By now, most Americans have seen at least a photo of Joe Biden standing in front of an infernally red light, glowing and flashing with a background of darkness, as he delivered himself of the opinion that those who do not agree with him on the important issues of the time are enemies of the people, haters of democracy, trashers of the Constitution, and, in their souls, which the president has the spiritual potency to read, fascists.
“I hate everyone who doesn’t like me,” says Anthony Fremont in perhaps the most terrifying of all “Twilight Zone” episodes, “It’s a Good Life.” For the little boy Anthony, endowed with supernatural powers, including the power to read your mind when you disapprove of him, can kill you with a stamp of his foot and a nod of his head. Everyone in Peeksville stutters and quails in terror before him. Perhaps he will be an IRS agent when he grows up?
One of the townspeople earns Anthony’s wrath, when at a birthday party—his own—he wants to play one of the last records in town, a record by Perry Como. Anthony doesn’t like that kind of music. When the man breaks down in a drunken despair, he focuses Anthony’s attention on himself and begs somebody, anybody, to take a shovel and dash the boy’s brains out while they still can. No one does.
“You’re a bad man!” says Anthony, pointing at him. “You’re a very bad man!” And that is it for him. Anthony turns him into a jack-in-the-box, and then, when his father asks him to, because the man’s wife is wailing in grief and terror, he sends what’s left of the man “into the cornfield,” buried and gone for good.
“You’re a bad man!” cries the president, at me, dear reader, or you, or anyone who stands against whatever new thing the Left has determined everyone must believe. “You’re a very bad man! You’re a fascist!” And fascists must be slandered, denied the jobs they deserve, be run out of political office; socially, they must be lined up and shot. For we all agree that fascism threatens our unity, our uniformity. All of which shows that America will be rich in irony, even if she becomes rich in nothing else.
It is the very definition of fascism that the people must all profess allegiance to a ruler or to a ruling party and its credo. For the rainbow of the president’s speech was monochromatic: all red.
Meanwhile, as if to illustrate the point so clearly that even school children can read it, a vice principal of a public school in Connecticut, caught off guard by a reporter from Project Veritas, openly boasted that he would never hire a Catholic as a teacher, because, he said, Catholics all have closed minds, they are all conservative, and they will not respect a child’s professed gender identity. The principal thus gave his ballgame away. He clearly conceives of the job of a teacher as political, in a narrowly partisan sense. You are not there to teach a child how to read a poem by Tennyson. You are there to teach him what he is to believe about the politics of sexual expression. You are not there to teach a child how to do advanced arithmetic in his head, so that unlike most Americans, he will be able to say that a statement like “the percentage of increase doubled” is, of itself, virtually meaningless. You are there to make sure he has the right opinions on all issues deemed important by the regime.
“There is only one order,” cried one of the vice principal’s predecessors in uniformity, to the assembled crowds in Rome, on June 10, 1940. “It is categorical and obligatory for everyone!” That order was: Vincere! Conquer! The speaker was Mussolini, at the start of World War II. Conquer, not just for the glory of Italy, “for we shall conquer, to give at last a period of peace with justice to Italy, to Europe, and to the world.”
Mussolini did not appeal to any conservative love for what Russell Kirk would call “the permanent things,” the good things in human life that do not change. No, he assured the Italians that he was leading them upon the wave of the future. “This gigantic struggle,” he said, “is but one phase in the logical development of our revolution. It is the struggle of the people, the poor with all their many arms, against those who starve them, and who keep their fierce grip on a monopoly of all the riches and the gold of the earth. It is the struggle of a young and fruitful people against a people gone sterile, whose sun is setting; it is the struggle between two ages and two ideas” (translation mine).
The more things change, as the French say, the more they stay the same. The impulse that animates fascism is a strange amalgam, a program of uniformity and of ferocious hatred of people who will not march along into the future, trussed up in symbols from the past, drained of meaning but employed now as political stimuli. I suppose it may corrupt any political movement, but there are certain things that act as protections against it.
One is the relegation of political action—especially such action as imagined on a world stage or a national stage, in any case far from individual persons—to its right and subordinate place in human life. If you say anything like what a former nun at Providence College said within my hearing in 1991, to a crowd of admiring “radical” students who wanted no longer to read Homer and Virgil, that “teaching is a political act,” you are vulnerable to fascism, if you are not a fascist already.
The vice principal in Connecticut could never do what he does, which is certainly against the law but certainly not against the spirit of the deep red glare and the president’s condemnations, except that he has forgotten that loving the play of mathematics is more important than politics, hearing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is more important than politics, learning why there are Great Lakes in North America is more important than politics; even singing “The Happy Wanderer,” or boys and girls learning how to dance with one another, are more important than politics, because they and things like them, the permanent things, are what politics is for. We do not eat so that we may have a regimented 20 minutes for lunch. We eat to live, and we live for work and play and love and worship.
Another protection is the very religiousness that the vice principal, like Mussolini, either scorns or sees, at best, as instrumental to what life really is supposed to be about: namely, political change of the correct variety. To imagine a world that is all politics and no religious celebration is to imagine a kind of hell on earth, all shouting, no singing, all suspicion and ratting on your colleagues, no true tolerance, and certainly no forgiveness.
It never occurs to the vice principal that the faith of the people he despises has anything to teach him. I suspect that this intolerance has less to do with the life of his mind, assuming that his mind still acts, than with the way he lives his life. The spendthrift doesn’t want to look at his bankbook. He wants to avoid people who will remind him, even unwittingly, of the bad way he is in.
The last protection I’ll mention here is the humility of minding your business. The vice principal’s real business is to make it easier for children to learn some modest but quite necessary things. It is not his business to change the world. In this sense, the president of the United States ought to be more like a vice president than like a viceroy whose king is far away. He and Congress would do us all a great favor if they could remember that certain very broad fields of human action are not their business, but rather the business of people closer to home, or people in the home itself.
One of the odd virtues of Donald Trump was that he assumed it was not the business of America to make all other nations like America, and certainly not American business to meddle in other people’s wars. He assumed that it would be good if each nation were more itself, and he gave their leaders credit if they assumed it too. But however you view Trump, the directive here is a powerful one. Facebook, which has now become a vast utility, like the phone company, should not be in the business of influencing or stifling opinion; that is not its job. The president will have his opinions, as will his party. But to go farther, to imply that you are Saviors of the World, is to give yourself a job you cannot fulfill, and to let slide the more modest and necessary things you can do and you are supposed to do.
“You shall be as gods,” says the Liar, the first great fascist garbed as a patron of liberty. Do not believe it.