To the Editor:
In his review of How Fascism Works, by Jason Stanley, Oliver Traldi counters Stanley’s claims effectively but does not address the larger historical context of the book (“Not So Fascist,” November). Consequently, his review could have been more satisfying.
President Obama set out to fundamentally transform America and held to his course for eight years. Consider what he did both at home and abroad. Obama told entrepreneurs that they did not build their own business, revolutionized health care, ignored our immigration laws, and used his pen and phone to circumvent Congress. In foreign policy, Obama led “from behind,” gave Iran, a state-sponsor of terrorism, a pathway to nuclear capability, and practiced strategic patience with regard to North Korea. Finally, he was caught on an open microphone passing a message to Vladimir Putin via Dmitry Medvedev about his, Obama’s, post-election flexibility regarding missile defense.
The 2010 and 2014 midterm elections offered obvious proof of the country’s dissatisfaction. Nonetheless, those inside the Beltway who administer our laws understood the direction in which Obama was taking the federal government. Of no less importance, we know who they expected to succeed Obama in 2016. Without a confident reading of what the president wanted and what Hillary Clinton could tolerate, it is impossible to imagine that we would have seen such a purposefully flawed investigation of Clinton’s breach of national security or the canard of Donald Trump’s Russian collusion. Both demanded bureaucratic acts and deceptions from very experienced, smart, and self-serving actors. In 2016, the voters rejected this national trajectory and elected a president who campaigned to reverse it.
In sum, what Stanley observes is not fascism at all. Without the election of President Trump, our country would have stayed the Obama course and the media would have been committed to crushing the “deplorables.” That would be something much closer to fascism, and Stanley and his ilk would be cheering.
Oliver Traldi writes:
I don’t really share Martin Sattler’s perspective on recent political events, so it seems to me that a review with more context would not have been any more satisfying for him. In particular, I don’t remember the Obama presidency the same way Mr. Sattler does. And when it comes to the issues on which I might be inclined to agree, such as the growth of executive power, I see Obama as having followed mostly in the footsteps of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
There is one point, however, on which I am in complete agreement with Mr. Sattler, and that has to do with the liberal and, to a lesser extent, the left-wing (and even sometimes the conservative!) treatment of the “deplorables.” After the election, I heard a lot of talk about how progress could be made only when all “those people” passed away. My progressive friends have good hearts, and they don’t want people to suffer—and yet, here they were, yearning for the demise of millions (or at least for a politically significant fraction of those millions). Many of them spent their expensive college educations learning how not to think of people who were different from them as “the other,” as wholly alien and inhuman—and yet, here they were, comforting themselves with the explanation that these deplorable yokels were just thoroughly unlike them.
How does this happen so easily to people who seem to prize values diametrically opposed to such wishes and beliefs? In my review, I tried to suggest that Professor Stanley is right in one way—such pernicious political thinking is everywhere—and wrong in another—it is not only the “fascists” or the “deplorables” who are vulnerable to it. It is a deep irony that a word such as “fascist,” often used these days to indicate a person who is intolerant of others, is also often used these days as an expression of some speaker’s intolerance of precisely those he’s calling “fascists.” For years now, elites have comforted themselves with the work of Herbert Marcuse, which tells us that we must not “tolerate the intolerant.” But while this may be true in limited cases of genuine physical violence (as Karl Popper mentioned in his “paradox of tolerance”), progressives have applied it in simple cases of discussing politics with those with whom they disagree. Whether or not that is “fascist politics,” in Professor Stanley’s phrase, our political discourse is deeply harmed by this trend.