Loki and How Conservatives Become Fascists

Audio Version | Get this in your Inbox

This episode spoils the first season of Loki

Here’s a story you might’ve heard before: Loki, prince of Asgard, has always been smarter and more capable than his older brother Thor. And yet their father, King Odin, perpetually favors the lunkhead, and intends to abdicate and make Thor king in his place.

Why should a lesser be raised up before him? There must be some ulterior motive, a motive that finally becomes clear when he discovers he’s not Odin’s biological son at all, but instead one of the enemy frost giants.

And now it all makes sense. He was secretly hated because of his race. But this reversal of the natural order will not stand. He will take what is rightfully his by any means necessary. He will heroically stand against the darkness.His first plan fails, but he finds a new ally and comes to Earth to establish himself as its ruler as a stepping stone back to Asgard. And why shouldn’t he rule these primitive apes? As he tells a group of humans he commands to kneel before him:”Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

It’s here that the fascist subtext of Loki’s story becomes text. A man with a holocaust tattoo refuses to kneel, and tells Loki there are always men like him. Loki is prevented from executing him by the arrival of Captain America, Nazi fighter and Hitler puncher, who says “The last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.” Soon the Captain is backed up by Iron Man, the personification of the American military industrial complex.

It’s not subtle.

It would have been more honestly fascist, though, if Loki had portrayed this subjugation as liberty. They should be grateful for his ‘glorious purpose’ to free them from the burden of responsibility, which they plainly cannot handle. ‘Work makes you free,’ as the motto on the gates of Auschwitz had it. Or per Orwell, ‘freedom is slavery.’

After Loki’s defeat at the hands of the Avengers, he’s hauled away to be imprisoned on Asgard, and to eventually be murdered by Thanos.

Or is he? During the time travel shenanigans of Avengers: Endgame, this story is rewritten. Loki gets ahold of the Tesseract as he’s being escorted out of Stark Tower and uses it to escape to Mongolia.
But his escape is short-lived. Soon agents of the Time Variant Authority (TVA) abduct him to their bureaucracy beyond space and time, where he will stand trial for his crimes against the ‘Sacred Timeline’, the one true course of history that the TVA exists to protect. Loki is a ‘variant’, and variants cannot be allowed to exist.

This doesn’t really make sense, does it? If the TVA can reset the false timeline with one of the devices we see them using, why do they need to abduct and try the variants at all? Why not just let them get reset? But then, why Loki’s change in the timeline is bad while the Avengers’ actions in Endgame are fine is hand-waved away by saying those things were “supposed to happen”, just one of any number of things in the MCU that doesn’t really track. I mean, Thanos’ thinks randomly wiping out half the universe will save it from conflict over resources. But the Earth had two billion people in 1900 and six billion in 2000, so easily within a hundred years the planet would be right back where it started. It’s nonsensical. People compare it to Malthusianism, but Malthus proposed ceasing aid to the poor, unproductive, and undeserving so that they could naturally die off and preserve resources, which is horrific and became a core component of eugenics and through it fascist ideology, but at least it’s logically consistent. And because Thanos’ plan is fundamentally and thematically incoherent, it can be read in all sorts of absurd ways, like as a metaphor for radical environmentalism.

But then thinking about this stuff too hard spoils the fun, doesn’t it? A Marvel project isn’t about coherence, it’s about, as Hollywood screenwriters love to say, the emotional journey you’re being taken on, the way the story makes you feel. The TVA can’t simply reset Loki because then there would be no story, would there?

But just before Loki can be executed, a TVA agent approaches the judge. This agent, Mobius M. Mobius, has a hunch, a gut instinct that this Loki might be useful. We recognize the archetype right away, the detective with the unorthodox hunch that an authority figure reluctantly allows him to follow is a trope as old as pulp fiction. It’s traditional. Mobius, we learn, wants to use this Loki to help him track down another Loki variant that the TVA has been hunting through space and time. Our Loki, inevitably, tries to escape and engages in schemes to conquer the TVA itself. But as he fails, Mobius dismantles Loki’s fascist exterior. Loki first accuses the entire apparatus of the TVA and their supposed ‘Sacred Timeline’ of being a ‘cruel elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear. A desperate attempt at control.’  Mobius responds by asking him if he enjoys hurting people. By the end of the episode, when Loki is confronted with the repercussions of his deeds and his own death in the main timeline, Loki admits that he doesn’t enjoy hurting people, but its part of his own cruel and elaborate trick to inspire fear and attain control.

Fascism at its heart is about the weak embracing a narrative to make them feel strong at someone else’s expense.

Mobius’ has a narrative bigger than Loki’s daddy issues and self-aggrandizement, though. He must protect and conserve the Sacred Timeline, thus preventing multiversal war and maintaining peace and stability. For all time this mission has sustained the TVA, handed down from the hard-won wisdom of the Time-Keepers who created them. Moebius is, in other words, a Conservative.

Conservative pundit David Brooks defines Conservatism as a philosophy that puts value in tradition, which he defines as “the latent wisdom that is passed down by generations, cultures, families, and institutions.” This wisdom doesn’t need to be understood on a conscious level because it “shows up as a set of quick and ready intuitions about what to do in any situation.” People don’t need to think about what’s morally right, they can feel it, right away.

He contrasts this with “rationalists”, which he associates with the arrogance of those who would try to rebuild society from scratch or control it through central planning. The Conservative knows that change should happen slowly and carefully, and that ethics should derive not from thoughts but from feelings. He quotes Enlightenment philosopher David Hume in saying, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”You can see the problem with this notion, though, right? If my tradition is based on bigotry, and I rely on tradition for my morals, well then I’m a bigot. You’re going to find yourself in a situation where you’re rejecting people based solely on “ick factor”. 

To his credit, Brooks acknowledges this issue, writing, “Conservatism makes sense only when it is trying to preserve social conditions that are basically healthy. America’s racial arrangements are fundamentally unjust. To be conservative on racial matters is a moral crime.” You don’t say, David? And he writes that one of the problems with American conservatism is that it never properly grappled with this problem.You can also see how this framework results in the conservative obsession with “trusting your gut”, which finds George W. Bush saying he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw someone “straightforward and trustworthy”. You can even see how it devolves into Stephen Colbert’s parodic “truthiness”, where one believes things not based on evidence but because they ‘feel’ right. After all, your gut intuitions are based on generations of carefully cultivated wisdom. How could they be wrong?

But, I hear you protesting already in the comments section, I thought conservatism was about personal responsibility, individualism, and a belief in the power of free market capitalism? As Brooks explains this is certainly the American version of Conservatism, but since it’s a philosophy based on a tradition, it’s different in different places and times. Indeed, historically Conservatism in Europe was usually associated with maintaining the power of the monarchy and aristocracy, in other words the very people whose power and influence had been eaten away by the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism.

But let’s come back to American conservatism later. For the moment, let’s see what Loki is up to.Loki hits upon the idea that the variant they’re looking for might be hiding in apocalypses–catastrophes so severe that nothing done within them can possibly matter to the timeline. Using this information, they track down the rogue variant during a severe future weather event that will wipe a town in Alabama off the map. Loki proceeds to escape with the variant, who turns out to be a woman who calls herself Sylvie.

Sylvie was abducted by the TVA as a child, but she (unlike our Loki) managed to escape. From there she grew up hunted and on the run, past and identity ripped away from her while she strode from one apocalypse to the next. This experience has transformed her into a terrorist with a single goal: not to conquer the TVA, but to destroy it, so that no one else will suffer the way she has suffered.Ultimately, the TVA captures both Lokis, but before they do Sylvie reveals a discovery: the TVA agents weren’t created by the time keepers at all. Instead, they’re all variants themselves who had their minds wiped and new identities imprinted upon them.

Their identities, in other words, are pure inventions in service of those in power.Under Feudalism, the peasant didn’t think of himself as belonging to a country so much as to a region and a lordship. The lords were largely autonomous from the crown and they were the ones to whom the peasants would owe fealty and pay taxes, typically as serfs with no rights of their own. Aristocrats, meanwhile, had more in common with the aristocrats of the neighboring countries than they did with the peasants under their yoke, and would generally only fraternize and intermarry with other aristocrats. Often, as in Norman England, the classes didn’t even speak the same language or dialect, and peasants from different regions might speak different languages or dialects from one another, especially in large, multi-ethnic empires. Religion played a much greater role in forming identity and belonging and the Church wielded massive power. There was a reason that when the Vikings invaded England they were called “The Great Heathen Army”–their religion, not their ‘nationality’, was their greatest marker of difference.With the development of capitalism, the rise of the merchant middle class, and the Protestant Reformation, the old feudal order broke down and central governments took steps to take direct control of their entire populace. To unite these subjects together, the rulers invented the idea of the nation, a shared culture, traditions, and identity common to the people in their domain, the nation-state.

It’s a bit of a funny idea, the nation-state, isn’t it? It became part of the ideology that conquerers and colonialists use to oppress those they rule over, saying our nation is inherently better than yours. It’s used as an excuse to conquer regions and countries with similar cultural backgrounds as yours. The concept of ‘race’ was invented in the time of nation-states and became caught up in it and used as an excuse for chattel slavery and genocide. Concerted programs sprung up to convert conquered people to the dominant nation through both forced cultural education and cultural prohibition, as in the Russification of the Russian Empire or the abduction of Indian Children into boarding schools in an effort to ‘civilize’ them in the United States and Canada. And some conquered people decided they’d had enough of exploitation and oppression and formed their own national identity and with it their own right to statehood. Moreover, people within your country who do not fully assimilate become seen as foreigners in their own lands, like Jews and Roma.

There is us, and there is them.

Strictly speaking the term ‘nationalism’ means the belief that a nation and state should be congruent. But when someone calls themself a nationalist, they usually mean something more than that. They mean that there is something inherently good about the cultural traditions that make up their ‘nation’, something worthy about it that means the people with those traditions deserve to control the state. By itself this isn’t necessarily bad, especially when it’s a position held by people whose culture is actively oppressed by the political apparatus above them. But nationalism within the already dominant culture can all too easily be weaponized against minorities, or become a way to exclude those you feel are insufficiently loyal to your specific interpretation of that culture. People who are not ‘patriotic’ (and nationalists love the word ‘patriot’), and therefore are in some sense treasonous. And while nationalism is not necessarily racist, nationalism and racism go hand-in-glove, since the other side of the notion that your nationality is inherently good is that other nationalities are inherently bad. It’s easy to believe that some nations are made to lead while others serve. Or that some nations, especially those ‘foreign’ elements within your own country, must be crushed, expelled, or exterminated.

And, of course, this all gets easily bound up in conservatism’s focus on tradition and heritage.Fascism was originally a nationalist political movement created in Italy and led by Benito Mussolini, who rooted Italian national identity in the Roman Empire and the supposed ‘civilizing’ force it represented. (The word ‘fascism’ derives from ‘fasces’, an ancient Roman symbol of a bundle of sticks tied around an axe that represented unity and strength.) But for Mussolini, the function of the nation was seen as fundamentally spiritual, a process of “individuals and generations bound together by a moral law, with common traditions and a mission … [that] builds up a higher life, founded on duty”. After all, if tradition (and through it the Nation) are the source of morals and goodness, it’s not hard for that tradition to take on a religious, cult-like, flavor. And further if moral law and goodness come from the nation, and the state represented the nation, then logically the state (when properly nationalistic) is goodness. “For the fascist,” he wrote, “everything is in the state, and no human or spiritual thing exists, or has any sort of value, outside the state.” He called this idea “totalitarianism”.

Fascism would inspire other political parties that would come to be identified as broadly ‘fascist’, namely the Nazi Party in Germany and the Falange Party in Spain. (One might also include the National Union Party in Portugal, though Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar always insisted he was not a Fascist and looked down his nose at the regimes in Germany and Italy as being insufficiently Catholic.) Just as the Italians embraced Ancient Rome, each of these movements rooted their national identity in a ‘Golden Age’ or ages in their past that might be redeemed through the process of fascism; for the Germans this was the first two Reichs, for the Spanish the height of Spanish imperialist power in the 16th century. This Golden Age would become a fundamental part of the aesthetic of each of these nations, and all of them would share the fascist resurrection of the Ancient Roman salute. For each of these movements, the conservative trust in intuition and gut instinct became expressed as a love of ‘action for action’s sake’, (in the words of Umberto Eco) with an associated distrust and hatred of intellectuals, eg. the Fascist brownshirts referring to intellectuals as ‘eggheads’ because their heads shattered so easily. And all of these movements saw their efforts in terms of a never-ending holy war against the enemies of the nation within and without who are solely responsible for its weakness and troubles. These corrupt, perverse, treasonous, and evil elements could be safely dehumanized as ‘Others’, justifying the plentiful violence employed against them and the heroic character attributed to those employing that violence. (Heroism is core to the fascist mindset, and statues of heroes always proliferate in fascist regimes.) But one day, the leaders promised, this war would be won, and fascism would bring about heaven on earth.

And most of all because the nation was defined by this narrative of holy war to return to a Golden Age, that narrative became a matter of sacred dogma. Any evidence that contradicted the narrative were lies created by the enemy. Anyway, it didn’t really matter what was true or not, the value of the narrative wasn’t factual it was moral; the emotional journey of the narrative provided stability, guidance, purpose, and identity. Questioning and criticizing it in any way could only be explained as treason by those who wanted to destroy morality itself.

Wait a minute! Hang on there for just a second! An identity and life that is entirely built around the state? A cult-like worship around a sacred narrative, depicted as a holy war? A promised paradisiacal end-state that will likely never come? An aesthetic rooted in the past? Enormous statues of its heroes? A belief in the importance of stability over truth? A duty to destroy anyone who represents a deviation from the narrative? A whole category of people whose life has no value? Jackbooted thugs meeting out death in and out of sham trials?The TVA is a fascist organization!Look at this conversation between Ravonna and T-15: {Ep. 1×5}”You were disloyal to the TVA.””The people need to know the truth””No, the TVA needs stability.”You even have the rote bureaucrats found behind the doors of every fascist state, punching away numbers around their atrocities in what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”.

But I thought I said earlier that Mobius was a conservative? Now I’m calling him a fascist? What gives?While it’s true both the fascist and the conservative hold tradition as the source of moral value, they are not the same. As Brooks would have it, one of the keys to conservative thought is that change must be prudent, anything too extreme threatens the fundamental social order and risks destroying the very traditions on which a good society is founded. The fascist, meanwhile, is more than happy to overthrow the government, shoot all their enemies, and rewrite history to glorify themselves.

So who were these ‘conservatives’ charging the Pentagon on Jan. 6, 2020 and what happened to them to make them think staging a coup was consistent with their ideological beliefs?In his article, David Brooks points to a problem with conservatism while not getting at its root cause or coming around to why his fundamental belief system might be mistaken:

Conservatives are supposed to be epistemologically modest—but in real life, this modesty can turn into a brutish anti-intellectualism, a contempt for learning and expertise. Conservatives are supposed to prize local community—but this orientation can turn into narrow parochialism, can produce xenophobic and racist animosity toward immigrants, a tribal hostility toward outsiders, and a paranoid response when confronted with even a hint of diversity and pluralism. Conservatives are supposed to cherish moral formation—but this emphasis can turn into a rigid and self-righteous moralism, a tendency to see all social change as evidence of moral decline and social menace. Finally, conservatives are supposed to revere the past—but this reverence for what was can turn into an abject deference to whoever holds power.

And what does all that look like in practice, David? What name should we call that?

But wait, conservatives in America can’t be fascists. We said American Conservatism is about small government and personal freedom, which is the opposite of the totalitarian state. No American conservative would ever embrace fascism. Right?

But is small government and personal freedom really what American Conservatives believe in at all?
American Conservatives are, for example, happy to vote to lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans, but then turn around and propose raising taxes for the poorest in the interest of ‘fairness’. (They’re also happy to continue the policy of taxes for investment income (ie. capital gains) being lower than for most wage labour which disproportionately benefits the 10% of Americans who own 89% of the stock market.) They’ll say they’re in favor of free speech and free enterprise, but then talk about nationalizing the social media platforms that refuse to let them spread lies and misinformation. They’ll even talk about dismantling the Disney corporation for speaking out against their bigoted laws. They’ll make laws to have the state arrest parents and take children away if they and their doctors agree to give them a kind of health care they don’t approve of, putting the government between children and their doctors. They’ll campaign on low taxes, family values, and child welfare and then let the Child Tax Credit expire allowing 3.7 million children to fall into poverty.

Brooks desperately wants conservatism to be about compassion, prudence, and generational wisdom, about a love of innovation tempered by a humility before tradition. But it isn’t, not really. In reality conservatism exists to prop up existing hierarchies, institutions, and prejudices in the name of ‘tradition’. The supposed “healthy society” in which Brooks’ says conservatism would work doesn’t exist, and has never existed. There have always been unjust hierarchies, one group stepping on the neck of another for a conservative to defend as ‘traditional’.

Conservatism exists to defend the status quo. And when the status quo starts to break down, conservatives will run to ‘restore’ it.

And with that we’re finally, finally ready to see how a conservative becomes a fascist.

Here’s a story you might have heard before:

In the 1950s, under conservative president Dwight Eisenhower, Americans reaped the boons of both being the last major economy standing after the Second World War and the Keynesian and social democratic policies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. These social democrats had finally given America things we take for granted now, like the 8 hour workday and the two day weekend, as well as social security and FDIC insurance. Eisenhower then built out the American highway system with massive government spending. The highest marginal tax rate was over 90%. A single person with a high school education could get a job that would support a family of five, with a nice suburban house and two cars in the garage. People would work for the same company their entire careers and receive a pension as a reward at the end on which they could retire comfortably. While things were still not great for most minority groups, and women suffered under the yoke of sexist gender roles, prosperity reigned for the white majority, and they easily found identity in their work and in their community.

As the decades wore on, however, that stability and prosperity Americans took for granted got chipped away. The Cold War became an excuse to crack down on all left leaning people and organizations. Disastrous foreign wars shocked America and took the lives of its young men. The racial fault lines of American oppression split violently during the Civil Rights Movement, minorities demanding a share of that same prosperity. Conformity became stultifying for a generation of young people who wanted something more. And conservatives responded by diving head first into the Neoliberal agenda of Barry Goldwater, aided by the racial animosity stoked by the ‘Southern Strategy’. This movement saw itself come fully to power in the age of Ronald Reagan who proceeded to dismantle the economic and social safeguards that protected the country. This, coupled with the increased ease of globalizing trade by technological innovations, allowed corporations to crater the economies of whole regions in favor of cheaper labor overseas, prioritizing corporate profits over the wellbeing of the people who’d built these companies. Communities were destroyed and hollowed out as old jobs disappeared and young people moved to bigger cities where service economy jobs could be found, offering worse pay and working conditions than their parents had enjoyed. Meanwhile, the commoditization of housing and the desire of NIMBYs to protect their property values by opposing new construction caused housing costs to skyrocket, making those same cities unaffordable. Working at a particular job for only a few years became normalized, pensions disappeared to be replaced by either nothing or 401k plans to which employees have to contribute out of their own salaries and which are subject to the whims of a destabilized market that seems to crash at least once a decade.

The strong local communities that conservatism thrives on, what Brooks (quoting Edmund Burke) called the “little platoons [which are] the factories of moral and emotional formation”, were destroyed. And this was true not just for poor areas, which is why the question of ‘economic anxiety’ fueling fascism (or not) is such a misdirect; the more affluent white suburbanites surrounding Detroit, for example, watched in horror as the economic heart of their region died even while they blamed exactly the wrong people for what happened.

The loss of community leads one to try and find community elsewhere. A Colombian immigrant might find community with other Colombians, an affinity group like the LGBTQ community can become a source of strength especially for those who might have been rejected by their family because of their identity, or one might become more closely knit with their religious group. Indeed, media today is full of ‘found family’ narratives, from the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy to Stephen UniverseCommunityKobrai Kai, and on and on. It’s in the air.

But often this new community will define itself in opposition to those they blame for taking away what they may have lost. Mobius loses his identity as a TVA agent and finds common cause with those opposing it. Sylvie has her entire identity and life taken away from her, and replaces it with an all-consuming drive for vengeance.

If the actual culprits are complex or culturally unacceptable, a convenient scapegoat can be found, as the Nazis blamed the Jews for the German loss in World War I and the humiliating conditions of the Treaty of Versailles that ultimately led to the destruction of the German economy during the Great Depression. It doesn’t matter if that story is incoherent. The important thing is the emotional journey it takes you on, after all.

Indeed, you might find a whole industry of media telling you exactly who is responsible for your troubles, exactly who to blame, flooded with money from kind billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, the Mercers, and Peter Thiel who have selflessly devoted massive amounts of their fortunes to educating the populace. They’ll help you find your identity in your nation, where a real patriot can wave a Confederate flag, a symbol of sedition and treason, because they believe in American values while simultaneously and paradoxically media tells them that the Confederacy was a Democratic (and therefor Liberal) plot. A media that tells you half the country aren’t “Americans in any meaningful sense”. Your community becomes a Social Media echo chamber, pounding the message again and again that you and your nation are under threat from seditious, perverse foreigners who like socialism, a term that grows in definition to simply mean anything you don’t like.

But wait, I’m also told that ‘socialism’ (whatever that is) is obviously wrong and dumb and stupid and evil. How could so many Americans be duped by something like that? It must some kind of plot, hatched by the evil billionaire George Soros and the wealthy elite who hate America and American values and aren’t like the good billionaires we like. They must be behind this plot to make America less religious and less white. These lesser races, after all, are easily manipulated.

(Immigrants tend to be poor anyway, which is more evidence of their lack of intelligence and inferiority, since we live in a meritocracy and if they were worthy they would rise to the top like those model Asians. We already know black people are inferior for the same reason, which is why they vote for Democrats too.) There must be shadowy figures orchestrating all of this, manipulating these lesser races so that they can fill up the country, replacing the good white people, and become dependent on the state, which will give the shadowy figures complete control and domination. It just makes sense right? And everyone knows who these shadowy figures are. ((Hint: they’re Jews.))

Maybe we shouldn’t let them take our freedom away. Maybe we need to take drastic measures. Democracy is too easily manipulated and gives the votes to the wrong people. Democracy is not compatible with freedom. Look at what a good job Vladimir Putin and Victor Orbán are doing keeping out the influence of Soros. Maybe we need something like that here. Maybe what we really need is to overthrow the government and eliminate the foreigners once and for all, so we can return our country to a mythologized past when the nation was pure and everything was so much better.

Maybe it’s the only way we can Make America Great Again.

Now, I’m not saying all Trump voters believe all of the above. But I am saying Trump supporters fall somewhere on a sliding scale towards torch-bearing chants of “The Jews Will Not Replace Us”, and polls show that nearly half of Republicans believe in ‘Great Replacement Theory’. And Qanon is the logical endpoint of all this, since it’s after all merely a reframing of conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world that date back centuries and were promoted by the Nazi government, who made children read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in school. There’s a short jump, after all, from Jews kidnapping Christian babies to use their blood to make matzo and ((elite globalists)) kidnapping children to extract adrenochrome to get high. Forget that many of the billionaires who support and astroturf the right are also Jewish (Ike Perlmutter, Sheldon Adelson, Barre Seid). Reality isn’t the point of any of this. It’s how it makes you feel, it’s the emotional throughline it gives you.
Consider this ad from JD Vance where he says:

Are you a racist?

Do you hate mexicans?

The media calls us racist for wanting to build trump’s wall. Joe Biden’s open border is killing0 ohioans with more illegal drugs and more democrat voters pouring into this country.

Does it matter that 77% of drug traffickers are US citizens and most illegal drugs are brought in through ports of call including airports? That the border ‘war zone’ Vance is talking about has no basis in reality?  Of course not. It’s just cover so you don’t have to feel like  a racist, the liberals are the real racists after all because they hate white people. The real point is the second part of the ad. The Democrats are bringing in immigrants because they’ll vote for Democrats aka Socialists a. k. a. ‘the Jews will not replace us’.

And as Sylvie shows, when you lose your identity, there might be no lengths you might not go to in order to wreck vengeance on those you feel responsible.

So as American conservatism slides into American fascism, it places ever more emphasis on the importance of national narrative and the tradition it represents. The conservatives cannot abide the 1619 Project or the specter of ‘Critical Race Theory’ because they’re a threat to the national narrative on which they’ve built their identities. As they’ll say over and over, the “radical left” is “teaching people to hate America”, which is to say to reject the narrative and therefore reject morality itself. It doesn’t matter that America’s supposed traditions of liberty, free enterprise, and private property were built on the backs of slavery, stolen land, and genocide. Instead of looking honestly at our past and discovering how we might prevent the exploitation of marginalized groups going forward, they want play pretend that nothing is wrong at all. Strength and stability is more important than truth, after all. The solution is to repeat the phrase “America is not a racist country” like a mantra until everyone believes it, and continue portraying racism as something that happens to individuals instead of something built into the systems under which we live. Anything to keep people from looking too hard at the injustices built into our society or trying to do anything that upsets the existing structure of white power.

Democrats and Republicans aren’t playing the same game anymore. While Democrats talk about sensible policy decisions and the evidence that supports their passage, Republicans are fighting a holy war for the soul of the natio, in which the rules of the game are at best inconveniences to be bypassed.

I mean, look at this from the 2016 Presidential debate between Trump and Clinton:

Chris Wallace (moderator): (to Hillary Clinton) You also voted against a ban on late-term, partial-birth abortions. Why?

Hillary Clinton: The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make. I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I don’t think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions.

A very reasoned and emotionally resonate argument, Secretary Clinton. I wonder how Mr. Trump will respond:

Donald Trump: Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.

Trump isn’t even bothering to engage with what Clinton said. Why should he, when he can make up a lie about what she believes and decry that instead? He’s not there to have a good faith discussion of conflicting political ideas, he’s there to wage a crusade against a devil woman who murders babies.

Why should he accept the results of an election when he can make up lies about it being stolen with no evidence whatever, and his people, who know what he says is true because they feel it in their gut, will happily throw all of their rhetoric about loving the constitution and the rule of law in the toilet in an effort to physically overthrow the American government?

Jan 6th was a moment where it became clear that a genuine conflict like the Spanish Civil War, where a fascist military uprising followed a left-wing electoral victory, is frighteningly more possible than most people ever suspected. However, given what Republicans are currently doing to the election system, the more likely scenario is that they will simply steal elections outright while Democrats are too devoted to order and civility to do anything about it but complain. The Republicans  are following the playbook of their idols Putin and Orbán to quasi-legally change the rules until the democratic state becomes an authoritarian one.

Democrats’ solution has been to make compromises, to reach across the aisle, only to for example find their Republican-proposed health care plan rebranded ‘Obamacare’ and treated like Mao’s Great Leap Forward, or their centrist compromise Supreme Court nominee Merick Garland bumped in a historically unprecedented seat theft. This is a strategy with which Democrats can only loose, by inches when they compromise or miles when their compromises are rejected. People are losing their identities, losing their futures, and looking for someone to blame. The Democrats need to show them who’s really to blame, to reframe the narrative. The wealthy and powerful use capitalism to take everything they can while telling people to be grateful for the scraps of low wage shit jobs they leave behind.

Moebius and B-15 are both true believing fascists at the beginning of the series, and come to rebel against it when they discover the lies they’ve been told about who they are and what they’re doing. You can argue it’s naive to believe something like that might work in real life, that true believers only dig themselves in deeper when confronted with information that contradicts their beliefs. But the Trump movement didn’t happen because a bunch of people woke up one day and decided to become fascists. Part of the reason Trump did as well as he did against folks like Clinton and Biden is because Clinton and Biden represent the status quo, they ironically represent conservatism now. But the status quo has failed the public. People are yearning for something different, for something to believe in, for a new identity that will give them hope.

At the end of the first season of Loki, the One Who Remains offers Loki and Sylvie a choice. You can either take my place, he tells them, and run the TVA, or kill me, destroy the TVA, and bring about the inevitability of multiversal war that I created the TVA to avoid. There is no choice, in other words, between fascism and chaos, which is of course the terms that all fascists reduce things to. Sylvie decides chaos is still preferable, allowing multiversal plotlines and all their crossover potential to proliferate throughout Disney’s ever broadening portfolio. But here in reality, which  isn’t ruled by narrative logic no matter how much we sometimes want it to be, we need to stop playing the game on the enemy’s terms. Because in reality, there is no downside to stabbing fascism in its heart.


I hope you enjoyed this episode of Literate Machine. You might have noticed that I haven’t had a new episode in a while. This is because I had something of a major life event in the form of the birth of my second child, so, you know, I’ve been a little busy. Hopefully I’ll be able to make episodes more regularly going forward.

If you enjoyed this please consider sharing it, as word-of-mouth is how shows like this grow. Also consider contributing to my Patreon at Patreon.com/ericrosenfield. For as little as $1 an episode you get exclusive author’s notes, early access to episodes and other goodies. Patrons had the script for this episode at least a month before the video went out.

As always, a bibliography and further reading are below. Literate Machine is available as a blog, podcast, mailing list, and YouTube videos. More information can be found at literatemachine.com.

I’d like to thank my Patrons, Kevin Cafferty, Wilma Ezekowitz, IndustrialRobot, Hristo Kolev, Benjamin Pence, Jason Quackenbush, Nancy S. Rosen, and Arthur Rosenfield.


Bibliography and Further Reading

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.