- Jason Stanleyphilosophy professor at Yale University. His new book is just out, titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. His previous books include How Propaganda Works.
In his new book “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them,” Yale professor Jason Stanley outlines the 10 pillars of fascism and warns about the dangers of normalizing fascist politics. Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite multiple claims that he sexually harassed and assaulted women, we speak with Jason Stanley in New York about how patriarchy and fascism reinforce each other.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue with Part 2 of our conversation with Jason Stanley, philosophy professor at Yale University. His new book, just out, is titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. His previous book, How Propaganda Works. So, I’m sure you’ve heard the criticism, Professor Stanley, that it is ridiculous to talk about Nazi Germany, to make comparisons to Trump’s America right now, to talk about fascism. Why do you balk when you hear that?
JASON STANLEY: Well, my work is about rhetoric and propaganda. And I don’t think there is any doubt that we are seeing classic fascist rhetorical tropes and propaganda tropes right now. Now, are we seeing fascist policy implemented? Are we seeing opponents imprisoned? Well, not yet, we’re not seeing that, partly because our institutions are holding up, perhaps, partly because there isn’t an intention of going that far. We are, however, seeing a one-party state already. We’re seeing—Arendt warns us of that stage, of that prefascist—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What do you mean, “one-party state”?
JASON STANLEY: A one-party state is when politicians of one party betray, in Hannah Arendt’s words, loyalty to party over parties, by which she means loyalty to their political party over a multiparty political system. And I think we are seeing that. I think we are seeing members of one political party betraying loyalty to their own party over having a multiparty system. We’re seeing two governor—gubernatorial candidates, Kris Kobach in Kansas, Brian [Kemp] in Georgia, who are running on a platform of voter suppression. That’s why they’re running. So, we’re seeing—we’re seeing very strong elements of a one-party state, which Arendt warns us is a prefascist moment.
But so, I don’t think it’s at all too extreme to be talking about this. We have to remember that not all fascist governments ended up doing what the Nazis did. Mussolini didn’t. There was a—there’s a number of fascist movements that did not result in genocide. Right now, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin, Orbán, but they all are harshly homophobic, harshly sexist, harshly xenophobic. And I don’t think there’s any question we’re seeing that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you mentioned Brazil in the first part of our conversation.
JASON STANLEY: Bolsonaro. Look at how Bolsonaro is running. You know, “I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.” “The problem was not torturing leftists; the problem was not—the problem was not killing them.” So, we’re seeing people outcompete each other for—
AMY GOODMAN: Bolsonaro saying he didn’t want to—saying to a congresswoman, “You’re too ugly to rape.”
JASON STANLEY: Mm-hmm, saying that when he first—he had four sons, and then, when he got weak, he had a daughter.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have President Trump’s overall love of autocrats, like Duterte of the Philippines.
JASON STANLEY: Absolutely, which is enabling those autocrats. This is a mutual movement, like the 19—late '20s and early ’30s with the global—with the universal fascist movement. When Trump says, “Each of us is about how we're great,” well, that taps into the ultranationalism of the late ’20s and the early ’30s, the response to globalization, where it was the same thing, and they feed off each other.
AMY GOODMAN: How did Hitler rise to power?
JASON STANLEY: Hitler rose to power in a—
AMY GOODMAN: An election.
JASON STANLEY: What?
AMY GOODMAN: Election.
JASON STANLEY: By election. By election. By running. By being harshly—by attacking democracy as corrupt. By presenting himself as anti-corruption. By attacking the—by very much the politics. By speaking in extreme ways that shocked people and led people to think that he was really authentic, unlike the sort of weak hypocrisy of democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, he was mocked. He was a third-party candidate. But you had parties having to form alliances.
JASON STANLEY: Yeah. We always see in these moments—just like The Wall Street Journal looks like they just endorsed Bolsonaro, we always see the business elite party with the ultranationalists. We see the oligarchs in Russia party—going together with Putin, because they have the same enemies—labor unions, you know. So they think, “Oh, we can smash the labor unions.” We’re seeing the Upper Midwest movement, the DeVoses, the forces that helped smash right—behind right-to-work laws, link up with this ultranationalist movement. And this is very typical. We saw this in the 1930s. You know, I speak in my book—in How Fascism Works, I speak about Hitler’s speech to the industrialists. He says, “Look, I’m going to protect you from government regulations. You’ll have your domain. I’ll have my domain.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, yeah, you talk about that, government regulations, Hitler saying that he wants to be protected—he will protect the people from government regulations. But also, as you point out, one of the central pillars of fascism is the prevailing sense of victimhood, with majority populations claiming victimhood. So I want to turn to Trump’s comments during the protests around then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. After 300 protesters were arrested on Capitol Hill last week, Trump tweeted, quote, “The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers,” he tweeted. Earlier this week, Trump mocked California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, claiming she leaked a letter written by professor Christine Blasey Ford alleging Kavanaugh tried to rape her when they were teenagers. Trump then laughed as his supporters chanted “Lock her up!” referring not to Hillary Clinton, but to Senator Feinstein.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How about Senator Feinstein? That’s another beauty.[crowd boos] That’s a beauty! … Did you leak the documents? Huh? Huh? What? What? No, I didn’t do. Did we leak? Did we leak? No, no, no, we didn’t. Did you ever see? No—she goes, no—he just said, no, we didn’t leak.
AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Now, last week, Trump also claimed that it was a scary time for young men in the U.S.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s a very scary time for young men in America, when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very, very—this is a very difficult time. What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court justice. It really does. You could be somebody that was perfect your entire life, and somebody could accuse you of something. Doesn’t necessarily have to be a woman, as everybody’s saying, but somebody could accuse you of something, and you’re automatically guilty.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s Trump saying that it’s a difficult time for young men and also mocking women protesters and also mocking—we didn’t play that—mocking the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. So, can you talk about this in the context of fascism and the pillar that you name—majority populations claiming victimhood?
JASON STANLEY: Yes. This is just probably the dominant theme in countries that fall prey to fascist politics. Hitler just talked endlessly about the victimization of Germany in World War I. I think we find now the purest form of this in the men’s rights movement, the backlash to feminism. It’s always the case in fascist ideology that the dominant group is victims of liberalism, feminism, cultural Marxism, movements for equality, because the idea in fascism is hierarchy. And so, the idea is one group always has to rule, so any group that attempts to gain equality is represented as really trying to take over.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip of President Trump. And this is about don’t believe what you see. Now, your previous book is about propaganda. So let’s go once again to that clip.
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.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go—address two issues in this. One is don’t believe what you hear and see. And the other one is—goes to your first pillar in your 10 pillars of fascism, where you talk about the mythic past, “Make America Great Again,” and how that compares to other authoritarian leaders.
JASON STANLEY: So, everything in fascism is about smashing the truth and replacing it with loyalty and power. So, the mythic past, the make—is about you connect people—the fascists—in times of when fascists—fascist politicians seek to connect people’s anxiety with a sense of loss. So they create this glorious past, and they say, “The reason that you feel anxious, the reason you’re angry and fearful, is you lost. You lost that past when you were respected just for being a man, just for being white, just for being Hindu or whatever the identity is.” And so, it creates this sense of incredible yearning loss. And of course it’s a lie, because there never was such a great mythic past. So, you get people used to this politics of fiction, this politics of myth. And then you—they get addicted to you. They get addicted to you as a person who channels that. And you also want to show your power. That’s a second feature of “only believe me.” You want to show that you’re so powerful and macho that you’re more powerful than reality itself.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to ask you about another pillar of fascist politics that you’ve identified in the book, and that’s anti-intellectualism. Now, arguably—and in the context of Trump. Arguably, anti-intellectualism has been present throughout much of American history. Why do you think that the anti-intellectualism that exists today is so different from that which preceded it?
JASON STANLEY: Well, one of the things—one of the ways in which my book differs from the other crisis-of-democracy books is I emphasize the continuity of today with the past. I don’t think we should be talking about what’s happening as some deviation or break from the past. I think we should talk about it as as a gut-check moment to face our own proclivities.
We’ve always had these anti-intellectual sentiments. I’m not saying that anti-elitism is always unhealthy. It’s often quite healthy. But in moments when—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism aren’t the same thing.
JASON STANLEY: Are not the same thing. Anti-intellectualism is an attack on truth, an attack on expertise, an attack on education. When Trump says, you know, the least that—you know, “The non-educated, those are my base,” that echoes Mein Kampf, when Hitler says propaganda should be directed to the least-educated men. Hitler mocks people who—he says, “Look at these demagogues. They’re criticized for not making sense.” But actually—
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Hillary Clinton handed this to him in a basket by talking about the “basket of deplorables.”
JASON STANLEY: Yes. The one mistake she made, which was endlessly thrown in her face, in contrast to the infinite number of horrific comments Mr. Trump made on the trail. When you’re a liberal Democrat, you cannot ever make a single mistake.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Right. Well, I want to turn to—I mean, you mentioned earlier that fascist leaders produce fears about certain kinds of equalizing ideologies, whether it’s feminism or communism, and, of course, also socialism. So, I want to turn to comments that Trump has made, recent warnings he’s issued on the dangers of socialism. This is Trump addressing the U.N. General Assembly last month.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Virtually everywhere, socialism or communism has been tried. It has produced suffering, corruption and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings to everyone.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Trump wrote an op-ed in USA Today asking Americans to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections, writing, quote, “The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela. If Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America,” Trump wrote. So, Jason, could you talk about that, the specter of socialism?
JASON STANLEY: So that’s a classic move. By the way, I don’t want to say that any—any one of these moves is sort of familiar from right-wing politics, but when they all come together, that’s when you really have to be concerned. This move of painting the center-left as dangerous social—as socialists and communists is extremely familiar. Goebbels himself said, “The ordinary Bürger, the ordinary citizen, will not vote for us, unless they’re terrified that the communists, that the Bolsheviks are coming for their property. Only if we can terrify them into thinking that the Bolsheviks, that communism is nigh, that it’s right around the corner and their property is going to be seized—only then will they run into our arms as their protectors.” So, that’s just this kind of politics. People only will—look at what’s happening in Brazil, for instance. People will only embrace the far-right extremists if they think they need to be radically protected from left-wing extremists. So, that’s the goal, to paint the center-left. That’s what the Nazis did. They painted the ordinary Social Democrats as communists.
AMY GOODMAN: We had Michael Moore in recently talking about Fahrenheit 11/9, his new film, and he does a lot of comparisons between Hitler and Trump. But one of the things he says is he’s actually not so interested in Trump.
JASON STANLEY: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: He’s interested in the people’s response to Trump.
JASON STANLEY: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: He said he’s interested in the “good Germans.”
JASON STANLEY: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Because Hitler couldn’t have risen to power without the “good Germans.” What does that mean? And, you know, as we talk about all of this, how do you see the interruption taking place? In the societies you’ve studied, how is fascism most successfully challenged?
JASON STANLEY: Fascism has to be challenged by bringing back a culture of democracy. Democracy is a culture. It’s a set of norms for equal respect, for respect for the truth. And so, we have to—we have to somehow tamp down fear. Fear and panic, xenophobia, these are things that when people feel threatened and anxious and atomized, they turn to powerful leaders to protect them.
We need to bring back—we need to look at the targets of fascism. So, people forget Martin Niemöller. In Martin Niemöller’s poem, one of the lines is “Then they came for the trade unionists.” Labor unions. Why is it that the Upper Midwest went red? Well, they eliminated the trade unions. Racism spikes when you eliminate trade unions. Fascist movements always attack trade unions. These are democratic organizations. We need to get people back into democratic participation. When you—Arendt tells us, when you atomize people and you remove them from organizations, they become susceptible to the idea that the only organization they’re a member of is a race.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you spoke last night at The New School here in New York City in conversation with Yale historian Timothy Snyder and Columbia journalism professor and New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb. Now, Jelani Cobb emphasized that one of the principal reasons for the rise of Trump, or fascist politics, more generally, has to do with, in the U.S. in particular, defunding public education. And he thought one of the ways that one can fight a fascist politics is by reinvesting in education. So, could you say what you think the role of education is here, especially public education?
JASON STANLEY: Public education does two things. First, it gives us—does at least two things. First, it gives us history. It gives us accurate history. Fascism thrives off myth, off grand myth. So, think of the myth making we do about our own country. That leaves us so vulnerable to this kind of politics. Look at how President Trump uses the Confederacy and Robert E. Lee and myths about the past to talk—to bolster his narrative of a mythic past. So, by being—actual true history gives us everyone’s perspective, not just the dominant group perspective. So we need that.
Secondly, public education brings all of us together into the same community. So, it brings—it makes young people realize that they are part of the same community as people of a different skin color, as people of different economic backgrounds and different religions. And so it makes you realize that we are together as a community, and so we—it’s much more difficult to demonize one another.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, the subtitle of your book, though, is The Politics of Us and Them. So, in fact, it’s the opposite of—I mean, it’s like what you’re saying is we need to be brought together. This is the division. Explain who, in this formulation, the “us” is. We know “them.”
JASON STANLEY: We know “them.” Well, and “us” in the United States, in the case of the United States—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yes.
JASON STANLEY: —because in each country it’s going to differ. In the case of the United States, it’s white Christian men. And, of course, you know, many white Christian women are going to buy into that, because patriarchy works like that. But—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, in fact, you make the case that patriarchy is essential to the rise of fascist leaders.
JASON STANLEY: Fascism is unthinkable without patriarchy.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Explain.
JASON STANLEY: Well, as I say to my 3-year-old when I’m explaining political philosophy to him, in fascism there’s one big daddy.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Right.
JASON STANLEY: So, in fascism, the patriarchal father in patriarchy leads by strength. They protect—he protects his women and children. So, what you do in fascism is you make people think the patriarchal family is under threat, so these values of the strong man protecting their women and children are under threat. And, of course, you know, that’s anti-freedom, because—anti-freedom and anti-equality, because women should have the freedom to protect themselves and to have friendships with anyone of any background. So what you do is you create this fear of threat to the patriarchal family, to patriarchal values. And then the leader stands to the nation like the patriarchal father stands to his family.
AMY GOODMAN: So, speaking of patriarchy, I wanted to turn to the issue of Brett Kavanaugh. Certainly interesting from your position as a Yale professor. He went to undergraduate at Yale and also was a law school professor. There are many comments that President Trump made about Brett Kavanaugh, now Justice Kavanaugh, but I wanted to turn to the one where he was speaking at the United Nations, and he held a news conference afterwards, and he talked about, at the time, Judge Kavanaugh.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He’s outstanding. You don’t find people like this. He’s outstanding. He’s a—he’s a gem. He’s an absolute gem. And he’s been treated very unfairly by the Democrats, who are playing a con game.
AMY GOODMAN: Just a con game around Brett Kavanaugh. I mean, there was so much activism all over the country, particularly at your university, at Yale, where, what, over a thousand students—maybe it was 2,000 students—spoke out on this issue, and there were protests. Your thoughts on what took place and what is the lesson learned here? For many, they believe that after Christine Blasey Ford testified, that Kavanaugh didn’t have a chance. But Trump and Kavanaugh pulled it out.
JASON STANLEY: Yeah. I mean, what can—so, I think that Yale—just about Yale, I think it’s very engaged in the country’s problems, and our students led this discussion, but—at Yale. But about Justice Kavanaugh, what concerned me—one of the things that concerned me very deeply was, during his confirmation hearing, the way he countered it was by targeting leftists, by saying it was a conspiracy. I mean, he essentially said it’s a conspiracy of leftists. We haven’t heard that kind of talk, that kind of like explicit targeting of leftists as leftists, from a justice of the Supreme Court, that kind of extreme partisanship. So—
AMY GOODMAN: That caused John Paul Stevens—I mean, this hasn’t happened before, either—a former Supreme Court justice, to say, “I supported Kavanaugh at the beginning, even if I disagreed with him. But now I cannot countenance the idea that he will be on the Supreme Court.”
JASON STANLEY: Feminists, leftists, the opponents, racial minorities, sexual minorities, the trade unionists—these are the enemies of fascist politics. And what we’re seeing is those by—Justice Kavanaugh, in that confirmation hearing, deeply worried me by saying things that I never expected to hear in public in that circumstance.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring together the issue of immigrants, and where immigrants come into this story, and patriarchy, because you had Judge Brett Kavanaugh, on the federal appeals court in D.C., weighing in, in a way he didn’t have to, forcefully, but he wrote the dissent around a case of a young immigrant teenager who was in a shelter in Texas who wanted to have an abortion, and he tried to prevent her from having an abortion, to the great consternation of so many—both the issue of being an immigrant and also being a young woman around the issue of abortion. And I wanted to take this back even further to Donald Trump, not President Trump, when he first announced for president in those extremely controversial remarks he made in the lead-up to the 2016 election. In his kickoff speech after announcing his bid for the presidential nomination, Trump moved right in, talking about Mexicans as criminals and rapists.
DONALD TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
AMY GOODMAN: “Some,” he said, “I assume, are good people.” But he talked about the Mexican rapists, from the beginning.
JASON STANLEY: So, right. It’s always the case that—in this politics, that the out-group—that the out-group are, in particular, rapists: They pose a threat to your women. So the values of fascism are patriarchy—men have to protect their women and children. So you present the out-group as threats to the women and children. And rape or sexual assault is not something that—it’s only something that can be done to your women. It can’t be done to—if you think about, for instance, what happened in Myanmar with the Rohingya, the Rohingya were presented as rapists. And then the backlash against them was horrific mass rape and genocide. So, that’s acceptable against the out-group. So, rape is this threat to our women, and it’s perpetrated by their men. And it’s not something you can do to their women.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you know, a lot of people thought that the comments that Trump made, especially about, I mean, Mexicans, it’s a really extraordinary claim to make about Mexican migrants coming to the U.S. But rather than denouncing them or disowning them once he became president, earlier this year he returned to those comments, claiming he had been vindicated by reports of sexual violence against migrant women making the journey from Central America to the U.S.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower, when I opened, everybody said, “Oh, he was so tough,” and I used the word “rape.” And yesterday it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don’t want to mention that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Jason, your remarks, your comments?
JASON STANLEY: Right. Again, rape is one of the most horrific crimes any human being can perpetrate. So you link your—you link the out-group to that crime. In Austria, the minister of the interior or one of the main government ministers—just recently, it was a scandal—he went around to police stations, and he said, “Make sure to make clear any case where a foreigner is raping an Austrian woman. And we will highlight that.” So, what you do is you link the out-group men to rape. You present them as these mortal threats. And then you make people feel like they’re not protecting their own women.
So, this is Hitler—one of Hitler’s first forays into politics was raising panic, as I discuss in How Fascism Works, about what he called—what was called the “black horror on the Rhine”—black Senegalese soldiers occupying Germany in the 1920s and supposedly “raping” white women. If you think about our own history, what Angela Davis calls the myth of the black rapist, lynching was based on this long fake history of rape. So, it’s always rape causes—it causes horror against the out-group, and it causes men in the in-group to feel like they’re failing at protecting their women—”their women”—and then they need a strong leader to protect them.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to go back to what you said, you suggested earlier, as ways to fight this fascism. Many people have suggested that what needs to be done is to get more and more people to vote in the midterms. What role do you think—I mean, is that sufficient, given earlier you said that in fact there’s a one-party system in the U.S.? What role does voting play, if any at all, in combating fascist politics?
JASON STANLEY: Well, voting would work, but fascism works by suppressing the vote, by gerrymandering and voter suppression. And if you look at our country, unique among democracies in felon disenfranchisement. I mean, we would not have the government we had if people convicted of felonies were allowed to vote. So—
AMY GOODMAN: You have a referendum right now in Florida, where 1.4 million people would immediately be able to vote, if in fact people who had served time in prison were able to vote once they came out.
JASON STANLEY: In most democracies, people in prison can vote. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Even in a few states in the United States, like Vermont and Maine.
JASON STANLEY: Right, right. So—which are very white states. And so, yes. So, you need to vote. On the other hand, the Republican aim, I fear, is to make voting irrelevant, because when you stack the Supreme Court with hyperpartisans, then you have essentially a super-legislative body that can simply invalidate, as we’ve seen before, any majority legislative will. And so, by making that the case, by suppressing votes, by stacking the courts, you are making voting less and less relevant, as we go further towards an electorate that is inevitably going to tend more progressive.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Stanley, what most surprised you in your research?
JASON STANLEY: What most surprised me in my research was the universality of the themes that we regularly see. For example, you know, I discovered that chapter 2 of Mein Kampf is about Hitler’s time in Vienna, and he talks about going to Vienna and Jews, Jews and more Jews in the cities. The hated out-group is always in the cities. And in my own country, the expression “inner city,” in fact, means the place where black Americans live. How the out-group is always lazy. Jews were supposed to be lazy and criminals. It’s always the same tropes, again and again and again.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But how do you respond—before we conclude, how do you respond to the criticism that by talking about fascism in the U.S., you risk leveling all the distinctions between different fascists—you talked earlier about Mussolini and Hitler—so that then the term has no content?
JASON STANLEY: I’m much more worried about—I’m much more worried about normalization than overreach. Which is the concern now? That we don’t see it when it’s happening, or that we call something—we’re a little bit more extreme in what we call things? I am much more concerned that we don’t label something as it should be labeled than that we sort of cry wolf.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, Jason Stanley, for joining us, philosophy professor at Yale University. His new book is just out. It’s titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, previously wrote How Propaganda Works.
This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org.