Less than two weeks ago, on Wednesday 6 January 2021, fascism finally, indisputably came to the United States. Moderates, centrists, and those on the non-fascist right have resisted analysing US politics in these terms, even as an authoritarian president shreds norms of political behaviour and disregards the law to advance his own interests.*
There were good arguments in favour of this circumspection. The words we use matter, and to throw fascism around too readily is to risk stripping the term of its power.
The attack on the US Capitol changes that.
A group of the president’s supporters overran the legislature in an attempt to prevent elected officials from certifying the results of a democratic election. The episode was, clearly and transparently, an attempt to keep President Trump in power. It was also encouraged by the president himself.
The evidence on the day was chilling enough. Chants of ‘hang Mike Pence’. A noose rigged up outside the Capitol building. Lawmakers rushed into side rooms and forced to shelter in place.
Over the past week, we have learned more. This has only served to add further detail to the existing picture. The death toll now stands at five people. Several Capitol police officers face disciplinary procedures for failing to fulfil their duties to protect the country’s legislators. The sergeants-at-arms of both the House and Senate have resigned in disgrace. Some who were present at the Capitol were found to have entered with zip ties, leading federal authorities to question whether they intended to take lawmakers hostage.
Make no mistake: this was an attempted coup. The fact that it was carried out by, in the apt words of communist political commentator Jamie Peck, ‘bootlicking piss-babies’, does not change that fact. An inept coup attempt remains a coup attempt. And if we cannot call a violent attempt to physically subvert a democratic** election on behalf of an authoritarian leader fascism, then the word has lost all meaning.
*To take just one example, the facts of the Ukraine scandal are well known and widely available. These facts will also be completely unconvincing to anyone who has already bought into Donald Trump. See these sources:
Those tempted to defend the president will surely impugn the integrity of these sources. Until they offer compelling evidence from similarly credible sources, or even a coherent means of assessing a source’s credibility, we can safely ignore them and their claims.
**More or less. We can debate the merits or drawbacks of the Electoral College, the limited choices offered to voters, and the impact of voter suppression. But ‘democratic’ is not an absolute descriptor, and the 2020 US election was certainly democratic enough to qualify.