The Plague of Fascism in America

It’s plague time in America. We’ve reacquainted ourselves with the wannabe centurions of white supremacy: their faces, their weapons, their torches. We have a new notion of what homegrown American fascism could look like in the 21st century. We can see it all too clearly here in Vice‘s low-light reel from Charlottesville:

The sense of a dreaded illness engulfs us, as the classic novel of Europe’s 20th century fascist breakdown warned us. Albert Camus’ Plague closes on the doctor’s note that the germ of our problem never dies or disappears: 

 it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

A similar plague is testing us now, with no signs of hope or help coming from the White House. We know that those obnoxious nationalists of the alt-right with their klan and nazi banners feel comfortably in tune with the man in the White House. We also now see that Drumpf could happily serve as president of their confederacy.

For guidance through this maelstrom, we turn first to Peniel Joseph—historian of black power and biographer of Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael)—to relearn the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement and later responses to the non-violent model of resistance.

We’re looking for wisdom from Nikhil Pal Singh, the Indian-born scholar of black radicalism and the international dimensions of the struggle for liberation. He reads our current moment, in part, through the lens of a globalized economy: a desperate sense of loss inflaming racial tensions for working-class Americans, with the financial elites stoking the flames.

What’s happened to the American working class as a whole during the period of the 1990s and 2000s is that there has been a dramatic kind of downscaling and the recognition has been belated by American elites who did not respond to this generational crisis. And Drumpf swoops and tells a certain kind of story about it that seems plausible because it plays to a sense of victimization — but, also, a sense that the enemies are these nefarious forces who have stolen their birthright. But, actually, the people who’ve stolen their birthright are very, very close to home.

For a read on the new faces and forces in American fascism, Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen gives us his anatomy of the alt-right movement. In studio, we’re also joined by the staunch free-speech defender Wendy Kaminer, preacher Mariama White-Hammond, poet Adam Fitzgerald, and the novelist James Carroll.

Guest List
James Carroll
columnist for the Boston Globe and author of Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age
Richard Cohen
president at Southern Poverty Law Center
Nikhil Singh
professor of Social & Cultural Analysis & History at New York University and author of Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy  
Mariama White-Hammond
minister, activist, and artist
Peniel E. Joseph
professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Stokely: A Life
Adam Fitzgerald
poet, essayist, and author of the collection, George Washington 
Wendy Kaminer
lawyer, feminist and author of Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU

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  • I’m just reading Richard Bernstein’s Dictatorship of Virtue. It’s hard not to conclude that multiculturalism is a totalitarian ideology, one that is much more deeply ensconced in our country than a few hundred neo-nazi loons. Antifa by itself is many times more adherents than these far-right extremists. Fascism if it comes won’t be dressed in an easily recognized costume.

  • Pete Crangle

    Looking forward to this discussion. I put the following on the “This is Your Brain on Trump” comment thread earlier today, but it seems relevant here:

    Back to the Alt Future. Dateline: Twenty First Century Blood & Soil America

  • dirkinomaha

    what no Pat Buchanan on to give us the ethno-nationalist insider’s view? imagine he would like to plug Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War to the new alt-right generation…

  • Bryn Skibo-Birney

    For a free-speech advocate, Wendy Kamminer was cut off an awful lot (her voice seems to attract the “break” music!).
    Mr Lydon, if you, as the moderator, need to cut off for a break, please return to the interrupted speaker so they can finish their thought.
    You always have great guests; we, your audience, want to hear what they have to say!

    • I think she was voice for practicality – as such, she was heard loud and clear.

    • Charles MacArthur

      Well said Bryn. Thank you for calling attention to what is obvious and rather embarassing. Programming inequality needs to be more respectful of these guests.

  • The eternal return….

    Peniel E. Joseph is spot on with his “expansive vision …making something out of nothing.”
    The thing that will save this country is that, in Black culture.
    There are a couple of ironies there:
    That, a negation by Black culture of certain myths will save the country.
    That, Native Americans, not having been slaves, are lost to the system.

    Nonetheless, I feel a turn is being made, to be found in contemporary Black music. In Kendrick Lamar’s Alright there is the resentment, the negation, which ultimately turns to a noble sentiment: the strong will.

    I remembered you was conflicted
    Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same
    Abusing my power, full of resentment
    Resentment that turned into a deep depression
    Found myself screamin’ in the hotel room
    I didn’t wanna self-destruct
    The evils of Lucy was all around me
    So I went runnin’ for answers
    – Kendrick Lamar: Alright

    So yes, the eternal return….

  • Will W.

    Your dialogue is about Trump and our varied American fascisms which is both obligatory and timely.

    However, when a conservative political analyst like Bill Kristol is on record proclaiming that the White Working Class should be replaced by immigrants who will be better workers, does his kind of honesty give any pause? Is “We will not be replaced!” a logical response to influential people such as Kristol?

  • Potter

    This is a very painful period: everyday for months and months with no let up in sight, no relaxing, tuning out with the feeling that things will settle down. The progress that we have made is not the end of the story. Trump has unwittingly taught us a lot. For one, ending slavery legally, did not end feelings of white supremacy or privilege. And now we have a more globalized and complicated world as a stage. As Heather Heyer said, not paying attention, has brought us to this urgency. Amazing that this unsung special person was the one who lost her life, who was elevated as a result of the Charlottesville “free speech” rally.

    There is too much to say about the particulars of this show since everyone, as usual, was vital to the discussion. It’s true though, who is listening? But there are many such discussions plus small and large acts occurring as a result of the daily outrages. Saturday’s march in Boston!

    The late Stephen J. Gould developed the theory of “punctuated equilibrium” which means: biological evolutionary changes occur relatively rapidly with longer periods of relative stability (stasis). This must also hold for social evolution and perhaps we are are in another period of evolutionary change.

    Thank you!!

    • Potter

      Albert Camus’ The Plague is an interesting comparison. Fortunately I read that not too long ago and if my memory serves me, there were many in that place (Oran, Algeria) in denial as the indications of a plague escalated from dead rats everywhere to many people dying. Finally the remaining folks had to go into hiding, quarantine. People looked at each other suspiciously. Citizens and visitors were forbidden to leave, isolated from the rest of the world, to contain the plague. There were a few people of good will, principally a Dr., running around heroically dealing with cases and some supposed cure. After the long ordeal, the plague finally lifted. It was like a long storm; call it a long spell of bad weather. But it took it’s toll; the survivors were never going to be the same… the fears of a return of this plague, the tremendous loss, the awakened vulnerability.

  • Byard Pidgeon

    The question “who is listening” that Kaminer posed…well, apparently not all that many people are listening, because Open Source hasn’t attracted all the trolls that bedevil, for instance, The Real News Network.
    In one sense this is a good thing, as the discussions in Comments aren’t disrupted…but does it also, or only, mean that hardly anyone is listening…not enough to attract dissent?