Do words mean anything in today’s world? That’s a question that many are asking in the wake of President Joe Biden’s recent attack on Republicans as “semi-fascists.” Politicians and particularly demagogic politicians have a habit of stretching the meaning of words beyond rational recognition, but mainstream politcos have maintained some limits. Not so anymore.
The president’s main goal has been to brand Republicans in general and those he calls “Maga Republicans” in particular as evil and, as he likes to put it, a threat to democracy, the constitution and American freedom. He and his fellow progressives have been at this for some time. Hillary Clinton in her 2016 run for the White House referred to half of Americans overall, those who might vote for her Republican opponent, as a “basket of deplorables.” Voters who were, as she put it, “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic … you name it.”
Mrs. Clinton’s comments were roundly criticized at the time for tactical reasons because they went beyond criticism of her opponent to an attack on anyone who might vote for then candidate Donald Trump. Most candidates have historically been reluctant to attack their opponent’s voters — if only because they might need those votes some time themselves.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton’s attacks marked the beginning of a public strategy that has gained momentum and is now standard fare among progressive Democrats. who maintain that Mr. Trump is not the problem but a mere symptom of a greater problem. Voters who support Mr. Trump or his party or won’t buy into the progressive agenda are increasingly demonized as anti-democratic, “domestic terrorist” threats to the very survival of the United States as a free nation.
Believing this or at least pretending to has led Democrats down a very dark road. They question whether those with whom they disagree should be allowed to run for office, express their opinions, or be tolerated as neighbors and fellow citizens.
In August, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul urged Republicans to get out of her state because “You are not New Yorkers!” She advised them to “just get on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong.” The local press noted that Florida is already home to millions of former New Yorkers who have fled the Empire State and that urging more to leave wasn’t such a good idea. To be fair, of course, Mrs. Hochul was simply building on the words of her predecessor. As Governor, Andrew Cuomo had earlier said “right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay extreme conservatives” have “no place in the State of New York.
Disgruntled Empire State conservatives who do hop a bus to Florida will find on their arrival in the Sunshine State that progressive Florida Democrats like their New York counterparts aren’t as welcoming as they’d hoped. Florida progressives don’t want to share the state with conservatives. Perpetual office seeker Rep. Charlie Crist on securing his party’s nomination for governor against incumbent Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he doesn’t want the votes of anyone who voted for Mr. DeSantis because “you have hate in your heart” and urged them to “go off in your own world.”
History shows that demonizing, shutting up, branding those with whom one disagrees and blaming them for all of societies problems can lead to much worse. If conservatives and Republicans are as bad as progressives say, who can blame folks for not wanting them in their world? Racists, misogynists, deplorables and, worst of all, semi-fascists cannot be good neighbors even if there are millions of them around — unless these labels, these words, have no real meaning.
But maybe they don’t anymore. If everyone’s a racist, then the term is without real meaning. And what is a “semi-fascist” anyway? Clearly Mr. Biden wants to associate his political opponents with the evils of the last century in using the term, but if he’s invoking the shadow of ant-Semitic totalitarianism he is simply ignoring the fact that in today’s world it’s the progressive wing of his own party rather than the Republicans who would eliminate Israel.
In economic terms, communists take title to the companies and run their economies directly while fascists leave companies in private hands but force them to do the state’s bidding at every turn. Today’s progressives and particularly those within the Biden administration have coerced corporate America to suppress speech and carry out programs the government cannot execute directly because of “that pesky constitution,” as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has described the product of our Founders. If Mr. Biden had a dictionary or encyclopedia handy when he dreamed up the word, he might have concluded that it is his party rather than the Republican Party that might be more accurately described as, well, “semi-fascist.”
But then who needs either or even a superficial understanding of history in a world where words mean only what those uttering them decide they mean.
• David Keene is editor-at-large at The Washington Times.