A couple years ago, I penned an article titled The Rise of American Fascism, in which I noted that the economic element of fascism (tight government control of privately-owned business), which has been a hallmark of our nation for a long time, is increasingly being joined by the nationalistic elements of that ideology. The latter, in particular with regard to immigration, is what created the greatest fervor on the Right leading into the 2018 election, and put Trump in the White House.

While Trump, in his first year, did quite a bit to walk back the economic fascism that had grown substantially under Obama, his second year is one of protectionism and trade wars. While some argue that the his tariff-mania is merely tactical, it’s both a dangerous one and an invitation for people to shoe-horn whatever they want to believe into what’s going on. So, we have some Trumpists claiming that he’s merely leveling the playing field, we have other Trumpists claiming that free trade is bad for the working classes and that Trump’s protectionism is fighting for the little guy, and we have Trump skeptics calling him an idiot and a buffoon for ignoring the stark lessons of history when it comes to tariffs and trade wars.

Funny bit, that ignoring of history.

People have a propensity of accusing others of bad behaviors that they themselves either exhibit subconsciously or wish to exhibit if they could do so consequence-free. When it comes to ignoring history, Trump’s supporters are pikers compared to today’s progressives and leftists. Indeed, the latter, taking pages straight out of Orwell’s playbook, are actually scrubbing history from the zeitgeist. The fact that they claim to do so for the betterment of society is what makes it so scary. As C.S. Lewis noted,

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

Consider that beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder is now under attack. She’s in good company, joining Harper Lee and Mark Twain as victims of the PC warriors’ desire to “protect” people from seeing certain words. This is a natural extension of the war on the free exchange of ideas being waged on college campuses and social media, and it’s become so pervasive that intellectual heavyweights who espouse nonconforming ideas have been given their own sorta-nefarious collective moniker: the intellectual dark web. It’s no longer enough to disagree with what someone else says. That someone else needs to be mocked, marginalized, and derided loudly enough to ensure that no one else dare admit he or she might find something of substance therein.

Despite, and in part because of all this intellectual thuggery, nonconforming ideas and personalities maintain traction and popularity. Unfortunately, the because creates a tendency to give crackpots like Alex Jones a sympathetic ear, because of the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” effect. And, worse, it motivates Trump’s supporters to defend the indefensible, out of some misguided and destructive “I can’t cede an inch lest my opponents take a victory lap” zero-sum tribalism.

In a sane time, Donald Trump’s antics would weigh heavily against him. Alas, we live in a time more aptly described by “hold my beer” than sanity or rationality.

So, we witness things like the jeering of DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she dined at a Mexican restaurant, and the ejection of Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders from a local restaurant (The Red Hen), solely due to her working for Trump. Or, more aptly, we witness the atrocious behavior of countless Americans in response to this act. Trump supporters are posting fake restaurant reviews, and even worse, ignorantly attacking and harassing other restaurants (and non-restaurants) that share the name Red Hen but have zero affiliation with the restaurant that ejected sanders. Trump critics started by applauding the restaurant owner’s action and defending her right to refuse service (and thus demonstrating blatant hypocrisy in the aftermath of their support for forcing a baker to decorate a cake), and have been inspired (and worse, actually encouraged and goaded by a Democratic Congresswoman) to personally harass members of Trump’s staff.

And, on social media yesterday, I observed several leftist knuckleheads writing stuff like “You will never be left alone to continue all your evil practices. The time has come to stop the bullshit.”

Normally, a few knuckleheads can and should be ignored. But, in this case, they appear to be characteristic examples of a broader societal trend.

While protests and counter-protests are nothing new, we are dangerously close to, and perhaps even across, the line between protest and thuggery. While no one is surprised by outbreaks of thuggery at white nationalist rallies, we’ve witnessed many examples at the Occupy protests, the Black Lives Matter protests, on college campuses, and at the ironically-named Antifa (anti-fascist) rallies.

Fascist Italy had its blackshirts. Nazi Germany had its brownshirts. In Orwell’s Animal Farm, Napoleon took nine puppies under his tutelage, educated them in isolation, turned them into his “security force,” and brought them forth to intimidate all those who dared think of disagreeing with him. Today’s “woke” millennials, educated in insulated liberal echo chambers and increasingly isolated from dissenting ideas and critical debate, are the 21st century redux of these intimidation packs. Their excesses have prompted in-kind responses, with the standard Alinsky-ite excuse of “playing by the other guy’s rules,” and we face an escalating see-saw of thuggery.

Textbook definitions of terms such as “socialism” and “fascism” have given way to more colloquial usage, and many today (legitimately) equate fascism with thuggery. Thuggery is something that arises naturally from parts of our behavioral hard-wiring, in particular our tribalism, the desire to belong, the fear of “other,” safety and strength in numbers, competitiveness, and the survival instinct. It’s why individuals’ behavior as part of a mob can be frighteningly divergent from their normal. It’s why soccer hooligan firms exist. It’s how the brownshirts came to be. And, it’s why we’ve devolved into this “I’ll top you” cycle of political awfulness.

Political movements and protests, even ones that devolve into physicality and violence, can be for good causes. History is full of such, that sought to right injustices and oppose oppression. But, political movements can also advocate frighteningly illiberal ideas. We all know that white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and their ilk are bad people pushing bad ideas, but how many of us understand how dangerous the people who seek to place limits on free speech and dissent are? How many understand that intimidation of public officials during their private times, in their private lives, and even at their homes is a horrible idea that’s already getting out of control? How many dismiss the idea that our elite universities, places of higher learning and knowledge where everyone should know better, have become fertile soil for fascism?

Many think that America has reached an unsurmountable divide, where Red states and Blue states will eventually decide to part ways. A Russian professor predicted in 1998 that such a breakup would occur in 10 years. While the timing of his prediction is clearly wrong, the possibility of it remains very real. We’ve witnessed noises about this state or that state seceding from the Union, and we are witnessing initiatives for some states (e.g. California) to split into pieces.

Perhaps some think that a split is the solution to this red-blue divide, but such a split would not go well, and wreak havoc as bad as any war might. Increasingly, it feels we are on the precipice of such a tragic outcome. Trump, as I’ve written in the past, is a symptom, not a cause, of this division and animus. Unfortunately, he’s not a benign one, and doesn’t help matters by perpetually taking the bait of such as Maxine Waters, who, given her 27 years in Congress, really should know better than to suggest:

If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.

Some might argue that such an extraordinary exhortation is justified in the face of the Trump family-separation story, but let’s be real – this (and every other) government has been doing controversial things throughout its existence, and this particular instance is high-visibility but not remotely exceptional (nor new). As awful and wrong as it is, it isn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. Rather, it’s an excuse to justify thuggish behavior, which is in turn a response to the failure of Middle America to accede to the increasingly fascistic cultural and political demands of the Left’s intellectual elite.

Do as we say or we’ll break stuff.

Trump’s bully-boy bluster doesn’t help any of this at all. It also provides cover for his opponents, who often assert that “he started it.” He didn’t. He’s a symptom, not a source cause.

He certainly escalated and coarsened the rhetoric, but the rhetoric has existed for the entirety of the nation’s history, and his predecessor was quite the practitioner as well. Obama’s been referred to by a great many people as the divider-in-chief, with good cause. His great skill was masking his divisiveness with high oratorical style, in contrast to Trump’s carnival-barker ways.

Naturally, people let their political inclinations decide for them who they felt was better for the country, but lets dispense with both that debate and the “he started it” dodge. If you look at the other side and say they’re acting like fascists, and your natural proclivity is to act like them in response, you’re just as big a part of the problem as they are. Fascism isn’t a pit we fall into overnight. It’s a death spiral, and it’s one we are dangerously close to being trapped in.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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