photo by nacrowe
the word fascist is an oddly mercurial term. it can mean anything in modern-day parlance from a demanding authority figure (boss, parent, teacher) to just someone you vehemently disagree with.
in her book FASCISM: A WARNING (HARPER, 2018), former CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT sets the task of defining and articulating what the term means and how it used to describe the philosophies, behaviors and techniques of regressive regimes from the early 20th century to present day. this is not some high-minded academic thought experiment for her as her family were refugees twice having fled CZECHOSLAVAKIA during WWII and during its post-war COMMUNINIST takeover. she intimately understands scope and dangers of the rising tide of fascism worldwide. she knows the plight of those under its thumb.
but she is also careful to explain that the term does not denote a particular ideology but rather "someone that who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence or whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have." in essence this cancer can happen anywhere. and does.
leaders she profiles in this book include that of textbook examples like BENITO MUSSOLINI (ITALY), ADOLF HITLER (GERMANY), JOSEPH STALIN (USSR) and the KIM JONG-UN/KIM JONG-IL/KIM IL-SUNG lineage (NORTH KOREA) as well as recent examples that exhibit fascist tendencies such as NICOLAS MADURO/HUGO CHAVEZ (VENEZUELA), SLOBODON MILOSEVIC (SERBIA), RECEP ERDOGAN (TURKEY), ROBERT MUGABE (ZIMBABWE), GURBANGULY BERDIMUHAMEDOW (TURKMENISTAN), VICTOR ORBAN (HUNGARY), ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI (EGYPT), HUN SEN (CAMBODIA), JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI (POLAND), VLADIMIR PUTIN (RUSSIA), YOWERI MUSEVENI (UGANDA), ILHAM ALIYEV (AZERBAIJAN), DANIEL ORTEGA (NICARAGUA), RODRIGO DUTERTE (PHILIPPINES), ROBERT KAGAME (RWANDA) and, yes, DONALD TRUMP (UNITED STATES), the first "anti-democratic President in modern U.S. history."
what comes across forcefully is that term fascism covers a wide spectrum of socioeconomic, religious and political philosophies, yet its effect of limiting individual expression is the same.
part of the book addresses the set of circumstances that led to societies being susceptible to the message of despots and totalitarians. ultimately week economies where major short-term challenges and long-term structural issues went unaddressed by an inept system flooded with incompetent politicians led to an opportunity for the public to seek alternatives. also, often issues regarding immigration and national identity, as most countries are based initially on the bonds ethnic groups, come to further heighten an already explosive political environment. NATIONALISM here is not the cause but rather a tool used to manipulate.
essentially the mass psychology involved in supporting fascism is pretty straightforward: this leader will do what needs to be done. in a democracy there is a deliberate effort to guard and protect the interests of the political minority, which often is forgotten by most. it is this key constituency that is lost in the shuffle when the masses make the turn towards a dictatorship. the process is often gradual and similar to that of plucking a duck as MUSSOLINI once explained. unfortunately i have seen such a process in progress during my stints in NIGERIA under SANI ABACHA, VENEZUELA under NICOLAS MADURO, ALBANIA under SANI BERISHA and now the UNITED STATES under DONALD TRUMP.
for me it is easy to pass judgements on pat and current supporters of these movements, especially the ones i have encountered during my lifetime, whether they be CHAVISTAS or TRUMPISTAS. what is more difficult is to look inside and consider how i am adding to the situation. for me this is the most damning anecdote in the whole book: ALBRIGHT makes the argument that our modern digital on-demand culture has created a situation where we expect more from our government than at any point in the past. we expect results without paying the cost. locally-sourced food produced cheaply and ethically. security without loss of privacy. government services without taxation. essentially we are spoiled. we expect simple answers to complicated questions. and that tendency leads us to become cynical and ultimately disengage. this disengagement is an opportunity for change. and change can go both ways.
the path to fighting fascism, especially here in AMERICA is being mindful of others and becoming active in CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: VOTING, VOLUNTEERING, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS and INVESTING in our communities. complacency and adopting a myopic mindset focused on your self-interest is what will collectively do us in as a nation. we need to reestablish our sense of mutual connection and responsibility to each other as AMERICANS.
if you don't know how to get engaged look here for ways:
FASCISM: A WARNING is definitely a worthwhile read and an excellent introduction to the topic that is straightforward with unadorned language that is easily understood and deftly constructed for maximum impact.