MAGA meets fascism, by Clarence Page

8/4/2022, 6 p.m.
As much as I call myself a zealot for free speech, I also find it prudent sometimes to remember the ...

As much as I call myself a zealot for free speech, I also find it prudent sometimes to remember the value of not speaking.

Or, at least, in pursuit of reasoned discourse I will seek a substitute that sounds less inflammatory.

One of them is an F-word.

No, I know what you’re probably thinking, but I don’t mean that F-word.

I’m talking about “fascist.” Do I hear gasps from the gallery? Yes, that’s why I usually avoid using the word.

It sounds inflammatory, even when it sounds appropriate. That’s partly because so few people seem to know what it really means beyond, perhaps, allusions to Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator in the World War II era. He did the world the courtesy of telling us upfront what he and his National Fascist Party were all about.

In short, fascism is a dictatorial governing system characterized by ultranationalism— including racial and religious nationalism—autocracy and elitism, often at the expense of individual rights.

Or as I define it in terms Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously used to define obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

I knew fascism when I saw it on Jan. 6, 2021, as deliriously angry Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to block the official electoral vote count, just because their guy didn’t win.

Those self-important “patriots” are better described as peeved-off MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) mobsters, unwilling to let democracy get in the way of their “freedom” to trash the nation’s seat of self-rule. Lock them up.

Fortunately, then-Vice President Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, refused to obey the mob’s call for him to (1) be hanged or (2) exercise powers that he knew he didn’t have.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, seemed to be putting the ship back upright with reassuring words. “The United States Senate will not be intimidated,” he said. “We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats.”

But voters are a different matter. The restoration of what appeared to be normal constitutional order didn’t last long.

In February, for example, the venerable Republican National Committee officially declared the insurrection to be a “Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

That’s a mighty big burden to hang on the word “legitimate.” And that burden only grew as the RNC also rebuked two GOP lawmakers, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, for daring to serve on the House committee investigating the Capitol attack, of which Cheney is co-chair.

How dare they attempt, you know, such quaint old-fashioned notions as bipartisan truth-seeking and accountability?

I’m still reluctant to use the F-word to describe politics in my own beloved country. But when the shoe fits, as my mom and dad used to say, wear it.

Besides, I’ve been hearing the F-word with greater frequency in the Age of MAGA as the ex-president’s influence over the party and its allied media has increased.

You could hear it in the reliably self-righteous rhetoric of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican and podcaster. She ignited a storm of “She is a Nazi” tweets after she endorsed Christian nationalism in a speech at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, a growing showcase for MAGA stars, in Tampa.

The angry tweets were a big gift to her liberal-triggering ways, enabling her to play the victim card with extra self-righteousness. That’s showbiz.

I, too, love my God and my country but not the far-right political version that Greene professes as gospel. The Constitution protects her right to choose her religious or political beliefs, but not dictate them to the rest of us.

The writer is a syndicated columnist and senior member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.