The election of Donald Trump and the insurrectionary violence at the US Capitol on Jan. 6 are a bad dream that many desperately want to forget. But the political, economic, and cultural forces driving far-right political movements in the US and around the world have been brewing for decades, and they are not going away—quite the opposite, in fact. We need to understand where these forces come from, how they have given rise to a wide variety of different far-right factions that are converging into a dangerous coalition, and what anti-democratic, authoritarian futures they are fighting to impose on society. We need to know what we’re up against—and, most importantly, we need to know how to fight it.
In this special series of The Marc Steiner Show, co-hosted by Marc Steiner and Bill Fletcher Jr., we will examine the rise of the right in the US and beyond, we will explore the different tendencies and motivations fueling today’s surge in far-right politics, and we will engage with a range of critical voices who can help us understand how we got here and what we can do about it. In Episode Zero of “Rise of the Right,” Marc and Bill introduce the series and establish the stakes of understanding and soberly addressing the threat today’s far right poses to what remains of democratic society.
Pre-Production: Dwayne Gladden, Stephen Frank, Kayla Rivara, Maximillian Alvarez, Jocelyn Dombroski
Studio: Dwayne Gladden
Post-Production: Stephen Frank
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us. And I’m here with my co-host for this very special series, Bill Fletcher Jr.
Bill Fletcher Jr: Glad to be here, Marc.
Marc Steiner: Who I’ve interviewed over the years and now we’re doing some work together.
Bill Fletcher Jr: And it’s interesting Marc. I remember the day that I proposed doing this to you. It was after you had interviewed me on something. I don’t even remember what the interview was, but it was good. I mean, you’re a great interviewer. And I said, Marc, you need to do a series on the rise of the far right. And that there is, out there in the media, it’s either denialism about how bad it is, or people are apocalyptic. But there’s this lack of real in-depth analysis. And so when we started talking about this I got very excited and I’m really happy the way this is turning out.
Marc Steiner: Me too. To me, when you said that to me, I had been obsessed about the rise of the right for a while, with Trump’s election, seeing what led up to that, but also from the ’70s through the ’90s to now and that whole arc that brought us to where we are. And for me, I must admit that I was getting extremely pessimistic seeing this powerful group of people that are much more highly organized than other sectors of society and well-armed with political power, controlling 26 states in the country. Completely controlling 26 states politically.
And what that means for everything people have fought for from the ’30s to the ’70s in the movements from the left that helped change the face of America, and it’s a reaction to that. And for me, it’s also personal. I’m thinking about my daughters, I’m thinking about my grandchildren. I’m thinking about my great grandchildren, I have those too, what they’re going to inherit and how we can’t be defeatist. We have to figure out what is going on around this and how we stop it.
Bill Fletcher Jr: No, absolutely. I’m not someone that’s prone to fatalism or determinism. But there is something about the history of this country that, in a very odd way, makes what we’re going through feel that it was almost inevitable, in the sense that inevitable that we would face a moment of truth, that when you factor in settler colonialism, racial slavery, Jim Crow, annexations, imperial conquest, all these, they have an effect on the consciousness of millions of people. And then you add to that mark when the living standard stagnates and then starts to decline for masses of people, the question then becomes, well, why is that happening and who’s the enemy? Leaving fertile ground for the left or the right, but particularly the right because they have the advantage over us because of the way that they’ve constructed the historical narrative. And part of what we’re up against is that historical narrative.
Marc Steiner: And I think also in that historical narrative, the history of this country is one of major contradictions. You have those we call the Founding Fathers, many of whom were slaveholders, but they built a democratic system. They wrote about a democracy and wrote about freedom and liberty in ways that appeal to everyone on the planet. But it was only meant for a small group. And that contradiction launched the battles this country has fought internally –
Bill Fletcher Jr: Correct.
Marc Steiner: …From the beginning. The genocide with the Indigenous people and the resistence to that, the resistance to the enslavement by Africans when they were brought here, to the workers who had no right to vote until Andrew Jackson, who was one of the worst racist settler colonial presidents we’ve ever had despite his image in this country, and so it lets all those contradictions. And I think that when you look at the way the governments have run in this country, for the most part they’ve been very conservative, and there have been periods of radicalism on the left and where people’s voices were actually heard and things began to change.
The battle around reconstruction in the 1860s and ’70s, and the struggles from the 19th and the early part of the 20th century with the union movements and the socialist party, and then from the ’30s to the ’70s, and real progress was made. And that’s the root of the right-wing pushback now, is the progress we made in pushing back.
Bill Fletcher Jr: Yes. And I’m often reminded, and we’ve discussed this, that very eloquent saying by Martin Luther King about the arc of history is long but it bends towards progress, is eloquent but it’s not correct. I mean, that’s the problem. The arc of history is long, that is true. But it bends in a lot of different ways.
I mean, when I think about metaphor, I think that we progressive people are the ones that are walking up the declining escalator, and that escalator keeps going down. So for us to get to the top means that we have to be moving faster than the declining escalator. That the moment we stand still, we go down, so this was one of the problems, I think, in the beginning of the ’70s when many people thought we had won, we had succeeded, and we had arrived at a point where continued progress was inevitable. To me, those were people that stopped trying to walk up the escalator.
They thought, we’ve made it. But the escalator was pulling us down, down, down. And so A, we can’t be fatalistic. We can’t be defeatist. We’ve got to put the energy into walking faster than the declining escalators so that we actually can get to the top and then shut the escalator down.
Marc Steiner: [laughs] I love it. That’s great. I love it. I also like the metaphor because I was one of those kids growing up that always ran up the declining escalator when I was a kid.
Bill Fletcher Jr: Me too, me too.
And I remember showing off with my daughter doing it. And I’ll tell you the way I thought about this once was when I was in the Service Employees International Union. And I was talking to folks about this challenge, and all of a sudden the imagery came to me, and so I think that it’s really important that we understand we’re always going to have to put more energy into it. The other thing that we have to keep in mind, Marc, in going against the right but also going against the more traditional establishment folks, is that they’re always going to have more resources than we do. I don’t know any time in history that the oppressed have ever had more resources than the oppressor. I’ve studied history. I don’t remember that time. And so therefore our struggle is one in which the other side seems to always have the advantage, which means that we have to think in a very different way.
Marc Steiner: And I think that when you think about where we are today, that it’s a really tough place to be in, a very strange place to be in. I mean, I think that people do not seem to be thinking through, at least in large part, about how you confront it and how you defeat it, what that means. And I think part of it is that, as you were alluding to earlier, that people who are in the movement of the struggle for the ’60s and the ’50s and the ’40s, once it began to open up in Congress, people became part of that establishment and they were invested in it.
And that stagnated everything, and then we lost the fight. As you can see now with Biden, he doesn’t know how to fight the right. He has no idea what he is doing when it comes to fighting the right, none. And then there’s always debates on the left. How do you approach this? Is this something you do narrowly on your own? Do you build this broad coalition of people that you wouldn’t necessarily always agree with to stop what we are facing in this future? And how do we do that? And sometimes I feel like the right has organized effectively, and they learned how to do it from us.
Bill Fletcher Jr: Oh yeah.
Marc Steiner: And we have to re-learn how to do what we started.
Bill Fletcher Jr: We do. The other thing is that what I think hamstrings the Democratic Party establishment is a belief that the pendulum will ultimately even things out. That yes, you’ve had maniacs like Trump and these other folks in Congress, but that ultimately the democratic small D system will work things out. And the problem is, I think particularly when we look at Jan. 6, 2021, and how close, I would argue, we came to a coup, a successful coup, there’s no reason to believe the pendulum will even things out, that it’s going to be up to us. Because the other side is not interested in playing the game anymore. That’s what they’re making clear.
That what they’re doing with the electoral manipulations, the turning a blind eye on paramilitary, they’re basically saying, you suckers can play whatever game you want, but we are not playing the game. We’re going to do what we have to do to win. And the thing is that this is true not just in the United States, but it’s true around the world when you look at these far right actors.
Marc Steiner: Right. And it all, I think, comes down to a bunch of realities. One is that the capitalist system itself has failed, even its most progressive moments, to answer the needs of people long term and of the planet long term. They’ve not been able to do it. And so that erupts anger in people. And when you add to that mix the anti-immigration feeling in the world, the racist feeling in the world, the fall of the [Leninist states], all these things together have allowed the right to erupt, because it’s expressing anger. The anger is very real.
Bill Fletcher Jr: Right.
Marc Steiner: Is just also laced with racism and laced with the most negative aspects of our society. And that’s something that is sometimes hard to get around. But as somebody, as you have in your work all these years in unions and as I have some in unions, but mostly in community organizing and issue organizing around the country, is that you can build a coalition that puts a giant dent in that, because people will come across the line. I remember Chicago in 1968 and the Young Patriots who made an alliance, the first rainbow coalition, with the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, the Brown Berets, the Red Guards, and the leadership of the Young Patriots? Many of them were former members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Bill Fletcher Jr: Right?
Marc Steiner: It can be built.
Bill Fletcher Jr: Which is why we did the show.
Marc Steiner: Yes.
Bill Fletcher Jr: And to our listeners and viewers, we welcome you to join into what I think has been and will continue to be a fascinating exploration of this virus in the US system, what it is, what it’s about, and what we can do to fight it successfully. And I’m glad to be doing this with you.
Marc Steiner: I am too. I am too.
And so along with my colleague and co-host Bill Fletcher Jr., I want to invite you to join us for our five-part series looking in-depth at the rise of the right. In our first episode, we’ll explore the real danger the rise of the right poses. How did we get here, and why now? What really happened on January the 6th? What is its significance and how do we fight it? And as my co-creator in this series Bill Fletcher says, we’re going up the escalator. Because we have to get to the top of a declining escalator and shut it down.