Fascism: A Looming Threat to Democracy 


This is not an issue of political alignment, nor is this piece to be read as an attack on my peers who identify with more conservative ideologies. Certain problems exist globally and within our nation that have been unrightfully politicized, rather than addressed as nonpartisan issues. Unfortunately, if we continue to discuss these issues less as defacto problems that must be solved and more as topics that we can argue over it will eventually, and inevitably, mean mass injustice toward more than just a select group of individuals, but to all of the persons in the United States. 

I want to talk about fascism. The word itself is polarizing, which in turn hinders any productive conversation on the matter. For many, the word conjures a very specific image. For those on the left, the word brings up images of an ethnic elite oppressing those who don’t fit into the oppressor’s vision of purity. For those on the right, it’s Big Brother limiting the rights and liberties of those below to think and act freely. 

The thing about fascism that so many fail to realize is that it is not one political ideology. Fascism cannot be associated with right or left, capitalism or communism. Fascism is actually a political phenomenon. In his 2004 book, The Anatomy of Fascism, the American political scientist and historian Robert Paxton defined fascism as such:

“(Fascism is) a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood, and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants working in uneasy, but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence, and without ethical or legal restraint, goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

In so many words, fascism is what happens when a certain demographic of people (usually that which is already at a certain advantage in society), perceives themselves to be victimized in some way by those at a disadvantage.

We see this in the U.S. when straight white Americans perceive BIPOC or LGBTQ+ people as having certain privileges in society due to certain efforts towards social reform. Because of this perceived victimhood, those in power may choose to unite politically (usually around one figurehead) and then work to eliminate the perceived threat presented by the second party by any means necessary, no matter whether those means happen to be violent and/or unlawful. Paxton has also broken down the stages of how a fascist party may come to power in a nation in five steps:

  1. Intellectual Exploration

When disillusionment with the popular democracy leads to a discussion of “lost national vigor.”

2. Rooting

When the fascist movement is aided by political deadlock and polarization becomes a player on a national stage

3. Arrival to Power

When the conservative party invites fascists to power in order to control leftist opposition

4. Exercise of Power

The movement and a charismatic leader control the state using institutions such as the police, clergy, or corporation.

5. Radicalization and Entropy

The state becomes radical and slips into authoritarian rule.

I am sure that most are familiar with the first two steps in a historical sense. Likely, you had to learn about Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin. Or maybe you have heard in the news about how Nicolas Maduro, and Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jung Un have created real-life dystopias for those who live in their countries while mysteriously winning each election, assumedly by mass brainwashing or by eliminating sizable chunks of ballots that are marked against them. But those are all far away. It is hard to imagine that the very same things that we read about in history books or on the news could be happening in the United States.

However, it’s not as unlikely as you may think. As a two-party system, our political infrastructure was already extremely vulnerable to polarization, and frankly, it has been an issue since the construction of our government, but especially with the introduction of televised presidential debates and elections. Issues and intellectual discussions have become sensationalized. In addition to that, as the world continues to grow and change in a more progressive direction, nostalgia tends to be weaponized, and used as a front for sexism, homophobia, racism and general intolerance. 

I think many believe that as bad as things are at present, the U.S. is still the best place to live, based on the progress that has been made towards bettering life for the whole of society. Which is why campaign slogans, such as “Make America Great Again,” are so insidious because A.) the further back you go the worse America gets for everyone except for the White Heterosexual Men, and B.) slogans like these are quite clearly reminiscent of the type of intellectual discussion which takes place before fascism begins to root itself into a society. 

For now, I would like to skip the third step under the assumption that some of those reading are not already convinced that President Donald Trump might be a fascist and that democracy as we know it may be in danger. Let us skip to step four. 

Starting in May of 2020, following the death of George Floyd, there were nationwide protests against police brutality. In Portland, Oregon these protests have continued and it has been shown in multiple videos by protestors that federal police officers have been arriving on the scene in unmarked vans and pulling protestors in and driving away. Regardless of your political beliefs, this is blatantly unconstitutional, violating the first amendment (right to freedom of speech, religion, expression, etc), fourth amendment (right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against any unreasonable search and seizures), and eighth amendment.

These officers are not reading these citizens their Miranda rights, nor are they explaining what the citizens are being arrested for. This shows a blatant disregard for the constitution and the laws in place to protect citizens rights. This is an example of Donald Trump using the police as an excessive force to control the citizens and is, of course, related to the consistent disenfranchisement of African American citizens going back to when this country was built. 

If that is not convincing enough, the president is attempting to put off the election until the end of the pandemic, in other words, indefinitely, because it is not safe enough for people to go to the polls. Disregarding the fact that many states, such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii already use mail-in ballots with no issues, the President claims these mail-in ballots will inevitably lead to fraud, even though there is no research to back this claim up. 

Furthermore, the president continues to claim that the U.S. is doing phenomenally in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, despite all other statistics pointing to us having the most cases, hospitalizations, and deaths relative to our population. 

These are examples of our charismatic leader using blatant misinformation in an attempt to further control the people. 

And finally, I would also like to point out that Donald Trump has officially listed ANTIFA as a terrorist organization, despite the fact that ANTIFA is not an organized group of individuals looking to gain power by use of fear tactics and terror, but actually just a title for people working against the spread of fascism.

And maybe you think “well sure, this is all pretty bad. But there is no way we are ever going to get as bad as any of those other places,” and if that is the case then allow me to remind you that this country still has concentration camps filled with Latin American immigrants, and that our current prison system is basically legalized slavery.

When you think about it, the reality this country is faced with really isn’t much better than any of the aforementioned countries.

For more insight, Max Weinberg, a Political Science Major at NEC, put the issue into perspective very eloquently. When asked if he is concerned with fascism, particularly U.S. fascism, he said: “I definitely believe people should be concerned about the global rise in fascism because we aren’t immune here in the U.S. People always say it can’t happen here but we’ve seen over the last four years with Trump an attack on our democratic institutions. Talking about postponing the election, and doing everything he can to disrupt the mail to effect mail-in voting is the kind of danger we need to look out for.

“We are only as strong as our most recent election. Many countries around the world have installed their own version of Trump or wannabee Putin’s, something we haven’t seen since the rise of fascism in the 1930’s. We have seen the way he talks about professional athletes using their freedom of speech to protest during the National Anthem. Asking them to be fired or banned and not allowed to speak out. Even more recent, we have the seen deployment of federal troops to Portland, throwing people in unmarked cars and terrorizing the streets. We have seen this all happen before. When pressed, they even used the same defense the Nazi’s used at the Nuremberg trials, ‘We were only following orders.’

“In 2016 Trump would use his famous chant of ‘lock her up’ during his rallies. Threatening to lock up your political opponents is what actually happens in authoritarian governments. It’s also worth pointing out he wasn’t even actually elected by the people. He lost the election by over 3 million votes, I can’t stress that enough. We didn’t want him.

“I also worry that he won’t leave if he loses in November. He’ll make up whatever he can to avoid leaving. We all take democracy for granted but it only takes one Trump to break it forever. I think he wants to be President for life and I worry our election and democracy are not safe.”

Furthermore, according to NEC Political Science Professor Kyrie Kowalik: “Fascism has been on the rise in recent years across the world. I think it is something that we always should see as a potential threat. One thing that many people forget is that Hitler was first elected to government. It was through elections that he received his power. While the US has strong political institutions and a strong political culture, it is important to keep this in mind when voting for potential candidates. This is something that will always be a threat to any country, so regardless of where you stand at the moment, it is important to be watchful and vigilant, because fascism is illusive, insidious, and we are all vulnerable.”

Back to my initial point, fascism is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s not about us vs. them. It is about the rights of all of us being put in danger. It is about the people being put at risk of manipulation and having their beliefs weaponized to do harm unto others.

I implore you, fellow citizens, to pay attention to your surroundings and to go to the polls, not as a liberal or a conservative or right-wing or leftist, but as a cautious and educated American looking to stop this train before it is too late. Because one day it will be too late.

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Lia is a senior here at New England College and hails from Denver, Colorado. She is studying Creative Writing and Philosophy.
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