Fascism is a disease, a delusion, a toxic worldview. It's encouraged and manipulated by propaganda. Its characteristics are numerous and to various degrees widespread and long-lasting. At what point their combination in sufficiently extreme degree rises to the level of fascism, as opposed to moderately fascistic tendencies I'm happy to leave to others to decide.
Fascism is not a tendency born into subhuman monsters who threaten the purity of our anti-fascist homeland, as one might suspect when reading posters like "The only good fascist is a dead fascist" at anti-fascist rallies.
Fascism is not easily eliminated and not best eliminated by simply any random opposition to it, even opposition that much resembles it. Eliminating fascism and how best to do it is a reasonable topic of discussion which necessarily involves opposing some tactics as less effective than others. This means that it is possible to oppose an anti-fascist act without being a fascist -- although not without getting called a fascist.
Jason Stanley's new book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them analyzes the elements of fascism in a very valuable way, even if I disagree with some bits of it as a result of the most anti-fascist behavior there is: independent thinking.
Fascism, Stanley tells us, using numerous recent and historical examples, creates a mythic past. Yet if I consider the view of U.S. high school history books found in Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen or Founding Myths by Ray Raphael or other similar books, the fascism of U.S. schools has long extended to much more than pledging allegiance to a flag, and the struggle to teach the truth about the past can be called an anti-fascist struggle.
Fascism, Stanley writes, demands patriarchal families, in large part as a metaphor and training for an authoritarian government. Blind obedience to authority and belief in something larger than yourself are traits shared by religion and fascism, though Stanley does not characterize fascism as religion. Again, this tendency has been around for centuries.
Fascism is Orwellianism, says Stanley. That is, it markets corruption as anti-corruption, irrationality as reason, and suppression as freedom of speech. Its version of anti-corruption is total trust in the most corrupt figures around. Its idea of reason is barbaric bigotry announced as arrived at by reason and evidence and inevitable obvious natural laws. Its conception of free speech is armed rallies. These behaviors are extreme versions of common mainstream practices, but here it's easier I think to figure out where the fascist line is crossed.
Fascism is anti-intellectualism, anti-education. It substitutes unreality for intelligent observation and deliberation.
Fascism favors hierarchy, racism, and union busting (because in unions people join together across race or other lines, as well as because they make more money).
Fascism adopts a passionate stance of victimhood. "You will not replace us!" they shout at marches in Charlottesville.
Fascism demands so-called law and order, that is: racially biased official abuse and violence. Stanley discusses the rise of U.S. mass incarceration under the regimes of various U.S. presidents from both of the two major parties. Nobody would call everyone involved a fascist, but the fascist tendency is clearly just that: part of what makes up full-blown fascism.
Fascism fears sex and rape and the mixing of the races. Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and wanted innocent black kids in New York murdered for alleged rape not for any sensible reasons, but perfectly in line with this element of fascist propaganda as Stanley describes it.
Stanley's examples of each of the patterns above come from, among other places, Germany, Italy, and more recently Poland, Hungary, India, Turkey, Russia, Myanmar, and the United States -- never Ukraine, I notice, but one sentence on Israel surprisingly made the cut!
Stanley makes a strong case that when Trump says he wants to make America great again, the answer to when was it great is the 1930s. Trump's model may be Charles Lindbergh, a fan of "America First" and of fascism.
Running through Stanley's analysis is the idea that fascism divides "us" from "them." I would add that central to fascism is belief in the power of violence. Of course, both of these tendencies are extremely widespread beyond that constellation of horrors that we take to make up fascism.