President Joe Biden recently said the following about Trump MAGA supporters, according to Politico:
"'What we're seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of extreme MAGA philosophy,' Biden told Democratic donors in the Washington suburb of Rockville. Calling out those he labeled as 'extreme' Republicans, Biden said: 'It's not just Trump, it's the entire philosophy that underpins the — I'm going to say something, it's like semi-fascism.'"
I generally disapprove of analogies between American politics and European Fascism: the latter connotes Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Thankfully we are a long way from such tyrannies. Our constitutional system of checks and balances is designed to prevent any one branch of government from assuming dictatorial powers. It has worked for a quarter of a millennium and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to prevent the rise of dictators.
A better term would be "totalitarian mindset." It is certainly true that there are some extremists on both the "right" and the "left" who reflect an intolerant approach under which opposing views are seen to be unnecessary. Those who believe that they have the ultimate Truth on their side see no reason for allowing dissent from that truth, or for requiring due process before a person who they know to be guilty is convicted. Certainty is the essence of tyranny and skepticism is the enemy of tyranny.
So, Biden would have been correct had he accused some MAGA supporters of a totalitarian mindset that could lead to tyranny. But he was dead wrong in limiting this mind-set to the hard right. It is at least equally applicable to many on the hard left. These so-called "progressives" are as opposed to freedom of speech and due process for thee, as are the extremists on the hard right. And it is the special obligation of liberals – like Biden and me – to focus at least as much attention on the dangers emanating from the hard left as those from the hard right.
Indeed, in some ways the totalitarian mindsets of many on the hard left are more dangerous than those of the hard right. The reason is that the hard left today is extremely influential on college and university campuses. Many hard left faculty members propagandize their students as to what to think instead of teaching them how to think for themselves.
These current students include our future leaders. In ten years, some will be in Congress, on editorial boards of major newspapers, in investment banks, and in other areas of enormous influence. In 20 years, one of them may be U.S. president or another world leader, which is what the extremist leaders are counting on to achieve their goals. Many college students grow up after they leave school and change the one-sided views they were exposed to on campus. But others remain influenced by the hard left totalitarian mindset in which they were indoctrinated.
We must be prepared for a future that is less tolerant of dissenting views and due process and more demanding that their "noble" ends justify ignoble means — a future with less free speech, presumption of innocence, due process and respect for constitutional norms. To prevent that "brave new world," we must take action now to protect our heritage of civil liberties from those who regard them as patriarchal, white supremacist or "unwoke." We are losing the battle, especially on university campuses. We must change the trajectory. As Martin Luther King Jr. observed: "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I respectfully disagree. We must take control of the arc if we are to preserve justice and the rule of law.
So the next time Biden decides to condemn what he calls semi-fascists of the hard right, he should spend at least as much time calling out the intolerant mindset of many of his own voters. His condemnation of extremism on the right is unlikely to have much impact on those who voted against him. But calling out hard left radicals who voted for him might change some minds.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, and the author most recently of The Price of Principle: Why Integrity Is Worth The Consequences. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute, and is also the host of "The Dershow," podcast.