President Joe Biden yesterday held his first campaign events in a while, and as NBC News noted, the Democrat’s message included a rhetorical escalation of sorts.
President Joe Biden lashed out Thursday night at Republicans who have embraced the “Make America Great Again” philosophy central to Donald Trump’s presidency, saying it’s “like semi-fascism.” Biden made the comment at a fundraiser for Democrats at a home in Bethesda, Md., ahead of a kickoff rally he headlined at a high school in Rockville, Md., to mark the final countdown to November’s midterm elections.
As part of his remarks at a donor event, the president said, “What we’re seeing now is the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something, it’s like semi-fascism.”
He soon after spoke to a few thousand people packed into a nearby high school gym in Maryland and seemed to flesh out what he meant by the ideological label.
“The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security,” Biden said. “They’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.”
Not surprisingly, Biden’s partisan opponents were not pleased. A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee called the comments “despicable.”
There are a couple of angles to this that stand out. The first is that Republicans aren’t exactly in a credible position when it comes to balking at excessive rhetorical labels.
After all, the party has spent much of the last century accusing Democrats of being “socialists,” without regard for accuracy or even a rudimentary understanding of the word.
What’s more, Donald Trump and other prominent GOP voices have, in recent years, started calling Democrats “communists,” and they seemed to expect the public to take the label seriously, reality notwithstanding.
At one point in early 2009, some Republicans even tried accusing the Obama White House of engaging in “economic fascism” — not because it made sense, but because some GOP partisans were looking for a new way to “raise the consciousness of the average voter.”
In other words, after years of Republicans trying to apply all kinds of provocative labels to Democrats and progressive ideas, it’s a little rich for the party to clutch its pearls and look for the fainting couch because Biden equated radical Trumpism with “semi-fascism.”
All of which leads to the other overarching question: Was the Democratic president correct?
To be sure, there’s long been debate among political scientists about the precise definition of “fascism,” though early last year, The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson — George W. Bush’s former chief speechwriter and an observer no one would seriously describe as a bomb-throwing liberal — wrote a memorable column about the growing number of radicalized Republicans and their contempt for our democratic system of government.
[S]ome have adopted a very different political philosophy than the Founders held. This approach to government promises the recovery of a mythical past. It feeds a sense of White victimhood. It emphasizes emotion over reason. It denigrates experts and expertise. It slanders outsiders and blames them for social and economic ills. It warns of global plots by Jews and shadowy elites. It accepts the lies of a leader as a deeper form of political truth. It revels in anger and dehumanization. It praises law and order while reserving the right to disobey the law and overturn the political order through violence. This is a reality that I have resisted naming. The 45th president and a significant portion of his supporters have embraced American fascism.
Months earlier, in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, The New York Times’ Paul Krugman came to a similar conclusion, writing, “One shouldn’t use the term ‘fascist’ lightly. It isn’t a catchall for ‘people you disagree with.’ ... Donald Trump, however, is indeed a fascist — an authoritarian willing to use violence to achieve his racial nationalist goals.”
People can draw their own conclusions, of course, about whether Biden’s rhetoric was accurate or appropriate, but it’s far more difficult to suggest the underlying conversation is somehow out of bounds.