June 4, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Don’t Negotiate with Fascists

No compromise with people equating democracy with suicide.

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Editor’s note

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Someone asked me recently when the American right will stop. What goals can it achieve and then be satisfied? The answer is never. It will never stop, because there is no end to the hunger for power, as there is no end to the addictions of greed.  

The solution is preventing it from having power. How? I’m not sure. But I do know why. The American right cannot be bargained with. It’s irrational. It cannot be trusted. It acts habitually in bad faith. The right believes it alone is legitimate and patriotic. Everyone else—“them”—is illegitimate and treasonous. It’s time to answer in kind.

This sounds dramatic, like something out of Game of Thrones. While true we have yet to see a fascist takeover of the federal government, we are nonetheless on the way. (This could take a long time and we probably won’t see total fascism, I think, due to federalism) This isn’t Donald Trump’s fault. The course was set years ago.

The setting for the above question was Clarence Thomas’ newest opinion in which he took aim at not just abortion rights but birth control. The Supreme Court justice equated it, preposterously, to eugenics, and in doing so, tipped his hand. Abortion isn’t the issue for him. The issue is a woman’s body and what’s to be done with it.

Politics per se isn’t the point.

This is not liberal cant (though it can be). To members of the American right, birth control violates a gauzy historical vision of the “traditional family.” It’s fabricated history, but even so, the man is supposed to be the authority and law-giver while the woman is supposed to be the bearer and rearer of his children. These are each of the sex’s “natural” or “biblical” roles. Now consider: if the pill can violate a vision of “traditional family,” imagine what the right thinks of gay marriage and transgender rights, things so “perverse” that they must be punished, or even killed.

Birth control and the rest do something else, however, something more elemental that explains, to me at least, the intense feelings of sexual anxiety that are ubiquitous on the right. Birth control frees women. It therefore puts them on par with men. If women are equals, that means that men lose. (Consider what critics mean when they say that feminists are against men.) To put it quite differently: sexual equality is literal theft.

Theft of what? Power, authority, manliness. It’s that simple, and that’s why calling all this “conservatism” widely misses the mark. As Jason Stanley wrote in How Fascism Works: “If the demagogue is the father of the nation, then any threat to patriarchal manhood and the traditional family undermines the fascist vision of strength.”

That’s the thing about “conservatives.” They say they believe in principles. They say they hold values dear. They say they are as committed to the ideals of democracy as everyone else. But when the chance comes, they abandon everything to seize power. It isn’t hypocrisy. It isn’t contradiction. It’s a dramatic revelation of concealed truth.

But they don’t stop. Why?

Because there are no politics here in the sense of achieving material, moral or ideological objectives in a constitutional context by way of a democratic process. That is, politics per se isn’t the point. The vaunted “conservative movement” would not be satisfied with ending abortion. This is a war against liberated women, which is to say against the “enslavement” of men. Everything, for this very reason, is on the table.

Democracy demands humility, trust, a capacity for deal-making, and a sense of community. I do not mean it asks us to feel all kumbaya. I mean democracy demands that everyone involved recognize that everyone involved has an equally legitimate claim to the political franchise even as we all fight like hell. You see, fascists don’t just fight like hell. They believe you have no right to fight like hell. Your fighting imperils them. They cannot engage with you democratically, because that will lead to suicide.

How do you compromise with people who equate democracy with suicide?

I don’t know. But I do know that trying is part of the problem. Trying is like agreeing to terms that change after committing to them. Would you agree to a fixed interest loan if the interest were not fixed? Of course not. Neither should we compromise with people willing to undercut democracy by sabotaging our fellow Americans.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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