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Op-Ed

Republican noisemakers pop off 

December 3, 2021

The etymology of the word “fascism” in the English language leads to some interesting — but not surprising — conclusions about the United States today. 

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

“The deadliest shooting on school property this year,” The New York Times reported on Wednesday, from Oxford High School in Michigan, before a fourth child died: “this year” being a necessary qualifier.

Every time atrocities happen in the United States — children shot at school, racist murders, an elderly Chinese-American woman kicked in the head, another cop shooting another innocent Black man, woman or child — every time this happens, politicians, from the school board to the city council to the governor to the congresswoman to the senator to the president, stand up and say, “This is not who we are, as a country.”

But it is.

The rise of the Republican fascist right — through their leading noisemakers Greene, Bobert, Gosart, Gaetz and Trump, and their cattle-drivers Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy — is not an aberration. It’s the state of the nation.

Looking at election maps, it’s difficult to resist the conclusion that damn near a majority, if not an absolute majority of our fellow citizens are racists — or, OK, “harbor racist sentiments.” Damn near as many of them are outright fascists — though they may not know what fascism is, or what it means to be a fascist.

As is standard in thumb-suckers like this one, my next sentence was to be: “The Oxford English Dictionary defines Fascism as …” only it didn’t — not in Vol. I of my 1971 “Compact Edition” of the O.E.D (17 lbs.)

“Impossible,” I thought. So I looked up fascism in the Supplement, and there it was, on p. 3,962: “One of a body of Italian nationalists, which was organized in March 1919 to oppose Bolshevism in Italy, and, as the partito nazionale fascista, under the leadership of Signor Mussolini assumed control of the Italian government in October 1922.”

So 26 years after the end of World War II, the O.E.D limited its description of fascism to a single country, under a single “signor,” Mussolini, whose citizens had strung him up on a lamppost and shot him full of holes on April 28, 1945.

Now, I am not criticizing the former editors of the O.E.D. for limiting their definition of Fascism to a single political party. (Though you’d think they might have taken a glance at Germany, Spain or Russia.)

I’m saying it’s a fascinating look at etymology.

So “fascism” with a small f —because it no longer referred to a single political party — was entering the English language lexicon by the time the O.E.D.’s 1971 Compact Edition was published: dictionaries, as usual, lagging behind the common speech. 

I suspect that lower-case fascism entered into common English-language discourse in the 1960s, what with Vietnam and civil rights and hippies and so on.

The online O.E.D. today defines fascism as “an extreme right-wing political system or attitude that is in favor of strong central government, aggressively promoting your own country or race above others, and that does not allow any opposition.”

Wow. So in 40 years, the meaning of fascism has been expanded from a single political party in Italy to an “attitude.” 

I think that’s correct, as a definition of how humans use words.

The political term “right wing,” by the way, derives from the 1930s Spanish Parliament, where Fascists sat on the right and their opponents on the left. Just like we describe U.S. politicians today.

Fascist today is not limited by political parties or national borders. The word, as an adjective, correctly characterizes Xi’s China, Modi’s India, Putin’s Russia, Duterte’s Philippines, Orbán’s Hungary, Ortega’s Nicaragua, Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia, the French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, and our own Republican Party’s dreams.

Could anyone deny that Trump, McConnell and McCarthy II are “aggressively promoting (their) own country or race above others, and … not allow(ing) any opposition”? 

Here is the question:

At what point does “patriotism” become fascism?

I’d say it’s the point where the “patriots” threaten, attack, injure and kill their fellow citizens. And the patriots’ preferred politicians sit back and watch it happen, and smile. (See: Jan. 6, 2021, et seq.)

In “Society and Democracy in Germany” (1967) Ralf Dahrendorf pointed out that within 90 days after taking power in Germany in 1933, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party had so altered the laws that everything they did from then on was, technically, legal.

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