Semi-fascism in the United States

President Joe Biden’s speech on September 1 in Philadelphia cause great commotion when he accused Donald Trump and his MAGA followers of being “semi-fascists.” Biden proclaimed himself the defender of the “soul of the nation” and called for a vote against the Republicans to “save democracy” from an “extremism that threatens the foundations” of the United States.

Trump himself said that the president “must be crazy.” Television networks decided not to broadcast it live considering it politically motivated in the face of the upcoming elections. Even spokesmen for liberalism such as The New York Times, evaluated it as excessively divisive and in contradiction with the call for national unity by the president.

The White House, accustomed to correcting its boss’s blunders, tried to deny the obvious by saying that “it was not a speech about a particular politician or even a particular political party” and, in another failed attempt at rectification, Biden clarified that he was not referring to Trump supporters, but to those who accept the use of violence for their own political ends. However, he could not have been more precise in his accusations, and although he was forced to amend his statement in order to be ‘politically correct,’ he was somewhat right in his assertions regarding the dangers that these people pose for the political system that has ruled the United States for more than two centuries.

Those who define themselves as MAGA followers are tens of millions of people, the hard core of a political current within the Republican Party that has already won an election and could repeat in the next one. A mass with a predominance of white people, of working origin or lower middle class, generally with little cultural preparation with a tendency to religious fundamentalism, mostly inhabitants of rural areas or urban centers where the large manufacturing industry predominated, one of the main sources of employment of this sector of the population. They have been displaced by neoliberal globalization, by the technological revolution, by the influence of speculation in financial investment, and by the impact of immigration on the North American labor market. They are also have an attitude that reflects the disrepute of the institutions, which are supposed to represent the American people.

A survey conducted by Gallup last July indicates that this year marks new lows in confidence for the three branches of the federal government: the Supreme Court (25%), the presidency (23%) and Congress (7%). Five other institutions are at their lowest points in the last three decades, namely organized religion (31%), newspapers (16%), the criminal justice system (14%), big business (14%) and the police (45%). The average of the ratings of the 14 institutions that Gallup measures each year (27%), is three points below the previous low of 2014, precisely the year that marked the takeoff of the ultraconservative current that brought Donald Trump to power.

The semi-fascist term used by Biden is very imprecise to describe the Trumpists and does not allow us to assess the magnitude of the phenomenon. Due to the nature of its political institutions, the United States cannot be defined as a fascist state, nor does the majority of the American people identify as such, which explains the prompt reaction of some Republican leaders to Biden’s words, as well as the fear of the media appearing committed to them. However, it is true that fascism has gained followers in the United States and that trends with these characteristics are not alien to the history of the nation and to the American idiosyncrasy.

Dogmas such as “manifest destiny” and “people chosen by God,” or the “indispensable nation” are part of a criterion of exceptionality and world domination that differs little from Nazi ultranationalism and even precedes it as an ideology. On a domestic scale, it translates into a xenophobic logic regarding immigrants and a racism that competes with the most widespread and ruthless in history. The cult of “white supremacy” in the United States also precedes, in theory and practice, that of the German “Aryans” and fuels levels of violence against discriminated groups, which have been a constant in American history. Although such an attitude has never reached the excesses of German eugenics, it is probably more ingrained in the popular consciousness because the world has not repudiated it to the degree that it did the Nazis.

Like Hitler’s Germany, thanks to World War II, the United States found its way to recovery from the 1930 crisis by increasing military spending, but unlike the Germans who lost the war, the production of weapons has continued to be an essential line of the U.S. economy and this requires a militaristic ideology to support it. The success of this construction of awareness can be measured in the fact that, of the institutions described above, the military enjoys the greatest support of the population (68%). On the other hand, it is striking that there are hardly any reactions condemning military spending, despite the fact that its constant increase is carried out to the detriment of more productive investments and resources destined for social benefit.

If fascism arose with the aim of preventing the development of socialism, the United States has fulfilled this task better than anyone else and it is impossible to identify a socialist current with weight in the country’s political traditions, as is the case in Europe. Movements of this nature, such as that of Senator Bernie Sanders, constitute a recent and exceptional phenomenon in U.S. political life. In reality, both the liberal and conservative tendencies, predominant in American political thought, have been built on the basis of fear and persecution of socialism, even today “the fear of communism” is a resource of the extreme right to scare potential Democratic voters.

For Biden it will be very difficult to “save the soul” of the North American nation because it is a society that has lost confidence in the system and polarization has broken the bases of possible consensus. Indeed, as Biden says, “American democracy is under assault” by these people who do not respect the Constitution, do not follow the law and even question the legitimacy of the Democratic leader by doubting the legitimacy of the electoral mechanisms. They almost set fire to the Capitol with presidential consent and were about to carry out a violent coup d’état, like the ones organized by the United States against ‘failed governments’ in other parts of the world.

The question that arises is how many more citizens will join this current, how far the system will be able to resist these tensions, and what will be the consequences for the United States and the current international order. Empires in decline are very dangerous. We Cubans know it well, we lived through the last days of the Spanish empire and it was terrible.