Members Only | September 8, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Why do the Republicans keep proving their ‘semi-fascism’?

They could just ignore Biden’s claim, but don’t.


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After years and years of birtherism, calls to “lock her up,” antisemitic dogwhistles, delegitimizing everything the broad left does as “communism,” refusing to accept election results, stealing elections and plain-old racism and sexism – after all this, it seems that a line has been crossed and respectful discourse is no longer possible. 

What was the final straw? 

Not racism, sexism, armed revolt or treason. 

What destroyed common decency is … “semi-fascism.” 

You read that right. Despite explicit racism, sexism, support for white supremacy, Christian nationalism, armed revolt and treason, Republicans say that calling a few of them “semi-fascists,” as Joe Biden did at a political rally, is the worst thing a president can do.

Proving Biden’s point
They could have conceded that delegitimizing elections, supporting armed revolt and stealing government secrets are bad. They could have distanced themselves from Donald Trump in order to be excluded from ranks of “semi-fascists.” They could have ignored it all. 

Instead, they jumped at a chance to say how insulted they are! 

Why insulted?

Biden was careful not to say all Republicans, so why are the Republicans so eager to include themselves with “semi-fascists”? It’s almost like Republicans can’t stop themselves from explicitly supporting actual fascism long enough to let a news cycle pass.

Despite explicit racism, sexism, support for white supremacy, Christian nationalism, armed revolt and treason, Republicans say that calling a few of them “semi-fascists,” as Joe Biden did at a political rally, is the worst thing a president can do.

A few said Thursday’s prime-time speech was overly partisan. They drew attention to Biden’s promise of unity. This response still doesn’t make sense given that it’s impossible to unite with anti-democratic Christian nationalists. But at least it’s within normal political bounds. 

Others criticized Biden’s speech by focusing on supposed policy failures that are hurting the country. Still not the best response given that this administration’s policies are demonstrably better than Trump’s. Still, this isn’t out of the ordinary in political partisanship.

But many Republicans traded these totally normal responses for extremely unhinged accusations that basically confirmed their “semi-fascist” inclinations. As Jason Stanley pointed out, fascist propaganda often inverts accusations. So if Biden points out the GOP’s fascist elements, they’ll say Biden is the one who’s fascist. 

“The real fascist”
That’s when we witnessed the “memeification” of Biden – endless Hitler comparisons that got #PedoHitler trending on Twitter. 

Tucker Carlson said Biden stood in front of a “blood-red Nazi background.” Marjorie Taylor Greene layered a Hitler video over the speech to create a “deep fake” of Biden looking like Hitler. 

Texas state representative Briscoe Cain gave a subtler Hitler reference by saying he couldn’t understand Biden’s speech, because it was in German. Others just called Biden satanic or lunatic.

Robert Paxton described five stages of fascism in an article published in 1998 (he wrote an op-ed calling Trump a fascist in 2021). 

These include:

  • Group primacy over individual rights. 
  • Group purity. 
  • Group victimhood justifying attacks on enemies. 
  • Fear of “cosmopolitan liberalism.”
  • Faith in authority of “natural male leaders.”

Jason Stanley writes of three essential features of fascism. They include “conjuring a mythic past” that the enemy has somehow destroyed, sowing division and attacking the truth with propaganda. This propaganda is usually particularly anti-intellectual.

Does any of this sound familiar? 

White conservative Christian victims?
From the Maga Republicans, we have seen the “in-group” of white, Christian, “traditional,” patriarchal, cishet and “truly American” people set against the evil lefties, who include feminists, immigrants, Black and brown people, Jews, Muslims and LGBT-plus people. 

Lefties have destroyed the “mythic past” of 1950s white Christian America. They have victimized white conservative Christians with their elite coastal liberal intellectual ways. In response to Biden’s speech, many Republicans accused Democrats of being the “real fascists” because inclusive policies supported by the government are supposedly anti-freedom. Republicans want to be left alone but the left keeps victimizing them and trying to take away their freedom.

It’s galling that a group of antisemitic, racist and transphobic politicians are accusing the rest of us of being Nazis. Most Republicans have refused to condemn the political violence on J6, which was clearly supported by Trump and Maga Republicans. White conservative Christians are mostly left alone in America. Inclusive Democratic policies do little to harm them outside increasing representation and using their tax money in ways they don’t like. 

Alternatively, Republican policies continue to target women, disabled people, trans and gay people, immigrants, non-Christians and Black and brown people. Nazism was built on an idea of a perfect aryan race without “polluting” aspects like people with disabilities, “deviant” sexual and gender identities, or Jews, Roma and Black people. Nazism doesn’t target white Christian conservatives no matter how much the group pretends to be a victim.

Don’t ignore the memes
Some may be inclined to dismiss the “memeification” of Biden. Truth is, most Republicans currently support fascism and fascist tactics. We might think ignoring them is the right thing to do but there is a lot of rightwing media that will continue to spread these messages.

Fascist propaganda is ridiculous, but it works.

Ignoring the fascist propaganda won’t stop people from listening to it. We must continue fighting fascist forces and treating Maga Republicans as a threat. As Biden explained, “They’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.”

Mia Brett, PhD, is the Editorial Board's legal historian. She lives with her gorgeous dog, Tchotchke. You can find her @queenmab87.

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