Harsanyi: Who Are You Calling a Fascist, Mr. President?


The other day, President Joe Biden accused Republican voters of turning to “semi-fascism.”

This is probably the first time in American history a president has openly attacked the opposing party’s constituents in this way.

Then again, Biden, who once alleged that Mitt Romney harbored a desire to bring back chattel slavery, is prone to stupid hyperbole. And it’s true that most people who throw around the word “fascist” fail to do so with much precision.

These days, the word “fascism,” like “democracy,” has lost all meaning. According to Democrats, asking someone to show ID before voting is an attack on “democracy,” but so is the Supreme Court’s handing power back to voters on the abortion issue.

When you have no limiting principles of governance, anything that inhibits your exertion of power is seen as anti-“democracy.” If students have loans to be paid, “forgive” them. If you can’t pass a bill, the executive branch should do it by fiat. If the court stops it, pack it. Power is only to be limited when the opposition holds it.

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A microcosm of this confused thinking can be found in the recent spate of hysterical media pieces about alleged Republican “book banning.” The use of the word “ban” by the media is more than a category error; it’s an effort to paint parents who use the very same democratic powers the left has relied on for decades as book burners.

Public school curricula and book selection are political questions decided by school and library boards. Neither has a duty to carry every single volume on racism or sexually explicit material demanded by some busybody at the American Library Association.

Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes that fascists “believed that multiparty democracy weakened the nation, and that competitive capitalism was wasteful and exploitative. Their alternative was a one-party state that guided the economy through regulation and sector-based accords between labor and business.”

Is the Democratic Party "semi-fascist"?

Well, is it not the left that champions government intervention in the economy, with never-ending regulations, subsidies and mandates that effectively allow for controlling the means of production? Leftists are the proponents of nationalizing the health care system, the energy sector and education. Again, if progressives have any limiting principles when it comes to intervention in our economic lives, I’d love to hear about them.

Are the most vociferous defenders of “democracy” not the ones who sound suspiciously like they want a one-party state? Modern Democrats have stopped debating policy or accepting the legitimacy of anyone who stands in their way. They will pass massive, generational reforms using parliamentary tricks without any input from the minority.

And they don’t merely champion their work as beneficial; they claim these bills are needed for the survival of “democracy” and “civilization” — nay, the survival of the planet. Anyone who opposes saving Mother Earth is surely an authoritarian. There is nothing to debate. The villainization of political opponents isn’t new, but we are breaking new ground.

Some may find it a bit fascist-y that the FBI feels free to instruct giant rent-seeking corporations to censor news to help elect its preferred candidate, as it did with Facebook. Or that the White House is in the business of flagging “problematic posts” and demanding corporations “root out” “misleading” speech or be held accountable. One wouldn’t be off-base seeing a “Disinformation Governance Board” that sifts through speech or a Justice Department that treats protesters as “domestic terrorists” as semi-fascist.

It is curious, as well, that the same people who control basically all major institutions in American life — academia, the media, unions, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, public schools, publishing, the entire D.C. bureaucracy, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, not to mention the presidency and Congress — claim to be victims of budding authoritarianism. The only major institution free of progressives’ grip right now is the Supreme Court. And the left is engaged in a systematic effort to delegitimize the court for doing its job and limiting the state’s power.

None of this is to say that the right is innocent. Abuses of the Constitution should be called out no matter who engages in them.

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However, progressivism’s crusade to destroy the separation of powers, its attacks on religious freedom and free speech, its undermining of civil society, its binding of the economy to the state and its fostering of perpetual dependency and victimhood are far bigger long-term threats to the republic than Trumpism — and far closer to the definition of “semi-fascism” than the Republican agenda.


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