I’ve spent my entire life causally ignoring Donald Trump. I found it quite easy; there is no depth and no meaning to his personality. A rich blowhard, insulated from reality by lots and lots of money. A reality TV star. An actor who plays himself in every single role and never, ever gets tired of it. It’s hard to take a casino magnate seriously as a businessman, especially since all the money comes from Daddy.
So here is what I find so interesting about Trump: it’s his appeal. I’m calling it “Trumpism”. I consider Trump a joke; a punchline. So why do so many people take him seriously? Why is he suddenly an actual contender to be the next President of the United States? Everybody agrees that “this changes everything” and this is “something new in American politics” and everybody makes jokes about the Hair…but what does it mean? What does this represent and foreshadow?
Okay. So bear with me here. Trump and Trumpism represents an American fascism. I know that – and I agree with – the commonly held opinion that the second that someone is called a Nazi or a fascist or a Hitlerite that the argument is automatically hyperbole. Called being nazis is such an old, tired rhetorical tactic as to be absolutely meaningless. But in this case, a confluence of factors make this comparison exceptionally valid.
So let me be clear right up front. By “American fascism” I am referring to the cross section of the American population that would vote for Trump and where he draws his financial and other backing from. I am referring to his rhetorically techniques and his base appeal. I am also drawing a parallel between Weimar Germany in the early ’30s, and modern day America, both economically and socially.
I don’t mean to say that Trump is a Nazi; or that he is going to enact Nazi policies or a genocide. None of that.
I’m saying that he represents the same forces in American society that, equivalently in 1930’s Germany, backed Hitler. Trump’s tactics and style: the bullying comments, the flamboyant gestures and impossible demands and perspectives; his promise of a “return to greatness” and his intense focus on scapegoats all recall the politics of fascism. Instead of comparing Trump to Hitler, a more apt comparison would be to Mussolini. I’m saying that an elected Trump would represent a similar disintegration of society on parallel with the totalitarianisms of the 20th century.
Perhaps a definition of fascism would be helpful here. It’s extreme militaristic nationalism that bases itself on mystical notions of corporatism (corporatism being any sort of intense organisation). Fascism always pretends to be old or traditional, but it is something quite alien to “traditional ways”. It’s a special relationship between the big power groups – the military, religious authorities and big business – with the alienated (and I know this is a bad over-generalisation) lower middle classes. But “extreme militaristic nationalism” doesn’t really capture the essence of fascism. What it’s really about is the triumph of political mysticism and rhetoric over civil society. For example, in 1930’s German, the military and big business was under threat by Weimar’s liberal democratic constitution. The only way forward when loans from America were no longer forth coming was either the dismantling the profit of the big industries, and the decline of the institutional power of the military or the end of the Weimar constitution.
Hitler’s assumption of power represents the destruction of German civil society. Any arguments along the lines of: “Oh, well, yes, Hitler was a bit shouty and evil and all that, but, you can’t deny that in the late 30’s, he had full employment. He really turned the German economy around.” Its total nonsense because WWII was inevitable – and the total destruction of German was inevitable – because of the nature of Fascism. The destruction of civil society (the rule of law, the supremacy of facts and statistics as tools of argument, basic human decencies, and mutual respect between citizens) and the assumption of all power by a handful of institutions or individuals is disguised by rhetoric and the menace of violence. This is what gives fascism it’s fantastic flights of unreality; it’s total departure from facts.
There is a scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where, after taking all kinds of drugs, pills, and alcohol, the two heroes find themselves in a hellish, nightmarish circus themed casino. Thompson observes that “this is what it would be like if the Nazi’s had won the War. This is the Fifth Reich.” I know it’s a weird reference, but to me it rings true. Fascism has this obscene, violent quality that attains a level of true evil and madness.
And this is where Donald Trump comes in.
Remember, fascism is the theatrical cover for the destruction of civil society/the rule of law in favour of a few powerful institutions motivated by power and profit. How to you get citizens vote for abandoning their citizenship?
Anger, fear, a satisfying implication of violence, and messianism.
It all depends on the larger socio-economic situation. In both 1930’s Germany and contemporary America, you have rich countries with large and prosperous middle classes that are getting poorer. This is dangerous. Far more so than people that have always been poor, nothing is more dangerous than people with stalled expectations or even declining circumstances. And this is what is happening now. Tensions build. People seek answers and solutions, but of course this is very messy and ideological. Keep in mind that this is a slow moving thing that people rarely think consciously about.
Pressure to redistribute wealth, weather through taxes, welfare, or various laws threaten the rich and powerful. But more than that, the idea of redistributing wealth feels new. In a way, it’s counterintuitive; it effectively proposes to overhaul (this directly implies disruption) the socio-economic system. And no matter what the actual truth of the situation is (i.e., that creating a just redistribution of wealth will make for a healthier, more egalitarian society) the very nature of the proposition ensures that many people will oppose it simply on the emotional grounds that “nothing needs to be changed”. These people are far more inclined to think in terms of blockages and crashes or impediments. A scapegoat. This is human nature. The rich and powerful must stop these changes to society at any cost. And when they succeeded in the modern period of technology, the result is fascism.
There is a lot of subterranean psychology going on here.
it appeals to those with the power, the money and the glory and those who have a very little (but not nothing and not modest amounts). The basic appeal is a sort of imaginative identification with the rich and powerful; the glory of the Nation (whatever nation it might be) reflects on the individual. By glorifying the nation, the man with very little glorifies himself. This is the secret behind nationalism and militarism: it is a clever foil for egoism of the basest kind. And for the person who has nothing and is miserable (and keep in mind that in today’s society of 40+ hour work week and the general alienation of the Precarious Economy that pretty much everyone is miserable) it’s this egotistical militarism is all they have.
Far from resenting Trump his inherited wealth, the Trumpist sees himself in Trump. He actively feels that he could be Trump. America is probably the only country in the world where we resent people who resent rich people. No other country (aside from England perhaps) shares the assumption that rich people have done something to deserve being rich both in a moral and an economic/innovative sense. Desperate Americans – the lower middle class especially – see Trump’s wealth as a hold over from bigger, more glorious times. Trump’s business leadership allowed him to slip pass the Scylla and Charybdis of Political Correctness and creeping Big Government Regulation to be a good ole American billionaire, Ayn Rand style. Of course, he’s done nothing of the sort, and the only reason we know of Trump at all is because he plays a billionaire on TV, in the same way that John Wayne is considered a real cowboy.
Part of the appeal is Trump’s bullying, anti-political politics. His un-political correctness. The Trumpist goes about in public saying ridiculous things about Mexicans or poor people and is greeting with an awkward silence or a changing of the subject. The Trumpist, far from realising that maybe he has just said something invincibly ignorant and logically flawed, instead assumes that his interlocutor has been brain washed by the “liberal media.” Trump seems to have to courage to say the nonsense that the Trumpist thinks in his head out loud and not be humbled or made fun of. Trump’s success then is deeply linked to the psychology of the dying American middle class, and the anger and fear that this has generated.
He’s our Id.
Trump is a buffoon. A lout. But there is always a draw here. Jeremy Clarkson comes to mind for me. He’s hilarious; the problem is that a truly sad amount of people take him seriously.