Sowing the Seeds of Fascism: White Denial and the Fate of American Democracy
As I watched the president emerge from Independence Hall in Philadelphia last night to address the nation on the rising scourge of fascism and those that have been called MAGA Republicans, I could not help but take note of the irony of the spectacle. Biden and the Democrats sought to use the backdrop of what he called the nation’s sacred ground as the foundation upon which to stand and criticize their political opponents as being against democracy and un-American and to remind the nation of its true democratic origins. Yet, the actual truth is that those men that gathered in that building and debated the ideas that would form the nation’s founding documents had more in common with those MAGA Republicans than the ideals Biden espoused from his presidential lectern. If this nation is to ever become the democracy it proclaims itself to be, it will first need to tell the ugly truth about its founders and address itself squarely to the presidential legacy that has brought this country to this pivotal moment.
Biden evoked the oft-quoted phrase from the Preamble to the Constitution, “We the People” as rallying cry against those he deemed were “election deniers.” These white groups don’t want all the votes counted. Well, neither did the founders, and they wrote a constitution that said as much. It is this nation’s denial of that fact that is the problem that has permitted this “new” problem to emerge.
We know the founders did not consider all the people in their “we.” Their “we” was exclusive to them, white men with property. Their founding documents did not acknowledge women at all, called Native Americans savages, and denied Black people freedom even as they recognized our personhood for their political and financial advantage. They denied elections to these communities that today are the very people responsible for making this America into the democracy it claims to be. And make no mistake, were they alive today, the founders would be outraged at the site of people of color and women exercising the franchise. The “Again” in MAGA’s “Make America Great Again” is an America that was formed and established by these men.
The cognitive dissonance in Biden’s speech is deafening as he attempted to reconcile these irreconcilable truths. When the founders wrote “liberty and justice for all,” they did not mean all the people. You cannot in one breath hold up the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality and honor men who denied each to entire groups of people and enshrined such exclusion into their founding documents. Yet, this narrative as false as it is remains a cardinal lie that has lullabied this country into a slumber it has yet to fully awaken from.
The truth is the founding fathers and their presidential progeny for the first one hundred years of this nation’s existence were men whose demeanor, temperament, and political ideology were not that different from Trump. Each by their own doing established a lineage of pillage, slavery, rape, and genocide in the name of American exceptionalism, nationalism, and patriotism. Their imperialist motivations are what drove Native Americans off their sacred homelands onto the reservations many remain on today. Their capitalist motivations are what caused them to enslave millions of Africans. From Washington to Jackson, these were men who are the etymology of the term “white settler colonialism.”
A correct reading of history would also have us question the story told of the one president evoked as the epitome of the executive office. Lincoln was not the “honest Abe” he has been made out to be. He was as waffling and contrary as any of his official predecessors or presidential heirs. He was not a man of integrity. He was a president willing to compromise his morals and ideals to appease those who considered him their sworn enemy. Like his founding predecessors, he used Black people to achieve his political ends. His every move was calculated toward appealing to a South that was hellbent on maintaining slavery and the way of life that it afforded them. And he wasn’t alone in that pursuit. The American people were with him as represented in a Congress that passed a 13th Amendment in 1860 that would have ratified slavery as a Constitutional right were it not for the South’s undeterrable resolve to secede. Had the South not seceded, the 13th Amendment we now venerate would be woefully different as would be this America of today. Why do we know this? Because Lincoln stated in his inaugural address that he would sign on to the amendment as the nation’s executive. In compromising his integrity, he proved his willingness to compromise away the freedom of an entire people. The war that freed the enslaved did not happen as a consequence of the determination of America’s better angels, but because of the resolve of its devils.
Despite Biden’s claims to the contrary, this nation has not been on a conscientious journey toward greater equality. A more accurate reading of the history would indicate that appeasement to those invested in white supremacist nationalism has been the path taken. The “inflection points” he noted were not the result of a white American awakening. Whatever progress has been made in this nation has come as the result of the life-risking activism and bloodshed of those kept out of the text and spirit of the constitution by force in the name of preserving a white man’s republic.
That US democracy is on the verge of collapse is the logical conclusion of a nation where white nationalists and segregationists have always been treated with kid gloves. The pardons given to Confederate soldiers after the Civil War, permitting the same to run and hold office, recognizing the KKK as a free speech organization rather than the terrorist organization that it always has been, showing leniency to white supremacists at trial, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the cries of Black people lynched by whites and murdered by cops in police departments overrun by white supremacists. I could go on. But these are just to make the point: America has never been serious about punishing their own home-grown terrorists. It took a bold-faced coup attempt on the lawn of the capital to wake this nation up. And yet, this president is still seeking compromise with the sworn enemies of those who are responsible for his winning the office, saying that not all Republicans are racist. The Republican Party is awash in racism. Trump is not the cause but the consequence of a racism that has been kept alive and nurtured by this party since they won over the segregationist Dixiecrats in the Sixties.
These alt-right groups have flourished and grown under the cover of these lies. And referring to them as “radical” or “extremist” is another lie. Radical as compared to what? Extremist as compared to whom? They are no more radical than Thomas Jefferson when he compared Black people to orangutans. They are no more extreme than Chief Justice Marshall who ruled in 1823 that Native Americans had no possessory right to the land they had lived on for thousands of years. They are no more extreme than Chief Justice Taney who ruled in 1857 that Black people, regardless of their status, had no constitutional rights that white men had to respect. These rulings and ideas are the seeds of fascism that have been watered by the tears of whites who perceive themselves as being disenfranchised in an America that is “browning.” For them, this is the America that is owed to them. For them, this is the America that is the “true” America. And, as we have seen, they are willing to risk their lives to turn the clock back to an America where Black people do not have any constitutional rights, where Native Americans have no claims to their ancestral lands, where anyone who is not white like them exists solely for their profit. America may want to believe that it is progressive as the liberal views espoused by President Biden that night in Philadelphia, but the last six years tell a different story. Trump did not need to storm the capital to become the president. He rode into office on the willing backs of what was then a record electoral turn-out in his favor.
By refusing to shed the light of truth on the shadows of this nation’s past, the United States has experienced an infestation of fascistic ideologies in the dark corners of the country. These racists are now found gnawing at the scaffold of its democracy under the banner of and with the expressed support of the most powerful political party in the nation. They would sooner see this nation burned to ash before seeing it ruled by people not white like them.
For all his good intentions, the road Biden walks and this nation with him from the door of Independence Hall might very well be the road to a hell that could be avoided if the nation would only tell the truth about itself then and now. Salvation requires confession. Until America tells the truth and does the unprecedented act of not compromising the rights of Black people away to achieve a precarious unity based on exclusion, then America's soul can never be saved.
The US proves that a nation false to its past can never be true to its future. In his speech, “What to the Slave is Your Fourth of July,” Frederick Douglass stated, “America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” Those prophetic words echo down through the centuries to this nation right now. That future is our January 6th. The founding fathers of this nation founded this nation on a flawed document false to its proclamations. For the sake of its democracy, and the communities dependent upon it, we hope it will not prove to be a fatal flaw.