Henry Olsen and the Classic Fascist Apologia

Henry Olsen

Henry Olsen is a conservative columnist at The Washington Post. He’s typical of the kind of conservative affirmative action that all of the mainstream press provides because of decades of the right disingenuously calling it “liberal.”

Don’t call us liberal! Beat us up! Legislate us out of existence! Just don’t call us liberal! We couldn’t die in peace knowing that anyone questioned our objectivity!

Anyway, a week ago, Olsen penned, No, MAGA Republicans Do Not Support “Semi-Fascism.” And then, of course, after Biden’s speech, he produced, Biden’s MAGA Speech Was Designed to Protect Democrats, Not Democracy.

(I wasn’t going to read the second article figuring it was just a reworking of the first. It isn’t actually. Instead, it’s just more finger-wagging. The article also elides Republican behavior and current norms. It’s a classic example of an argument much beloved by supposed moderates, “The Republicans are allowed to destroy norms; when the Democrats are back in power, it is their job to reinstate them!”)

Olsen’s “Republicans Ain’t Fascists” Argument

I’ve heard Olsen’s argument many times before. Lauren Southern likes to make it! It boils down to this: Fascism was a political philosophy of the mid-20th century in Europe.

Okay, not in so many words. But his entire argument is to nitpick what fascism is and give an example of why that doesn’t apply to the MAGA crowd. Here is his base argument:

Classic 20th-century fascism was a political philosophy that comprehensively denounced modern liberal democracy. Fascists believed that multiparty democracy weakened the nation, and that competitive capitalism was wasteful and exploitative.[1] Their alternative was a one-party state that guided the economy through regulation and sector-based accords between labor and business.

How the MAGA Cult Stacks Up

And then he contrasts this definition with what the MAGA faithful believe:

Compare this to the MAGA philosophy. MAGA politicians usually argue that America’s liberal tradition is under attack and needs to be saved, not that it is the root of all evil. They tend to attack most expansion of government regulation and spending as “socialism.” That’s the polar opposite of fascism, not its kissing cousin.

This is one of the apologist’s greatest weapons: pretending to not understand subtext. My favorite example of this was when Ben Shapiro claimed that he just didn’t see Steve King’s white-supremism — until years later when he simply could not continue to claim that.

Olsen is using another apologist trick too: pretending that because fascists update their tactics that they can’t be fascists. Of course modern fascists give lip service to liberal democracy! Nazis gave lip service to free speech! And how does Republicans being against socialism distinguish them from any fascist movement ever?!

Olsen goes so far as to discuss the January Sixth Coup and concludes, “Yes, attacks on elections are heinous and autocratic but they aren’t necessarily fascist.” In other words, Olsen wrote a whole column because Biden used the word “fascism” rather than “authoritarianism.”

Oh, that it were true!

Henry Olsen’s Subtext

The point of the article is simply to attack Joe Biden for other things that Henry Olsen doesn’t like about the president. (He also spends two long paragraphs (173 words) defending the MAGA crowd from an article that generally isn’t made and certainly wasn’t made by Biden.)

Henry Olsen is seen as one of the “reasonable” conservatives — the old-fashioned type that you can compromise with. But he shows in these recent articles he’s as thin-skinned as Donald Trump himself. And if people like Olsen can’t be encouraged to reflect on the American Right, there is no hope for them. Or, it often seems, us.

[1] This is not true. It’s one of those things that conservatives believe so much they don’t think they need to look it up. You can’t say that fascism was pro- or anti-capitalism. But it is certainly true that it lived very comfortably with it.

Image of Henry Olsen taken from The Washington Post under Fair Use.