Many people are living in fear these days. They live in fear because of the instant hostility that lies just one foolish decision, one misstated word or one thoughtless moment away. Even the most innocent of people can find themselves in a mess. Every last one of us is no more than a few potential minutes away from internet infamy and its gauntlet of public shame. We live very, very carefully now because we’re all learning how quickly the digital mobs form to exact their exponential punishment.
In ways, it is a crude form of governance, and it smells of fascism. It is not top-down, single-source fascism but rather organic, messy fascism that is hard to predict. There are rules, though they are vague and only selectively applied. Deliberate unpredictability is a powerful tool the most vicious use to keep folks in line. There is justice, in a way. Or at least a penal system. Business owners misbehaving face boycotts. Individual violators receive their sentences of shame. Politicians are forced to apologize or resign. Some get doxxed. While a handful are rewarded for social virtue, the social momentum favors rage and punishment. There’s no shortage of digital brownshirts to keep us all in line and they do it with an ironic mix of anger and glee.
The cultural fascism cuts all ways. In recent weeks, Tom Brokaw — not exactly a conservative — was forced into an apology for an honest and defensible opinion he shared about race. In another instance, a handful of pro-life high school kids from a Christian private school visiting the nation’s capital were so maligned that even CNN and other liberal outlets felt inclined to issue apologies. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez conveyed a near apology for the privilege that comes with being a cisgender female. Only an atmosphere of fear and thought oppression could make someone experience any pause whatsoever about being a biological female — and feeling like one. That is not “privilege.” It is simply what you are.
The news cycle is always busy highlighting the latest violator of the current regime of cultural fascism, assessing if the penance has been adequate and exaggerating the context or the extent of harm done.
Every news cycle needs a whipping boy. I realized not so long ago that it is not civility we lack, but resilience. I have written on this before, but the golden calf of instant gratification and aversion to loss has ruined our mettle. From the rawhide grit that built this nation to the wet kleenex feelings of those who scream the loudest now, the oppression to independent thought is growing. The once iron-clad intellectual currency of facts and truth and reason have become little more than wooden nickels.
This is a fascism I never imagined, carried out by those I never thought capable, at a speed I never thought possible. I have never seen such hostility to the truth, but Orwell predicted hatred against those who dared speak it. If there is any good news, it’s that fascism has a tendency to eventually collapse under the weight of its own malignant hatred. Under previous systems of fascism, society was segmented adequately enough that no group — aside from the ruling fascists themselves — was large or powerful enough to oppose them. This segmentation is not only happening, it is accelerating. Digital policing and punishing allows them to relegate undesirables into digital ghettos and then shred them for daring to escape.
Perhaps the most distressing aspect of fascism is the necessary devaluation of certain groups and the elevation of others to a place of supremacy. If you think we are not succumbing to the lesser angels that assigned shame to yellow Jewish armbands in Nazi Germany, think of the marginalization that is happening based on red baseball caps today. Think of how the new academic doctrine of intersectionality lessens the value of those deemed to have “privilege.” If you think our enlightened American society is not capable of killing undesirables, look no further than New York and Virginia these past two weeks.
Fascism isn’t coming. It’s already here.