In case it wasn’t already evident, by now it seems clear that we’re living in a moment when the lunatics have taken over the asylum. If you’re still not convinced, consider that the specter of plunging the world into the “fire and fury” of nuclear war wasn’t even the worst thing that happened in the last week or so. Instead, while political tensions and environmental conditions threaten to boil over everywhere, we have a president who can’t even muster a lucid response to the most obvious forms of abject hatred. As Senator Warren succinctly wrote following yet another perverse presidential performance, “This is sick.”
Many have speculated why this President cannot straightforwardly condemn the evil in our midst, with perhaps the most frequent word associated with his overall demeanor being “unhinged.” For instance, we know that he often admires strongmen-type leaders, including Putin. A big part of his political base is either directly or indirectly connected to the supremacist and nationalist factions that are steadily pushing further out into the public sphere. Revelations that his father was connected to racist practices appear in the news queue, suggesting a deeper personal bent. He often denigrates those in the margins.
"We are in a moment where the next steps will determine whether this is the last gasp of a dying creed, or the full flowering of a new reign of homegrown horror."
The list goes on and any one of these in itself would be troubling, let alone all of them in concert. To view this through a lens of immanent fascism is becoming a mainstream position in the discourse here, and the global community has been processing it on these terms for a longer while now. Still, despite personal and political baggage that would have sunk any other national figure in recent memory, we’re continually subjected to indecorous displays, asinine rants, nonsensical tweets, and aberrant behavior. Whatever debates we may have about policy and ideology, basic levels of comportment are expected.
All of which suggests that this may be a product of madness more so than the calculations of method. We needn’t engage in pop psychology diagnoses that can undermine genuine struggles with mental illness, nor is it necessary to be clinical about this in terms of drawing conclusions from public personas that may evince multiple motivations. Rather, if we’re searching for ways to contest this incipient “hostile takeover” of the nation, it behooves us to consider how these patterns may evolve in the near term, as conditions are exacerbated and any remaining vestiges of collegial restraint are fully eroded.
This mindset shows itself in myriad related ways. It entails the displacement of blame and a refusal to accept any responsibility, even while claiming the rightful exercise of power and gloating over perceived accomplishments. It will go on the offensive whenever challenged, use threats to preempt contestation, and twist reality to its ends. It strives to cut off access to information and undermine the formation of alliances that could mount against it. It imposes severe consequences for disloyalty and tepid rewards for acquiescence. It shows no empathy or compassion, and draws false equivalencies to justify behavior.
Fascism is pathology writ large. It is dangerous both because of its cold calculations and mercurial machinations alike, being immune to reason and incapable of being swayed by appeals to justice. It tries to defeat others by either intimidating them into submission or goading them into more desperate responses, which can then in turn be used to justify the need for further incursions. It tries to make you like it (through incessant propaganda and blatant lies), but if it can’t then it will at least try to make you be like it. It seeks to operate at the level of interpersonal relationships and political realities all at once.
Fascism is a form of collective insanity that devolves upon brutality and hatred to maintain its power. We have seen it too many times in this world; indeed, the mantra of “never again” was supposed to reflect not only a remembrance of history but a warning about the clear and present dangers to the future if these patterns go unchecked. In a country with deeply rooted unresolved issues of oppression and exploitation, a kernel of fascism has always existed alongside overtures to democracy and tolerance. Exposing it to sunlight might eradicate it for good, unless it’s given fertile soil and conducive conditions.
We are in a moment where the next steps will determine whether this is the last gasp of a dying creed, or the full flowering of a new reign of homegrown horror. We’re being given an opportunity to confront our past and chart a better course for tomorrow, if we can meet the challenge head on. How we do so is a matter of personal conviction and political opportunity, but doing nothing is not an option. If indeed what we’re seeing is “sick,” then one possibility is to think in terms of healing. When diseases threaten to go viral, it’s crucial to build up resistance against them. A cure requires more than applying a bandaid.