Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul responded appropriately to the news that President Trump intends to dispatch federal agents to Milwaukee, as Trump’s agents continue to create chaos in Portland, Ore.
Kaul used the “f” word.
“During this administration, and especially in recent weeks, we have witnessed the president employing fascist tactics,” said Kaul, “including his demonization of immigrants, his attacks on communities with large minority populations and the elected representatives of those communities, the blatantly illegal use of force against protesters near the White House, and the deployment of secret federal police to Portland over the objections of state and local officials.”
Trump and his apologists claim that the federal forces simply seek to restore order to American cities that have been the scene of mass protests against police violence and systemic racism. Or that they are being deployed to fight crime. But news reports from Portland, where agents have used excessive force against peaceful protesters and arrested people without probable cause, completely undermine those claims.
Consider, too, that Milwaukee is not just any city but the site of the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
“Under ordinary circumstances, I would welcome the announcement of additional federal resources to help solve and prevent violent crimes in Wisconsin,” explained the attorney general. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration has made it abundantly clear that it’s happy to politicize law enforcement; the administration’s actions must be met with great skepticism.”
Kaul’s concern about law enforcement’s politicization has led him to employ the “f” word that so many officials shy away from to describe the actions of an out-of-control president. “I don’t use the phrase ‘fascist tactics’ lightly,” he explained. “But there is no more accurate way to describe this administration’s repeated resort to and incitement of racism, xenophobia, and violence.”
Perhaps it is jarring for some to hear the chief law enforcement officer of an American state accuse the president and his aides of employing fascist tactics. Writing in The New York Times last week, Michelle Goldberg highlighted the linguistic caution of political and media elites with a column headlined, “Protesters are being snatched from streets without warrants. Can we call it fascism yet?”
Kaul, as he noted, chose his language carefully. He knew what he was saying, and he was right to say it. As DC-based commentator Mehdi Hasan observed on MSNBC last week, “The growing authoritarianism and state-sponsored violence in this country should worry you.” Warning that “the scenes from Portland, Oregon, should set off alarm bells,” Hasan asked, “Are we still saying this is not at all reminiscent of fascism?”
There should no longer be any question that we have reached a point when it is necessary for officials to call out fascist tactics and fascist threats. The warnings don’t have to suggest that we have reached full-blown fascism, but they should acknowledge, as does Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder, in Foreign Policy, that “it can happen in the United States, and some of it has already happened, but the rest of it need not.”
Snyder argues: “Trump cannot take fascism all the way, not because he has any virtues but because he has too many vices.” The author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom counsels that Trump’s administration “needs enough fascism to get by, enough to weaken the state and society so that the people Trump admires, be they in the Kremlin or in his circle, can stay out of prison and do well for themselves.”
But Snyder does not shy away from the use of the “f” word—as shown by the headline of his article, “In Portland, the Baby Fascists Have Shown Their Face”—and neither should the officials charged with upholding the rule of law.
So Kaul used the right word. As did Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York when she said of the secret policing abuses in Portland, “This is where we start talking about authoritarian regimes, and fascism.” As did Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon when he declared, “Congress must stop Donald Trump from deploying his fascist tactics around the country.” As did Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who decried “tactics of neo-fascist division” when he announced last week that “anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office.”
Detailing “apparently illegal stormtrooper tactics that have been used by federal law enforcement in Portland,” and the targeting of cities such as Philadelphia that are in political battleground states, the district attorney of Trump:
He has an agenda. It is a strictly political, racist, divisive, fear-based fictional agenda. All of this stuff comes out of the fascist playbook. All this stuff comes out of the white supremacist playbook.
There will always be those who claim the mere mention of “fascist tactics” and “tactics of neo-fascist division” goes too far. But they fail to recognize that fascism takes many forms, as Henry Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt’s second vice president, explained in his groundbreaking 1943 essay, “The Danger of American Fascism.” Writing during World War II, when this country was focused on fighting German and Italian fascism, Wallace warned, “Fascism is a worldwide disease.”
Fascist thinking was all around, even in the United States, observed Wallace.
The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy. They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism.
Wallace was not an alarmist. He was a realist. He used the term “Americanized fascism” to help people recognize that authoritarian tactics and threats were not merely a foreign concern. As I explain in my book on Wallace’s fight against fascism—abroad and at home—the real danger comes when Americans refuse to believe that what they are witnessing is, indeed, a domestic manifestation of the worldwide disease.
How could American fascists be identified?
They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.
Warning that “the worldwide, age-long struggle between fascism and democracy will not stop when the fighting ends in Germany and Japan,” Wallace argued in 1943 that vigilance was vital in combating Americanized fascism. It has to be identified and called out, because “it is an infectious disease, and we must all be on our guard against intolerance, bigotry and the pretension of invidious distinction.”