Edited by Tommy Craggs
After a year of disappointment, President Biden is suddenly on a winning streak. Congress finally passed his economic and climate program;' the administration is offering much-anticipated debt relief to former and current students. His White House is in rare posting form, swiping critics for their hypocrisy on loan forgiveness as Biden himself channels populist indignation.
Perhaps feeling emboldened, the president brought out his fire in defense of democracy itself last night, telling a rally crowd in Rockville, Maryland:
“The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security. They’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace — embrace — political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.”
At a fundraiser a few hours before, Biden reportedly went even further: “What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something — it’s like semi-fascism.”
As it has for the last seven years, dropping the f-bomb in reference to Donald Trump and his supporters occasioned a lot of handwringing and confusion. Some of it might have even been genuine. On CNN, Don Lemon pressed White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre for an answer to the question: “What exactly is semi-fascism?” Jean-Pierre tried to swing the conversation back to topics on more comfortable centrist footing, such as prescription drug prices, Medicare, and Social Security. This evasion earned her a not-unreasonable round of right-wing criticism. (It shouldn’t get lost that CNN’s investors have been pushing for more MAGA-friendly programming.)
Fox News meanwhile went into full outrage mode, devoting hours to panels denouncing Biden’s comments and reassuring their viewers that they are not, in fact, in league with history’s greatest monsters. The funniest moment came when Laura Ingraham teed up former Trump adviser and architect of the family separation policy Stephen Miller to respond — over a chyron identifying Miller as the founder of a legal lobbying group named for America’s most notorious Nazi-sympathizing faction of the early 1940s.
A more telling exchange came when Jesse Watters had on Karl Rove. Insisting on his credibility as a sometimes-Trump critic, the former George W. Bush adviser blasted Biden’s remark as having been “beyond the pale.” Watters, mustering all his indignation and smarm, asked Rove for a definition of fascism. Like Jean-Pierre, Rove struggled to come up with one, finally settling on a tautology worthy of an eighth grader’s book report: “Fascism is an authoritarian regime that was exemplified by Benito Mussolini in Italy, who was a running buddy of Adolf Hitler—who himself was a fascist.”
This illiteracy is a big part of the reason why Americans on the whole were so woefully unprepared to recognize the proto-fascism of Trump’s campaign in 2016, and why we are still struggling to have this conversation today — a year and a half after Trump’s supporters literally stormed the U.S. Capitol and the former president himself tried to overthrow the U.S. government.
If Don Lemon had asked me for a definition, this is what I’d have said:
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