Way over on the farthest left, there’s a cliff; a dark potential called communist totalitarianism. The horrors that wait beyond that cliff have been more than adequately demonstrated by everyone from Joseph Stalin to Pol Pot, and progressives of every nation are extremely aware that the pathways to that cliff must be constantly challenged, heavily patrolled, and always eyed with concern. Likewise on the right, there’s an yawning gyre called fascist totalitarianism. The edges of that pit are lined with the bones of millions, and whether the followers wear brown shirts or black, this system has proven to be extraordinarily effective at hastening a nation from rationality into murderous dystopia.
Only there’s a difference when it comes to how the specters on the left and demons on the right have been handled. Because for decades, but especially within the last four years, the right has worked to take their ogre and simply relocate it to the left; to describe fascism not as something that belongs to them, but as “liberal fascism.” And there’s a reason for this that goes well beyond not just wanted to have themselves associated with goose-stepping men in armbands—a reason that plays directly into what’s happening right now following the 2020 election.
On Monday, Attorney General William Barr ordered the Department of Justice to investigate claims of election fraud for which there is no evidence. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the only reason why Republicans lose races is because Democrats cheat. And the two Republican senators from Georgia attacked their own state over claims that they failed to run a proper election, providing no more evidence than that they allowed Donald Trump to lose.
All of this stands in stark contrast to every election in recent history. Even the most rancorous campaigns of the past have swallowed their pride, made that concession call, and done so swiftly, because they understand the cost of not conceding.
That Republicans would so joyfully attack the machinery of free elections seems extraordinary, even considering the efforts applied for more than a century to make sure that only the right kind of white people get to the polls in the first place. But it shouldn’t be. After all, elections are just another institution, and Republicans have more than adequately demonstrated that they can smash, or subvert, any institution designed to act as a check on power. See impeachment. See the courts. See the Senate report that was quietly released admitting that Trump’s campaign did in fact have repeated contact with Russian agents, regularly coordinated with Russian objectives, and made promises to Russia in exchange for assistance. Nothing came of that. And why should it, considering that Republicans had just voted that they didn’t even have to hear the witnesses before declaring Trump innocent of anything, anywhere, at any time.
The reason that right-wing media is saturated with claims that fascism is “of the left” is simple enough: If there is no gyre, no demons, nothing dark waiting out there beyond the current bounds, then there is never any reason to stop moving to the right. Fling open Overton’s window and let the right winds blow. There are no paths on the right that need to be guarded, nothing bad to watch out for. It’s all good stuff over there.
Historically, of course, this is nonsense. The whole concept of left and right, for more than a century, was specifically designed to describe the space where democracies could operate between those two walls. Fascism is intrinsically of the right. To claim otherwise would certainly be a shock to actual fascists, who not only railed against the left, but did not hesitate to lock up their citizens for the crime of expressing socialist sympathies—when they didn’t simply kill them en masse.
But that’s also part of the goal of the fascism relocation project. It doesn’t mean to assert there’s nothing to fear on the right; it’s an invitation to a new dimension, one that takes the far right off the axis to place it above politics as usual. Once that’s done, everything is permissible, anything is excusable in the defense of moving the nation more toward that wonderful, always brighter, place on the right—even if it means tearing down the whole engine of democracy.