Robin Kelley: Fascism Doesn't End Because People "Come to Their Senses"Historians in the News
tags: far right, political history, fascism
The day after the midterm elections, Boston Review Coeditor-in-Chief Deborah Chasman spoke with contributing editor Robin D. G. Kelley about the election results and what they mean for U.S. politics. An earlier version of this conversation ran last week in our new from-the-editors newsletter. Get it in your inbox by signing up for our weekly newsletter.
Deborah Chasman: While a handful of races still haven’t been called and the Georgia Senate race is going to a run-off, the prediction of a “red wave” turned out to be wrong. After Trump’s victory in 2016 you wrote of “the rewhitening of America,” channeling Cedric Robinson. But you were also very clear that this condition isn’t inevitable. Racial regimes are fragile, products of class power; they can be fought. Are we seeing hints of Trumpism’s fragility in these election results?
Robin Kelley: Every racial regime in the United States is an expression of class power. Trumpism has always been fragile because its ideological foundations are based on the deceptions Cedric identified in Forgeries of Memory and Meaning (2007): the myths of white patrimony, patriotism, nationalism, non-white inferiority, shored up by exploited and oppressed white people who believe they will one day get a larger share of the pie. This is the basis of the real “fake news” that drove millions to the polls to vote for J. D. Vance, Ron Johnson, Kari Lake, and Herschel Walker.
But these myths have to be opposed. Even if Walker loses, his strong showing proves, in Cedric’s words, that the deception “still serves.” I understand why many are happy that the Democrats did surprisingly well in the midterms; it is important that the Democrats held the Senate and the basic protection of reproductive rights sailed to victory in many states. But that was not the result of a sudden, rapid diminishing support for emergent fascism or some wholesale abandonment of Trumpist ideas (which, by the way, are not really Trump’s but have circulated for decades). It was the result of all the hard work and mobilizing to get out Democratic votes, to resist voter suppression at every turn, to raise money, to outmaneuver the right. And still, most of these races were exceedingly close, and Democrats did not always prevail.
There was a red wave of a kind, but it resembled the “red shirts” of the post-Reconstruction South—the white supremacist organization that used terror to keep Black people and all Republicans from the polls to ensure Democratic victories. This time it took the form of gun-toting right-wing groups supposedly providing “election security” at the polls in Arizona; of Florida passing sweeping legislation to suppress the vote, forcing newly enfranchised formerly incarcerated people to pay back all fees, fines, and restitution costs associated with their conviction before they could register, and then arresting people for supposedly voting illegally; of Georgia enacting the so-called Election Integrity Act, which reduced the number and limited accessibility of absentee ballot drop boxes and imposed new ID requirements on requesting those ballots, among other things. There are many more examples.
It is precisely because racial regimes are always fragile, however—built on deception and mystification—that force is often required to sustain them. Suppressing the vote by any means necessary has always been a requirement for advancing the “rewhitening” of America.
DC: What do you make of J. D. Vance’s victory in Ohio? Some liberals—the kind who praised his book Hillbilly Elegy—seem shocked by his transformation from never-Trumper to Trump ally.
RK: If some liberals thought the book was great, that’s an indication of their bankrupt ideas. Everyone I know sharply critiqued the book for its racial and class politics—that is to say, his clear contempt for poor white people and promotion of a politics of responsibility, not too different from the ongoing attack on poor Black people. No one should have been surprised that he would become a darling of the Republican Party.
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