A victory over fascism deserves celebration.
The fascists lost their hold on the most powerful political office. Their leader is disgraced and isolated. They are turning on each other. They played their hand with a coup attempt – and they failed to do much besides exposing themselves and supercharging their opposition. Despite years of psychological warfare, dirty tricks, and outright brutality, they have failed.
Trump promised authoritarian belligerence and he did his best to enact it. From the first days of his administration, he made racist decrees and flouted restraints that law and custom had placed on the presidency. In a few years he publicly embraced the paramilitaries and street gangs that wore his symbols as uniforms, creating a fascist movement meant to subdue and conquer the people in the USA.
But we fought back, despite the threats and insults from regime supporters, despite the scolding and mockery from enablers. A large and diverse part of society committed to resist Trump and his followers. Politics followed society’s demands. We made the Trump brand of authoritarianism fall.
It is okay to take some time to rest and consider the future. To play the long game requires knowing when to slow down and when to charge ahead. Celebrating what has been accomplished should not prevent taking care of what needs to be done.
Take some time to remember those who died because of the Trump regime, whether they were an innocent or combatant. It may take years to get close estimates of the Trump death toll – including people killed by enforcers, concentration camp conditions, abandonment in disaster, deportation, bombardment, suicide, aggression from authoritarian regimes supported by the president, massacres by people echoing regime propaganda, or by other causes.
The Covid-19 pandemic remains a severe threat. More than 400,000 Americans are now dead from a disease that the Trump movement seemed eager to spread. Even with vaccine distribution underway, the disease will likely kill tens of thousands more people in the US alone. The economic disaster that has brought housing and food insecurity to many and intensified it for many others is not significantly improving. The physical and mental strain the situation creates should not be ignored. It is important to make a priority of one’s health and, if possible, support the well-being of the community. Numerous grassroots mutual aid groups have sprung up across the country, and many organizations are prioritizing assisting their communities.
The authoritarian far-right is in disarray but is still dangerous. The threat of fascism will not go away by ignoring it or leaving it to the authorities. It must be countered by active opposition and by building community with anti-fascist values.
It is not likely that the far-right will launch a full-scale civil war anytime soon. For one thing, they are reeling from this fall from power and there seems to be a lack of focus on what to do next. For another, civil war would disrupt the conveniences that their base feels entitled to as Americans.
It is likely that a far-right deeply conditioned in the authoritarian and conspiratorial mindset after four years of Trump will act to exert power where it finds the opportunity, and disregard norms and opposition as far as possible in doing so. They will use the myth of an election stolen from them, a myth that reflects their feelings of losing control of a country they believe should belong to them. They will claim that the other side has broken the rules as justification to further disregard the rules themselves. Republican-controlled state and local governments may flout restrictions as they try to monopolize local power. Police officers with far-right loyalties will abuse their power when they expect to get away with it. Right-wing gangs will try to use intimidation tactics and opportunistic violence to demonstrate control of territory and make the territory of their opponents feel less safe. Terrorist groups will form and occasionally carry out spectacular violence. If the conditions allow it, a new right-wing authoritarian presidential campaign may create a new nation-wide threat.
Cutting the roots of fascism out of the ground of society is critical. The US has long been a place of conflict between competing ideals of freedom and who gets to have it. Racism is central to this conflict and each of us has a role in dismantling it. Fascism both feeds on and cultivates the fear of outsiders, as well as the belief that a particular social hierarchy should rightfully exist and that those who do not fit into it or support it are dangerous. Actively building an inclusive, egalitarian society with extensive personal autonomy moves in the opposite direction of fascism.
Advance the values of personal autonomy, equality, and solidarity, and support social action that expands the reach of these values. Activist projects from mutual aid networks to community defense organizations remain critical. Leftist and anti-authoritarian projects in areas with large right-wing political influence may particularly need support. For the long term, it is necessary to undermine the social and cultural base of the far-right. Engage with people by boldly asserting truth against propaganda, by listening to their concerns, and, if possible, collaboratively figuring out how a program of general liberation can offer real improvements to their lives.
Exposing fascists to public pressure is a critical project that must continue. Build upon the momentum generated by the backlash to the failed Trump coup, and try to direct it toward community anti-fascist solutions and away from security state promises.
Reject using the concept of “extremism” to describe the problem. Fascists are dangerous because of their closely held violent ideology, not because of their presumed distance from the mainstream. The term “extremist” could be used against anyone, from a fascist plotting mass murder to a local activist blocking the construction of a pipeline. Such false equivalence can be deadly. The FBI was infamously focused on so-called “Black Identity Extremists” while activists were raising alarms about a pending fascist assault on Charlottesville.
It is fine if law enforcement uses public information to prosecute fascist criminals. It is funny to watch them get arrested, because it is funny watching bad things happen to bad people, especially those who thought they were above consequences. It is even probable that there will be a benefit to many of these arrests, as it signals that fascists cannot expect to act with impunity and it temporarily puts them in prison where most of us will not have to deal with them. However, liberty and safety will not come from law enforcement. For one thing, it is a profession that has historically repressed the left while merely managing right-wing violence to keep it within politically acceptable levels.
Why have members of groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer been allowed to organize gang assaults across multiple states and face few legal consequences? Why have FBI agents been knocking on the doors of anti-fascist activists in the middle of a pandemic, less than two weeks after a fascist coup attempt? Why should anyone trust law enforcement over the general public when multiple police officers were caught trying to attack Congress to keep a lawless authoritarian fraudster in power?
Incarceration does not solve social problems. The prison complex is a structurally racist institution of social control, and giving it a primary role can give it more power to do harm. Jailing fascists may temporarily isolate them and damage their networks, but it is unlikely to reform them as individuals and it does not address the social conditions that enable fascists to do harm. Only changing society can solve social problems.
It is the power of social action that can really destroy fascism. They must become known, isolated, and kept from building power by people with awareness of threats and the ability to fight back decisively. Marginalized people – often the targets of fascists – need to be uplifted and gain personal autonomy.
If Donald Trump sees the assets of his crime family expropriated and managed by community organizations, with no big networks broadcasting his rants, the majority of people refusing to do business with him, and little available to him besides the bare necessities for subsistence, we may approach justice. If communities build on their opposition to fascism to make long-term networks that deny fascism any room to grow, we may approach safety. If all the people who fascists tried to destroy, to subdue, or to pressure into joining them were to defiantly live, we may approach liberty.