Socialism and capitalism describe economic systems. Communism and representative democracy describe political frameworks. Fascism is different — named after Mussolini’s political party, it is a means of achieving and maintaining power. It is diagnosed, not proclaimed.
“Repeat the lie often enough and it becomes truth” is a fascist principle of propaganda. You need not see yourself as a partisan actor or consume the propaganda directly: as the repetition of strategic lies circulates in the ether, your Overton window shifts. You adopt aspects of the Party’s terminology, narrative, framing and become complicit in the propaganda, and untruths — “The media is against him”, “Kaepernick should respect the troops”, “Both parties do it”, “There was no Russian collusion” — start to feel valid or at least arguable points, because you have heard them so many times. This phenomenon is exacerbated by tech and social networks: your political content is curated to your social adjacencies, geography, consumption patterns.
Arbiters for objective truth — scientists, experts, public education, journalists, universities, fact-checkers — are all that remains to keep you moored. It is no coincidence that these are the very institutions that are derided by the Party: this derision is an essential tool of fascism. “The media is liberal.” “The EPA has an agenda.” “There was voter fraud.” The less educated the population, the simpler the lie can be. The COVID pandemic demonstrated that even the most basic facts – such as the medical fact that wearing masks prevent the spread of airborne pathogens – can be unmoored. The Party releases strategic anecdotes and factoids, repeats explicit lies, deluges you with information, and manipulates news cycles. Repetition of strategic lies combine with the derision of objective institutions to obliterate the notion of objective truth, and with it your power as a citizen to discern truth from lies.
You need not believe every aspect of the lie for the lie to work. The Party knows this. This is the reason for the Big Lie. As long as there is a Big Lie, you are afforded the luxury of moderating the Big Lie down to a small lie. “5 million illegals voted in California” becomes “there probably was some voter fraud and we need more strict restrictions on voting”, even though the latter assertion is entirely false. “Climate change is a hoax” becomes “climate change may be happening but it isn’t as bad as the alarmists say” even though the latter assertion is entirely false. “Obamacare is a disaster” becomes “I just don’t believe the individual mandate is right and the law needs repeal or reform.” The Party’s master trick is the illusion that this act of moderation is your critical thought, when it is in fact your exhaustion. The Party has made you complicit. You have adopted the Myth.
Yesterday, Pelosi’s House Majority remained the final legal check on the Party’s complete power — only an act of violence and intimidation could have removed it. The US President invited a predominantly white male Brownshirt army to the US Capitol and explicitly asked them to march on the Capitol building to resist his legal removal from power. The insurrectionists forcibly entered the inner chamber of the US Capitol yelling “where are they?” as lawmakers sheltered in place behind barred doors. Had the chips fallen differently, Kamala Harris, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, and key members of the House and Senate would have easily been executed at the hands of a mob that killed law enforcement officers defending the Capitol. Dozens of Party leaders explicitly incited and encouraged the effort. The President empowered the coup’s chances of success by delaying the deployment of the National Guard, allowing Capitol police to be overcome. He later tweeted incitement of violence and shared a video telling the insurrectionists “we love you” while repeating the Myth.
The explicit violence captured your attention and the news cycle, but the violence is toothless without the Myth, and the Myth needs you for it to work. The Myth both fuels the violence and provides the necessary lynchpin of your complicity. The President provided the Big Lie — that he was the legitimate winner of the election. The Party’s Senators and Congressmen presented a complex set of handpicked anecdotes and confounding arguments in indecipherable constitutional legalese to create the veneer of a coherent argument. To achieve a coup, the Party does not need you to believe the President’s Big Lie — they simply need you to be overhelmed by the veneer of the argument, that the incoming democratically-elected leadership is illegitimate, that the violence therefore has legitimacy. By establishing a legal narrative to reject the election, they achieve your complicity in the Myth.
The Party knows exactly what it is doing. Ted Cruz knows what he is doing. Josh Hawley knows what he is doing. Donald Trump knows what he is doing. Our outrage, our willingness to shame them, our ability to hold them accountable to our shared laws against sedition remain the only backstop preventing them from doing it.