The Republican Party – described by Noam Chomsky years ago as “the most dangerous organization on Earth” – is now a fascist party (I will develop this point further in a future report on the state-level Republican jihad against Critical Race Theory). The sheer equivalence some “radicals” posit between the dismal neoliberal Democratic and the white-nationalist Amerikaner GOP is false. Just for starters, try to imagine the self-described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or for that matter, the corporate liberal Nancy Pelosi winning a Congressional seat in Kentucky, Iowa, or Wyoming and the QANazi Marjorie Taylor Green being elected to the U.S. House from Brooklyn, Chicago, or San Francisco.
But understanding the lethal and different (more than a “dime’s worth”) essence of the Republifascist Party should hardly mean an uncritical embrace of the Democrats. While not “the same,” the two dominant organizations are, as Upton Sinclair said in the original Appeal to Reason version of The Jungle, “two wings of the same bird of [corporate, financial, and imperial] prey.” They are both ruling class parties, captive to the underlying class dictatorship of capital and its global empire. Neither is an avenue for human liberation, to say the least. And, of particular interest for this essay, they are caught up in a perverse and co-dependent, mutually reinforcing relationship in which the Democrats function as a de facto junior partner in the making of the nation’s long, underlying fascist creep.
Ten Ways in Which the Democrats Generate and Enable the Republifascists
It’s not a pretty story. It’s one in which the white-nationalist Republicans menace America and the world thanks in no small part to the Democratic Party. The dismal Weimar Democrats are responsible for the Amerikaner Republifascists in ten key ways:
1. Demobilization. Again, and again, the neoliberal era Democrats’ cringing subordination to corporate, financial, and military-industrial authority (to concentrated wealth and power) has depressed and deactivated much of the non-Republican electorate in ways that have combined with the right-leaning biases of the U.S. electoral system to recurrently open the door for the nation’s rightmost party despite its vast unpopularity. By giving the nation’s working-class majority little if anything positive to vote and fight for, the Democrats repeatedly reveal their progressive-sounding rhetoric as manipulatively elitist and inauthentic. The Republifascists regularly exploit the demobilization that results. This is no small part of how Reagan, Bush senior, Bush junior, and Trump ascended to the White House.
2. Eating up Old Republican Space. When the Democrats shifted fully off their lingering New Deal and Great Society commitments to become a consolidated corporate-neoliberal party under Bill Clinton during the 1990s, they picked off parts of the Republican Party’s traditional Big Business constituency and policy agenda. To keep functioning as a feasible competitive force in the two-party system, the Republicans moved further to the neofascistic (racist, nativist, sexist, authoritarian, paranoid-style, and eliminationist) right to retain their identity as a separate and viable political party.
3. Legitimizing Right-Wing Agendas and Narratives by Embracing Them. The Clinton administration worked with the noxious Newt Gingrich Republicans to kick poor Black mothers (victims of simultaneous race, class, and gender oppression) and children off federal family cash assistance in the names of personal responsibility and the supposed holy duty of poor people to engage in degrading low-wage labor. Clinton joined with Republicans to force ever more Black men into prison with his racist Three Strikes crime bill. Clinton started up the southern border Wall to stem the surge of migrants expected to result from his neoliberal North American Free Trade Agreement, which displaced millions of Mexican farmers with subsidized U.S. agricultural exports.
The de facto white supremacist Barack Obama specialized in lecturing poor Black people on their supposed personal and cultural responsibility for their position at the bottom of the nation’s savage race-class hierarchies – this while happily serving as “proof” that racism no longer posed serious obstacles to Black equality. Like Clinton, Obama scolded Blacks who protested racist police violence on the sanctity of “law and order” – empty words in a nation that provides liberty and justice only for the privileged Few. Like Clinton, he opened his administration by crushing efforts to make health care a human right and advanced a healthcare scheme that preserved outrageous profits for insurance and drug companies and the broad parasitic medical-industrial-complex.
Numerous top Democrats, including then U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, backed the messianic militarist George W. Bush’s mass-murderous and Orwellian invasion of Iraq. Future “peace” President Obama – the wrecker of Libya, the bomber of Bola Boluk, and the drone-butcher of children – feigned opposition to the invasion on strategic grounds, never calling it out as an epic imperial and racist crime.
4. Militarism. Neofascism draws heavily on imperial militarism. The Democrats are deeply committed to the U.S. military empire, which eats up more than half of federal discretionary spending to maintain more than 800 military bases spread across more than 100 “sovereign” nations. Clinton and Obama kept the American military machine set on kill, murdering abroad with impunity. The onetime Iraq invasion cheerleader Joe Biden can’t finish a single speech without saying “God Bless our troops.” Imperial Joe (who launched missile attacks on Syria and Iraq just days ago) has (of course) advanced yet another massive Pentagon budget that will as usual cancel out desperately needed social and environmental expenditures. The Democrats are arguably more skilled and dangerous than the Republicans when it comes to managing the American imperial warfare state and selling its crimes as “democracy promotion.”
5. Pathetic Commitment to Bipartisanship Cooperation with a Militantly Partisan Neofascist Party. The Republican Party has become ever more fascistic across the neoliberal era. It is openly hostile to “normal” bourgeois-parliamentary give and take and advances eliminationist language regarding the other ruling class party. The party’s leaders and many of its Congresspersons and other elected officials tried to nullify the 2020 presidential election and are gearing up to repress minority voting and otherwise rig the electoral game in 2022 and 2024. The 2020 nullification effort included a lethal physical assault on the U.S. Capitol, leading to a handful of deaths on January 6, 2021, when most Congressional Republicans refused to certify Biden’s clear victory. It appears distinctly possible that the Republicans will join their likely expanded powers in Congress with their ongoing assault on state-level voting rights to conduct a successful, mostly soft coup in 2024-25. Despite all this and more terrible to contemplate, the Obama-Biden-Pelosi-Schumer-Clinton-Citigroup-Pentagon Democrats insist on “reaching out” to the white-nationalist (fascist) party in the name of “getting things done.”
The only decent thing to do with a vicious party like the 2020s Amerikaner GOP is to muster all one’s influence and power to destroy it. But it is unthinkable that the top Democrats would go down that fighting path. Indeed, the corporate-captive people in charge of the Democratic Party are more concerned with marginalizing the progressive, social-demcoratish (Bernie-Ocasio-Tlaib-Omar) faction (which wants to undo the Democrats’ pathetic neoliberalism and bipartisan religion) in their own party than they are with routing the Republifascists.
6. Refusing to Attack Archaic Minority Rule Institutions and Practices that Inflate the Power of a Party that Has Gone Neofascist. The ridiculous, undemocratic, and right-learning Electoral College and the preposterously unrepresentative and powerful nature of the U.S. Senate (wherein right-wing white Wyoming is 134 times more popularly represented than diverse and liberal California) are topics top Democrats never broach. That is unsurprising since those and other undemocratic features of the U.S. political order are encoded in the nation’s archaic 18th Century slaveholders’ Constitution and no fundamental alteration of that document is imaginable short of a popular revolution the Dems would never embrace. Still, the neo-Weimar Dems won’t even undertake actions permitted within the confines of the venerated national charter – the abolition of the reactionary Senate filibuster, the dilution of the absurdly powerful Supreme Court’s absurd 6-3 right-wing super-majority (through the addition of seats to the high court), and the admission of Washington D.C. as a state. Surrender to the Senate filibuster (the 60-vote rule) means the blockage of numerous basic reforms, including the House-passed For the People Act (FTPA), which would have outlawed numerous Republican voter suppression tactics and the state-level gerrymandering of Congressional districts. (So what if the FTPA is backed by two-thirds of the U.S. populace? Senatorial filibuster Simon says “No!” It’s the same with numerous other measures, vetoed not only by the corporate-financial plutocracy but also by a Louis XVI-era constitution designed by and for slave-owners and merchant capitalists for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare.)
7. Embracing Fascism’s Seedbed Capitalism. Top Democrats embrace the soulless and anarchic profits system, weeping about its “excesses” all the way to the bank as they are rewarded for their dutiful service to the nation’s owners (ask future NBA part-owner Barack Obama about the payoff). Unfortunately, one of capitalism’s “excess” outcomes is fascism. The ultimate destinations of the cancerous bourgeois system – the underlying class dictatorship – are authoritarian rule and environmental collapse, currently underway. These two terrible consequences are interrelated: the American capitalist order has exhausted its global and ecological frontiers; it is running out of “cheap nature” to replenish its profit rates. It is no longer capable of escaping its internal contradictions. This faces Americans and humanity with the choice between “[eco-] socialism and barbarism if we’re lucky.” Top Democrats will ultimately side with barbarism and fascism (fueled by ecological breakdown) over socialism every time.
8. Refusing to Punish Republifascists for Their Crimes. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, the late Donald Rumsfeld (whose extraordinary rendition to Hell two days ago delivers him to an eternity of enhanced interrogation), and others in the Bush43 administration belong(ed) behind bars for their exploitation of the (U.S.-provoked) 9/11 jetliner attacks to legitimize torture and to invade Iraq on openly false pretexts. The Obama44 administration refused to prosecute these arch-war criminals, citing a desire, in Obama’s words, to “look forward, not backwards.”
The tangerine-tinted tyrant Trump45 belongs in a jail cell for a range of terrible transgressions, including the sadistic child separation policy, demented assaults on environmental protections, the murder of a top Iranian general, pandemicide, and the attempted subversion and nullification of the 2020 presidential election. But Biden’s gutless Attorney General Merrick Garland (whose 2015 Supreme Court nomination was viciously torpedoed by the Republifascist Party) has “no stomach” for indicting Trump on any of his epic crimes. And now the orange malignancy is back on the hate rally campaign trail, still selling his Big Stolen Election Lie and otherwise stirring the neofascist pot without serious consequences from a government he tried to overthrow.
(Trump should have been impeached by the Democratic House for his pandemo-fascist COVID-19 failure and his war on livable ecology. But then Nixon should have suffered his de facto impeachment and removal for the bombing of Cambodia and for lethally assaulting the Black Panther, American Indian, and Antiwar movements, not just for ordering and covering up a childish break-in at the headquarters of the other establishment political party.)
9. Keeping People Off the Streets, Channeling Everything into Electoral Politics. The dismal Dems will of course never call the masses into the streets and public squares and out of their tyrannical workplaces to overthrow the environmentally exterminist corporate-financial plutocracy, the aristo-republican electoral and governance structure, and the underlying capitalist-imperialist order that gives rise to the neofascism that has congealed around “the most dangerous organization on Earth.” Unthinkable revolution aside, they won’t call people into the streets even for basic reforms like the For the People Act (an overdue and basic voting rights reform passed by the U.S. House, supported by two thirds of the American people, and of course blocked by the filibusted Simon Says Senate). When millions do take to the streets on their own initiative to protest outrageous things like the invasion of Iraq and the police murders of Black people (Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Brionna Taylor, and George Floyd among many thousands of nonwhite police violence victims), the Democrats and their media machine do everything they can to co-opt and pervert popular rebellion, steering it into the power-friendly sinkhole of major party electoral politics. When genuinely populist, anti-plutocratic Occupy encampments rose like an overnight cell phone map from coast to coast in the late summer and fall of 2011, the Wall Street-captive Obama administration and its blue (Democratic) metropolitan police state allies worked to infiltrate and dismantle the protest sites even as Obama and his party deceptively appropriated Occupy’s language and spirit for the 2012 campaign (against the made-to-order One Percent Republican candidate Mitt Romney).
10. Playing the Identitarian Card and Selling Violence. The Republicans are rightly reproached for their ugly white identitarianism, but they have no monopoly on the power-serving irrationality and silly, anti-scientific standpoint epistemology of bourgeois identity politics. The Democrats and their media allies constantly stoke the identity flames in their own deeply conservative fashion, privileging the placement of Black, LatinX, female, and gay faces in high places over serious engagement with the underlying “intersectional” oppression structures that create the nation’s extreme disparities of class, race, gender, and ethnicity. The Democrats’ “liberal” media regularly pushes the white “heartland’s” revanchist identity buttons even as it promotes a maddening multi-sensory culture of apocalyptic violence that helps steer deranged and armed whites into horrific acts of terror. “Liberal” and “politically correct” Hollywood insidiously manufactures and celebrates powerful images and sounds of sadistic mass bloodshed on a giant scale.
The Nice Cop Needs a Bad Cop
As a ruling class party, the Democrats are challenged in their effort to win the votes they need to stay viable in an electoral system that is badly if all too constitutionally tilted to the right. Given their ownership by the capitalist class, they gain electoral support less by advancing a positive vision of progressive change (though pretending to possess such vision is central to their marketing) than by exploiting fear of the other ruling class party. This invests them perversely in the continued existence and awfulness of the Republican Party: you can’t be the “nice cop” (lesser evil) without a “bad cop” (greater evil) on hand to scare the jailhouse captives. The fact that the Republicans – having crossed into fascist space – really are a greater immediate evil does not make Democrats’ co-dependent complicity in the sick game any less despicable.
An Expected Book Sales Irony
My October 2020 book Hollow Resistance: Trump, Obama, and the Politics of Appeasement sold well (I am told) until Joe Biden was elected. That was both expected and ironic. It was expected because Biden’s very lucky election worked to seemingly disprove my thesis that the Dems’ electoral “resistance” to Trump and Trumpism was “hollow.” Trump was in fact removed from power, after all, if barely, with no small dark providence (without the “chance” COVID-19 tragedy Trump would have garnered a second term) and not without the bloodshed many of us knew would come after his electoral defeat.
It was ironic because the hollowness and appeasement continues (also as predicted) even after the Dems have taken back the White House and won (painfully slim) majorities in Congress. It is a good time to recall Sheldon Wolin’s prophetic remarks in the early spring of 2008. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin wrote in his chilling volume Democracy, Incorporated as Barack Obama’s star rose, they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.” The imagined nominally “in-power” corporatist Democrats would work to “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.”
Wolin called it (so did I in a much less heralded book published around the same time). A nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Barack Obama (as under his Democratic presidential predecessor Bill Clinton) was the standard “elite” neoliberal manipulation of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the reigning big-money bankrollers and their global empire. Wall Street’s control of Washington and the related imperial agenda of the “Pentagon System” were advanced more effectively by the nation’s first Black president than they could have been by stiff and wealthy white Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney. The reigning U.S. system of corporate and imperial “inverted totalitarianism” (Wolin) was given a deadly, fake-democratic re-branding. The underlying “rightward drift” sharpened, fed by a widespread and easily Republican-exploited, highly racialized white-identitarian sense of popular abandonment and betrayal, as the Democrats depressed and demobilized their own purported popular base. Indeed, the eliminationist right-wing cancer metastasized during the Obama years.
Now we have an even crazier right-wing fresh off four years of the Mad Trump presidency, with 60 percent of the Republican base embracing the big Hitlerian lie that the 2020 election was stolen. A significant neofascist share of that base supports political violence to protect a white supremacist notion of the “American way of life.” A good and lethal section of the country sees January 6th as a positive event. The Trump-captive Republifascist Party is gearing up with an epidemic of state-level voter suppression bills and gerrymandering commissions to lock in a return to Congressional power in 2022. I’m not a big fan of the centrist Obama pal and Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, but he’s dead on here: “The most important and most relevant truth of the [January 6] riot is that it was not the culmination of the insurrection, but its prologue. If the Republican Party, as currently constituted, takes back the House and Senate next year (an outcome that is not only plausible but, history tells us, likely), and if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2024, it doesn’t seem likely that Congress will certify the victory. And then the four horsemen will most certainly ride.”
The horsemen will ride with pathetically little resistance from the so-called “party of the people,” the dismal dollar-drenched neoliberal Dems, who may go down in the history books as the junior partner party in the rise of an American fascist order in the third decade of the 21st Century. It will be up to the people themselves to write a different history. They must form new organizations appropriate to the tasks of refusing fascism and creating the kind of society that doesn’t breed that disease and destroy livable ecology.
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of eight books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014). Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books, September 2020). Paul writes regularly for Counterpunch and Dandelion Salad. Help Paul Street keep writing here and/or here.
Originally published at Counterpunch, July 2, 2021
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