If you want to know the real significance of Giorgia Meloni’s election as prime minister of Italy, all you need do is take a look at who is cheering it on. Fox “News”. Former Guy. The CPAC. Just about everyone at PragerU. Almost without exception the same people who are defending Alex Jones in his quest to torment the families of murdered children. This is not coincidence; cruelty is nectar to fascists.
Not only are they singing her praises, they deny that she is really a fascist, and instead try to palm her off as something else – a Christian Nationalist, maybe. Well, don’t look now, but Christian Nationalist is just another name for fascist. And, aside from the fact that she once praised Mussolini and was part of a political faction openly sympathetic to fascist creeds, and the fact that her current party also can trace its lineage back to Mussolini’s party, you could always just listen to her own words if you have any doubt (more about that below). Meanwhile, if you need a refresher about how to identify fascism, see here, here and here.
Meloni’s electoral triumph is a sobering reminder that the resurgence of fascism is not just an American problem; it’s a global problem. That doesn’t mean that fascists are a majority in any country – they’re certainly far from it in the U.S. It just means that they are extremely effective in establishing minority rule, often through means that technically are perfectly legal, no matter how unethical. Discounting the possibility of simply applying brute force, there are five pillars to their success in seizing control of government.
1. Suppressed turnout
One thing that certainly aided Meloni’s triumph was the historically low turnout in Italy’s election. Low turnout, whether naturally occurring or induced, almost always benefits right-wingers. For that reason, right-wingers always do their best to discourage healthy participation at the polls. In the U.S., this has meant outright efforts to suppress the vote. The tactics are many, and are widely applied: ID laws, reduced voting hours, elimination of polling stations and drop boxes, elimination of mail-in ballots, “scrubbing” potential voters from the rolls, and making it illegal to offer water to voters waiting in line, to name just a few. These tactics, of course, have a hugely disproportionate impact on likely Democratic voters.
Suppressed turnout enables minority rule. And minority rule paves the road to fascism.
Meloni was elected despite receiving only about a quarter of the votes cast. That’s possible in Italy because Italy, and many other nations, have a larger number of viable parties than does the U.S. In theory, that sounds like a healthy thing for democracy, and a welcome relief from the kind of dual/ duel stalemate that dominates American politics. But the more splintering there is, the greater the risk of an undesirable candidate taking the prize. Fascists are all too familiar with the tactic of Divide And Conquer.
3. Election manipulation
Not content merely to suppress votes, right-wingers also do all they can to control the election process itself. Normally, when we think of election interference, we think of actions that are occasional and illegal – things like Former Guy demanding that the state of Georgia try to “find” ballots in his favor. In the 2000 election, the kind of interference that occurred was not only rare but unprecedented – for one thing, the Supreme Court itself got involved, in highly partisan fashion, in stopping a recount in the pivotal state of Florida. But even though it was constitutionally questionable to say the least, it was not really illegal, because by definition whatever the Supreme Court says is the law.
In the U.S., particularly in recent days, allegations about election interference have been far more frequent than interference itself. These include wild claims about machines (landing some conspiracy theorists in legal hot water), crooked poll workers, “mules”, “illegal” immigrants voting, and even boatloads of ballots being shipped in from China. Such loony claims are a major disservice in many ways – not the least of which is that they foster a Boy Who Cried Wolf attitude among the public toward actual election interference, which can and does occur.
Indeed, the most common forms of manipulation are neither rare nor unlawful. They are, on the contrary, routine, and were built into the system from the very beginning: gerryandering and the Electoral College. Both of which have the effect, and indeed the purpose, of skewing election results by effectively discarding the votes of certain citizens. And the fascists have learned how to exploit these flawed features to their maximum advantage.
4. Social instability
Fascism takes root when there is unrest, uncertainty, or chaos. And if there isn’t sufficient chaos, the fascists will create more, or create the impression that there is already more. It’s very common, for instance, to claim that the country is under threat from immigrants or other minority demographic groups.
This is the big one, the one that’s always, without exception, a factor in any election – and all the other days of the year.
To return to the matter of Meloni’s own words, she has, among other things, demonized gays and trans people, spouted the belief that white people are being “replaced” by immigrants, and even regurgitated wild allegations about George Soros. And at a speech she gave in 2019 – the one that’s currently giving all the American right-wingers wet dreams – she had this to say:
And so they attack national identity, they attack religious identity, they attack gender identity, they attack family identity. …I can’t define myself as Italian, Christian, woman, mother. ..I must be a number. ..Because when I am only a number, when I no longer have an identity or roots, then I will be the perfect slave at the mercy of financial speculators. The perfect consumer…Every single human being. Because each of us has a unique genetic code that is unrepeatable. And, like it or not, that is sacred. We will defend it. We will defend God, country and family.
Like other successful rabble-rousing orations, this one is emotionally charged, but devoid of any substance or truth; it is, in fact, incoherent and nonsensical. Her references to a “unique genetic code” being erased and replaced by a number inevitably brings to mind a certain cinematic reference to “stealing our precious fluids”. And does she really think that maintaining her identity as an Italian, a Christian, a woman or a mother will protect her from the “financial manipulators”? We have some bad news for her. Those manipulators routinely target these groups as well as many others. And hey, aren’t “conservatives” supposed to be scornful of “identity politics”? The answer, of course, is the same as for any of their other bedrock, unwavering principles: they are, except for when they’re not.
There are a few other questions a conscientious journalist might want to ask Meloni. Who exactly is the “they” attacking her and her like? How exactly are they attacking? Just why can’t she define herself as an Italian, etc.? What does she fancy will happen if she does? And why hasn’t it happened already when she does so constantly? When did it become the duty of government to “defend God”? What definition of “family” does she propose to defend? How exactly does she intend to defend these things she enumerates?
A blind man with one eye closed could see what she is doing here. She’s merely trying to rile up the base with anger about imagined wrongs and fears about imaginary threats. (See “wokeism”). This is always the main weapon of authoritarians, whether they be fascists or not quite. One of the aptest illustrations of all time occurred in Brazil in 2018.
Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing extremist who won the election and has become perhaps best known for his ruthless destruction of the rain forests at an unprecedented rate, was losing in polls at one point to his competitors including the more progressive Fernando Haddad. But the momentum swung in his direction after a group of entrepreneurs illegally campaigned with disinformation on his behalf, flooding social media with fake stories about Haddad.
No doubt the most effective fake story was that Haddad wanted to convert kids to homosexuality; and to that end, he was supplying baby bottles with penis-shaped nipples – of which they even provided an illustration. That appears to be the one thing that, more than any other, caused Haddad’s defeat and allowed Bolsonaro to get elected.
Now in a sane and rational world, large numbers of people would not fall for such an obvious hoax. They would not believe that it’s possible to simply “turn” kids gay, or that a politician would have an interest in doing so, or that it could be done with the bottles they use as infants. Or that parents would be willing to go along with the plan by using penis-shaped nipples. Nor would they be so misogynistic as to consider only the supposed effect such nipples would have on male infants. For that matter, they wouldn’t so strongly feel that homosexuality is a horror to be shunned at any cost.
But this is not a sane and rational world. This is a world in which millions of people believe not only that Former Guy is a Christian, but that he is the Second Coming of Christ. The brain goes out the window when propaganda enters the door. And that’s why fascism sometimes wins. And why it’s always a threat.
(If you’d like to support these efforts to expose propaganda, consider becoming a patron for as little as three dollars a month. You’ll get a sneak peek at the newest blog posts, and a chance to offer your input before they go public; plus access to the exclusive feature Bad Meme of the Week.)