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Sunday, July 25, 2021


As usual, a good deal happened while I was away: the terrible flash floods in Germany, the raging fires on the West Coast, the assassination of the president of Haiti, the disastrous spread of the Delta variant of the virus. But judging from what I have heard watching CNN international, something else less dramatic happened as well. It seems finally to have become part of the common wisdom that the Republican Party is now a full on fascist movement. For someone my age, that statement has an odd sound to it. I grew up accustomed to think of fascism as something that happened in Italy (where the term was coined, drawing on an old Roman word), in Spain, in Hungary, and of course in Germany. Lynching, racial segregation, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, military repression of working-class organizations, McCarthyism – these were what we had to contend with in America. But not fascism. Not a major political party openly committed to seizing power illegally, not merely suppressing the vote but ignoring it, denying it, all in the name of white supremacy.


It is difficult for someone who has spent his entire life publicly attacking the weaknesses and failings of the American political system now to find himself desperately defending “American democracy” against a fascist threat, but however ego-dystonic this may feel, there is no contradiction in it, I am convinced. Virtually everything I want to see happen in this country requires mobilizing scores of millions of men and women to use the power of the vote. Permanently destroy that power and there is nothing left for me to hope for.


I have spent some time reading the American Constitution in an attempt to figure out what could happen in 2024 to foist Trump on us again. The following is an entirely conceivable sequence of events with that outcome. Suppose that Biden runs again, this time against Ron DeSantis. Suppose that the result is roughly the same: Biden wins an enormous popular majority and a modest electoral vote majority, a crucial portion of which consists of the electoral votes from three or four midwestern states or southern states controlled by Republican legislatures. Suppose that in those three or four states the state legislatures, against tradition, against the vote, and even perhaps against state laws, sends to the Congress electoral votes committed to Trump, who has not even been a declared candidate. Since no person under these circumstances would have a majority of the vote, the Constitution says that the House must choose from among the three persons with the most electoral votes, each House delegation voting as a unit. Since the Republicans control a majority of the state delegations, they could vote to choose Trump as president. If the decision were appealed to the Supreme Court, the court would look to the Constitution and find that the process had been entirely in keeping with the explicit specifications of that document. At this point, American democracy with all its flaws comes to an end.


What would happen if this nightmare scenario, not at all impossible, were actually to come to pass? I do not really know the answer to that. Would California and New York and Virginia and Washington State and all the other democratic states accept the outcome? Would Biden, still president for another 14 days, accept the outcome? Would the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accept the outcome?


You can see why I have lost some sleep over this. No kidding.


Another Anonymous said...

An intriguing, and concerning, possible outcome. While possible, I believe unlikely – 14 states controlled by Republican legislatures have enacted voter suppression laws. There are currently a total of 30 states controlled by Republican legislatures, 16 of which have, as yet, not enacted voter suppression laws, some of which could be expected to not vote for Trump. (Two states have split legislatures.) Since there are currently 18 Democratic controlled legislatures, they would need 8 of the 16 Republican controlled states which have not enacted voter suppression laws to not vote for Trump. The likelihood that at least 8 such states would oppose Trump is, I believe, likely, but, of course, not guaranteed.

You will recall that Kurt Gödel concluded that there was a contradiction in the Constitution which made it vulnerable to a non-democratic presidential outcome. I am no aware that precisely what that contradiction was has ever been divulged. His friends Albert Einstein and, I believe, Oskar Morgenstern, had to dissuade Gödel from referring to the contradiction when he took his citizenship examination.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I vaguely recall that wonderful story about Godel. It helps to have friends like that.

Howie said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Republicans are fascist because they are only and solely about absolute power and that they are nativists-
I think some people feel like their power is slipping out of their grasp and that the world is too chaotic and Trump and fascism is their emergency brake

aaall said...

If the CJCS had a definitive say that in itself would signify the end of Constitutional governance. That is why the three statements by the CJCS, the JCS, and all the living former SECDEFS from December 2020 to January 2021 as well as Trump's purges of the organs of national security beginning in the Fall of 2020 should have had everyone's hair on fire.

What no democratic constitution can survive is an ideological political party with a path to power. The Constitution, of course, provides multiple paths to fascism (also see 2 & 3 USC).

Howie, the Republican Party is trending fascist because it was captured by Movement Conservatism. Movement Conservatism has no path to governance besides right neoliberalism and that leads to right populism, herrinvolk democracy, and resolves to fascism.

All of this was financed by plutocrats who, it seems, never learn that kleptocrats and authoritarians see them as prey not allies.

Another Anonymous said...


I believe your theory constitutes the floccinaucinihilipilification of other significant factors contributing to the Republican pathology.

Howie said...

Hi another anonymous and aaall

Everything you say might better explain things than my speculations
What I'm doing a poor job of is applying theory of mind to the average Trump voter
I think they sense that something is wrong that they can't quite articulate. My candidate is that they are losing their place in a dangerous and chaotic world.
Marx might attribute such a perception to the crises of capitalism- maybe so, I think the western world has been chaotic for a while
This has been my intuition about Trump's appeal since he came on the stage
Any theory has to explain how people behave based on their perceived and subjective self interest- I mean of course they're being manipulated and they're being brainwashed by ideologues and charlatans.
I hope we have a long discussion about this after a sequel of the Trump's presidency has been long cancelled as ridiculous and unconstitutional

antidisestablishmentarianist said...

I'm sorry to see Howie so casually throw out self interest (of whatever variety)as if it was the basis of all human behavior. My first concern is presented here, I suppose:

I also find it a bit troubling that 'we'--the enlightened ones--know what the true self interests of others (huge masses of them almost entirely unknown to us personally) are and are so confident that they must have been brainwashed by ideologues and charlatans into misunderstanding their actual situation--what's wrong with these people that they don't think like me?

s. wallerstein said...


I assume that there are certain basic human needs and that's in people's self-interest to live in a society which satisfies those needs.

Eating and shelter to begin with.

How about adding basic medical care and dental care for each person and their families? We also know that in the U.S. today paying for medical and dental care is often difficult for the poor and the working class and so it's in their self interest to vote for candidates who propose programs which provide medical and dental care at low cost or free of all costs.

Now you might say that some people don't give a fuck about their teeth. I'm 75 and I've lost a lot of my teeth due to my own negligence and not always having money for dental care. I have a dental prosthesis and it's no fun: I have difficult chewing some things. If I had had more money, I would have gotten dental implants, but I didn't have money for that.

One might add education for one's children as a basic human need and I could go on, but you get the point.

Robert Vienneau said...

Prof. Wolff,

You might find Gregory Slack's article "Marx's argument for the labor theory of value" (Review of Radical Political Economics, 2020) of interest. It purports to explain how you, among others, are too dismissive of the argument in the first chapters of volume 1 of capital.

Robert Vienneau

Howie said...

To antidis

It's because I am like them in some ways that I can enter their mind
We have the same human weaknesses and I think that though Trump voters were duped, first I'll grant that they had some good motives, that is to make America great again and they in their private lives aren't bad people and in many ways they are better than me
I do think they acted against their self interest as we all do sometimes and when my friends and family criticize me, I don't take it personally and thank them.
Likewise I am not attacking Trump voters, I'm just, though it's a longshot, pointing out whhat got them into world historical errors.
They are human beings, underneath their aggressive behavior is pain and fear and misguided patriotism.
The political climate is such that you take my comments as a personal attack.
There is a cultural war going on and I don't think the left is innocent either.
I am not an anchor on MSNBC and the psychological aspects interest me more than the political
I hope you understand my point

aaall said...

Antidis, if you were aware of the history of Movement Conservatism in the United States, you would understand that it is a perfect example of a long con. Central to any con is that the mark is led to go against his interests. Forget all that Aristotle and Hobbes; politics on the right is all kayfabe. You would learn more watching Raw and Smackdown.

S.W. has a point. A perfect example is when red state politicos run on cultural issues (Values!!!) and then deny the Medicaid expansion while giving the wealthy tax breaks (see Kansas/Wisconsin).

With Trump supporters we also have to factor in ignorance and stupidity. The economy under Trump trended the same as under Obama in spite of a pro-cyclical tax cut and was trending into a recession just prior to Covid (if Trump had any smarts he would have realized that Covid could be leveraged to his advantage). I saw an interview with a supporter at this weekends rally in Arizona. Dude still believes Trump is a highly successful businessman. Endless marks out there.

antidisestablishmentarianist said...

"kayfabe" "Raw" and "Smackdown" are all unknown to me. Sorry I upset some of you by suggesting that it's quite anti-democratic to hold that those one disagrees with must have been manipulated while 'we' are, of course, clear thinking and have an immaculate conception of the evidence the world makes available to 'us.'

aaall said...

Anti, you are universalizing a specific claim. There are areas where disagreement is possible and there are cons. One needs to be able to tell the difference. The history of the Right in the United States is available - Rick Perlstein's work is easily found. National Review has archives as does the American Mercury. Lenin's work is on-line. There's lots more - e.g. Great Awakening. Terms can be googled.

Watching Trump's earliest rallies it struck me how much they resembled a WWE event. Assuming you are serious, I'll leave you with one of life's truest maxims: "If you are in a game and you don't know who the mark is, y
ou're the mark."

DJL said...

A full-on fascist movement? I thought we were being serious now! Jokes aside, the current situation is bad enough and certainly concerning, but such sweeping remarks really don't help anyone - and I doubt it is common belief anyway; such analogies have certainly received plenty of push-back from scholars such as Richard Evans, Corey Robin, and Brian Leiter (scholars from the left no less).

Another Anoymous said...


I have spent a good part of this morning watching the testimony of the Capitol police at the Congressional hearing on the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. It is riveting and disturbing. Judging from their testimony, that assault by the Trumpists was a full-on fascist attack on our democracy. The fact that in numbers or weaponry it did not equal that of the Nazi Brown Shirts in Germany reflects on their strength, no on their commitment to overthrowing our democracy. In that regard, they are as dedicated, and as dangerous, as the Brown Shirts were. And we should not be minimizing their future potential to destroy our form of government. I have not read the commentary by Leiter and the others you mention, and assuming you have accurately reflected their views, I and many others believe those views are erroneous. This threat to our country must be taken seriously.

DJL said...

Another Anoymous,

Not saying any of these threats shouldn't be taking seriously or indeed downplayed, but to say that it was a full-on fascist attack, or that the Republican party is a full-on fascist movement, is quite simply preposterous. At the end of the day there are as many similarities to fascism in any of these American hard-right movements as there are differences, and I really don't see the point of drawing such a strong correspondence - it's not even an analogy any more! Anyway, this piece by Richard Evans is helpful:

aaall said...

"Yet" may have a place in academia and with folks still enthralled with the dated possibilities of an united working class but that mode of analysis leaves out the "tragedy/farce" factor.

A revolutionary ideological/theological movement that rejects liberal democracy and seeks to impose a herrinvolk democracy may or may not be on the road to full blown, academically approved "fascism" but it seems to me that that's the way to bet. Whatever we choose to call it, we need to end it and save the academic quibbling for the postmortem.

aaall said...

Just saw, s/b interesting.

"Justice Department Authorizes Former Trump Officials to Testify Before Congress, Rejects Executive Privilege"

Another Anonymous said...


So, on your recommendation, I read Prof. Evans’ article “Why Trump isn’t a fascist,” and, I found it unconvincing, overly pedantic, and, frankly, rather silly. Now, I am not an historian, and I do have high regard for Prof. Evans given his role in rebutting David Irving’s efforts at Holocaust denial, but that does not make him infallible. As a former philosophy graduate student and a practicing attorney of several decades, I take the use of precise language very seriously, and recognize that there is a vast difference between, in the heat of argument, calling my wife a fascist and calling a political leader a fascist. The latter case requires a higher degree of accuracy.

A good deal of Evans’ critique, and that of other historians and political scientists (see, e.g., who deny that Trump and his followers are, technically speaking, fascists, is another iteration of several other discussions which have recently occupied this blog space, i.e., the difference between a “pacifist’ and a “true pacifist’; the difference between a KKK racist and an unintentional institutional racist. I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s discussion of the use of the word “game,” which encompasses literally thousands of activities with no identifiable central commonality, but a sort of daisy-chain connection from one to the other across a broad spectrum of candidates.

So, why does Prof. Evans maintain that Trump does not qualify as a fascist? Because the use of the term arose in the 1920s and 1930s to describe the political movements in Italy and Germany following the devastating consequences of WWI on their economies. He states: “What drove fascism and Nazism was the desire to refight the First World War, but this time to win it. … The Third Reich lived for war, breathed war and promoted war without limits.” By contrast, “For all of Trump’s hostility towards countries he perceives as enemies of the US, notably Iran, there is no indication that he sought a war with any foreign power, still less that he has been consumed by a desire for foreign conquest and the creation of an American empire. He is an isolationist, busy withdrawing US troops from foreign adventures, from Syria to Afghanistan. ‘America first’ is not about launching foreign wars but disengaging from them.”

That’s it? The sine qua non for qualifying as a fascist requires that one be a warmonger? Please. Attacking the press is not enough? Calling for dissidents at rallies to be roughed up is not enough? Calling for your supporters to descend on the Capitol to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power to your legitimately elected opponent is not enough? Repeatedly declaring that the election was stolen from you, and calling for a revolution to undo this travesty is not enough?


Another Anonymous said...

When one wants to understand how a word is used in a particular language, the best source, in any language, is a dictionary of that language. In this regard, the word “fascist” is defined on my online dictionaries as follows:

“A fascist is a follower of a political philosophy characterized by authoritarian views and a strong central government – and no tolerance for opposing opinions.”

“Often capitalized: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition,”

These definitions let my wife off the hook for ordering me to mow the lawn and wash the dishes, but they certainly appeal to apply to Trump’s modus operandi: exalts nation and often race above the individual, e.g., Trump’s travel ban on Muslims; his reference to the Charlottesville protesters as “good people”; no tolerance for opposing opinions, e.g., his claim that all reports criticizing him constitute “fake news”; forcible suppression of opposition, e.g, his use of the military to quell and disperse protesters outside the White House so that he could march to a nearby church, hold up a bible, and invoke God’s support of his administration. Nowhere in any of the definitions is there a requirement that a fascist leader be a warmonger.

Now, granted, he is/was not a particularly effective fascist and was unable to execute a long-term strategy for perpetuating his autocratic rule, but since when does success dictate the correct usage of a term to describe a political movement? Is a bank robber who gets caught and convicted therefore not a bank robber?

In the article cited above, eight esteemed and learned historians/political scientists seek to debunk the idea that Trump qualified as a “true fascist.” But that article was published on October 23, 2020, before the election, before Trump’s insistence, despite all of the evidence, that he really won the election; and before the January 6, 2021, insurrection and violent attack on the Capitol, inspired by Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric; and before his continued efforts since January 6 to sow discord and calls for recounts in Arizona and Georgia. One of the experts who decries describing Trump as a fascist is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history at NYU, who states: “I also favor authoritarian over fascist as a description for Trump because the former captures how autocratic power works today. In the 21st century, fascist takeovers have been replaced by rulers who come to power through elections and then, over time, extinguish freedom.” Gee, that’s reassuring. Pardon me for misusing the word “fascist.”

s. wallerstein said...

Words change meaning.

"Abusive parent" has a much broader meaning than it did when I was growing up in the 1950's. Today any parent who hits his or her children is considered "abusive", while back then he or she had to seriously beat the child to be considered "abusive".

So too with "rape". What is called "date rape" did not exist in the 1950's.

Similarly, maybe our definition of "fascist" has changed since the 1930's. If so, Trump is a fascist. He's not Hitler, there are no death camps, one mob storming of the capitol building is not the SS or the SA, he didn't start any wars, but he's a fascist, model 2021.

Another Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

Add to your examples the word "marriage," which, when we were growing up in the 1950s was exclusively between an anatomic male and an anatomic female. The idea that it could be between individuals of the same gender was inconceivable.

aaall said...

A minor point perhaps but the CJCS and the JCS have no operational command authority. They are outside the legal chain of operational command which goes from the president through the Secretary of Defense to the various unified commands. Gen. Milley and the other JCS were pushing the envelope with their letters and speeches. It appears that Pence authorized the deployment of the D.C. National Guard which was a definite break in the chain of command.

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