the American Midterms‘This Might be the Last Election Where Your Vote Matters’
Heidi Siegmund Cuda speaks to academic and author Jason Stanley on how solidarity on the left is the US’ last great hope against fascism
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“Either we’re a rule of law country or we’re not,” said Jason Stanley, the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. “The point of 6 January was to overthrow United States democracy.”
Twenty-two months after the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol in Washington D.C., American democracy is on the ballot paper for the midterm elections – as are 291 candidates who believe that the 2020 defeat of Donald Trump was a lie.
On 8 November, when the midterms take place, voters face a stark choice: liberal democracy or fascist darkness.
It is a reality of which President Joe Biden is well aware. “I know this isn’t easy, democracy’s imperfect,” he said in a recent speech. “It always has been. But we are all called to defend it now, now.” Meanwhile, his predecessor Donald Trump continues his tour of the US arguing in favour of his ‘big lie’.
“The fascist leader is often vulgar,” Stanley said during an interview with the RADICALIZED Truth Survives Podcast.
Few recent leaders are more overtly vulgar than Trump, with his sleazily-obtained wealth, treatment of women, and penchant for gold elevators. That vulgarity provided cover for the fact that he is a dangerous propagandist whose role in the attempted insurrection has led to him being subpoenaed by the 6 January Committee.
For Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, America’s fascist lurch is following a predictable and alarming pattern. “The leader tells his followers that democratic liberties are an existential threat,” he said.
Trump and his following are, he believes, an example of a “fascist grouping”. In this case, that looks like a corrupt party leader telling Christian conservative evangelicals that he will deliver their agenda, while telling big business interests that he will “make sure no climate change legislation happens”.
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“We’re finding a very typical, standard, back-to-Nazi Germany link up against labour movements, where the corrupt fascist or corrupt leader or a party is saying to businesses ‘we’ll take care of your labour union problem, we’ll make sure you can keep on polluting the environment, exploiting your workers’,” Stanley said. “A fascist leader also tells the evangelicals that the LGBTIQ community is a dire threat. We’re seeing increased antisemitism, which is predictable.”
One reason federal protection for women’s rights to reproductive choice has been overturned in the US is because it allowed the extreme right to remove a large swathe of freedoms in one act. “Fascism seeks to take out freedoms,” Stanley said. “If you can deny women their freedoms, then you can take out the freedoms of half the population immediately.”
While trashing women’s liberation, Trump appeals to the billionaire class with a promise of a more liberated market – reduced taxation and regulation. “That was why big business got behind the Nazis,” Stanley said. “So the fascist delivers on those agendas, and what they give to the people is just the suffering of their enemies.”
If Trump signals to the elites that he is on their side with low taxes and deregulation, for the masses, the entry point is the ‘Great Replacement’ theory, which baselessly posits that “whites are going to be replaced by non-whites, Christians are going be replaced by Muslims, or women are going to be replaced by trans women”.
“This theory is at the heart of mass violence, and mass violence is being normalised, it’s being championed,” Stanley added.
From attempted Capitol insurrection and killings by white supremacists, to the recent attack on the husband of the Speaker of the House and the Kyle Rittenhouse case – political violence is becoming the new normal.
“The stochastic terrorism rhetoric is pre-genocidal,” said Stanley. “Look at what Putin said about Ukraine as justification for the invasion. He called the country an ‘existential threat, they’ll kill us’. That is exactly what the Republican Party has been saying about Mexican and South American immigration for years now.”
In a joint statement to the January 6 Committee, Stanley and Federico Finchelstein, a Professor of History at the New School, wrote: “January 6 represents a warning sign for the entire world. January 6 was a beginning, not an end. Failure to provide accountability for those who initiated it is tantamount to legitimising it, as well as the slow-motion coup to which it has given birth.”
Stanley argues that we must be quicker students of our recent past in order to survive the challenges of our times. This is apparent in the political naivety of believing that replacing Trump with Biden in 2020 would defeat the authoritarian capture of the US – a naivety exposed by the violence on 6 January.
But defeating that authoritarian capture is possible, and victory starts with the left working in solidarity together, Stanley believes. “Without solidarity, we’re kind of lost,” he said. “So in the face of fascism, you have to realise that some of the agenda of the left is not going to be carried over, but you have to save the country from fascism.”
Saving democracy will require the left reaching across the divide. “It’s going to have to be a broad coalition,” he said. “You’re going to have to draw on the business elite, you’re going to have to explain to the business elite ‘fascism isn’t good for you’. I go back to Plato and say fascism is even bad for the fascists. Tyranny is bad even for the tyrant. ‘Owning the libs’ should not be full politics.”
“Vote! Vote! Vote!” he added. “This might be the last election where your vote matters.”