Call it by its Name

Michael Gerson writes,

How can anyone view the trashing of our founding tradition as evidence of patriotism? Because some have adopted a very different political philosophy than the Founders held. This approach to government promises the recovery of a mythical past. It feeds a sense of White victimhood. It emphasizes emotion over reason. It denigrates experts and expertise. It slanders outsiders and blames them for social and economic ills. It warns of global plots by Jews and shadowy elites. It accepts the lies of a leader as a deeper form of political truth. It revels in anger and dehumanization. It praises law and order while reserving the right to disobey the law and overturn the political order through violence.

This is a reality that I have resisted naming. The 45th president and a significant portion of his supporters have embraced American fascism. And Trump’s buffoonery does not disprove the point. Though he probably cannot name the political theory he has embraced, his own recklessness, vanity and authoritarian instincts have led him down fascist grooves. He displays an intuitive affinity for leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. And Trump would have subverted the legitimate result of the 2020 presidential election if he could have, which would have broken a constitutional continuity that has endured over two centuries.

I don’t think Trump came particularly close to success. This time. But the influence of his treacherous ideology is still being spread by unprincipled people seeking influence and profit. American fascism needs to be aggressively marginalized.

This won’t happen if responsible Republicans decline to engage the debate or leave the field entirely. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) need reinforcements. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) needs relentless ridicule for his weakness.

The task of marginalization will also be more difficult if those on the left try to lump all conservatives into Trump’s camp — arguing that fascism is somehow the natural destination of Barry Goldwater’s nomination or Ronald Reagan’s presidency. This is utter rubbish. I was involved, for example, in the running ideological conflict between Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), whom I worked for, and Pat Buchanan, who previewed Trumpism. Kemp was the more authentically conservative voice. And there is a massive moral gap between the politics of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney on one side, and Trump’s civic barbarism.

Much about the United States’ political future will depend on shaping a compelling, responsible American conservatism as an alternative to the Trump temptation. This may or may not happen within the GOP. But for American democracy to fully function, civic republicanism will eventually need a home on the political right.