The Trouble with Alek

Oregon congressional candidate presents the smiling face of Republican fascism

The coming midterm elections are trending toward a nightmare that could take many of us by surprise.

Nationally, a slew of candidates energized and emboldened by our recent sociopolitical and economic fracturing — Trumpies, QAnon devotees, election deniers, anti-vaxxers, Jan. 6 “patriots,” anti-immigration xenophobes, anti-abortion evangelicals — are on the ticket. They could be ushered into office on a frothy wave of support by (as Hillary Clinton so cynically labeled them) that “basket of deplorables” legitimately pissed about years of Democratic weak sauce.

Four-plus years of Donald Trump, a lifelong cheat whose final pyramid scheme was playing the long con on the nation itself, provided the kindling, leveling our politics to a nihilistic rubble of falsity, bravado and raw aggression; the current slew of candidates is the spark that finally could set the whole thing ablaze.

Homey, handsome and freshly scrubbed, Oregon 4th District congressional candidate Alek Skarlatos is the smiling face of this Republican revolution (or, rather, counter-revolution): He presents as a classic Oregon “libertarian,” the sort of toothsome good Christian who hunts, fishes, backs the blue, hates “socialists” and wants to make America great again (i.e., straight, white, Christian, armed and angry). 

Skarlatos has hitched his wagon, albeit loosely, to Trumpism. He is the Forest Gump of white nationalism; he’s been seen with or has ties to the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, anti-environmental Timber Unity, the moribund Tea Party and QAnon, to name a few coalitions, and he’s garnered the support of such far-right Republican extremists as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican Whip Steve Scalise.

Considering his past comments, as well as who he hangs out with, who he’s identified with and the support he’s garnered, we can make some broad assertions about Skarlatos’ political leanings: unconditionally anti-abortion, anti-organized labor (he’s a right-to-work guy), anti-federal minimum wage (which he once said he supports abolishing), anti-taxation, wildly pro-gun (no assault ban), anti-public education (he’s proposed abolishing the Department of Education), pro-military (he served in Afghanistan), anti-economic and environmental regulations, and, therefore, vehemently free-market capitalism.

Related to such concrete policy points, Skarlatos has also expressed support for the rioters who “stormed the Capitol” on Jan. 6, and — in keeping with his “one-hundred percent” support of Trump — he’s also aligned himself with the Big Lie crowd that denies the legitimacy of the last presidential election.

For anyone with a nominal understanding of actual fascism, a disturbing portrait begins to emerge when the past and present of Skarlatos are taken as a whole. Too many boxes are checked: suppression of labor power, protection of corporate power, supremacy of the military, a dismissal of education and teachers unions, an association with aggressive (white) nationalism, dismissing legitimate elections, an overweening obsession with crime and “safety” in the form of unlimited support and funding of law enforcement, and a concomitant obsession with demonizing the banal left as “extremists,” etc., etc.

You don’t need to be a “fascist” to be a fascist. It is simply the organic unleashing of the worst instincts of the economic system itself — as Trump, a farcical reiteration of Mussolini, proved over and over. The social bigotries of fascism are no less catastrophic for being secondary to its primary aim, which is the complete deregulation of the economy. It equates political power with corporate power, and it does that by tapping the fears and resentments of those who will be most screwed by its brutal functioning. The scapegoat, whether drag queens or trans kids or immigrants or the homeless, is essential to the fascist agenda; it cannot function without targeting an oppressed or outsider segment of the population; whether real or imagined doesn’t matter.

But let’s avoid the dreaded “F” word. Let’s call Skarlatos’ platform one of corporate feudalism — the calculated elevation of the free market to a kind of religious ecstasy, disguised as a return to the Wild West of capitalism before unions, environmentalists, feminists, liberals, intellectuals and “socialist” politicians started gumming up the works. It’s an appealing message, especially to a working and middle class currently mired in economic anxiety and dread.

The Democrats, of course, have failed to directly attack Skarlatos on economic issues where they stand just as guilty. In fact, considering the abiding failures of the Democratic Party — its bowing to corporate lobbying, its abandonment of the working class, its bailing out of big banks and cozying up to globalist trade policies — a nativist candidate like Skarlatos is to a significant degree their creation, a pure product of the great American selling-out of us all.

Skarlatos, in other words, is a pure product of our broken politics. He is a symptom of the times, as well as a harkening to the worst catastrophes of the 20th century, when the politics of resentment mobilized the disenfranchised masses to throw their support behind charming psychopaths who pushed a vicious, insipid form of social Darwinism, where only the strong (and white, straight, armed and angry) survive — to hell with the rest.

Unless you are uber-rich, a business owner or high-level military, a vote for Skarlatos is a vote for your own undoing.

Steve Lafreniere helped with research for this opinion piece. Rick Levin is a bus driver and freelance writer living in Eugene.