American Fascism 2– Is the United States Fascist?

Part 1 Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed the four political impulses– communalism, libertarianism, republican democracy, and fascism– that seem to be the base elements of which more complex ideologies are made. Of course, an entire society can be communalist in some ways, but libertarian in others. To ask whether the United States “is fascist” may seem simplistic. The question might be phrased better as, “How established is fascism?”

Upsettingly, fascism is the most limber in its self-presentation. Fascists lie. They will, if it is convenient, use ideas from other ideologies to push their agendas. We’ve seen fascists in leftist, rightist, religious, and anti-religious costumes before. Corporate fascism asserts “meritocracy”. Donald Trump managed to step over his personal elitism to run as a populist. Rarely does one spot a fascist in his revealed ideology; we observe what he does.

We are not at the point yet where the United States has been afflicted by state-level fascism. One hopes that it never will be. Are we under threat? Yes, and to understand the problem, we’ll have to know why fascism has emerged.

Is Donald Trump a fascist threat?

Donald Trump’s victory was the culmination of a bizarre irony: a man running against forty years of economic damage wrought by Boomers, bullies, and billionaires… despite being all three.

Establishment politicians represent, in today’s dysfunctional political environment, the disingenuous, effete, and hypocritical superego of the corporate system. In 2016, people decided to try out that system’s id.

How did this all happen? The mechanics of it deserve another essay, probably not in this series, but the short version is that Trump managed to unify, for a time, the otherwise disparate in-authority and out-of-authority fascisms. Corporate executives and race-war preppers do not go to the same parties, and they express their thuggish inclinations in different ways, but Trump managed to draw support from both crowds.

All of this being said, I don’t think of Donald Trump as a high-magnitude fascist threat to this country. I did not ever support him, did not vote for him, and was displeased (to put it mildly) when he won the election (which surprised me). He has done a lot of damage, especially on the environmental front. He has embarrassed us in front of the entire world. Still, he lacks the image necessary to pull sustained, effortless authoritarianism off.

Donald Trump puts explicitly what is subtle in corporate fascism. He doesn’t think differently from those people; he just can’t filter himself. In general, corporate fascism is effective because of its bloodlessness. Few people notice that it’s there unless they think deeply about it; corporate fascism presents itself as “not political”. (The corporate fascist’s enemies are the ones “being political.” That’s why they were fired. Trump’s authoritarianism, belched out 280 characters at a time, is too flagrant and plain-spoken for either the emasculated robot fascism of the corporate world or the lawfully-masculine (in presentation) inevitability of the brutal dictator.

Donald Trump, though, has an even bigger flaw as a would-be fascist: his lifestyle. He’s been a self-indulgent man-child for his entire life. On-camera fuckery built “the Trump brand”, which he’s cited as his most valuable asset. This was great for him when he was a zeitgeist of unapologetic, gangster capitalism. It’s repugnant, and so is fascism, but the brands of malignancy could not be more different.

For a contrast, the proper fascist dictator appears superficial. He cannot be self-indulgent in public. If he enjoys his power and wealth in front of people, he’ll be seen to have an appetite for comfort, which kills the aura of masculine inevitability that a fascist leader requires. Adolf Hitler was, in fact, a rich man late in life– Mein Kampf was a bestseller– and he likely had several mistresses. To the public, however, he presented himself as a simple-living, celibate man. He was married, he said, to the German people. The fascist’s sacrificial austerity gives credence to the perceived inevitability of his reign.

Donald Trump could not pull that off. He has been a volatile, self-absorbed clown in the public for longer than many of us have lived. His own history destroys him. Trump is the sort that thrives in disorder and damage, but sustained fascism requires a damaging order– and that’s quite different.

If fascism comes to the United States, it won’t come via the self-indulgent, emotionally incontinent septuagenarian in the White House. Instead, it’ll come under the aegis of a 39-year-old Silicon Valley tech founder whom few of us have heard of.

He’ll arrive with a pristine reputation, because (like anyone who succeeds in Silicon Valley) he will have preserved his image at any cost, destroying the careers of those who opposed him. The same sleazy tactics that founders, executives, and venture capitalists use to protect and expand their reputations, he’ll have mastered before he even considered going into politics.

He’ll use his dirty corporate tricks, more subtly than Trump, as well as the resources within his companies to build up an image of centrist, pragmatic, and professional competence. He’ll likely present himself as a bipartisan figure– a unifier “in these divided times”, a centrist capitalist who can also “speak nerd”. He may or may not hold racist views– he’s probably too smart to believe that shit– but when it suits him, he’ll use any racial tension he can to divide people, just as he used factional tensions within companies to build his corporate career.

State of the States

We can assess our current fascist risk by asking: what keeps fascism at bay? We have a constitutional government. That’s good, but it inevitably comes down to us what that means. Societies can be assessed on several planes: culture, politics, economics, and the social. I’ll cover each of them; doing this gives us a clear sense of how much danger exists, and whether it’s getting worse.

Center-leftists have underestimated the corporate and fascist threats over the past ten years, because they believe that we are winning the culture wars. That’s true enough right now. The religious right is dying out. Marijuana legalization once seemed impossibly radical. Same-sex marriage support is strong among the young. These are all very good signs. So, can’t we let time do its thing, considering our cultural headwinds?

No, we can’t. The cultural is driven, over time, by the economic. The economic and political drive each other; that arrow goes in both directions and sometimes it is hard to tell the planes apart. In turn, the economic and political are driven by the social: who knows whom and in what context, which groups are favored for various opportunities, et cetera. It suits us best to analyze the cultural, social, political, and economic planes separately and, in each, ask, in terms of the four elemental political impulses– communalism, libertarianism, republican democracy, and fascism– “Are we fascist?”

Culturally, we are mostly communalistic. Division and exclusion are frowned-upon. A center-left coalition won the cultural wars of the late 20th-century. Two-thirds of Americans support gay marriage, and there’s no strong desire to prosecute harmless pot smokers. Racism still exists, but it’s largely detested. It’s more acceptable, by far, to err on the side of inclusivity than otherwise.

Sometimes, the right refers to our culture as being “politically correct”. Our popular culture is, for good and bad, deliberately inoffensive. This is likely tied in to the importance of our popular culture to our self-definition and economic standing; it is the most effective export we’ve ever had. To start, we would be an irrelevant European knock-off without the cultural influences of once-disparaged minorities. More importantly, if our popular culture were racist, misogynistic, or belligerently nationalistic, the rest of the world would be unlikely to buy it.

Culture, however, changes quickly; it did in the German 1930s, when Weimar liberalism fell, like so much else, to the Nazis. Environmental, political, economic, and social forces can crush cultural defenses. That happens all the time.

Politically, we remain a democratic republic. Our elections work. They do so imperfectly, but they work well enough that, when plutocrats cheat, they still bother to hide it. Voters have the power to fire representatives who become unaccountable to their constituents, and although it’s not used often enough, it is used. Though there are issues with our electoral system on account of its age, they’re not so severe that one would call us, at this point, a non-democracy.

For now, we’re on the better side of this one.

Economically, we are a market-driven libertarian society. That is not all bad. Many have argued that this is what should be. Do we need public control of the economy? To some degree, yes; total control is undesirable. Government should prevent poverty; but we can trust markets to, say, decide the price of toothpaste. Command economies are not innovative, they don’t work well at scale, and they’re too easily corruptible. When well-structured, and used in a society that takes care of the big-picture issues (e.g., basic income, job guarantees) so everyone has a vote, markets work.

It is not evil that our economy uses libertarian, market dynamics. It probably should. The evil is the totalitarian influence that economic life (not to mention artificial scarcity( has over everything else. Where people live, how they structure their time, and what careers are available to them, are all dictated by a closed social elite of unaccountable, often-malignant bureaucrats called “executives”.

When an economy functions well, it recedes. Economic life becomes less a part of daily existence as people become richer, freer, and more productive in their (fewer, usually) working hours. We’ve seen the opposite. We’ve seen dysfunction spreading. We’ve seen people sacrificing more of their life on the altar of the economic, without much progress.

It has been said to the young, “You don’t hate Mondays; you hate capitalism”. That’s not quite right. Working Americans aren’t miserable at their jobs because, say, oil prices are set by free markets. They’re miserable because of corruption. They’re miserable because they are forced by circumstance to work for a malignant elite– a predominantly social rather than economic one– that despises them.

We’ve covered the good news: we are culturally communalistic. We are politically republican. We are economically libertarian. Generally, this is how things should be. So what’s wrong?

Socially, we are fascist. On the social plane, we are not “becoming fascist”. We are not “at risk of fascism”. We are there. A malignant upper class has won.

As discussed, is social drives the political; the political often drives the economic; economic forces drive culture far more than the other way around. As we are thoroughly corrupt, in the social plane, we should understand that we are not in danger until there is a radical overhaul of our current upper class. State-level fascism isn’t here yet, but we’re governed by an elite (“the 0.1 percent”) that would make it so, if it were in their personal interests. Everything could fall, and it wouldn’t take long.

For example, we’ve already lost freedom of speech. The federal government cannot bar political disagreement or peaceful opposition. But employers can– and do. Job opportunities are stolen from people based on social media posts but, at the same time, job opportunities can be stolen from people because they don’t use social media.

One of the key revelations of the 2010s is that only one social class distinction matters in the United States: those with generational wealth and social connections (“the 0.1 percent”) and those without. The higher-income supposed upper-middle and middle classes will be just as screwed, if a significant percentage of jobs are automated out of existence, as the poor. In any case, the upper class has all the important land and runs all the important institutions. It decides, monopolistically, what jobs people get: who works on what, when, and where. Some people get to be VPs of Marketing and university presidents who earn $1 million dollars per year for three hours per week of work; others get blacklisted and become unemployable. There are people who make those decisions; most of us are not among them.

Under fascism, the governed compete while power unifies. That’s what we’re observing in the corporate world right now. “Performance” is a myth. “Meritocracy” is a malevolent joke on the middle class (and “middle class” is itself, under our fascist society, a distinction invented to make upper-proles feel better about ourselves, and to divide us against lower-proles). What actually matters, in corporate jobs? Not performance. Not even profits. (I’ll come back to that.) Loyalty to the existing upper class. Corporate do not work for shareholders; in practice, they work for their management.

Corporate executives, in truth, have insulated themselves from meaningful competition. It will occur on occasion that one must be replaced. When this happens, they ensure a soft landing for the outgoing executive, while ensuring another member of their class steps in. Positions are shuffled around, but they keep these overpaid positions confined to a small elite. None of us really have a chance at those jobs; the idea that anyone can make it is just a cruel joke they play.

These people set each other’s pay. They use clever systems to hide the class’s rapacious self-dealing. For example, venture capital allows a rich man’s son to manufacture the appearance of success on a competitive market– he’s an entrepreneur, he says– when, in truth, the clients and resources are furtively delivered by their backers. This ruse and many others make it appear merit-based when their children succeed, at the expense of ours.

There is some competition allowed within the upper class, but there are rules to it. No one can damage the image for fortune of the class. Corporate executives are far more vicious in their competition against their workers than against nominally antagonistic firms: competitors in the classical sense.

Executives self-deal and get away with it, because their bosses are other executives, who are doing the same. Is all this self-dealing good for corporate profits? It’s hard to say. Executive-level fascism reduces performance but it seems to reduce variance. The left is often to quick to assert that social evils derive from “profit motive” when it is, in fact, executive self-dealing that is the essence of the corporate problem. Profit maximizing has its own moral issues, but they’re not the most relevant ones.

Do executives care about profit? They want to make enough profit to appease shareholders, and not a dollar more. If they’re making outsized profits, they could have paid themselves better. They could have hidden money in the company, to be drawn out in bad times. They could have used those profits to push efforts that would improve and expand their personal reputations. To an executive, a dollar of profit is waste, because he wasn’t able to find a way to take it for himself. In Corporate America, no executive works for a company. Companies (and their workers) work for executives.

What about shareholders? Why don’t they step in and drop a pipe on these self-dealing, comfort-addicted executives? The answer is that the shareholders who matter are… wait for it… rich people. How did they get rich? By sitting in overpaid executive positions, peddling connections, and ingratiating themselves to the upper class. They will never quash the executive swindle. That game keeps them rich, and ensures that their children are even richer. Perhaps it would do good for “companies” in the abstract if someone stepped in on executive excess, but it would be so bad for the upper class that it will never happen.

Of course, if returns to shareholders are abysmal– enough for the press and public to take notice– there will be executive shuffling, but it’s engineered so that no one really gets hurt. A CEO can be fired, yes, but with generous severance, and his career will be handed back to him (plus interest) within a year or two. The only thing that would put an executive on the outs would be disloyalty to the upper class itself. That, they would never forgive; he would likely be suicided.

What about when firms compete, as they’re nominally supposed to? Firms will compete for customers; that is true. Sometimes, they do so ruthlessly. It is not bad, from the consumer’s end, to live under capitalism. What firms cannot stand is having to compete for workers or their loyalty. They will ruin the careers of people who try to make them do that. Sure, they whine from time to time about a tight labor market and a lack of domestic talent, usually in order to scam the government into allowing them to hire more indentured servants from abroad, but their incessant whining about competition is a part of their strategy to ensure they never face it. They consider “job hopping” a sin, because they can’t tolerate the idea of having to compete for a subject’s loyalty. They share data on personnel and compensation, often in violation of the law (which they do not care about, since they own the most expensive attorneys). Most companies, before finalizing a job offer, call references: other managers at nominally competing firms. This would make no sense if there were real competition between companies. It makes complete sense if there is not.

Executives are not rewarded or punished based on their loyalty to shareholders, but rather to the upper class. Middle managers (who are not part of the upper class, and have no reason to care about it) are, in turn, rewarded or punished based on loyalty to their superiors’ careers. Workers, by and large, know that in today’s one-chance, fast-firing corporate culture, they don’t work for “companies” at all; they work for managers. The explicit theme of class domination is obscured to some degree, leaving workers unsure whether that their failure to advance may be a personal failure, and therefore avoiding public admission of the otherwise prosaic fact: the game has been rigged against them. Only one in a thousand who tries for corporate entry into the upper class will be accepted, and this will require total moral self-deletion.

I’ve mentioned the loss of one’s freedom of speech under corporate rule and that, at the same time, many people must nonetheless have social media profiles to have a career. It “looks weird” to people in HR not to have “a LinkedIn” or “a Twitter”. Opting out of technological surveillance is not an option for many people. They’ve been tricked and extorted into rendering unto current and future employers– corporate capitalism, that is– information that will only be used against them.

Mainstream corporate employers are not especially tolerant. It is bad to be the office liberal, the office conservative, the office Christian, the office atheist, or the office Jew. To win at corporate self-presentation, one must be prolifically bland. One should avoid excess and abstinence both in profanity. One should avoid the topic of labor rights at all costs. What about our other cultural institutions, though? What about our press, our universities, and our sundry nonprofit organizations? Yes, mainstream magazines will publish center-left views. Universities in particular house more leftist than conservative voices. How much will this protect us? Not that much, I’m afraid. Most people will not be part of those institutions for life, and therefore still rely on the Adversary for their careers. Even outside of the for-profit world, many are trained to turn on those who threaten the hegemony of the generationally well-connected. This is a shame, because that’s our society’s number-one problem right now.

State-level fascism hasn’t arrived yet, but our social elite has been preparing for it for decades. They are in no hurry to make it happen, but they will if they judge it to favor their interests. Why have they been fomenting right-wing populism– using racial resentments, religious bigotry, and the frank irrationality that emerges from stunted masculinity and (economically enforced) permanent adolescence? To ensure that, no matter what else happens during a populist uprising, they’ll have an easy time getting their money out of it. The upper class has convinced the rabble that generational wealth and connections– neither of which the rabble themselves have– are a right; meanwhile, leftists and racial minorities are a source of their misery.

This society is set up so that, if such events come to pass, the most armed and ready militants will be on the right wing. Not only will this support the elite’s economic goals and keep the proletariat divided against itself, but it will also mean that any revolutionary effort is likely to be overcome by people with such repugnant ideological and cultural aims that they will never gain global sympathy. The upper class would rather have a 95 percent chance of a rightist-racist revolt that no one (present company included) would support than a 25 percent chance of a leftist revolt that would quickly gain global sympathy.

Do today’s generationally well-connected want to live under state-level fascism? They don’t care. They wouldn’t be living under it; they’d be running it. I do not think they are, down to a man, ardent fascists. I imagine that the vast majority are individually apathetic on the matter. So long as they live in a world where they don’t have to compete for what they have, they remain disinterested in ideology. If fascism rises, they will quickly support it, not because of prior ideological commitment, but because it is practically designed for them; though fascism presents itself as popular indignation, it is deliberately constructed to keep the powerful (except for a few, who may be scapegoated) out of harm’s way.

Socially, we already have fascism. The generationally well-connected live with impunity. They do not tolerate division within their ranks, and do whatever they can to divide us against each other. This includes the division between so-called “red” and “blue” America, which are allegiances to manufactured brands– bloodless center-leftism and right-wing indignation, both of which are harmless to the entrenched upper class– more than coherent ideologies. Meanwhile, our society is almost entirely constructed so that no one can represent significant harm to upper-class interests and keep his career, reputation, and life intact.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss how we got here. Our turn toward fascism in the social sphere occurred around 1975; it is often blamed (hyperbolically, oversimplistically) on the Baby Boom generation. In truth, the sequence of events that led us there was, if not inevitable, predictable and cannot be blamed on a specific generation. So in Part 3, we’ll get a handle on how our current fascist mess was made– and how it might be unmade.

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American Fascism 1– What Is Fascism, and How Did It Get Here?

Part 1 Part 2

This series of essays shall cover one of the most depressing topics I’ve ever written about: fascism. The truth is, I’ve been writing and rewriting “the fascism essay” for almost two years. I’ve worked on one version or iteration, polished a bit… only to decide not to publish it. It’s such a dreary, demoralizing subject.

When fascism descends, one is faced with a fight– probably a losing fight– that a person of conscience still owes the world to fight.

I promise that this series will not focus on Donald Trump. It would be a mistake to conflate him with the more general fascist threat. More than he is a fascist, he’s an opportunist. Inevitably, someone would have tried what he did. Perhaps we are lucky. For reasons that will be discussed later on, he is quite ineffective when it comes to fascism. He has damaged this country, and he will probably damage it more before he is gone, but it would be going a lot worse if the game he is playing were played competently.

I’ve had to fight fascists for 7 years. In 2011, a comment I made about a product at a large tech company received far too much internal publicity, after which my name was placed on the list of suspected unionists that circulates around in Silicon Valley. I got death threats– I still get death threats. I experienced, more than once, a job offer that was rescinded after someone found my name on the list. I’ve been libeled in various corners of the Internet, and this libel has had a negative effect on my career.

Having been fighting fascists for 7 years, and having to continue to fight them, I am well aware of our nation’s fascist energies. Donald Trump did not create them out of thin air, and we will not be rid of the threat after he is gone.

In fact, as I’ll establish over the next few essays, it is the nature of end-stage corporate capitalism to become fascist.

We have been lucky with Trump, at least so far. Two years have passed and he has not instituted state-level fascism. I don’t think he can. We would be in much worse shape if, instead, we had been saddled with a polished 39-year-old tech founder as opposed to the an emotionally incompetent, openly racist septuagenerian who tried to trademark the phrase, “You’re fired.”

Fascism is an immense and unpleasant topic, so I’ve broken this essay up into several pieces. The planned schedule is to release one every three days, in eight installments. I shall cover:

  • What is fascism?
  • Is the United States fascist?
  • Fascism and capitalism.
  • Why fascism appeals to people.
  • Fascism’s endgame.
  • Why we have to fight fascism– now.
  • How we must fight fascism.
  • When it is acceptable, and when it is not, to use violence against it.

Before we can discuss fascism, we must ask: what is it, and where does it come from?

Ideologies are as numerous as human cultures, but complex societies tend to establish and differentiate themselves in their handling of four elemental impulses that recur in human politics, and probably have for all time. Those are: communalism, libertarianism, republican democracy, and fascism.

We can understand each of the four from first principles by noting that much of politics comes down to one question, which we face on a daily basis in economic and social life: does one cooperate, or compete? Do we honor social contracts, or break them for personal gain? When we encounter other tribes, is our instinct to share resources and allow further specialization, or do we fight until we’ve chased them off– or killed them all?

Communalism

In general, those who cooperate are better off, in the aggregate, than people who fight. “Winning” a war often mean losing less. The communalist sees this sort of competition as unsavory and would prefer that it never happen. Of course, communalists have no issue with competition in games and sports– it’s well understood that sportsmanlike, low-stakes competition has a place in any society– but they do not want to see the high-stakes fights in which people, businesses, and nations work to actually hurt the other.

A team, tribe, or group does better if its members cooperate than if they suffer in-fighting. An example I know far too well is that of programmers, who have low status in the workplace– even in software companies and startups, where they ought to be in charge. There’s a well-known reason for this: despite their superior individual intelligence, they have zero collective intelligence, which makes it easy for their bosses to pit them against each other.

The communalist view has a lot to recommend it. The toughest global problems– climate change, public health, avoidance of international conflict– are cooperative in nature.

Libertarianism

No matter what, though, people will compete. Rules will be broken. Interests diverge. The communalist view is that we should cooperate all the time, but the libertarian counterargument needs only four words, followed by a mic drop: Have you met people?

Arrangements that seem to lack competition, on closer inspection, have unsavory varieties thereof. Foremost in mind would be a business monopoly, which is not a true absence of competition– it is certainly not a cooperative arrangement where everyone wins– but an asymmetric and socially harmful conflict where an in-group (the monopolist) holds all the cards, and the public loses. The situation would improve if others could enter competition with the monopolist.

Libertarians don’t want governments to eradicate competition, but to protect the individual’s right to enter. In general, libertarians want government to be limited, transparent, and simple.

We might consider the communalist impulse to be a sort of ancestral left, while the libertarian one represents the primordial right. Just as most of us call ourselves centrists, we generally recognize the value in both impulses.

Republican democracy

Communalism proposes an ideal, but the libertarian reminds us of an uncomfortable truth: competition– of the serious kind, where people can get hurt– is inevitable. Therefore, it’s better to have well-structured and fair competition than pretend that none exists.

How do we reconcile a communalist ideal with competitive reality?

Republican democracy, the third elemental impulse, puts it like so: as citizens, we cooperate. We share information in order to make the best decision, and largely want the same things: good government, prosperous daily life. However, anyone who wants to acquire or retain power must compete for it. Additionally, a private citizen who believe he can do better in a leadership role than the person currently there may run for the office.

The above, we take for granted. We shouldn’t. Workplaces, for example, are not run this way. Someone who even jokingly suggested running for his boss’s position would be summarily fired.

In sum, the republic holds the communalist idea, but introduces competition to hold political leaders accountable to the public.

The communalist would not have anyone compete; we should all cooperate. The libertarian’s worldview is one in which everyone competes for everything. The republican impulse is the only one of the three introduced thus far, as expressed by the table below, that makes a difference between someone in power (or seeking it) and the general public.

Who Competes?
Political System Leadership The Public
Communalism No No
Libertarianism Yes Yes
Republic Yes No
???? No Yes

Communalists and libertarians both have a blind spot: the fact that power relationships and leadership roles emerge almost immediately in human societies. Communalists underestimate what people will do to compete for position. This is easy enough to see. Libertarians have a blind spot, too, and in some ways it’s a bigger one.

The libertarian mindset approaches governance with a mathematician’s conservatism, by which I mean it starts from a small set of rules (analogous to mathematical axioms) and wants to restrict government’s role to what can be proven from those rules. No distinction is made between rich and poor, in-crowd or underprivileged. Everyone competes, all of the time– survival of the fittest. But, what is the first thing people do after winning in socioeconomic competition? See, the libertarian believes that past behavior predicts future results and that people who achieved socioeconomic success will double down on whatever worked… but that’s not what happens. Instead, those who’ve won (often, by pure luck) will do everything they can to insulate themselves (and their progeny) from future competition, and stay “winning” forever. At absolute most, society gets one generation of rule by the fittest. After that, a self-protecting, effete, useless oligarchy sets in.

Republican democracy does better. It says: cooperate as citizens, but compete for office. Then, it invests resources to make these competitions– which happen at regular times and are subjected to rules to prevent corruption– as fair as possible. This seems to be the best solution. A well-structured republic uses the competitive energies of the ambitious for the greater good. In the republic, power is self-limiting, as it comes with increased scrutiny, responsibility, and competition. The objective here is that no one seeks power just to have it, and people contend for office only if they have a higher moral or public goal they wish to achieve.

Does the republic have a blind spot? In a way, it does. The objective of the republic is to make government reliable, trustworthy, and therefore boring. Such systems are engineered to prevent the emergence of feedback loops that otherwise dominate human systems. The issue is that feedback loops emerge anyway. We seem, as humans, to be primed to recognize and react to them quickly, although this exacerbates the problem. For example, when one side of a conflict appears to be winning, many of us begin to act as if that side has already won. It is through these feedback loops that the mere suggestion of a person’s popularity (or stigma) can become fact, and billions of dollars are spent every year to induce them.

The republican element of human politics tends toward self-limitation, but other elements emerge and dominate. Those tend to be unanticipated feedback loops that weren’t known to exist until someone exploited them. Republics will, from time to time, have to contend with a sort of Jungian shadow: a dual-opposite mentality asserting the right of the rich to get richer, and of those with power to use it however they want (including, notably, to acquire more power).

Fascism

The dual opposite of a republic would be a society where the governed must compete, merely to survive. Meanwhile, the powerful are immune to challenge from below. There is only one political party and it will always be that way. Those with power have no responsibilities to those below them, because power is subject to no appeal but itself.

That sounds like an unimaginable dystopia, right? That would never, ever emerge from a free society. Right?

It has already done so. Consider the corporate workplace. Regular employees are ranked and pitted against each other– and against the hungry masses, for management is happy to remind its subjects of the desperate millions ready to take more abuse and less pay. Stack ranking and annual reviews exist largely as a mechanism through which executives remind the little people that they aren’t a permanent part of the company– they are a resource that will be used up and discarded. Meanwhile, corporations rely on a self-dealing one-party government called “management” that uses every bit of power it has (which is, all of it) to keep the underlings where they are. Power begets power. It does not accept limitation; who has the right to limit it? Certainly, there shall be no separation of powers. Power is allowed and expected to unify– managers protect their own, and those who do not learn this one rule do not remain in management for long.

Of course, individual corporations are too small to indulge in the end-stage horrors for which fascism is known: international belligerence, extreme racism, repression and disinformation. In comparison to state-level fascism, the corporation’s fascism-lite seems benign. Is it? It’s hard to say, because state-level fascism seems, likewise, harmless to the general public when it sets in.

The core of fascism, I would argue, is not to be found in the end-stage calamities to which it often inexorably leads. Rather, it is this: the people compete against each other, endlessly, but power unifies.

Under fascism, power’s disparate forms– cultural, political, religious, state, economic, legal, and social power– congeal into an inflexible fasces. Industrialists, political officials, media personalities, and sundry middling bureaucrats and managers form a one-party system that cannot be appealed. At the same time, people are divided against each other, ranked in ceaseless competition. Those judged to rank at the bottom– a small percentage that must be called “work-shy”, or “below expectations”, or Lebensunwertes Leben— must be punished. This is not always done out of hatred for the unlucky; it’s done to terrify the middle-ranking majority.

Fascism is neither leftist nor rightist in any traditional sense. Fascists learn that they can lie with impunity; there’s no one above them for the public to appeal to. The fascist will use socialist, capitalist, royalist, revanchist, communist, populist, nationalist, or religious symbology as needed. A corporation will declare itself a meritocracy and punish anyone who says it is not so. Truth doesn’t matter; the closest thing there is, is reputation, which the fascist manipulates masterfully.

Donald Trump lies so frequently not because it is part of a political strategy, but because he’s taking his corporate tricks into the public theater– with mixed results. His lies are of a kind that would pass easily in the corporate world; it is good for us that, in presidential politics, he’s out of his depth. What one must understand about Trumpian lies is that anyone who would recognize them as lies is not part of his intended audience. These lies exist to rally the loyal and to frighten– not convince– the opposition. Loyalists see a man so fervid he occasionally gets a detail wrong; opponents see a person unconstrained by truth or apparent logic. When intelligent people are called out on their support for someone so obviously divorced from truth, they often use the Thiel defense: they’re taking him seriously, but not literally.

A corporate executive (and an established fascist) can say anything, because he’s in a milieu that admires bullies– “tough leadership” is the corporate term of art for the sorts of people who smashed science projects in grade school– and because he’s surrounded by people who are paid to behave as if they believe every word he says (and to rat out nonbelievers). Trump’s problem is that he still has to deal with the 50-plus percent of the population that won’t put up with his mendacity. A president cannot, at the current time, fire the public.

Republics are set up to force politicians to compete, in an effort to make sure that elected officials work on behalf of the public. Ours isn’t perfect, but the system does does a decent job. Voters don’t fire incumbents often enough, one might argue, but political officials know that they can.

While republics strive for responsible government, fascism imposes competition on the people, to render them accountable to the elite– against which no one and nothing can compete.

What about competition within the elite? Surely, that must happen, even under fascism– right? Of course, it does. The same divide-and-conquer techniques that fascism uses against the public, the dictator will use against his lieutenants and middle managers. Such bureaucrats and seneschals are happy to squabble for the boss’s favor. However, there’s one rule, and it’s absolute: the competition can never be seen from below. (As a corollary, mid-ranking hierarchs cannot court popular support.) Court intrigue within power is fine, so long as it stays there. To the public, though, they must present a unified front.

Fascism requires this unity among power because it does not present itself as a brand of politics. Rather, fascist is bigger (as in, more totalitarian) but also harder-to-see than regular politics, toward which it project disdain. It presents itself as post-political. Current exigencies, it argues, require a union of power to make swiftly the decisions that are inevitable and beyond appeal. Those could not, it must always say, have been made any other way. If people became aware of a debate within power, this would suggest that alternatives existed, and the sense of inevitability in the fascist’s movement would be compromised.

When fascism runs smoothly, the governed do not perceive themselves as under a self-serving elite, or having a repressive government. Authority assures them that, for each concession it demands of them, there were no other options. We had to shoot the protesters, because if hostile nations found out about internal dissent, they’d take advantage of our weakness. We have to fire 5% of our workers every year, because otherwise nothing will get done.

It is shocking how readily people will accept authoritarianism if fed a halfway-coherent argument that there are no alternatives.

I used to write a lot, between 2010 and 2015, about organizational dynamics. As a result, I got a lot of letters from people facing managerial adversity at their workplaces.

I mentioned that fascist governments are mendacious and will present themselves as needed: if they need to seem populist, they’ll seem populist. If socialism is en vogue, they’ll become left-authoritarians. If a veneer of capitalism suits their needs, they’ll take the right. The corporation’s lie is meritocracy, and it’s so pervasive that people believe in it. So, when they face managerial adversity, they believe that “performance” can save them. (It can’t.) Or, they go over the boss’s head, or to the company’s HR department. After all, if it were a meritocracy, it would reward when a good employee rats out a bad manager, right? Of course, that move almost never works. If anything, the afflicted employee gets fired faster.

Corporate “performance” is mythical. It’s a word they made up that sounds objective but, in fact, means whatever the corporates want it to mean. (It is, arguably, unintentionally honest. Succeeding in the corporate world has nothing to do with performance in the sense of being good at one’s job; but it is a performance in the theatrical sense.) Corporate “meritocracy” is a litmus test for ideological compliance and personal loyalty to management. One must not only follow orders, but pledge fealty to inflexible managerial supremacy with every action. In the United States, one must remember that managers do not work for companies. (I’ll bust the “shareholder” myth, some other time.) Rather, companies work for their managers.

So, what happens when these unfortunate people, suffering managerial adversity, attempt to appeal to higher “meritocracy”? They are crushed; the system requires it. The unspoken agreement among corporate bosses is never to let the little people pit them against each other. Whether the little people are right is immaterial. Anyone who tries this must be destroyed. Even if the worker could somehow prove to HR that he was a “high performer” (whatever that means) who had a bad boss, his “boss-killer” reputation would follow him, he would be unable to join another team, and he’d be terminated within time for that reason alone. To do that is to break the one rule the corporates actually care about. Ethics, laws, and even public perceptions have flexibility, but managerial unity must never be challenged.

Fascism, like corporate management, requires a one-party system. It will never allow real elections. It will use the strangest lies to test loyalty; those who value truth too much become a problem that must be dealt with. Even when disloyalty is deserved, for the bureaucrat or manager was incompetent or abusive, fascism will not tolerate it. Fascism would rather kill innocents than risk division from below.

Understanding Complex Societies

In the next essay, I’ll answer the question, “Is the United States fascist?”

The short answer is: No. Not yet, and I hope not ever. The United States is a republic with serious problems, but none even approach the magnitude to state-level fascism.

The longer answer is… more complicated. Whether the 21st-century corporate system’s effete brand of fascism-lite can be transmuted into full-bore national fascism is a matter that remains untested. Our first true “President Corporate America” has been unpopular and largely ineffective. On the left, we ought to use his continuing failure whenever possible to embarrass the milieu from which he came.

It’s easy to understate the corporate threat, because we’ve had “corporate capitalism” for a long time, and for decades it represented no threat to our nation’s freedom at all. Why it has changed requires further analysis, and I’ll cover that in a future essay.

For now, we observe that corporate existence has primed people to accept life under, at the very least, fascism-lite. Our adversaries- people who would impose fascism if they could benefit from doing so– are collecting data, as I write this, on their workers. What do they see? I’ve been in the corporate world, so I’ve seen it as well. To impose fascism is easy. It’s like taking freedoms from a baby.

In the corporate world, when someone is fired unjustly, what do her colleagues do? Do they encourage customer boycotts? Do they threaten to quit unless the wrongly-fired employee is reinstated (or, at least, offered a reasonable severance)? Do they storm the manager’s office, like it was done back when people had the courage to handle these things properly? None of the above. They get back to work, as if it had never happened.

What about the increasing totalitarianism that corporate jobs assert over a worker’s time, living arrangements, and (in the age of technology) reputation? Have any of these people pushed back against that? No.

We feel safe, in the United States, because our “professional” middle and upper-middle classes remain notionally liberal. We should not. Their politics is the politics of not being political, which fascists (who present their own aggressive politics as not-political) love. We see how they’ve been trained to fail when put to ethical tests in the lower-stakes corporate game, and they reliably do. What’s going to happen, then, if the stakes become high? If we can’t count on them when jobs are at risk, we surely can’t count on them when freedom and lives are on the line.

The corporate world is full of of-course-I-would-hide-Anne-Frank quasi-liberals who, nonetheless, nod in agreement when some mid-level managerial thug calls one of their colleagues “a low performer”. They probably make up 85–90 percent of corporate denizens, because people of conscience don’t last long. Forgive me for not trusting them to hold society up, should it ever endure an attack of national scope.

In the next essay, we’ll assess in more detail the fascist threats to the United States, as well as why the ostensible liberalism of our popular culture is unlikely to protect us. We’ll also answer one of the most important questions that I have not yet addressed, which is motivation. Why would anyone want to turn this country fascist? What would be in it for them.

It has often been argued that a system like ours is resistant to fascism because it would not bring comfort or wealth to the current elite. To take over such a large country requires massive effort, and the financial rewards are minuscule (at absolute best) from the perspective of an upper class that, materially speaking, already has everything.

That argument is wrong. A nuanced picture of our society, and a psychographic profile elite, both of which will come in later essays, will establish their perceived gain– and it’s terrifying.

More relevantly, the vast majority of us, should fascism come to pass, will lose. Some of us, including me, will lose everything. This could become the fight of our lives. For me, for seven years, it already has been.