When You’re About to Label Someone As “Fascist,” Tread Carefully

Broadly labeling any conservative as fascist waters down the term’s meaning.

Mert Erenel

I’m sure that at some point, we’ve all encountered a moment during a political discussion when we want to dismiss the beliefs of the person we’re talking to. Conservatives are often seen by liberals as having an incorrect stance on issues, such as repealing Obamacare or supporting anti-immigration laws. However, this denouncement is oftentimes not based on the quality or validity of an argument but through buzzword labels with no basis. Racist, sexist, misogynist, transphobic and white supremacist are some of the words used to label conservative or right-wingers that I commonly hear. But in liberal America, no label has been so generally, promiscuously and unintelligently used as the word “fascist.”

When it comes to damaging our political opposite by using rhetoric, both sides of the aisle are guilty of using ad hominem insults such as “libtard,” “hippie,” “snowflake,” “deplorable” or “neckbeard”; instead, my focus will be on insults labeled against one’s assumed position. The Right tends to do this by calling Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez socialists and by labeling anyone who opposes the Right’s ideology as social justice warriors. It is fair that many at NYU will see the problems with these labels since they’re reductive and not necessarily true. But these same NYU students must realize that the term “fascist” should be handled similarly.

Being on the Right does not mean you are fascist. Supporting Donald Trump does not mean you are a fascist. Having right-wing stances on social issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights does not mean you are a fascist. The context and justification is what matters when determining whether a policy crosses into fascism. For example, a cautionary immigration policy that says the United States, as a sovereign nation with the right to choose its citizens, is not obligated to recognize undocumented individuals as citizens. This can be considered anti-immigration but the judgment employed doesn’t push it to fascism. The same goes for the argument to protect national identity. It can be a legitimate and justifiable ideology until it goes too far and advocates for the protection of national identity on the basis of “racial superiority.” That is no longer nationalism but ultranationalism, which I would deem as the starting point of far-right ideologies. Then add destruction of free speech, militarism, civil purging and totalitarian control of social life — that would be fascism.

Perhaps the problem is that fascism lies within conservatism, making it easier to conflate the two. And it isn’t without reason that liberals do so —take our increasing political polarization and intolerance to dissenting opinions, emotional temperament in politics and even how the perceived bias of news outlets depends on your political leanings.

I do believe that it is morally reprehensible to equate something that one may find slightly discomforting to an ideological term that has caused genuine atrocities. If U.S. liberals equate all that is right of their position as fascist and devalue the impact of such a word, then how will they categorize something or someone who is actually fascist? Call them fascist, as they’ve done so with many other conservatives and nationalists? The term would have already lost its accuracy and power. Contributing to the corruption of language is a moral wrongdoing that both liberals and conservatives can make, yet it is of the utmost importance that we begin to take notice of this tendency. The choices we make in our language have consequences for our political future.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Mert Erenel at [email protected]

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