The American Right looks primed to splinter. In the next election cycle, progressives and leftists should run candidates in red districts to exploit the divisions on the right.
Early into Obama’s first term, the Tea Party gained prominence in Republican politics, while liberals sat back and watched the American right fight amongst itself. The winners of that infighting consolidated power and brought us President Trump.
Over the course of my own lifetime, the Republican Party has changed dramatically. The first time I realized that there was a thing called a President, the man in the oval office was George W. Bush.
The Republican Party of my early childhood was that of neo-conservatism and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 2008 was the first presidential election I followed, and it’s what sparked my interest in politics. After 2008, neo-conservatism was more or less dead and buried, but a new movement began to grow.
In the wake of the election of our first black president and the financial crash of 2008, the Occupy movement took America by storm. It is important to note that Occupy was not specifically ideological; for many on both the left and the right Occupy was a catalyst for political action and development.
In the latter half of Obama’s first term, a new faction within the Republican Party began to pick up steam. The Tea Party was, on its face, a populist, fiscal libertarian movement against the perceived “socialism” of the Obama administration. In point of fact, however, the activism of the Tea Party was less populist and more of a corporate front for lower taxes and fewer regulations on the oil industry.
This movement culminated in Ron Paul’s failed 2012 bid for the presidency. It is important to note that while the goals of the movement were largely a corporate sham, the anger of the movement’s marchers was real. That anger was something that would come to be molded into a weapon of hatred by Donald Trump in 2015 and 2016.
This is where we need to backtrack and take a look at the American far right. In his audiobook The War on Everyone, Robert Evans outlines the evolution of the American far right from George Lincoln Rockwell to Donald Trump. Prior to 2016, the high point for American fascists was in the early to mid 1990’s, when American conservatism was gripped with an intense anxiety and loss of direction after the Cold War.
Following Ruby Ridge and the siege of Waco, Texas, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680. This act of terror, meant to inspire a right wing uprising against the federal government, largely ended what mainstream appeal the far right had.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the threat posed by the fascism of our current day could hardly be clearer. Ever since the Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, I have dedicated a sizable chunk of my free time to studying fascism’s past and present and analyzing the best ways to defeat it.
A common through line in the study of fascism is the part that liberals and conservatives play in its rise. The part conservatism plays in the rise of fascism is plain enough — the concept of socialism or even modest social democratic reforms scares them and their wealthy backers, and they fool themselves into believing that the fascists are the lesser evil.
The part played by liberals and liberalism is a bit more obscure, partially because American political terminology is so vastly different from the rest of the world. Liberals are, for the most part, socially permissive if not progressive and believe in free market capitalism with moderate restraints.
One of the core principles of liberalism is that of free speech, and in many cases, a near absolutist approach to freedom of speech. While in theory freedom of speech is great, when confronted with the challenge of fascism, that very virtue is used as a bludgeon by the fascist. By tolerating intolerance one perpetuates it.
Another key component to the rise of fascism is a growing leftist movement which causes the middle class to feel threatened. The majority of people who stormed the Capitol were undoubtedly middle class. We know this because they were there, from all over the country, on a Wednesday, in the middle of an economic crisis. These people were by and large economically comfortable. The middle class in America is made up of two primary groups: the small business owner and the educated professional. In the language of Marxists, these are the petty bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy, respectively.
This is not to say that fascism does not find support amongst the white working class, simply that the core of fascist support is drawn from the middle class. The Nazi Party billed itself as the party of the middle class, staunch opponents of the left and big business. While big business was at first hesitant to support Hitler and the Nazi Party, preferring less radical nationalist parties, they eventually saw which way the wind was blowing and sided with the Nazis.
If American fascism is to outlive the Trump presidency, then it will adopt what is known as the Third Position. The Third Position blends the bigotry of fascism with the economic populism of socialism to form a grotesque chimera of an ideology that poses a serious danger to us all.
The fascist gang of Proud Boys has already begun to call for an embrace of the Third Position. As the caustic effects of neoliberalism further degrade our society, economic populism will only grow increasingly appealing to those left behind in an ever globalizing economy. Some will find socialism, but the results will be biased in favor of the Third Position.
Decades of anti-communist propaganda has brainwashed generations of Americans into believing that anyone left of liberal is an agent of the devil working to destroy the country. Most people born before the 90s have been culturally conditioned to outright reject socialism, and of that group, a number of them will simply accept the bigotry of the Third Position as the price of admission.
In order to defeat fascism, we must all work together to build a culture of anti-fascism. From a very young age, all Americans learn that the Nazis are the bad guys, and this simple fact is perhaps the greatest advantage that anti-fascists have in the struggle.
When David Duke ran for Senate and Governor in Louisiana in the early 90s, one of the most damaging things to his campaign was not that he had been the leader of the KKK —the Klan was seen as a part of the Southern political tradition. Instead, the piece of Duke’s past that harmed him the most was a photo of him wearing an SS uniform in college.
Likewise at Charlottesville, the flying of Nazi flags and chanting of Nazi slogans shattered any mainstream support the fascists had. Since 2017, the fascists seem to have somewhat learned to keep the swastikas at home. The attack on the capitol featured a noticeable absence of Swastika flags, although plenty of other Neo-Nazi imagery was proudly displayed. This adaptation to the broadly anti-Nazi cluture that already exists in America poses a challenge for anti-fascists as new symbols take the place of the swastika.
Fascism draws its name from the fasces, a bundle of sticks with an axe head. Alone, fascists are weak and pathetic, relying on race or ethnicity to define themselves rather than actual personality traits. When put together, they pose a grave danger to any who do not conform to their hateful ideology.
The American Left must go on the offensive. Allowing the right to fight amongst themselves may provide some smug sense of satisfaction, but the winner of this conflict will consolidate the party and be stronger for it if left to their own devices. When liberals and progressives fight amongst themselves, much of that fighting is encouraged and stoked by the right wing media, thus dividing the Democratic Party.
This divide and conquer strategy is crucial to Republican success. There are 12 million more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. When coupled with nearly half of all independents leaning towards the Democrats. The balance of power is roughly 48% Democrats or Democrat leaning, with only 39% Republican or Republican leaning. As the smaller of the two parties, the only way that the Republican Party can achieve power is through a divided Democratic Party.
I acknowledge that the term “antifa” is optically poisoned. Part of that is because it obfuscates the “fa,” fascism, this is why I much prefer the term Anti-Fascist, or Anti-Fascist activist. The opposition to “Antifa'' comes out of the destruction of property that can happen during “black bloc” actions. The combination of being in a crowd of people, the majority of whom would describe themselves as anti-capitalist as well as anti-fascist, and the anonimity black bloc tactics provide can lead to participants becoming excited and damaging property.
While protecting one’s identity is important, I believe that black bloc tactics ultimately do more harm to the cause of anti-fascism than good. When a group of leftists get into a street fight with a group of fascists, if the leftists are dressed in all black then the corporate media has a far easier time labeling the story as a simple partisan street brawl without analyzing the nuance of the anti-fascist position. If, however, you have a bunch of normal people defending themselves against a group of fascists, the narrative practically writes itself.
With Trump reportedly considering the formation of a third party, Leftists and Democrats should seize the opportunity to widen the gulf between the main-line Republicans and the more fascistic elements of the party. With a “Patriot” party splitting the vote the Democrats could seize a commanding majority in the House and the Senate to push forward an agenda that works for the many and not the few.
When campaigning, Democratic candidates should highlight the ideological distance between main-line Republicans and the “Patriots.” Anything that can be done to stoke resentment between these two factions will help splinter the American right and allow Democrats to gain a healthier majority in both houses of Congress.
Nick Finan is a junior political science major. Reach him at email@example.com