America has always had reactionaries, people highly resistant to cultural change and determined to undermine the forces underlying such change. Such reactionaries currently appear under a variety of names: social conservative, pro-family, traditional values voter, new right, and now, anti-woke. What they all have in common is fevered opinions about right and wrong and a willingness to embrace extreme policies to marginalize the power, freedom, and opportunities of those with whom they disagree. To do so they are willing to sacrifice democracy as we know it.
Ron DeSantis (pictured), Florida’s governor, is the latest example, but his approach hews back to Senator and 60’s Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who famously declared “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” The religious fervor of today’s reactionaries, equally visible in the words and actions of white power hate groups, marks them not simply as political activists, but as our very own American Taliban.
When any single group declares that it alone represents the will of God and is prepared to strictly impose that will upon others, it’s moved into Taliban territory, and that’s where America is today. The moralistic certainty and adamancy of the fundamentalist right, when combined with a willingness to resort to political expediency that runs roughshod over democracy, is the hallmark of authoritarianism, which is the aim of America’s Taliban: dictatorial authority over the public and private lives of others.
Removal of books from libraries, insistence upon what can and cannot be taught in schools, control over women’s bodies and their reproductive decisions, the declaration of absolute rules of gender, the imposition of religious practices, and resorting to violence to disrupt the workings of democracy and voting; these are the tactics of the Taliban in both America and Afghanistan. Such reactionary dictums are only possible through non-democratic means; accordingly, in states controlled by reactionary politicians, laws are being passed by legislatures that re-district voting to insure one-party rule by America’s Taliban.
The changes presently overtaking our world are enormous, to be sure. Thousands of years of domination by patriarchy, in religious, social, and political spheres, is being challenged by women and oppressed minorities who have found their voice and object to a continuation of business as usual. This includes not only ethnic groups but also people who choose to identify as gender non-binary. Their efforts at emancipation are opposed by powerful oligarchs of great wealth who in many cases have aligned themselves with the American Taliban. This combination of money and ideology poses the greatest threat to democracy in the world.
Using terms like Fascism as a way to describe the Taliban dynamic are wanting. The difficulty in categorizing the American Taliban is posed by its reactionary, religious character, at times explicit and at other times masked in political jargon. Make no mistake about it; the American Taliban is a theocratic movement that insists upon adherence to particular interpretations of Judeo-Christian scripture and uses that scriptural material as fervently as the Afghani Taliban uses its interpretations of the Koran. In this way, conflict continues, fueled by beliefs about which regional gods, faiths, and leaders should be all-powerful. Putin, backed by oligarchs and the Russian Orthodox Church, is employing the very same playbook, one responsible for countless deaths and suffering.
Forget the other names and labels; American Taliban is the right name for what it is.