American Fascism: Then and Now
David and Helen talk with historian Sarah Churchwell about the origins, uses and abuses of the idea of American fascism. Where does American fascism come from? Does it follow a European model or is it something exceptional? What role do white supremacy and anti-Semitism play in its development? How close has it got to power? Plus we ask the big question for now: Does it make sense to call Trump a fascist?
Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Tulsa on 19 June is an act of clear provocation to African Americans, especially at this moment.
- 19 June 1865 was the day the last slaves were emancipated, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
- The symbolic deferral, the fact that white people were actively denying black people full rights and citizenship, is what Juneteenth came to represent.
- Tulsa is where the worst race riot in American history occurred in 1921. The white population of Tulsa descended on a thriving black community.
- The Trump campaign was forced to move the rally a day. It will happen on 20 June.
Is fascism the right word for what has happened—and is happening in America?
- The second Klan rose between 1915 and 1922.
- The commentariat at the time pointed to Mussolini and fascism to explain the Klan’s resurgence.
- Hitler looked at the US and took aspects, including the legal institutionalisation of white supremacy, especially in the South, as an inspiration.
- But there is something quite specific about European fascism in the 1920s that has to do with the fallout of the First World War.
Fascism is ultra-nationalism. It has to be different in every country: it’s highly situational, highly historicized.
- It can be hard to pin down because each iteration takes its own form.
- Is it historically accurate to call the present moment fascist? Is it useful?
- Is calling Trump a fascist too comforting? Does it keep us from seeing the reasons why he won?
- Is it useful to think about American nativist, conspiratorial, racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic gorups as being recognizably fascist going back in time?
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Sarah and TP American Histories on the 15th and the 19th amendment
- Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism
- Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
- Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here
- Jonathan Shanin on Tom Cotton’s op ed