What Does The Triumph of Biden-Harris Represent Historically?Roundup
tags: fascism, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, 2020 Election, Kamala Harris, Italian history
Stanislao Pugliese is Professor of History and Queensboro Unico Distinguished Professor of Italian and Italian American Studies at Hofstra University.
As spontaneous outbursts of joy and jubilation broke out across the country Saturday morning at the announcement that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had defeated Donald Trump, I was reminded of another period when democracy returned from exile. Church bells were ringing in Paris, as though a war had just ended. And in many ways, those church bells were right: this election America found itself in a low-grade but existential civil war which would determine the fate and character of the country. Would we have four more years of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, white nationalism, and anti-Semitism emanating from the White House? Or might we return to a different vision of what America could be? But there is a flaw to this interpretation.
“This is not who we are,” Biden, Harris, and many others insisted during the campaign. Yet we must acknowledge the fact that 70,000,000 Americans voted for Trump. The candidate and President understood his supporters all too well. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot some people and I wouldn’t lose voters.” We can only conclude that this is indeed – partially – who we are. Americans must again grapple with the fact that millions of our fellow citizens have no problem renouncing liberty and morality in turn for a regime that promises “law and order” (which really means the suppression of minorities as they become a majority) along with a rising stock market. In 1939, Carlo Levi had examined this phenomenon of renouncing the burden of freedom in his book Paura della libertà.
What was different this time was that Trump said aloud what had previously been thought in private or said only in whispers among like-minded reactionaries. “You know what I am?” Trump asked rhetorically at a rally in October 2018. “I’m a nationalist!” His defenders claim Trump is not a racist. Yet the support of the Proud Boys, the Aryan Nation, the Ku Klux Klan, white nationalist and militia groups all support him because they think he’s a racist. It’s quite simple really: if racists embrace you as a racist, you are most certainly a racist.
Americans should not make the same mistake committed in Italy after World War II in thinking that fascism was merely a “parenthesis” in Italian history. The most eminent Italian philosopher of the time, Benedetto Croce, transplanted from Abruzzo to Naples, argued that the Ventennio was merely a parenthesis in the unfolding of liberty in History. Mussolini and his regime were a “temporary” (20 years!) detour or deviation on the road of History.
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