move on. Some reasons are that they never wanted to believe the seriousness of the threat to democracy. So, indeed, the system did work. We got rid of him. We voted him out. I often say this at the end of what might be a grim talk: I say we have to hold on to this, that we did something that’s unusual. We voted this guy out, and under very difficult circumstances with voter suppression and threats and the pandemic, we did it; and the whole Georgia runoff.
Some people, and they could be on the left or the right, think, okay, it’s over, the emergency is over, or it never was really an emergency. It was all exaggerated what you were saying. They want to move on, or they feel it’s negative to keep dwelling on this. But we can’t move on, because the lies that Trump and company told are still very much determining our environment today. The lessons of the lawlessness that Trump didn’t invent a lot of these things. The GOP was already moving into a far right party. That’s why they accepted all the things that he did. I have an essay in Lucid | Substack newsletter, [email protected] It’s called One Nation, Two Political Realities. We have to face the fact that we have a supposedly bipartisan system, and only one of the parties is anchored in democracy now. The other is going toward autocracy. It doesn’t want to play the democratic game anymore.
That’s the legacy of Trump. January 6, also, we can’t move on when millions of people still think Trump won the election. It’s literally unsolved for all those people, which will mean they’re not done with it. Because they’re not done, we can’t be done either. We have to be on guard. In fact, we have to be more on guard than ever when people are also exhausted because we’ve had the pandemic and it’s also exhausting to be an activist. People need a break. It’s such a great question, because for myriad reasons, from every political point of view, it indeed can be that right now, many Americans are done with it. I do feel that I’m going to keep not being done with it. I’m going to keep talking, but, I have felt, in the last month in particular, the fatigue of people who I’m addressing.
Federico Finchelstein 23:42
These are great questions. These are really important questions. I can answer them in different ways. Certainly Trump, regarding that particular dimension of the fascist way of lying, he’s extremely explicit. Basically, they all agree, he trembles. They all agree that whatever they don’t like shouldn’t be the truth, even if reality says otherwise. Not only that, but what makes this fascist way of lying so dangerous, as the cases of Mussolini and Hitler demonstrated, and as the case of Trump demonstrated as well, is that this kind of understanding of the truth, and let’s be clear, for the fascists or people like Trump, and we can talk about this later, who are very much related to fascism, whatever probably most of us regard it as a truth, that is to say, things that can be or should be empirically demonstrated, for them, these things are lies.
Whatever they regard as things that should be, as opposed to what they are, they will regard them as truth. Basically, it’s a radical understanding of lying, because, in fact, they don’t think they are lying. They will say they are telling us the truth, and the truth is whatever they want it to be. Either they are believing this, or even when they realize that what they say might be untruth, they believe even that is at the service of, let’s say, the larger truth, which is not related to a Biblical world, because that is the truth of faith. This is not something that they believe should be demonstrated, but rather something that you have to believe in without proof. That is faith. That is typical of religion. What we see in these ideologies is basically a displacement of all these properly read issues into what is not, which is proper, political. That’s why these are a political religion. What is not a lie, but it’s a matter of faith in the world of religion, becomes a lie in the world of politics. So whatever Trump says, is a matter of faith for the followers, and thereby, basically such an irrational statement, such as, don’t believe in what you see, kind of makes sense for Trump’s followers.
Sunsara Taylor 25:44
One week ago, when we saw the siege on the Capitol, with Confederate flags, with a hangman’s gallow, with all the misogyny and hatred for women concentrated in the Proud Boys and the Christian fundamentalist Christian fascist movement that was also part of this, the lies, the conspiracy theory, all of this. When you saw this, just take us to what were you thinking, and how have you been processing this? What have you been thinking about it in the week since then?
Rosie O’Donnell 26:10
The first thing I thought was where the hell are the police? And then at that moment, I knew — I hadn’t heard Trump’s speech that morning. I hadn’t listened to it. I knew he was saying that date was going to be a big day for him and his people, but I never in my wildest dreams imagined what I saw. You know, it gave me panic. Like so many people who suffer with anxiety, it gave me pure panic. To see our congressmen and senators left unprotected, while he held back police and the National Guard and the Army and anyone else who would, help is beyond my ability to understand. So how anyone could ever vote not to impeach him in the Senate is mind blowing. What else do we have this for, if not this exact instance? He should have been arrested the next day. I did a little thing on the internet where I said, I have five kids and if I told my son, no parties this weekend, and I come home on Sunday and the house is a wreck and he invited 1000 people over, and the windows are broken and five people are seriously hurt, do I punish him that night? Or do I wait seven days while he goes about his life to punish him? It’s absurd that we haven’t done anything yet.
Jason Stanley 27:31
Following Rosie’s comment, I had oddly the opposite reaction, and I also suffer from anxiety. But it was a weird moment of calm because it’s something I’ve expected for years. When you have the president of the United States targeting political opponents, calling them illegitimate, claiming that they stole the election, repeatedly calling them un-American, repeatedly associating them with the worst crimes possible, you’re going to get a movement which Donald Trump now has created, a movement of people who think that his political opponents are traitors. If you use the term fascist, first of all the fascists know language matters. The fascists don’t want to be called fascists. That’s one reason to call them fascists. Secondly, if you use the term fascist, you would not have been at all been surprised by January 6. You would have expected January 6. And if you use the term fascist, you would have known that it’s not members of the working class that were there. You would have expected a three-time gold medalist in the Olympics to be there. Keller, three-time Olympic swimming gold medalist was in the middle of the insurrectionist terroristic mob. There were people–
Rosie O’Donnell 28:47
What does that mean to you? What does that mean to you? That means he was there. That they’ve reached and infiltrated into areas of success and commonality in America. That they’re no longer just the KKK with hoods?
Jason Stanley 29:01
Fascism means — the KKK was fascist and the KKK crossed classes. It means that there’s going to be a lot of middle class people there. There’s going to be rich people there. It’s not a class movement. It’s an ideological movement that is based on racism, that its based — no one needs to tell you better than this, Rosie — on sexism, horrific violence against women, as your case an alarm battle rang across our nation. So, if you use the term fascism and the concept of fascism, then you know it’s not a bunch of survivalists who are just anxious about losing their jobs. You know it’s going to draw in people of all walks of life who feel that the communists are going to take over their country, who feel love for the leader. So fascism leads you to expect a coup and it leads you to recognize that this is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.
Anthea Butler 29:57
I hope to dispel the fact that people think of them as moral agents in society. They’re not. They’re agents of power who use morality in society as a way to get what they want politically and socially. I think that’s the most important thing. For many people, you see evangelicals on television, talking about religious freedom or talking about we don’t believe in abortion or pro-life and all these things. These are not just moral beliefs; they are political beliefs. If you understand them as political beliefs that are being used and deployed to control a narrative to gain power, to gain authority, then it makes a lot more sense to you. It makes a lot more sense about the kinds of things that people have been wringing their hands about, like, Why do so many evangelicals support Donald Trump? Well, duh. It’s not about Donald Trump. Donald Trump gave them everything they wanted. I think that’s really important to understand in the scheme of things. It’s basically, don’t get snowed by all the things that they say about themselves. What they do is more important.
Sam Goldman 30:57
I wanted to shift more to the recent history, the January 6 coup attempt. It began with a prayer with Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, calling to God to her words: “Let every adversary against democracy, against freedom, against life, against liberty, against justice, against peace, against righteousness be overturned right now in the name of Jesus.” Then Trump on that stage shortly after calling people to fight like hell, and hours later they did. They tore through the Capitol, alongside white supremacist, fascist street fighters, proud boys, three percenters, etc. White men wearing Jesus T shirts erected giant crosses, waved cross emblazoned flags, screams. They were doing it in the name of God and Christ as they climbed the walls, broke windows, beat and killed police officers. Once inside the Senate, they raised their arms in prayer for “allowing” (again their words not mine) “the United States to be reborn.” Sarah Posner and others have documented, as well as we have on the show, the instrumental role that Christian fascists (my words) played in this coup attempt. I’m wondering how and why you think it is that we’re in a situation in which people who seize the capitol were doing it in the name of religion, and in particular, in the name of Christianity.
Anthea Butler 32:23
They really believe God called them to do this. This has been something that’s been building for a long time. I think that people thought this was a surprise. It really wasn’t, because lots of churches and organizations were rolling up to this. Couple this with Stop the Steal language, they thought they were on a holy quest and god called them to do this. But even more importantly than that, this is about Christian nationalism. It’s about a nationalism that’s existed for a long time. It’s been to our detriment as a public that we have not paid attention to the ways in which violence and nationalism and patriotism have come together to make this a very potent stew in the hands of someone like Donald Trump.
When you can say that Donald Trump was, as a lot of evangelicals said, God’s man, that he was King Cyrus, he was the one that was appointed. Then you have that man who they think is God’s man saying that the election is stolen? Of course people are going to go out there and fight for him and do what they want. But it’s a deeper problem about evangelicalism. That deeper problem is that in the quest for power and authority in this country, they have lost their way. They’ve lost their way in terms of trying to think of themselves as religious actors, and now they’re religio-political actors who have set themselves up against the government. That’s really important because they think God is more important than the government.
So if you understand what they were doing on January 6, they really believe God called them to take down the Capitol and they wanted to establish God’s government, and God’s government was represented by Donald Trump. That’s hard for a lot of people to understand, but you need to understand it and be fearful and mindful of the fact that although January 6th failed, you still have a lot of people out here who embrace that belief. Evangelicals like authority and they like authoritarian power. So, if you are listening to Refuse Fascism and you’re trying to understand what this is, it’s not that evangelicals are bad people, it’s just that some of their theologies and beliefs, and the people who have upheld the kinds of systems they are structured around, will help bring in fascism if we are not careful.
The whole idea that women are supposed to be subservient to men, that women can only be in certain kinds of roles because they have complementarianism — that’s a whole other kind of thing we’d have to talk about later — the ways in which they racialized things, the ways in which they have sacralized the flag — all these things come together to make for a fascist movement. A lot of people would like to think America is never going to go there, because this didn’t happen in Weimar Germany, this was very different. The German situation was very different than the American situation. What we have is a ready-made system that is understandable and intelligible to everyone, but most people don’t understand how deeply the rot goes and how much this could up-end our democracy. That’s really important. The things you see now in terms of discussions about critical race theory and all that, on the one hand, are serious, but on the other hand, it’s a way to get people up in arms about something so that you get them mobilized against everything.
Sam Goldman 35:46
That’s a really interesting phenomenon that you brought up about how the Christian right has stood by Trump through this process. Even in many ways where Pence was their man, he was part of their circles, their worlds, for decades. And he came to power through that world
Sarah Posner 36:04
He comes from that world. Trump globbed onto it in order to help him get elected and stay in power.
Sam Goldman 36:12
What kind of rationalizations or thinking have you come across as to why those forces were okay with how close Pence came to being assassinated?
Sarah Posner 36:25
It’s really important to understand about right-wing white evangelicalism and its relationship with Trump that a lot of the cultural features of that world, from a religious context, got layered onto the political context with Trump. What I mean by that is in that world, there is a lot of emphasis on submission to authority and submission to someone who is seen as not only being in a position of authority, but anointed by God to have that position of authority. Typically, that would be the pastor of a church or a televangelist, and you’re not supposed to question them. They have God’s hand on them, they have God’s anointing on them, and you are to submit to their authority.
It’s important to note here that this is typically a man and submission to authority is also very gendered. What I see a lot when I’ve reported on Trump events or reported on these communities who support Trump is that they tend to look at him in the same way that people I’ve reported on who were in basically abusive relationships with their pastor; not necessarily sexually or physically abusive, but spiritually abusive in cases. I’ve interviewed a lot of people over the course of my career who’d been in these kinds of relationships with religious figures — that they felt like they couldn’t get out of this relationship, that the requirement that they submit to their authority was very strong, that if they bucked that authority, they’d be ostracized in their community, ostracized within it, or even ostracized from it. I feel like a lot of the support for Trump in these communities mirrors that — that he is anointed by God, that you are to submit to his authority. I feel like Pence throughout his vice-presidency, modeled that for everyone else, because he was very submissive to Trump. He was basically modeling for the base: This is how you submit to this strong man that we have decided is God’s anointed president. Another thing that really strikes me now in the age of them saying any coverage of anything of Trump’s wrongdoing is fake news.
Many years ago, I interviewed women who had been in these abusive relationships with their church or pastor. More than one of them told me that when their local newspaper did investigative pieces about the pastor — oftentimes, these were pastors who were very prominent in the community or had a lot of followers, and the newspaper would look into sexual wrongdoing or financial wrongdoing — and they said they just simply would not read it; that it was that’s of Satan to read the newspaper that’s coming against the pastor. So, again I see that mirrored with their reaction to Trump, like I’m not going to read the New York Times or The Washington Post or watch CNN to find out what’s going on with Trump, because that’s fake news, that’s the deep state, that’s all these conspiracy theories. Having reported on those kinds of relationships in those kinds of communities gave me the ability to see the relationship with Trump through that prism, through that lens. It tells us a lot about something that seems mysterious to the rest of us, which is: how can they look at all this evidence and still support him.
Sam Goldman 39:28
Can you talk about why it isn’t cowardice? Why, as you said, a vote to acquit isn’t cowardice, it’s fascism.
Sarah Posner 39:35
There is an element of cowardice to it, obviously, but by calling it just cowardice and not recognizing it as the complicity that allows fascism to function and thrive, it just papers over what’s really going on here. I think if you call it cowardice, then it makes Trump seem like an aberration who’s scary to these Republican lawmakers, but once we get past this period, they won’t be scared of him anymore because he’s no longer in office, they won’t be scared of his base, because they’ll start to not see him as having the bully pulpit because he’s not president anymore and he doesn’t have his Twitter anymore, and so on. But these are real, long lasting changes in our politics — and the complete subversion of our democracy that has happened under Trump — being complicit with that isn’t just cowardice, it’s being complicit with fascism. If you allow a leader who is seen by his base and your base, as anointed by God, and having to be defended no matter what, and that leader basically orders an attack on your workplace and on the actual mechanics of our democracy, of our election, and nearly has you killed, and you are going to not hold him accountable, that’s a lot more than just cowardice.
Jared Yates Sexton 40:54
To begin, I just want to say that this is, of course, a political discussion. But simply to say the word politics right now is to somehow or another in modern times to pretend like you’re playing some sort of a game. One of the things I’ve been very disturbed by over the last couple of weeks, and particularly the last couple of days, has been this idea of whether or not this impeachment trial is smart politics, or, you know, we keep reading these articles now from people among the Democratic party saying they’re not so sure that they should have witnesses, they should spend a lot of time on this, considering there’s a foregone conclusion what’s going to happen. But when I say politics, I’m not talking about this game of politics. I’m not talking about what is smart, what’s practical, what’s going to make an agenda happen. What I’m talking about is how a group of disparate people come together and decide how to live in a shared society. And that’s what’s in danger right now.
The actual problem that we’re having is that we’ve reached a point where a shared society is in the middle of a political, social and existential crisis. I want to state very clearly, because there has been for the past month and two days, there has been a concerted effort by politicians, media pundits, to frame this whole thing as a weird aberration that took place on January 6; that it just so happened that there was a riot that spilled into the US Capitol — it’s really terrible what happened, but we’ve moved past it and we’ve turned the page and Donald Trump is behind us, and now we can unify and move on. That’s unfortunately a fairy tale. We have a real problem in this country.
I want to go ahead and say, first and foremost, what happened on January 6 — and this is the way we’ll look at history, if we have history. The President of the United States of America after fomenting one conspiracy theory after another for years, and then engaging in a fascistic white supremacist, paranoid conspiracy theory, sicced his radicalized followers on his own vice-president in the legislative branch of the United States of America. He declared war on the government of the United States and tried to carry out a violent coup. We were incredibly lucky that he didn’t move further. Part of it has to do with the fact that Donald Trump is an incompetent coward. We’re incredibly lucky that the first fascistic President of the United States was an incompetent coward. The problem is that Donald Trump, through his gnashing of teeth and wild indiscriminate thrashing, has exposed one weakness after another in democratic institutions and the democratic machinery of the United States of America. On top of that, we have to look at the fact that Donald Trump is a symptom; he’s not the disease. There’s something that has been going on in this country since its very founding through white supremacist, misogynistic, hyper-capitalistic exploitation, and it has reached the end of the line.
Dr. Bandy Lee 43:36
As you know, my position is rather heavy and I’m quite let down by the acquittal. Not just the acquittal itself, but by the lack of a truly vigorous fight on the part of those who are in a position now to do so having a majority in both chambers of Congress as well as the presidency. I can see why they saw perhaps little use in pursuing this when conviction would not be possible anyhow, because of the position of many of the Republican Senators. But I look at things from a psychological point of view, and there were many things that could have been done, and many things that were in fact done on this round, that made an effective trial very close, and yet, they decided to shut it down, which was very disappointing for me in terms of the influence on society. We have now already seen that the removal of Donald Trump was not enough, because it was not a forced removal. It was not a reckoning of his presidency but rather a continuation of enabling in many ways. We see a lot of his effects, what many of us are calling Trumpism, continue. I believe that’s very much the march toward fascism that you’ve been trying to fight.
Paul Street 45:00
I think for starters, there’s some intellectual work to do. We’ve got to work on people about the denial that they have about calling what this Trump experiment was. It was at the very least pre-fascism. So it was a fascistic presidency. We actually have a fascist movement. I think it’s important for people to become educated about what that word means and get through this notion that it can’t happen here. We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of transcending American exceptionalism, this belief that we are somehow ordained by God and/or history, and our constitutional tradition to be permanently free of an authoritarian, right-wing type of situation in this country. We’re not. We just had a really remarkable and scary brush in this last election with fascism. I have a very distinct impression that but for COVID-19, Trump would be settling in for a second term, possibly after the bloody suppression, urban rebellions; repression that would have been engaged in by urban white police officers and some armed forces, quite gleefully, after an election that was much closer than the one we actually had.
Dahlia Lithwick 46:03
I think in some sense, your podcast single-handedly makes the larger point that I was trying to make, which is the thing that people like Amy Siskind or Bandy Lee, or the myriad people – Masha Gessen, Jason Stanley, and Tim Snyder — have been trying to make for the past four and a half years, which is this is not normal, and to remind people that the heart wants what the heart wants, and what the heart wants is normal. No matter what was happening for the last four and a half years, I think the ability of most people to just integrate it and move on is shocking. In some sense, what I’m describing is almost a mental health phenomenon that you can normalize anything and things that horrified us — the Muslim ban, the first week of the administration. At some point, we were okay with it. Family separations, we were out of our minds, we were marching and then we were okay with it, forcing migrant teenagers at the border to keep their pregnancies.
At some point, the shock of all of these things dissipates. And then as we said the goalposts have moved. Now this is normal, and our brains long for normal. One of the things I was trying to say is, I felt like I spent the four years of the Trump era as a legal correspondent, setting myself on fire, going into the green room at MSNBC and trying not to rip my hair out and scream and trying over and over and over again to say, This is not normal. This is not okay. And being — I use the word ‘gaslit’ advisedly — just constantly and consistently being told, not just by Bill Barr, but by folks on the left that you know, we’re hysterical, we’re overreacting, calm down, he’s not really going to stop vote by mail. Okay, maybe he’s going to try to stop vote by mail, but it’s not going to be with the complicity of Bill Barr. Oh, maybe with the complicity. Maybe he’s gonna try to set aside the election results. Maybe he’s gonna try to foment a coup.
But at every turn we are being told, you are really overreacting here. I felt as though having spent four years being told it’s not that dire, please stop worrying, all the anxiety is just feeding into the hysteria to have that directed at you again, post Trump, by folks at the Biden Justice Department, by some of the Democratic leadership. It’s like don’t overreact, what Georgia and Texas are trying to do and suppressing the vote isn’t that bad. Who doesn’t have voter ID? It’s so enervating when it comes from your own side. That was really what I was reacting to; that having spent four years essentially being told you’re completely nuts, none of this is going to come about, oops, it came about, but move on. It’s really, really maddening when it comes from the very self-same people that you entrusted to fix it. I think that was the gist of what I was trying to articulate in that piece, that gaslighting is gaslighting, whether it comes from inside the house or outside the house.
In fact, when you are the Justice Department and you’re doing the wrong thing in E. Jean Carroll [representing Donald Trump against her], you’re doing the wrong thing with the Mueller report, you’re doing the wrong thing with investigating leaks of either journalists or members of Congress. If you are consistently doing the wrong thing, then say: Jey, we’ve chosen to do the wrong thing. But to turn around and say hey, America, you’re overreacting, that’s just not gonna work. But one of the reasons I wrote that piece was just to have this sort of cri de coeur. I have I spent four years being told this is normal, get used to it. I’m not prepared to spend the next four years hearing the same thing from my side.
Eric Boehlert 49:58
This meeting is a perfect example. They’re discussing martial law. They’re discussing seizing voting machines. New York Times, to its credit broke the story about the meeting. The New York Times put the story on page 18. The military aspect, the martial law, the seizing of voting machines wasn’t in the headline, wasn’t in the lead. The headline was about: Trump might appoint Sidney Powell as a special counsel to look into fraud, voter fraud. A) there was no voter fraud. So why is The New York Times mimicking Republican talking points about voter fraud in the election. That’s a minor thing but it really bugs me. There was no voter fraud in this election. The New York Times should not be doing headlines about voter fraud unless voter fraud is in quotation marks because it’s not a real thing. You had to get down about halfway in the article before you realize that they discussed martial law.
The Washington Post the next morning, nothing on it’s own page, nothing on the website about this meeting. To me, that is shocking normalization. What you’ve described has been to me, one of the hallmark failures of the press for the last four years is just that refusal to ring the alarm bell, and they should have been doing it in the spring of 2017. Instead, it’s kind of this frog in the boiling water or as you put it, that line that you think once it’s crossed — banner headlines, screaming headlines, nonstop discussion, nonstop condemnation. Side note, when Bill Clinton was being impeached for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, nearly 100 newspapers in this country demanded he resign. Major newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today. Not columnists, newspapers took institutional stances and said Bill Clinton cannot serve as our president, he is unfit to serve, he lied under oath about the sexual act.
Fast forward, none of those newspapers in four years ever demanded that Donald Trump resign because he was not fit to serve. To me that is mind boggling. I think it goes to corporate cowardice. It goes to a press corps that either normalized him to such an extent that they didn’t think he should resign, or they were just too intimidated by his bullying. There’s this resistance and reluctance to accurately describe his radical and dangerous behavior, and there’s been that reluctance. Look, ‘coup’ was never used, ‘martial law’, they don’t like to use ‘fascism’, they don’t use.
I did a column two years ago, saying if Trump was the leader of any other country, and he did what he did, every American news organization would call him an authoritarian in the headline in the first sentence. He’s the textbook definition. But why? You can’t call a white Republican male an authoritarian even though he is? There’s this timidity, and your point was a good one when you started off, about there’s this idea — well, he didn’t get away with it, right? He didn’t overturn this election, the system worked, don’t get so riled up, we’re fine. I’ve said, since the election: Imagine a slightly different scenario. Imagine if Joe Biden only won by one state.
Imagine if he won Michigan by 5000 votes. Does anyone think right now Joe Biden would be inaugurated next month? Absolutely not. Because the Republican Party minus some state officials in Georgia, Arizona. DC Republicans actually got on board with this. They absolutely got on board with this idea that we will overturn elections. We will throw out votes. That Texas lawsuit that over 100 Republican members of the House signed on — it was an attempt to throw out 20 million votes. I don’t think people should feel that great that he didn’t get away with it. Because if it had been a Biden blowout, if he hadn’t won by 7 million votes, we would be on the precipice of a civil war at this point.
Sam Goldman 53:44
I think that point is really essential in that history doesn’t repeat itself but it certainly does echo. The reality is that fascism foments and relies upon this xenophobia, this white supremacy, this misogyny, and then uses that to help bludgeon the democratic norms and ultimately erase civil liberties, I think that this is really important. One of the things we regularly talk about with our listeners is that fascism is a qualitative change in the form of rule of society, that it’s not the baddest of insults that you can throw at someone you don’t like, or a combination of just horrific things. Personally, I think Obama was an imperialist warmonger. I think that what he did with his drone strikes was criminal, and he wasn’t a fascist. Being able to distinguish those things is really important.
In our call to act when we were forming in 2016, we had written that fascism advances in stages through outrage, shock and intimidation; followed by brief periods of normalization, where people accommodate to the new situation the regime has imposed. One of the points that you make in your article is that different parts of the fascist program unroll at different times, and also they are unique to the place and time in which they happen. I’m wondering, do you think that this failure to understand those two points — the point that they unroll at different times, that you don’t get the full fascist program right at the onset, and that they may look different in different places? Do you think that’s why there was so much fascism denial from the left? I’m thinking of scholars who said it’s not fascism because it’s in the United States. A particular scholar repeatedly said — and was given a lot of airtime because he said — we don’t have a one-party state so therefore it can’t be fascism. Do you think those are the main factors that led to fascism denial from the left? Or maybe there’s something else.
Walden Bello 55:47
Yes, first of all, the way that the key features of fascism come together are very unique in each case. As I said, if you’re expecting a spitting image of Adolf Hitler to come along, you will be waiting forever; whereas, in fact, a lesser figure than Adolf has already come to power. But second, you may not have the features of fascism unroll all at once. Let me give you two examples. In the United States, it was not until the aftermath of the elections of 2020 that you saw the full fascist characteristic or reality of Donald Trump come out. Basically, he was out to subvert and overthrow the electoral system. So before that people had just thought that, okay, he’s like this, he had all this fake news. They did not think that he would go to the extent of trying to overturn an election. So, yes, therefore, it doesn’t all come together in one fell swoop at the beginning of a regime. This is one of the reasons why people were late in recognizing that in a person like Trump.
On the other hand, if you look at a person like Duterte [current president of The Philippines], right from the get-go, he started the most fearsome feature of his fascist rule, which was the drug war and the killing — extrajudicial execution — of people who were suspected of being drug users. In the space of three years, over 20,000 people have been subjected to extrajudicial execution, immediately the most horrible feature of fascism, which is the systematic persecution of a certain sector of the population, not only imprisoning them, but killing them, just unrolled very, very quickly. I call this a blitzkrieg fascism.
The effect was a bit different than in the United States. The effect was to stun the population. Is this really happening? And then people began to recover their senses that this was, in fact, happening. It was: Can he really be doing this? When people began to ask themselves, why is he getting away with it? And he was able to get away with it not only because he stunned people, but because there was a base he was appealing to. People who felt that drugs and criminals were the cause of society’s degeneration crisis in the Philippines. And not only that, people were so frustrated with the lack of social reform that although they might have disagreed with Duterte’s executions, maybe they thought: Oh, maybe what the country really needs is an iron hand to set things together. By the time he was in his second year, there was already a consolidated base for fascism in the Philippines.
The point is that the features of a fascist personality or a fascist movement may come together differently, and they do not just unfold in one fell swoop. So I just wanted to use these two examples to show you how in the one case in the United States, there was a protracted kind of recognition of a fascist, and in the case of the Philippines, the fact that the fascist went immediately to be the most horrible crime, which was extrajudicial execution of thousands — had the effect of stunning people so that it took them several months to recover, and realize that, hey, this guy is the real thing, the real fascist. It had different effects on the population.
The point here, when it comes to the United States is: There are already pre-existing conditions, which is the racist democracy that the United States has had. There was the neoliberal impact on American white working class jobs that the Democratic Party was seen as having promoted along with the Republican Party, and then thirdly, the sense that whites were going to become a minority fairly soon because the demographics favored colored people. I think those three things came together. What Trump did was to bring those things together in his rhetoric, It’s hard to call it an ideology in a formal sense. He was able to bring together these fears and resentments to consolidate that base that he had. I won’t spend too much time with Duterte. In his case, I think that as people saw him he wasn’t only somebody who promised to eliminate crime by killing people. During the elections, people probably thought he was just exaggerating, but they said, okay, crime is a big problem, drugs is a big problem, the only guy who can eliminate this is Duterte. The second thing is there were people who may have disliked his language, disliked his rhetoric, and didn’t really think that he should just focus on crime and drugs, but felt that this guy’s an authoritarian figure. Our democracy hasn’t been working, maybe Duterte is the guy who will be able to eliminate corruption, and he might be the guy who can discipline the elites who have been so selfish.
Basically, those things came together within the Philippine electorate, and especially the Philippine middle class. The Philippine middle class back in the 1980s was part of the movement that overthrew Marcos, the previous dictator. But by 2016 after 30 years, the kind of democracy that emerged in 1986 had not delivered. Resentments and frustrations and fear of crime all came together to produce a base for Duterte. That meant his followers proceeded to consolidate once he came to power. So that’s the case in both the Philippines and the United States. One must not underestimate that base, because although, for instance, in the Philippines right now, Duterte has been screwing up in terms of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he’s being seen as too friendly with China, despite the fact that things are not going that well for him, I would not underestimate his hold on a significant sector of the population.
Just like in the case of Trump, 11 million more people voted for him in 2020, than in 2016. That means he may have lost the elections, but he has consolidated his hold over the Republican Party, and he now has a very powerful instrument. He may or may not win in 2024, but let’s face it, what we have now in the United States is a sharply divided electorate. The way I would characterize the United States is there is an informal civil war that is taking place here. On one side of that are the Trump forces who are willing to believe anything he says, and are his willing accomplices at this point of time. Then we also look at India, we look at Hungary, we look at Brazil, and we find many of the same features. One of the things that is very, very striking when you look at the Philippines, India, Brazil — just take the global South — is the way the middle class has ceased to be a democratic force. It is now a force for supporting authoritarian regimes. That’s very definitely different from the role of the middle class in the 1980s, in this part of the world.
Brynn Tannehill 1:03:15
So this book is kind of a combination of four years’ worth of work, looking at what happened and why it happened, and what it means and where we’re going. I recognized in the days after the election, and I share that in the preface of the book, on November 16, 2016, I wrote something that basically said, wow, this is going to be bad, and there’s gonna be violence. I don’t know when, I don’t know where or how, but a lot of it is going to be related to race and grievance. It was also a recognition of how woefully unprepared we were for discussions I had with people before the election on October 31, 2016. Well, what do we do if Trump wins? And the answer is, it will figure it out, it can’t be that bad, right? The system will hold. Well, you know, it’s gonna suck, but we’ll be fine.
Well, we’re not exactly fine. We’re still stuck with a system that’s broken, where popular legislation can’t move through, where the Republican Party is still absolutely beholden to Trump, and just today threw out the third-ranking Republican in the House for daring to say that Trump did not, in fact, lose due to voter fraud and trying to break the party away from Trump. We see the instincts of the Republican Party continue to be towards authoritarianism, towards suppressing the vote, towards winning any way they can. We can clearly see that they’re clearing out anyone who would try and stop the altering of the results of the election that they didn’t like. In 2020, we saw that Trump leaned heavily and so did other Republicans into state and local officials to refuse to certify the election. We saw that two-thirds of Republicans in the House voted to not certify the election.
As much as we want to think, yay, Biden won, we’re safe. No, we’re not: one, because right now we can’t move the vast majority of the legislation we need to shore up democracy because of the filibuster and because of a few Democrats, because of the slants towards smaller states. It’s due to non-proportional representation. We see that in the courts that are going to make it much more difficult to check voters’ rights, workers’ rights, protect corporate interests, and politics. All this means that the next time around, and this is the conclusion of my book, the Republican Party tried to enact a violent coup last time and attempt a soft coup. They failed, but they’ve learned from their lessons and they’re setting things up such that there won’t be a violent coup next time or a violent insurrection. They’re going to trust that they have sufficiently put the pieces in place to overturn the election if they don’t like the results.
Sam Goldman 1:05:57
I was wondering if you could speak about how George 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 1:06:07
Yeah, so, 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 learned 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 will turn on you.
And, you’re allowing extra-judicial killings. Yeah, you’re fine because it’s unreal. Anwar al-Awlaki’s son and him right now. And you know, Anwar al-Awlaki was a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda. His son was just an innocent teenager, and you guys are fine with it, because they’re Muslims in the Middle East and Yemen, who cares? But what happens if it turns on you? And that’s what happens is we’d rather be safe than be free, and 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, you 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? This is what happens when you let power go unchecked is that you get very close to achieving a police state and 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? 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 Eric Prince, who is the brother of Betsy DeVos, hard-right fanatical anti-Muslim Christians with a type of endgame, apocalyptic zealotry, who was literally saying, hey, 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, I’ll work with the Middle East. Trump, what do you want from me? So the chickens come home to roost. I hate to say that, and 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 folks, 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 cone “inner-city” in the ghettos. And 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 actual digital killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. You can hate al-Awlaki, but the manner in which it was done is terrifying. Drone strikes threatening the sovereignty of another country, just raining death from the sky and not really caring about the trauma that this inflicts upon people. I’ve talked to folks from Yemen and they’ll tell you, it’s like this whirring. You look up in the sky, you just hear this sound. You’re like death could come at any moment, the “collateral damage.” What does that say about us? And what does that say about power? And or does that say about humanity? That you’re perfectly willing from a base somewhere in Arizona with someone on a joystick to rain 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 1:10:17
And I really appreciate them. 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. It’s an important reminder that what we’ve allowed, and what we’ve forgotten is also important to remember and question why we’ve forgotten it and why it doesn’t even produce outrage in people the way that it should.
Wajahat Ali 1:10:47
We’re hitting the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Oftentimes it’s easier to look back with nostalgia and romanticism and not realize this country went mad for a couple of years. Just one example, in 2003 Dixie Chicks, who are now known as the Chicks, they were like the biggest band in America. They had this amazing tour that sold so many tickets worldwide. Natalie Maines was the lead singer of the Chicks, all she said was, if I remember correctly, it almost might be the same exact quote, “I’m embarrassed that George W. Bush is from Texas. Bye y’all.” That’s all she said. 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 burned their CDs. And overnight, just like Liz Cheney, Dixie Chicks are the most harmless white women on earth, like these bubblegum catchy songs that crossed over from country to mainstream; everyone loved the Dixie Chicks. They were public enemy number one. That’s how crazy this country was.
We were perfectly fine surveilling innocent Muslims in New York. We were 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 them. 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’s really good at war. It’s not good at empire building. And what happened? Biden’s like, alright, let me just wash my hands, leave Afghanistan, and lo and behold, Taliban. Yesterday, Washington Post, what we’ve been hearing. The Taliban is making their assault. What did we accomplish? What did we accomplish at the end of day, except death and destruction and traumatizing generations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention also our soldiers, those who came back traumatized. That’s also the legacy of the War on Terror, in addition to the rise of the “Post 9/11 Police State.”
David Atkins 1:12:47
We’ve seen over and over again that the Republican response to losing the election in November has been to change the voting laws, not only to prevent people from coming out and being able to cast their ballot, but by just trying to restrict franchise, which you can really do, frankly, any groups. They’re also trying to change who gets to certify elections. You’ve seen in various states, sometimes it’s very specific to a specific elections official, trying to take away the power of the Democratic Secretary of State from certifying elections. Which is odd, because you can’t know for sure forever that the Secretary of State is going to be a Democrat or whatever, right. So these are very temporary types of things.
In other cases, like in Georgia, they are taking the power away from local elections officials to be able to conduct elections in a manner the board would see fit, and also to certify those elections, they’re taking power away even from Republican Secretaries of State that are seen as not hardline enough and reverting those to the state legislatures. Ultimately, what it’s all in an effort to do, whether it’s a Senate election or a presidential Electoral College election, instead of allowing the people’s vote to be certified, to say, hey, we just don’t know if there might be voter fraud, and we can’t certify that this is a real vote count. Therefore, what we’re going to do is hand it over to our extremely gerrymandered state legislature to simply decide who won the election. And because these are highly gerrymandered state legislatures, like in, say, Wisconsin, or House delegations which is just the way the House lines are drawn. So just like in Wisconsin, where Republicans lose the popular vote in Wisconsin by eight points, but their legislature is 64 to 32, or something like that for the GOP. That’s a functional authoritarian government, A functionally apartheid government. They’ll just overrule the will of the people. That has been their reaction to losing the popular vote by six out of seven elections. It’s a reaction to losing in November. It’s not a far-fetched theory. That’s what they actively do.
Tony Norman 1:14:46
For me — it may be my bias, because I’m African American, and I’m particularly sehnsitized to issues of race and class and inequality in this country — whenever I see any draconian law — and this is probably the most draconian law of year, other than the laws that disenfranchise voters — whenever I see a law like this I know there’s a precedent for it, because nothing happens in this country, nothing happens in America, that hasn’t happened before. It’s like history’s greatest mobius strip. We’re just going round and round on the same figure eight track that we run through American history.
So I knew as soon as SB 8 was proposed and signed into law by the governor of Texas, that there was a precedent. The first thing that came to mind was the Fugitive Slave Act. Because of this particularly onerous section, where ordinary citizens will become vigilantes and they will be deputized into doing evil things. The state in the case of SB 8 cannot sue, because the enforcement mechanism is being done by ordinary sovereign citizens, as it were. Now where some like to quibble about the comparison, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made everyone, every marshal, everyone in law enforcement, all the judges, the whole legal system has to make sure — even the free states — have to see that Blacks are returned back to slavery, they’re runaways.
So it didn’t matter that they ran to a border state that was free from the South, enforcers could deputize enforcers, ordinary people who decide that they want to be free land enslavers could cross the border or, if they already live in that state, could approach someone that they believe was a slave, take that person into bondage, don’t have to worry about habeas corpus, don’t have to worry about trial, and basically on the basis of their word — because the Black person’s word did not have any legal force — just on the basis of their word they could take someone into bondage. Someone who may have happened to have been born free and wasn’t even someone that had run away but had a business and family and so forth, like that movie 12 Years a Slave. That’s like a perfect example. Someone who is minding his own business, and he’s taken into bondage on the basis of an enslaver’s word or freelancer’s word.
I thought, hmm, here, I’m an Uber driver, and I’m driving a woman to a women’s clinic for whatever reason she wants to go to that women’s clinic. Maybe it’s to get an abortion, or maybe she just needs a checkup, or maybe she’s doing her annual checkup. But if I’m a snitch in Texas under this law, and I have reason to believe that she’s getting an abortion, I get a $10,000 bounty in court because I’m going to bring my suspicions to court, and the person that I’m accusing is going to have to defend themselves, the clinic and the Uber driver. And regardless of the outcome of that, and we know what the outcome was going to be in Texas, I’m ahead $10,000. If that isn’t the most evil and diabolical thing one has ever heard of, I don’t know what is.
This all happens if the woman finds herself pregnant after six weeks, and then the enforcement mechanism kicks in, because then she is breaking the law no matter what. It doesn’t matter whether she’s been raped. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an act of incest. She is a criminal. Ironically enough, she is not subject to her arrest herself. The law hasn’t gone that far yet. Soon as it does, we’re basically to Margaret Atwood territory and Handmaid’s Tale. That day is coming because what we have right now is something that is evil adjacent. It is familiar to us here in America. The fact is that the reason that these Texas legislators felt so comfortable with such a blatantly unconstitutional law is because all they had to do was dust off the history books and see: Well, how did we do this kind of outrageous stuff in the 19th Century? And how did we do it in the 18th Century for the first Fugitive Slave Act? So it goes on and on and on. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Sam Goldman 1:19:13
One thing that I know, was you made a connection between the gun and voting and abortion. I’m wondering if you could speak more to what you see as the connection between in Texas, the guns are everywhere, abortion is not, and you can’t vote if you’re Black, right? What’s going on here?
Tony Norman 1:19:30
Exactly. Well, at the risk of sounding paranoid, I think that the Texas legislature knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s almost like a soft secession on their part. They want to establish the fact that Texas is going to be a different kind of state than any other and that it’s going to be much more patriarchal and violent. It wants to be the opposite of what it sees in blue America. I don’t know how your listeners feel about this, but I think that the right to abortion in Texas has been effectively nullified. Texas wants to re-enforce the fact that there’s a new sheriff in town; a new way of looking at the law is here. If you don’t like it, Supreme Court, we have guns. In fact, everyone can carry guns. If you don’t like it, Washington, when you look at us we all have guns. There’s nothing you can do about it. Our legislature has spoken.
And we’re not going to let the legislature turn from red to blue or from purple to blue, we’re going to make sure that only the right people are able to vote. We’re gonna make sure that we can keep this minority government going, even if it collapses in the rest of America, we’re gonna make sure that white patriarchy, white power, white supremacy rules until the end of the United States, the Republic, or whatever you want to call it, we are going to make sure that we’re on top. I think it’s that blatant. I think that bald and I think that in your face. I think guns, disenfranchisement, and stripping abortion rights from women is just part and parcel of a program and worldview to basically make America great again, as in were, as in pre-Civil War great, antebellum great.
I think that what’s happening, I think what we’re seeing before our very eyes in Texas, and we’re going to see it repeated in lots of southern states — and maybe a Northern state or a Midwestern state or two. We’re going to see a very revanchist orientation towards the law, aided and abetted by a compliant Supreme Court that believes that an originalist vision of America with minimal rights for people, especially minorities and women, is really the way to maintain American greatness. A lot of people will say, well, Tony, you’re just being hysterical again. I completely buy into the notion that white supremacy is very self-conscious, and that it knows what it’s doing. None of this is an accident. All of this is about restoring the hegemony of white power.
Carol Anderson 1:20:56
When I look at the Southern Strategy, which really came into the fore during Nixon’s campaign for presidency, what you had there was the Southern Democrats who were the group that hated civil rights. The Southern Democrats were like, We cannot be in a party that believes that Black people have rights and is putting the federal government behind the exercise of Black people’s rights as American citizens. So, you have the Republican Party looking up and going, ooh, we can finally break the solid Democratic South, and we can get the number of conservative votes in order to move forward our conservative agenda. And just like the conservatives in Weimar Germany who looked at Hitler and said, Oh, we can use Hitler’s group and Hitler’s status in order to create the coalition that we need in order to quash the Socialists and the Communists who are in our Reichstag. We can do that, and we can control them. Well, the thing about white supremacy is it is a viral toxin. It is all powerful.
When the Conservatives brought that toxin of the Southern Democrats into the Republican Party, it took over. It moved the moderate Republicans out, silenced them, and it also then led to the base being just turned up, fueled on this fear, this anger, this hatred — fueled on it. So, it required then that those who were in the GOP primary had to speak to that base, that energized base, which continued to move the party further and further to the right. So when you think about the insurrection, and you think about the Big Lie that this election was stolen, and the way that Republicans have tried to downplay the insurrection, oh, this was just a tourist visit. Wow! The way that they have blocked, blocked subpoenas the way that they have blocked the investigation, a full-blown investigation and unveiling of this, juxtapose that to Watergate, where you in fact had Republicans who were absolutely appalled at what the Nixon administration had done, and said, Oh, we cannot abide by this. When you have Barry Goldwater going into Nixon saying no son, no son, you got to go. We cannot do this. You will not have the votes in the Senate to survive an impeachment. Barry Goldwater was the one who helped with the Southern strategy because of his belief that Brown v. Board was unconstitutional. His belief that the Civil Rights Act violated basic states rights. So Barry Goldwater is no flaming liberal, but he was like under this line, I will not go. We have yet to see that in this current version of the Republican Party. There is no line under which they will not go. The rule of law does not matter. Democracy is the enemy. That is what is so frightful and perilous about this time that we’re in right now.
Sam Goldman 1:22:27
That was in order of speaking. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Federico Finchelstein, Rosie O’Donnell in conversation with Jason Stanley, Anthea Butler, Sarah Posner, Jared Yates Sexton, Dr. Bandy Lee, Paul Street, Dahlia Lithwick, Eric Boehlert, Walden Bello, Brynn Tannehill, Wajahat Ali, David Atkins, Tony Norman and Carol Anderson. I want to close out with some comments from my co-host and friend, Coco Das, one of the editors of RefuseFascism.org
Coco Das 1:25:56
It’s really important to understand the importance of two sides in contention. All three of these cases [Kyle Rittenhouse; Ahmaud Arbery and the Charlottesville civil trial] really are about the violent reassertion of white supremacy, the domination of white people over all others. And they can only achieve that through the same kind of violence that was used to enforce Jim Crow, even slavery. That’s kind of what they want. They want everybody else to be cowering. But just as they can’t actually achieve that without this brutality and violence — I’m speaking for myself here ut you know, this is part of what Refuse Fascism has been organizing for — we’re not going to drive this scourge out of our society and out of our government without a massive response from millions of people. It is going to take the kinds of action that we saw during the beautiful rising, millions of people in the streets. It’s not going to be done through these normal channels and institutions that the Trump’s GOP has shredded. They don’t care about these norms and rules. They’ll tear all that up. It will take a movement of people who are willing to step outside of the normal channels and rise up. It really is going to take a beautiful rising of people to repudiate this whole fascist program and drive it out.
Sam Goldman 1:27:13
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