Fascism and Fear, The Moment, The Media, The Election

Timothy Snyder / Substack

ALSO SEE: Timothy Snyder: Thinking About (Substack)

The Moment, The Media, The Election

Mainstream media have treated President Biden with prejudice and arrogance. Quite a few Democrats, reacting to this, treat any mention of President Biden’s fitness as disloyalty. This is mistaken, if understandable.

One source of the negative energy is Trump’s fascism. Focusing on it will not answer the question of what Democrats do, but will help us to understand the context in which the discussion is taking place. By fascism I just have in mind (1) the cult of personality of a Leader: (2) the party that becomes a single party; (3) the threat and use of violence; and (4) the big lie that must be accepted and used to reshape reality: in this case, that Trump can never lose an election.

Much more could be said (as I have done elsewhere), but it is the official big lie and the threats of violence that are dangerous to those whose job is to report truth. Trump is on the record as regarding reports as enemies of the people. What should I make — a journalist might ask — of Trump’s talk of arresting journalists? When not confronted, such questions become self-realizing fears.

That’s the subtle version. Meanwhile, those higher up in corporations might like the ratings Trump brings, or like Trump himself. And so it is easiest to keep things personal — give Trump time, on the self-deluding logic that he will discredit himself, and focus on Biden’s age rather than his achievements. For reporters it can feel like the work is being done when only Biden is at the receiving end of criticism — whereas, in fact, the ground has been shifted by fascism, or by the inability to confront it.

And so fascism spreads and settles in our minds during this, the crucial period between Trump’s first coup attempt and his second. The Biden administration is being held to standards, while the previous Trump administration is not; and Biden personally is being held to standards, while Trump as a person is not. This helps to generate a fascist aura. There must be something special about Trump such that he is different from others: a Leader beyond criticism rather than just an indebted hack or a felon from Queens or a client of a Russian dictator.

It should seem odd that media calls to step down were not first directed to Trump. If we are calling for Biden to step aside because someone must stop Trump from bringing down the republic, then surely it would have made more sense to first call for Trump to step aside? (The Philadelphia Inquirer did). I know the counter-arguments: his people wouldn’t have cared, and he wouldn’t have listened. The first misses an important point. There are quite a few Americans who have not made up their minds. The second amounts to obeying in advance. If you accept that a fascist is beyond your reach, you have normalized your submission.

When media folks describe discussions among Democrats as chaos and disarray, they are implicitly suggesting that it is better for a leader of a party to never be questioned. (Why, after all, is being part of an array a good thing?) An obvious point goes missed: Democrats can say what they want, because none of them is afraid. And that is good! Governor Maura Healey can express her dissent and Joe Biden can express his frustration with her — but no one is worried about her physical safety.

Trump, by contrast, controls his party through stochastic terror, threats issued through social media that his cult followers can be expected to realize. Republicans leave politics because they fear for themselves and their families. Those who remain all obey in advance. That is new, and it should not be normal, and it should not spread any further. But it becomes normal when we treat discussions, and not coercion, as abnormal.

If I am right that much of the energy behind the Biden pile-on is displaced fear of a regime change, much of the media will continue to generate fascist froth for Trump, whether or not Biden is the Democratic nominee — unless, of course, journalists confront their fears, and keep the issue of regime change inside the story, and provide a constructive alternative alongside personal criticism.

There are three tests of good faith for those who are proposing that President Biden step down. The first is recognition that Biden’s first term has been one of extraordinary achievement. The second is a plan for what the Democrats would do, should Biden withdraw, to select a nominee and win the election. The third is recognition that the threat of regime change is what might justify changing the nominee.

I don’t want to dodge the issue of President Biden’s candidacy — I will have something to say about that. But I found I could only enter the discussion after saying a word about how it has been warped — by fascism and fear.