1. Why do people think "fascist" means "right-wing" or "traditional"?
As noted earlier, fascism is a "mood" in politics, not a set of policies. It can be either right or left - in other words, it can be Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe, Pol Pot, or any messianic figure who draws huge, enthusiastic crowds by promising government-driven life change - salvation, really - through the defeat of the evil people who have, in the past, caused his supporters to fail in various ways.
Some wonder though, how can communists, for example, be fascists when, historically, they had such different policies from, say, the Nazis?
Okay, first: In many key areas, communists and Nazis did not have different policies.
Remember, "Nazi" means "National Socialist" and many Nazi policies were strongly socialist. The communists and the Nazis differed on which groups of people were the enemy whom the government had a duty to destroy. As we all know, the Nazis murdered millions of Jews. Less well known is that the communists under Stalin murdered millions of peasants (kulaks) who refused to be forced into state farms.
It was communists who deftly ensured that people would be taught to look for fascism only on the right.
About right-wing vs. left-wing fascism, Goldberg explains,
Goldberg offers Barry Goldwater as a classic example of this abuse:
...in reality, they are closely related, historical competitors for the same constituents, seeking to dominate and control the same social space. The fact that they appear as polar opposites is a trick of intellectual history and (more to the point) the result of a concerted propaganda effort on the part of the "Reds" to make the "Browns" appear objectively evil and "other" ... But in terms of their theory and practice, the differences are minimal. (p. 7)
[By Browns, he means the Brownshirts (= the right-wing fascists). ]
Although both left and right certainly behaved in the manner that can be described as fascist, "... Eventually, the international left simply reserved for itself the absolute right to declare whomever it desired to delegitimize a Nazi or fascist without appeal to reason for fact. (P. 77) In other words, "fascist" has become a generic term of abuse for traditional attitudes, values, and beliefs, whether or not they have anything to do with fascism.
There is considerable irony in the fact that in the first election to replace Kennedy, Barry Goldwater was roundly hailed as the "fascist" in the race. The bespectacled small-government conservative in funereal suits was about as far from a fascist as one can get in American politics. (Pp. 204-5)In general, anyone who thinks that government should be small and limited (as Goldwater did) is, by definition, not a fascist. All fascists believe in Big (and powerful) Government, though different fascist identity groups would aim their government juggernaut at very different Enemies.
Unfortunately, the confusion around the word "fascist" means that when actual fascist political movements become a power in the land, people find it hard to discuss what they sense is wrong.
Next: 2. So, can "progressives" really be fascist?