It is time to put away the niceties and discuss in plain terms what must be done (and what is hopefully starting to be done).
We must win and the fascists must lose. It is as simple as that. Everything that follows flows from this simple, elementary fact.
Fascists want a world where fascism is the only principle allowed. All debate, all activity, save for the glorification of the fascist order, will be sedition. Non-fascists span the whole gamut of ideologies outside fascism, and we do not want that. The vast, vast majority of us want a world where openness, debate, and dissent are not only allowed but valued. This latter state of affairs may be termed an open society.
There is simply no compromise possible between the two positions. Either open society prevails, or fascism prevails.
Open societies are vulnerable to going fascist, because their own principles of openness and debate lets fascists compete in the political arena for followers and power. Once they obtain sufficient power, they can then institute a new fascist order. This is the paradox of tolerance that philosopher Karl Popper wrote about:
Less well known [than other paradoxes Popper discusses] is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.—In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.
Popper was not merely being theoretical here. He was born in Austria, and the first part his academic career took place in that country. He witnessed first-hand the rise of fascism, and fascism eventually compelled him to flee Austria. He thought long and hard about the paradox above, because he was baptized into it by fire.
Therefore what must be done to the fascists is to crush their movement, marginalize them, and keep them from power. That of course all very fascistic in and of itself. Hence the paradox: the tolerant must be prepared to be intolerant (to the intolerant). Tolerance, in other words, like everything, has its limits. Unlimited tolerance is self-annihilating.
This opens up a very real risk. When unleashing coercion against the fascists, we must be scrupulously careful to limit the scope of our coercion. Only fascists must be targeted. The non-fascist small-d democratic right, no matter how irritating some of them might be, must not be targeted. It is easily possible for a war against fascists to create an order as bad as the one the fascists want. The scope of any coercion must be strictly limited.
There must be an off-ramp for those who have so far passively gone along with fascism. There is a huge difference between the random two-time Trump voter and a committed fascist like Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, or Stephen Bannon. There is also a huge difference between the latter individuals and Chris Christie or Susan Collins.
If the low-grade enablers are willing to acknowledge the error of their ways and change their behavior, they should be welcomed into the anti-fascist camp. They will be our unreliable low-grade enablers then, of course. This might be infuriating to those with stronger principles, but welcoming them over to our side grows our numbers and shrinks theirs.
Ultimately there is no alternative. The fascists have gotten surprisingly strong in a surprisingly short time. They almost staged a successful coup. The inauguration of Biden gives the non-fascists the upper hand, and we must not shy from using it to crush fascism. Should we fail, it is unlikely we will get a second chance. Instead, as Churchill put it, we “…will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
What has to be done is dangerous, and it has risks. We have, by virtue of a long litany of mistakes throughout our history, arrived at a point where safety is no longer possible. All that exists are choices between various types of danger. It is far more dangerous not to crush fascism. So crush it.