Mid-Fascism-Term Message: Be Kind, Rewind

David Iscoe newsletter, weekly update #11

It was back in November 2015 that I first saw someone identify Donald Trump as a fascist, and from that point on a lot of things became more predictable and I got angrier at people who thought there was nothing to worry about, and then when people stopped laughing and became shocked I got mad at them for being shocked rather than responsive, and now I don’t know what the use of getting mad is anymore and I don’t engage much with people who are still not worried or still shocked, at least not on the fascism issue, and I feel tired a lot but also grateful for anyone who can create either a pocket of peace away from the storm or a meaningful response to it, because for all my anger I still ain’t shit.

When I say Donald Trump is a fascist, I mean that fascism is his campaign style and the leadership style he aspires to, not that he’s successfully created a fascist state or that we’re headed toward the same ends we saw in the 20th century. Those fascist states mobilized for total war, and I think Trump is scared of total war because it’s difficult, risky, and hard to bullshit through and he’s an incompetent coward and a scammer, and even if we had a military ruler the shape of war is different for superpowers today than it used to be. We also have states and localities where the opposition party is strong, popular, and still considered legitimate, and that party is likely to grab half of one of the three branches of the federal government, which is more than nothing, and we have a big portion of the population who are dead-set against the leader and resistant to his whole movement, and also some clear-eyed, hard-headed institutionalists who are slowing the erosion of their disciplines or even starting to rebuild them.

But if you’re looking at the logic and rhetoric of the president and his most visible, energetic supporters, studying fascism is useful for understanding what’s going on. If you’re looking at the way institutions line up around that core–his party falling in line with him, a donor and business base silently supporting him, senior members of the opposition party appeasing him, mass (and social) media amplifying his message, prestige media making space for extremist views, law enforcement turning their backs back at best and participating at worst–the warnings of fascism are pretty damn salient. And if you’re concerned about our most vulnerable minorities and our protective institutions, studying fascism once again provides a useful lens, and we can expect more groups to become vulnerable and fewer institutions to remain protective the more it advances. I can’t tell you how it all ends, but, as we used to say in the EMS field, “time lost is brain lost.” The longer this goes on, the less capacity we’ll have to reason together to solve problems, while more people suffer and get hurt and more of our national resources get plundered.

While I’ve been reasonably well-equipped to understand what’s happening from a broad, intellectual view, I’ve been struggling a lot to actually respond to it as an individual, and I think that has a lot to do with my class (broadly, the “coastal elite”) being trained to look at things through an intellectual lens that’s not closely intertwined with direct action, and I think this is so that we can be given an outlet to engage with injustice in theory while safely staying out of the way of real power or even helping it along. We are supposed to be self-interested, ineffectual cowards, and most people end up being what they’re supposed to, even if some have managed a half-assed response to this terror. I think I’m at about 1/4 ass of mobilization, but if we could get a big chunk of people up to even 1/32 ass, or as much ass as Liz Warren is claiming Cherokee heritage, we’d be a lot safer.

So anyway, my advice this election year is (to borrow a Mr. Show joke), BE KIND, REWIND:

  1. BE KIND to people around you. Shit is difficult and exhausting and any respite or support you can provide matters a lot.

  2. REWIND the advance of fascism, by voting (and volunteering) for the opposition party and by strengthening competent, community-driven local leaders who are able to form a real alternative to the screaming man on the screen. This advice, to vote party-line Democrat on Tuesday, applies across the non-fascist political spectrum. For conservatives, vote with Max Boot not the jackboots. For centrists, it’s not a tough riddle, the Dems are the middle. For leftists, I know Schumer is weak but vote blue more next week. I don’t love the party but I think the binary choice is clear at the moment and we can’t squander these shots.

(For New Yorkers, I’m “yes” on all three ballot questions - short answer is that they by and large make democracy more accessible, community-focused, and diverse, and they’re not perfect but they are better than the status quo. For the long answer, I’ll have an email later today, and let me know if you aren’t on my politics emails but want to be.)


The Kiese Laymon talk at the Brooklyn Central Library, one of my favorite authors at one of my favorite places, was like nothing I’ve seen in a long time in terms of the level of dynamic, honest engagement with messy truth. He’s someone who makes me both ashamed and inspired as a writer, and between his book and the talk (hosted by Morgan Jerkins, who asked surgically perceptive questions and whose book I have to read) I’ve been thinking more clearly (and confusingly?) about truth and honesty and writing than I have in a long time and it will probably take me a long time to process and activate the things I started absorbing but the wheels are turning every day.


María Irene Fornés, a playwright who was a huge influence on one of my friends and former teammates, who once performed a Fornés play at a small underground show I co-hosted with another friend, died this week. The performance I saw was one of the most engaging, weird pieces of theatre I ever saw, and the one book of Fornés plays I read changed my view of theatre could do, and then I returned to my old writing and thinking patterns and never really absorbed it and I’ve even forgotten the details because I am mediocre.

On Halloween night I went to a party hosted by a college friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while and was never that close to in college, but as I’ve gotten more clear-headed and serious I think we’ve gotten closer in point of view. She and many of the people there were playwrights and I really liked talking about storytelling with them. I think a lot about engaging more seriously in those environments, even though I have a huge inferiority complex and sense of impostor syndrome about theatre (which I never studied) and I’m scared to get engaged in another discipline that takes time and makes money hard to come by. It’s weird to think that I’ve written four (or more?) plays, but nothing I consider a “real play,” and I definitely do not consider “playwright” a thing that I am. I do like being around and doing the work of people who write plays and fiction, though.


I can track my happiness very reliably by how much time and freedom I feel like I have to write, but it’s a daily struggle to carve out that space or justify in my mind that I deserve to carve out that space.


Over the past couple weeks I’ve advised on upwards of 35 college essays from students, mostly from immigrant backgrounds, and damn, people go through a lot. But also, once they open up with their writing they’re really impressive. There’s a great amount of depth and introspection, and I feel really good about some of the patterns of self-care, mental health awareness, and sociological awareness that this upcoming generation has, beyond the level of sophistication we were equipped with when I was growing up. And a lot of that has to do with the broadening of representation in media that a lot of my peers were fighting for while I was just trying to crack jokes with too much irony and too little perspective, so thanks to everyone who was on the right side of history while I wasn’t.


While I was thinking a lot about all this serious stuff, I also was going through a lot of memories of succeeding in sports, stretching many years back remembering home runs hit, shots blocked, balls stolen, shots made, tackles broken, pass-rushes repelled, passes completed, passes caught, runners thrown out, runs scored. I’m trying to feel less competitive in life in general, because it hurts me and makes me petty, but damn I like to be competitive in sports and it particularly feels good to win. There are plenty of times I was beaten in embarrassing fashion, but huh, you know what, those memories have mostly faded and I am just going through a sports highlight reel which is fun for me. I guess what I’m saying is, if anyone wants to organize a day of sports so that I can run around and try to get some more highlights going, I will try and beat you to remember it forever and if I lose I will laugh about it and forget it ever happened.


Love telling a good joke, sitting in a room working with people to write jokes, setting people up for jokes, etc. Let’s get together some joke stuff. Jokes are fun.