Despite the histrionic claims in right-wing tantrums, now, or left-wing tantrums, circa the Bush era, the United States of America is not now, and has not yet ever been, a fascist state, and it's not becoming one.|
But, in the last few years, it's come amazingly close to following the historical precedents for one. Actual fascist states have only happened a few times, and while no two fascisms are identical (being that fascism is characterised by ultra-nationalism, and no two nations are identical), there are general categories of circumstances that make them a possibility.
In no particular order (seriously, this is not in order of importance at all, because I'm basically thinking into a DW update window), I shall endeavour to go through them, starting with:
The Alien Within (Usually Jews)
Fascism pretty much has to start out as a populist movement. It takes just the right heady mix of fear, anger, nationalistic fervour and irrational paranoia for fascism to take root. One of the major ways to make people irrational, paranoid, scared and angry is to make them feel like they're under threat - but not just under threat, under threat from within their country, from some kind of poison that has spread throughout the system itself. (Often rendering the system itself in need of destruction or radical restructuring; this is why "small government" obsessives like Scott Walker are kind of dangerous, and generally vicious in power. But I'll get to that.)
Historically, Jews have been a popular target, most notably, in terms of relevance to fascist uprisings, in France and Germany. In France, the Alliance Francaise, the proto-fascist movement which came surprisingly close to taking over the country itself, was spawned amid, and focussed heavily upon, the upheaval surrounding the Dreyfus Affair. The Dreyfus Affair, which I will not summarise here because oh hell no, had as one of its many idealogical contentions anti-Semitism. I'd elaborate, but if you know the history of l'Affaire, you probably don't need me to, and if you don't know the history of l'Affaire, it is too complicated for me to know where to start in addressing just this aspect.
In Germany... well, everyone knows about the Holocaust, but that was, in a sense, just the end-game, and it became kind of its own monstrous thing, a culmination of a building insanity within the machine of German government that wasn't, inherently, a part of the initial fascism.
(Although it's worth noting at this point that at least one American has now, in public, drawn a favourable comparison between the rate at which Germany reduced its Jewish population and the potential for the elimination of America's "illegal immigrant" population.)
However, anti-Semitism was a critical part of the politics and propaganda of the Nazi party from the start, and it almost certainly would have been regardless of anything like Hitler's personal brand of crazy on the subject. Because the Jews are, historically, staggeringly easy targets for that kind of thing. Diverting people's unhappiness with their situation in life to anti-Semitic rage is practically a tradition throught Europe.
The reasons are easy enough to determine:
- The Jews were, pre-Holocaust, reasonably numerous throughout Europe, while still being a population small enough to be overwhelmed by non-Jewish numbers.
- The Jews were, on the whole, considered to be a different ethnicity from the others around them. A Bavarian Jew was still a Jew, not just a Bavarian, distinct from the people around him. Jews only partly shared the culture around them, maintaining their own cultural traditions as well; this is inevitable, when so much of "culture" was derived (more so then than now) from religion, and Europe was overall very Christian, and Jews were, well, Jewish.
- However, having essentially been locals forever, Jews were nonetheless a part of civil society. People still saw them around, and all.
- For a very long time, pretty much all the bankers were Jews, because Christians weren't allowed to lend money and charge interest for it. This meant that anyone who owed money quite possibly owed it to a Jew, and everyone hates bankers. For an example of how much this is long-standing historical bullshit, see The Merchant of Venice. Dude borrows money from Jew, signs contract, doesn't repay money; the Jew is a villain because he tries to see the terms of the contract completed. The happy ending results when the contract is voided, and the Jew is humiliated and made to convert to Christianity, iirc. Because avoiding repaying a debt is somehow a virtue, if the debt was owed to a Jew.
Nazi propaganda made much of the Jews being numerous and everywhere, comparing them to rats, while at the same time making much of how they were all RICH PARASITES and BANKERS.
In summary: a people who are not like us, but are among us, and they are harmful to society, zomg!
 Fascism, as a term, was coined by Mussolini. However, the Alliance Francaise, despite predating Mussolini's rise by decades, qualifies as a fascist movement if anything does, not least because a lot of Mussolini's philosophy was inspired or taken directly from the writings of the idealogue behind the AF.
Why This Didn't Happen In America
Well, the Jews wouldn't work, because for a bunch of reasons, some of them sensible, some of them kind of insane (e.g. "Israel is a prerequisite for the Rapture"), the American far-right is hard-line Zionist. And you can't really make a coherent anti-Semitic narrative without also going anti-Zionist, so even the most ardent anti-Semites on the American right have to be kind of covert about it.
Communists lost their power as a serious threat with the collapse of the USSR. Some American right-wingers have picked up a narrative that places "the gays" in that category, but the problem with gay people as an ideological hate fixture is that people will, inevitably, have gay family members, or meet people who are "one of us" and then find out that they're also gay, and basically, gay isn't an ethnic group.
A number of right-wing groups and politicians have made something of an attempt with Latinos, and, in localised areas, have succeeded to a terrifying degree. (See: Sheriff Arpaio, who I had a piece about posted on Shakesville before I broke up with Shakesville hard enough that it just took me ten minutes of going through my tags for old posts to remember what the site was even called.)
However, while localised fascism has absolutely taken hold in parts of America, this hasn't worked on a widespread basis. I think the reason is basically geography. America is huge, and immigration is a progression. You can't make the anti-immigrant fervour take hold in the same way in Ohio or Wyoming, because the immigrants aren't a presence there, certainly not sufficient to make people flip out. At the same time, in states like Texas, there are too many *legal* Mexican and Central American immigrants for an overwhelming consensus of hate. There are too many people for whom they *aren't* Other.
Mostly. You still have, you know, Arizona.