Why Calling Fascism Matters



More pundits are now debating whether Trump is a fascist, whether what we're watching right now is fascism, whether it is, in fact, time to use the F-word.

I only learned that my mother and Anne Frank were childhood friends when I brought home the Diary of Anne Frank in seventh grade. That day, my mom showed me a childhood photo of her with her, her cousin Ellen, and Anne and Margot Frank.

It was a rare glimpse into my mother's past. She never talked about growing up in Germany and the occupied Netherlands, about the war, about living in hiding, about the Holocaust. She refused to speak German even with us, her two children.

I later found out that, in 1960, my mother became the first person of her generation to sue the German government for reparations. Her lawyer was Robert Kempner, who survived a Nazi camp and became assistant chief US counsel during the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The trial dragged on for fourteen years before the case was dismissed for lack of legal funds. Only after her death was I able to read the transcripts describing her physical and psychological scars and I began to understand why she never left the house, even when I won prizes in high school.

Some argued that the German people did not know or understand what was going on around them. This may well be true, even though the signs were there from the beginning. There was, essentially, a refusal to see what was happening in front of them, and a failure of moral leadership at key moments when the regime could have been stopped. Different political factions—communists, socialists, the Jewish Union, the labor movement—failed to work together to end the Nazi program of "Make Germany Whole Again" however much they all, to some extent, recognized the danger. They didn't realize that there would come a time when the door would be violently slammed shut against any chance of stopping him.

Today we are witnessing the same spiral of events under Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” program — a program of hate and bigotry, tearing apart the norms of the rule of law as children like Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle die in concentration camps across the border or while protesters are murdered in the streets of Kenosha, WI by the self-proclaimed white nationalist militia. All of this has advanced significantly in recent months: Trump denying the science of the pandemic as 181.000 people died; unmarked federal paramilitary groups chasing protesters in unmarked vans, and similar forces spreading to other cities; maneuvers to sabotage or cancel the core of democracy: elections.

More pundits are now debating whether Trump is a fascist, whether what we are seeing right now is fascism, whether it is, in fact, time to use the F-word. performing fascism, using fascist tactics, acting like a dictator, or waving to his base, yet they still refuse to openly say that Trump is a fascist or to call the regime he set up fascist. Some say this isn't fascism because we still have a two-party state; because the Gestapo is not knocking on everyone's door; because there is still some semblance of liberty; why Trump has not started a new war despite his bellicose threats.

If that is the criterion for labeling a regime fascist, then the Nazis weren't fascists when they came to power either. But they were. You can't judge whether a regime is fascist by its setbacks or what it hasn't done yet. You look at what Trump has done. You look at what he said and promise to do. You look at the goals of your regime and the direction it is taking us.

Right before her death, my mother was interviewed by Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation. She described the advance—a change of law and an ordinance here and there; suddenly she couldn't go to his favorite bakery anymore. Afterwards, she watched as her school principal was shot for refusing to raise the Nazi flag. Then, the day came when she could no longer see her friend Anne Frank.

I think of my mother and Anne Frank at the dinner table with our family, celebrating their grandchildren's success if the German people had kicked out the Nazis before it was too late.

Why is it so important to say it's fascism? Because if we as a people openly acknowledge the awful truth, then we can begin to act to stop this fascist regime from taking power before it's too late. If the German people had known what we know, and had had the chance to remove Hitler and the Nazi party with firm, non-violent protest, shouldn't they have taken it? Shouldn't they have refused to accept what was already happening?

That is the question we are now confronted with. If we are not capable of assuming the truth, this is not a debate but a call to mass delirium. How many Anne Franks or Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valles or Joseph Rosenbaums will we be allowing, how many lives will we be sacrificing, if we don't break with the illusion immediately?

*Scott Gilbert is a physician and activist for RefuseFascism.org.

Translation: Daniel Pavan

Originally published on the portal counterpunch.


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