To characterize modern day America as a fascist state is at one and the same time both ahistorical and close to the present truth.
In order to resolve this apparent contradiction we must understand that modern day fascism displays certain rough, jagged continuities as well as discontinuities with its interwar past.
Operationally, fascism was, at least initially, an alliance between ancien regime conservatives, socially and economically insecure elements of the middle classes, and a significant fragment of alienated, radicalized workers. Ideologically what united these disparate groups was a utopian belief in the nation as a higher structural unit uniquely suited to the aims of both internal corporatist social organization and external expansive force as expressed in high stakes international conflict.
Looked at from this historical perspective, modern day American fascism is a completely different beast.
Firstly, its general, overall class organization is vastly different. Secondly, fascism in America is not primarily about specific categories of class support at all, as it was for historical fascism. Rather, the sources of American fascism are broadly structural, class cutting, organizational, and have their ideological basis in a faux or unserious, artificial belief in the nation.
Today’s American governing elites (Trump included) do not possess a messianic or utopian belief in the nation or white race. Here, as Marx once famously remarked, history first plays itself out as tragedy then once again as farce. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to imagine a more hyper-farcical character than the current president.
For the elites, nationalism is long dead. It has no content. It is an emotively reflexive phantom that haunts the financial flows of present day capital. However, it must be, from time to time, managed and utilized for their (global elites) benefit much as an advertisement campaign is used to sell a particular brand. Thus, nationalism is, at best, a nostalgic brand name, not a fervent faith. Hence, the comic-surreal quality surrounding its reappearance.
Also, unlike past Fascisms there is no current, specific group that is marked out for total chiliastic destruction, rather certain groups are administratively, if not always systematically, excluded from national borders. The flows of immigration become the main ideological target rather than the immigrants themselves. It is not that the immigrant is consistently held to be “intrinsically evil” (despite some famous Trumpian comments about Mexicans) but that his entrance to the national community must be regulated and controlled.
This much is relatively uncontroversial. Modern day Fascism does not overtly offer up a national elite whose mission it is to violently eradicate a national, ethnic, or class “other” nor does it embody a rabid expansionist foreign policy (on the contrary it purports to look and turn inward) At most there are weak echoes of the past here; modern civil society is, after all, not as racist, xenophobic, or generally intolerant as it was during the inter-war years and there is the internationally tempering factor of atomic weapons to consider as well. Thus, if we are to look for current fascistic elements in society we must look elsewhere.
Where modern day fascism does intersect with its past image and practice is in the strict maintenance of absolutized hierarchy and total surreptitious systems of domination.
By this we mean, that the US is an ingeniously hermetically sealed vessel of elite control that expertly gives the appearance of freedom, equality, and justice.
To be sure though, there is indeed a certain level of all three of those highly desirable social and political goods in the society; far more than in classical fascism. However, the steerage of the system is in the hands of hidden actors who are the de facto elites but have no need or desire to be identified as such, since they too look primarily to enjoy the fruits of a dynamically regulated civil society which nevertheless, and crucially, does not, in the slightest, threaten their actual dominance and elite status since it is unseen and thus publicly unquantifiable.
Thus our fascism tends to lurk in the shadows; in the unseen spaces where our well trained/conditioned eyes cannot see the markings of hidden power, privilege, and control. The trappings of democracy hang loosely over hardened structures of domination that we can but dimly see.
Dan Corjescu has a PhD in Continental Philosophy. Regular contributor to Counterpunch. Teach at Ravensburg-Weingarten and Neu Ulm University of Applied Sciences. Contact: email@example.com