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“How Fascism Works”: Jason Stanley on Trump, Bolsonaro and the Rise of Fascism Across the Globe

StoryOctober 11, 2018
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In his new book “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them,” Yale professor Jason Stanley warns about the dangers of normalizing fascist politics, writing, “What normalization does is transform the morally extraordinary into the ordinary. It makes us able to tolerate what was once intolerable by making it seem as if this is the way things have always been.” We speak with Jason Stanley in New York.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show with a remarkable new book titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, which focuses in particular on current trends under the Trump administration, arguing that the president is not as much of an anomaly in American history as we often think. The book’s author, Yale professor Jason Stanley, whose parents were both Holocaust survivors who came to the U.S. as refugees, shows instead that, quote, “In its own history, the United States can find a legacy of the best of liberal democracy as well as the roots of fascist thought (indeed, Hitler was inspired by the Confederacy and Jim Crow Laws),” Jason Stanley writes. He also warns of the dangers of normalizing fascist politics, saying, quote, “What normalization does is transform the morally extraordinary into the ordinary. It makes us able to tolerate what was once intolerable by making it seem as if this is the way things have always been.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Jason Stanley, philosophy professor at Yale University. His new book is just out. It’s titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. His previous books, How Propaganda Works.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Professor, it’s great to have you with us. Why now? Why are you releasing this book, How Fascism Works, now?

JASON STANLEY: Well, we have a global, ultranationalist far-right movement crossing many countries—Bolsonaro in Brazil, we’ve just seen—and they feed off each other. So, I think right now it’s very important to make people aware of the features of fascism, the historical features, and to alert people to the fact that the United States has always been vulnerable to this kind of politics.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, explain what fascism—define what it means for you.

JASON STANLEY: So, fascism is an ideology based on power. Liberal democracy is based on liberty and equality. Liberty and equality require truth, because you need truth to speak truth to power, and a free—if you’re lied to, you’re not free. No one thinks the people of North Korea are free. They’ve been lied to. So, if you’re going to attack liberal democracy and replace it with power, you need to smash truth. So, fascism is an ideology based on power and loyalty. It creates—it’s based on hypernationalism, so one group—loyalty to one group. And one person, the leader, represents that group. It’s hypermasculine and hyperpatriarchal.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the 10 pillars of fascism. What are they?

JASON STANLEY: The 10 pillars of fascism are, number one, a mythic past, a great mythic past which the leader harkens back.

Number two, propaganda. There’s a certain kind of fascist propaganda where everything is inverted. The news is the fake news. Anti-corruption is corruption.

So, three, anti-intellectualism. As Steve Bannon said, it’s emotion—rage gets people to the polls. We got elected on “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” Hitler, in Mein Kampf, says you want your propaganda to appeal to the most—to the least educated people.

Number four, unreality. You have to smash truth. So, reason gets replaced by conspiracy theories. I first started writing, got out of my academic shell in 2011, when I wrote a piece about birtherism, because I saw conspiracy theories coming, and that’s a deeply concerning sign. Unreality. So, you smash every—smash truth, so all that remains is loyalty.

Hierarchy. In fascist politics, the dominant group is better than everyone else. They were like the loyal—the great people in the past who deserve respect just for being them.

Victimhood. In fascism, the dominant group are the greatest victims. The men are the greatest victims of encroaching feminism. Whites are the greatest victims of blacks. Germans are the greatest victims of Jews.

Law and order. What are they victims of? They’re victims of the out group, who are criminals. What kind of criminals are they? They’re rapists. Sexual anxiety.

Pillar nine is Sodom and Gomorrah. The real values come from the heartland. The people in the city are decadent.

And pillar 10 is ”Arbeit macht frei“—work shall make you free. The out group is lazy. They’re not just criminals; they’re lazy. And social Darwinism. It’s all about winning.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to one of the features of fascism as you identify it, this unreality. Trump was speaking earlier this year, and he took aim at the media, as indeed he has multiple times, using a phrase that prompted comparisons with George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening. … Because we have to make our country truly great again. Remember, “Make America Great Again,” and then in two-and-a-half years, it’s called “Keep America Great.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Trump speaking earlier this year, and just to say that George Orwell’s line reads, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” So can you talk about this particular feature of fascism as you see it in the U.S. under Trump?

JASON STANLEY: Yeah. Trump is very clear that loyalty to him is the only guide. Reality is, of course, the greatest threat to fascism, because fascism is based on power, and reality is a way of responding to power. You say, “It’s just false.” So you have to make everyone destabilized, not connected to the truth. And you have to represent yourself as reality. And you have to show that you’re stronger than reality, because fascism is about machismo and power.

AMY GOODMAN: You are the son of Holocaust survivors. How does that weigh in to your scholarly work and what you’re seeing now, and whether you believe you can talk about the United States in this way right now?

JASON STANLEY: Well, I remember when I talked to my father about being the son of a Holocaust survivor, and he read me James Baldwin’s 1968 piece, “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” And he said—and one of the lines in it was “You think you’re more connected to us because of our shared history of oppression. We’re more angry at you because of our shared history of oppression, because we know you’re glad not to be us.” So, because of my background—my mother worked in Manhattan criminal court for 33 years—I knew that the United States was replicating features of Nazi Germany and Eastern Europe with respect to its black population. So, I was raised with an understanding of racialized mass incarceration. I lived through it. We’re still living through it. Nine percent of the world’s prison population is black American. So I have been continually—

AMY GOODMAN: Nine percent of the world’s?

JASON STANLEY: —world’s prison population comes from that tiny group of 38 million people. If the nation of black America was its own country, it should be the third largest nation on Earth. And that’s an emergency. So we came in. We’ve long had this fake news directed against our black population. And it’s completely unsurprising that someone came and then said, “Hey, you’re used to fake news being directed against this population. Let’s just generalize it and direct it against everyone.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, what are the antecedents to Trump in America you say there are? We have about 30 seconds.

JASON STANLEY: The antecedents to Trump are, well, the KKK, obviously, the 1930s. The America First movement is an antecedent to Trump. He references it. And throughout—look, Nixon is an antecedent to Trump. He ran a harsh law-and-order campaign in 1968. He slashed social spending to increase crime. So, Nixon is a good—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue the conversation after the broadcast, and we’ll post it under web exclusives at Jason Stanley, philosophy professor at Yale University. His book is How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

I’ll be speaking tonight in Washington, D.C., interviewing Angela Davis at Busboys and Poets, at the 450 K location in Washington, D.C.

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