As the November elections approach, Donald Trump and his allies have been forced to contemplate the unthinkable. Not only is there a real possibility that Trump loses his reelection bid, it is possible that his party will lose control of the Senate.
It is in this context that Trump in particular is ratcheting up overtly fascist rhetoric. He is being amplified by others of his party, but Trump is uniquely unable to couch his instinctive, narcissistic-driven authoritarian impulses in a layer of plausible deniability. Trump is praising violence against his perceived opponents, embracing notions of "genetic" superiority, engaging in relentless false propaganda intended to cast doubt on the validity of elections and, increasingly, suggesting that he will not necessarily abide by the votes cast in November. Not if they come "by mail."
Trump is now more openly suggesting that it will not be up to voters, but the "federal court system" to determine the winner of the election, setting up with near-certainty a election eve crisis in which Trump declares victory as the first votes arrive while using the Department of Justice—specifically, William Barr—to block further vote counting from taking place.
"We're gonna have a victory on November 3rd the likes of which you've never seen," boasted Trump during a North Carolina rally. "Now we're counting on the federal court system to make it so we can actually have an evening where we know who wins. Not where the votes are going to be counted a week later, or two weeks later."
In a close election, one in which many or most votes must take place via absentee ballot because of the real dangers to public health posed by waiting in long polling lines during a deadly, worldwide pandemic, it is not a given that the winner will be obvious at whatever point in the evening Trump personally decides it ought to be—and the more it looks as if the electoral map will be near-evenly balanced, the more Trump will benefit from prematurely declaring himself the winner, then ordering his government to make it so.
But that is not Trump's only new embrace of fascist themes, this weekend. And his Republican cohorts are adding their own echoes.
• Attorney General William Barr made what appeared to be a declaration of war against his own department last week, comparing federal prosecutors to a "Montessori preschool" while asserting that he alone had the ultimate authority to determine which charges should be brought against which Americans, and which should be passed over. Quoting C.S. Lewis, Barr seemed to address—and justify—the corruption surrounding Trump, while dismissing prosecutors as "busybodies."
"It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
Pro-robber baron is an extremely odd place for an American attorney general to be, and more so when coupled with repeated insults toward federal prosecutors tasked with checking their power.
• Multiple times over the weekend, Trump explicitly celebrated violence against opponents and protesters. "They beat the hell out of these guys," Trump gushed in praise of law enforcement attacks on protesters allegedly attempting to topple a statue. He was more giddy over police injuring a reporter.
"I remember this guy Velshi ... he got hit in the knee with a canister of tear gas and he went down. He was down. 'My knee, my knee.' Nobody cared, these guys didn't care, they moved him aside, and they just walked right through. It was the most beautiful thing. Because after we take all that crap for weeks and weeks, and you finally see men get up there and go right through them, wasn't it really a beautiful sight? It's called law and order." Justified violence in service to the state is a hallmark of fascist movements.
• Trump again declared the American media to be "the enemy of the people." This is the bellow of authoritarian nations, and only authoritarian nations.
• On Fox News, host Mark Levin capped off a long tirade asserting the "Democrat Party" to be "the party of antifa, the party of Black Lives Matter" by declaring that "This mob, one way or another, will be crushed. If they're not crushed at the voting booth, they will be crushed otherwise." Fox hosts have repeatedly suggested that extralegal or violent means might be necessary to defeat "antifa," police reform protesters, and Democrats; this is only the latest in a long string of network figures either giving sympathies to those that do violence against movement enemies or insinuating that such actions may be acceptable, or even welcomed.
• Trump is now overtly calling for a "patriotic education" program he intends as direct counter to lessons describing slavery and segregation. "We're taking school funds away from these crazy schools that are teaching horrible things. [...] We will teach our children the truth about America, that we are the most exceptional nation on the face of the Earth and we are getting better every single day."
• In another nod toward his own affection for theories of genetic superiority, Trump praised his white Minnesota audience. "You have good genes, you know that, right? You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn't it, don't you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we're so different? You have good genes in Minnesota." His opponent, declared Trump, would instead "turn Minnesota into a refugee camp." Again: This is overtly fascist, eliminationist rhetoric. It is not subtle.
• The merging of state and corporate business continues, with Trump claiming to have successfully demanded a "cut" of the deal that would see social networking giant TikTok partner with Trump-allied companies Oracle and Walmart to avoid Trump-imposed sanctions. He claimed he agreed to the deal "in concept"—not generally a power granted to a president—and boasted that the deal would indeed include an attached bonus to his government: $5 billion donated toward "a very large fund for the education of American youth," which Trump described as "the contribution I've been asking for." Corporate dealmaking often has to run a gauntlet of federal regulators, but seldom has one of the demands been, bluntly, a cash payment.
• Meanwhile, the same rhetoric continues. Despite taking a leave of absence from the Department of Health and Human Services, after publicly releasing a Facebook video ranting about a supposed "deep state" plot inside the Centers of Disease Control to damage Trump by releasing scientific findings at odds with Trump's own bizarre and often-conflicting pandemic claims, ex-Trump campaign official wholeheartedly embraced those same theories in a new pro-Trump radio interview. The claims are obviously false, but the notion of a "resistance unit" or other "deep state" conspiracies plotting against Trump have been used repeatedly as justification for gutting watchdog, oversight, and scientific efforts undertaken by government agencies seen as insufficiently loyal to Trump.
• In what could be a precursor to other, worse actions: After a group of Trump supporters disrupted a Virginia voting location with a pro-Trump rally on Saturday, the Republican Party of Virginia did not condemn the illegal act of voter intimidation, but instead … appeared to embrace and celebrate it. Criminality, it would seem, should no longer be considered a hindrance to Trump's allies.
We are now in a dire position. The supposed president is now suggesting that he will use the tools of government to block Americans from voting. His party is now embracing voter intimidation as valid tactic, legal or not. His favored pundits are warning that his opponents will be "crushed," if not at the voting booth than "otherwise." Federal judges are being threatened. And the movement, en masse, is engaged in an orgy of misinformation that makes Russian efforts look microscopic and pathetic in comparison, all devoted toward painting a new picture of reality in which the pandemic has not killed 200,000, the economy is not suffering from catastrophic pandemic mismanagement, Trump's most corrupt actions are patriotic and his opponents are by definition criminal.
It is likely to get worse, and in direct proportion to Republican reelection prospects. And if Trump, Fox News, and the various crawling things of the internet are all nodding that violence and extralegal acts may be necessary to defend their victory, violence appears all but certain.