“Fascism is Not and Idea to be Debated, It’s a Set of Actions to Fight” was published in 2018. Four years later the deadly threat remains, helped by the heretics in the Christian Nationalist antichrist cult.
I recalled my memories of Zoka earlier this fall, when it was announced that Steve Bannon would headline The New Yorker Festival and engage in an on-stage conversation with the editor-in-chief David Remnick. I was so upset that I rushed to a conclusion that Bannon’s fascism was, for The New Yorker, merely a difference of opinion that could be publicly debated for the intellectual enjoyment of its paying audience. Angrily, I envisioned an intense but polite exchange, a staged confrontation that makes for a good high-brow spectacle, with cheese, wine and further exchange of ideas in the foyer afterwards. In my tweets, I imagined an afterparty where Bannon would be mingling with edgy hedge fund managers, high-end literati and risqué fashion photographers, where all the differences in opinion would be temporarily subsumed in celebrity solidarity and washed away with champagne.
I took it extremely personally, in other words, because I’d published in The New Yorker and participated in the Festival many times. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of betrayal, since it appeared to me that Bannon, the Great Thinker of White Nationalism who has dedicated his life to destroying and subjugating people like my wife (an African-American) and me (an immigrant) as well as our children, families and friends, was welcome to a large tumbler of high-end bourbon, after a stimulating debate on an America he deems endangered by unruly people of color and immigrants. The New York Times reported that in his invitation to Bannon, Remnick wrote: “We would be honored to have you.”
But within hours of the announcement, just as I was intensifying my furious search for things to break, The New Yorker disinvited Bannon. Remnick issued a memo to the staff in which he explained his reasons for wanting an interview with Bannon and acknowledged that a public conversation was the wrong format for it. I found Remnick’s reasoning to be comforting in its sincerity and belief in the truth of journalism, even if I continued to think that an on-stage interview would’ve inescapably and obviously had the shape of an exchange of ideas. Indeed, a number of opinions were publicly expressed before long, on Twitter and in the pages of the NYT, that banning Bannon was stifling a necessary dialogue, that “we” have to engage with the “other” side, whoever we and they might be. And suddenly, Bannon was sparkling in the bright lights of the marketplace of ideas (wherever that may be), and I was again grasping for things to break.
The public discussion prompted by the (dis)invitation confirmed to me that only those safe from fascism and its practices are likely to think that there might be a benefit in exchanging ideas with fascists. What for such a privileged group is a matter of a potentially productive difference in opinion is, for many of us, a matter of basic survival. The essential quality of fascism (and its attendant racism) is that it kills people and destroys their lives—and it does so because it openly aims so.
Witness Stephen Miller and Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance for illegal immigration” policy. Fascism’s central idea, appearing in a small repertoire of familiar guises, is that there are classes of human beings who deserve diminishment and destruction because they’re for some reason (genetic, cultural, whatever) inherently inferior to “us.” Every fucking fascist, Bannon included, strives to enact that idea, even if he (and it is usually a he—fascism is a masculine ideology, and therefore inherently misogynist) bittercoats it in a discourse of victimization and national self-defense. You know: they are contaminating our nation/race; they are destroying our culture; we must do something about them or perish. At the end of such an ideological trajectory is always genocide, as it was the case in Bosnia.
The effects and consequences of fascism, however, are not equally distributed along that trajectory. Its ideas are enacted first and foremost upon the bodies and lives of the people whose presence within “our” national domain is prohibitive. In Bannon/Trump’s case, that domain is nativist and white. Presently, their ideas are inflicted upon people of color and immigrants, who do not experience them as ideas but as violence. The practice of fascism supersedes its ideas, which is why people affected and diminished by it are not all that interested in a marketplace of ideas in which fascists have prime purchasing power.
The error in Bannon’s headlining The New Yorker Festival would not have been in giving him a platform to spew his hateful rhetoric, for he was as likely to convert anyone as he himself was to be shown the light in conversation with Remnick. The catastrophic error would’ve been in allowing him to divorce his ideas from the fascist practices in which they’re actualized with brutality. If he is at all relevant, it is not as a thinker, but as a (former) executive who has worked to build the Trumpist edifice of power that cages children and is dismantling mechanisms of democracy.
We must never forget, of course, that The New Yorker has steadily and relentlessly probed Trumpist malfeasance, publishing substantial, unimpeachable stories about the administration’s unmaking of America. In his memo, in fact, Remnick insisted that his intention was to question unflinchingly these Bannonite practices. Nonetheless, sharing the marquee with Zadie Smith or Haruki Murakami, Bannon the Fascist would’ve been allowed to appear in the guise of an Idea Man.
To engage properly with Bannon and his ilk, the white nationalists and supremacists presently populating and energizing the American government, they must be identified as what they are: fascists. Much of American media and press on this side of the Fox News darkness does not dare to call out a fascist. That is partly out of knee-jerk complicity with the culture of leadership and celebrity worship. But I believe that it is also a matter of unbearable fear that the shape of American society, and the practices it has long depended on to maintain some semblance of democracy, are being destroyed, and no one quite knows what to do about it, save hoping to be saved by Mueller and/or impeachment.
If Bannon were to be called as he is, a fascist, the marketplace of ideas would have to confront the fact that the American government is being rapidly radicalized, that things unimaginable might be around the corner, and that there are many tempting paths to full collaboration. The idea that we’re all in this together and that we must keep talking is dangerous, just as my commitment to friendship was, because we might find ourselves wasting time and anger on a fundamentally unbalanced dialogue, where one side is armed with ideas, and the other is armed with weapons.
It is frightening to think we could be entering the civil war mode, wherein none of the differences and disagreements can be hashed out in discussion. It is quite possible that there is no resolution to the present situation until one side is thoroughly destroyed as an ideological power and political entity. If that is the case, the inescapable struggle requires that anti-fascist forces clearly identify the enemy and commit to defeating them, whoever they are, whatever it takes. The time of conversations with fascists is over, even if they might be your best friend from high school.
Read the whole thing here. If you are a Normal who has watched people you once called friends descend into the maw of fascists promising, “All this will I give you if you bow down and worship me”, he knows your pain: