A spectre of fascism haunts the U.S. presidential inauguration

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National Guard soliders by U.S. Capitol grounds on January 12, 2021. Image credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States with Washington, D.C. an armed encampment. Over 20,000 soldiers drawn from the U.S. National Guard are being deployed on January 20 for the oath of office ceremony overlooking the National Mall, which is closed to the public.

The inauguration will be attended by U.S. lawmakers who are each allotted one guest.

Determined not to see a repeat of the January 6 storming of the Capitol building by white-supremacist fascist militia supporting the outgoing president, the U.S. Secret Service and other security forces have become the most visible feature of what used to be a joyous celebration complete with formal dress balls and dancing out the night.

As Greg Palast reported, Women For America First organized the January 6 rally that turned into a destructive march on the Capitol, thanks to ultra-right "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander plotting with the White House.

The violent attempt to halt the confirmation of the 2020 election by invading the U.S. Senate resembled a fascist putsch, complete with calls to hang the vice-president who later certified the results.

Clearly the thugs who took control of the halls of Congress intended for Donald Trump to remain in office despite having lost the election.

The arrest and prosecution of the January 6 putschists is underway. Identifying and rooting out those militant right-wing groups of white supremacists, neofascists, American Nazis, and ultra-nationalists will require the concerted attention of the FBI, plus state and local police -- who are known to harbour not just sympathizers, but active members of the same groups they are supposed to investigate and bring to justice.

Trump has accumulated a war chest of over $250 million solicited to contest the past election, which would enable him to run again in 2024 unless the Senate votes yes in the upcoming impeachment trial. These funds -- which under American law he can use as he sees fit -- keep him the main player in the Republican Party.

While Trump lost the popular vote decisively, and unquestionably the electoral college count as well, he won over 2,547 American counties compared to 509 for Biden. 

Trump supporters are rural, from small-town America; they span the vast majority of American territory, and they are not going away.

The campaign to neutralize Trump is underway. He has been banished from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. The state of New York intends to prosecute him for tax fraud.

Dispelling the populist wave of discontent that produced both the 74 million Trump votes -- the second-highest count in U.S. history -- and the extremists with violence on their minds is the task that awaits the incoming Democratic administration.

In an interview with the Scientific American, Yale University psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee points to Americans contracting "shared psychosis or madness of millions" from their exposure to Trump. According to Lee, healing these people entails: "fixing the socioeconomic conditions that give rise to poor collective mental health in the first place."

In The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton pointed to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan as an early example of fascism. Disaffected Southern soldiers angry at the outcome of the U.S. Civil War, and facing economic ruin and loss of social prestige and status, reacted to their change of circumstance by creating a secret society based on racial hatred -- a vigilante group, visible and lynching Black Americans openly, until the 1960s. Donald Trump's father was a prominent Klan member, and the KKK is still around.

Theodor Adorno escaped from Nazi Germany and became a student of the rise of an authoritarian leader in a previously democratic society. He pointed out that it is the weaknesses of democratic regimes that created the conditions for fascism and neo-fascism. Fascism exuded strength, which appealed to the disaffected middle class, the relatively deprived, the excluded, and the economic victims of struggling economies.

In Germany it was the survival of National Socialism that concerned Adorno. In the U.S. it is the survival of Ku Klux Klan-imitating white supremacists that should concern all elected officials, the police, and U.S. political society.

As explained by Peter E. Gordon in The Nation: "Adorno understands fascism as something internal, not alien, to liberal democracy." Therefore it can be addressed, and should be addressed, as soon as possible.

A spectre of fascism looms over the inauguration of Joe Biden as U.S. president because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have been willing or able to address the serious injustices that prevail in American society.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

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