It’s disturbing to see people parading through an American town with thinly-veiled Nazi motifs, some even carrying swastikas. This is not a World War II enactment, it’s a demonstration by Americas so-called ‘alt-right’ who feel sufficiently empowered to emerge from the shadows.

How on earth did we get here?

The US went to war with Nazi Germany and fascist tyranny, and defeated the ‘perverted lights’ in Europe, as Churchill brilliantly put it. In the 1930s Fascism presented a hateful agenda to a disgruntled post World War One Germany eager to maintain living standards and avoid political chaos. And look how that turned out—dictatorship, hate and corporate monopolies cashing in on the production of armaments—all in the name of driving the nationalist agenda. Not to mention a pointless world war with millions of dead, maimed—mass atrocities and genocide. The promise of efficient railways, new motorways, and a revitalised national pride came at a terrible price. The folly of making Germany great again.

So, why has Fascism reappeared?

In much the same way that post World War One Germany was a dysfunctional mess, this is how many Americans see their country today. They blame Globalism, Neo-Liberalism and the political establishment. The truth is that the American dream was always an illusion for many Americans, such as impoverished African Americans in rural areas and the inner cities, but this only became a national ‘problem’ when it affected the white working class. Since the end of the Second World War, Western democracies have boasted of steadily improving living standards, but now this no longer holds true. The factories have shut down: decaying monuments to America’s ‘rust belt’.

The free market, quick profits, and a thirst for cheap labour with ‘flexible’ employment laws saw American corporations switch production to overseas lands—and increasingly that’s where the technology followed. American business leaders sold America out with their Darwinian economics and short-term profiteering. The loss of economic production had a profound knock-on effect on peoples’ expectations, their local services, local shops—and hope. Many white people are starting to feel how the Native American Indians once felt when their land was stolen and their way of life was destroyed by European settlers. This is a new ‘defeated nation’. Military strategists say that wars are won or lost in the mind before the fighting begins. If America is not yet ‘defeated’, its confidence is certainly ebbing away. The American triumph is looking more and more like failure.

This is where the ‘blame game’ comes in. The poorest and least powerful people are increasingly blamed—old prejudices and fears resurface. Decent values are twisted and corrupted until they become meaningless lies. That’s fascism in a nutshell. It’s a poison that subverts decency, erodes transparency, and social values—it encroaches on free speech and common decency with repression, threats, intimidation, and violence.

When some people—not all—feel that their livelihoods have been ‘taken away from them’, they cease to belong to the story, and so they look for another one, something that reassures them. Fascism flourishes because people tolerate its ideology of hatred thinking that they will gain something from it. Even in fascistic cultures like apartheid era South Africa, people who thought of themselves as good and decent citizens were in denial, or tolerated an unjust regime because they ‘went with the flow’, however unpalatable, or they feared the scenario of the barbarian horde overrunning the citadel—and the ensuing loss to their quality of life. Their compliance made the impermissible possible. The lesson from the 20th Century is clear. The time to stamp out fascism is before it takes root.