1. Introduction to Keywords Now

What should we call what happened in and around the Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6? A coup or an attempted coup? An insurrection? A white supremacist riot? Vigilante antidemocratic paramilitary violence? Did those who tried to overturn the election results commit acts of sedition? Treason?

There are solid arguments for any of these terms. The reason any or all of them can seem right is not a sign of intellectual sloppiness or lack of specificity, even as media commentators go to great lengths to come up with specific definitions of the terms they’re arguing for and against in order to make their cases. But no amount of defining can resolve the debate, because other thinkers and writers  can come along and define their terms in ways that make their argument plausible.  Language is social, not indexical.

That the definitions of these terms are contested across time and space means …

2. Conservatism (Keywords Now)

For a limited time, read the full keyword essay on “Conservatism”

Those members of the radical and racist right who led the Jan 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol building, vandalizing the Senate chambers and threatening members of Congress and the police force sworn to protect them, have altered the terms of public debates and collective understanding including, perhaps, our understanding of conservatism.

As I argue in my keyword essay, since the dawn of the 19th century there have been two overarching strands of American conservatism. The first sees itself as a philosophical bulwark against disorder, viewing hierarchies and natural forms of inequality as positive goods for healthy societies. In its Burkean pretensions it views sudden change as inherently dangerous and supports, instead, reforms that are gradual and even evolutionary in nature. In this strand, conservatives are the guardians of liberty and the defenders of our constitutional Republic who have …

3. Fascism (Keywords Now)

For a limited time, read the full keyword essay on “Fascism”

In the days following the right-wing attack on the certification of the electoral college votes in the U.S. Capitol, the debate still churns on among scholars and political commentators: “is this fascism?” As the commentary populates our social media feeds and podcast queues, it is worth considering why determining whether or not “fascism” is the accurate term for what is currently happening has become so important to so many people. Opposition to something called “fascism” represents one of the very few points of unity on both sides of the Cold War; and “fascism” has replaced “monarchy” as the “other” against which democracy is defined.  For this reason, defining something as fascism means to oppose it. The definition comes with the moral imperative: never again!

That moral imperative is what makes the argument over the “f-word” heated. For some leftist …

4. Intersectionality & Populism (Keywords Now)

For a limited time, read the full keyword essays on “Intersectionality” and “Populism

So much changes, so much remains the same.  We excerpt here a passage from our recently co-authored Common Dreams article since it extends themes we developed in our keyword essays on “Populism” and “Intersectionality.”

Tens of millions of Americans believe that they were victims of a left-wing coup. For many of them the storming of the Capitol was a democratic act. They watched as people like themselves acted together to disrupt that supposed coup, and defend popular sovereignty. Right-wing insurgency is endlessly nourished by populist narratives that pit the “the common people” against elites, which includes both the storming of the Capitol and the pleasures of excess once inside—from feet on the desks of legislators to the wrecking of historical artifacts.

The bipartisan condemnations of Trump and those who besieged the Capitol have …

5. Whiteness (Keywords Now)

For a limited time, read the full keyword essay on “Whiteness”

Whiteness is a useful keyword and analytical frame for understanding Trumpism, the false claims of massive voter fraud and a stolen election in 2020, and the Capitol Insurrection of January 6, 2021. As I noted in my original essay on whiteness, a discourse of “white victimhood” has long been in existence, and it has become a culturally dominant force since the 1970s. The rise of Trumpism has stoked and weaponized the grievance politics of “white victimhood.” Trump contended that Mexicans were rapists, Muslims were terrorists, and Black people were destroying cities and the suburbs would be next. Through these claims, Trump and his supporters rendered “Americans” as constant victims of an unfair and racially changing world, and because “white” is a normed and unmarked category, “American” functions as a race-neutral stand-in for “white.”

I also find Cristina Beltrán’s formulation …

6. City (Keywords Now)

Read the full keyword essay on “City”

Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election, along with the unprecedented January 6th Capitol insurrection and the COVID crisis, have even further shifted the meaning of “city” in a US context since I last updated the essay on that keyword. Trump’s repeated racist dog whistle attacks against majority-minority “Democrat cities” – first meaning those declaring themselves refugee sanctuaries, but later as a condemnation of Black Lives Matter protestors – were amplified by rightist media claims that “Antifa” was torching cities and attacking police while protesting police violence against people of color. Thus we saw a Trumpian reboot of underclass ideology, focused in particular on “Black and brown urban mobs” – that were assumed to be central to the “stolen” election.  But as the Capitol insurrection and scholarly studies show, actual domestic terrorist threats have long arisen largely from the white …

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