I’m sure that most Americans – even those who voted for Trump – and even Trump himself are not fascist.
But that doesn’t matter. Trump has now occupied a facist nexus in American politics. The alignment of forces and motives, the decay of civil society, all point to truely alarming parallels to Germany in the 1930s. I make this statement not out of hyperbole or sophistry, but with a full understanding of what happened to Germany in the ’30s. I wrote my masters dissertation on this period, understanding exactly what happened and why.
When the Media like The Washington Post pen articles like “Who is the Real Donald Trump (and what does he stand for),” they totally miss the point. Trump has no plan; no program; there is no core set of principals. His strength is this very formlessness. He’s a Rorschach Inkblot Test for America. This is exactly part of the appeal of for right politics; most individuals and institutional forces can either perceive an advantage, or find some sort of rational for supporting the proto-fascist. Hitler attracted the support of the German military and big industrial businesses (who reckoned that they could both control Hitler and use him against their enemies, the Socialist and Communist parties arguing for a more equitable distribution of wealth); the lower middle class fell for Hitler because his emotional argument fit their predicament. German traditionalists and nostalgics (longing for the return of the Kaiser) found Hitler and acceptable stand in.
Hitler, like Trump, appeals to strange and broad coalition of social elements (note that the far-right tends to borrow and mimic some of the ideas of the Left; ‘Nazi’ means National Socialist. Both are demagogues; both lack a grasp of reality; both are extremely cunning in a tactical sense (like who do I need to placate right now, who can I intimidate into silence right now, who can I destroy right now?). It’s a strange mix of fervour and emotion on one hand a devastating cynical calculation of “ironic distance” (i.e., I know that Trump is a buffoon, but because I am white and rich, I know that I will be okay) on the other.
What we call fascism actually occurs when the ‘fantasy’ meets reality, and in the desperate need to maintain the fantasy, civil society is totally destroyed. This is what happened in Germany and could easily happen to us. The ‘fantasy’ is that Trump is a successful businessman who will run the government like a business; that the insecurity and poverty of White America will go away, that the minorities and messy reality will fade into the background, that Obama and Hilary and the Democrats actively worked against America and that government regulation is a sinister plot; that America has always been a White, Christian Nation, and that Trump will wash away plot against this White, Christian Nation.
This is truely fantasy; we where never a White, Christian Nation (however many of us thought or felt that it was). The Founding Fathers chose not to choose; the unifying metaphor in our Constitution is an Enlightenment conception of a classical, civil republic along the lines of ancient Athens or Rome. Living in a “liberal democracy” means we choose not to choose. And this is the essence of what Trump, and the sad morons who voted for him, utterly threatens.
Trump will have to satisfy the populists (the alt-right, the plumbers and car mechanics who voted for him) and the powerful moneyed and corporate interests who perceive Trump to be an unusual Queen on the chess board of profit-maximisation. These forces are tenuously aligned; and when the whiney, meme-driven Republican fantasy actually has to govern and meets the full force of reality (i.e. repealing NAFTA won’t bring the steel mills back or the coal mines back, stripping away environmental regulation won’t benefit America’s vulnerable middle class, etc), Trump’s only real option to main power will be to go full fascism: the only way to benefit the populists and the corporations will be to destroy our civil society, our liberties. Massive government spending on the military will cover for the stripping away of the last of our liberties. This will be the only way to maintain the Fantasy.
So what do we do now?
The main thing will be to not let Trump get normalised. The election season cannot end. Everything word and action of his Administration must be problematised and subverted. Any respect given to Trump – even lines like “show respect for the office” must be mocked, must be sabotaged. Those who voted for Trump must be barraged by a constant stream of truth, mockery and sarcasm. Like a dog that’s peed on a rug, we have to rub their noses in it. They are insecure, ignorant people; we must make their shameful mistake public and constant. There is nothing ‘normal’ or ‘ok’ about Trump. Nothing at all. We must strengthen our civil society so that Trump withers away before he is forced into a sort of “Reichstag Fire” moment.
Already the “give Trump a chance, he might just be another Republican president line” has picked up steam, especially amongst the corporate/centrist democrat crowd (Tom Hanks for one). It’s clear from the general tenor of the GOP and Trump himself, and the cabinet choices that his well not be “just another Republican presidency.” This has to be stopped. We can’t let that be the narrative that the Democrats adopt.
I’m trying to look on the bright side. A lot of conservative poison will be drawn out by this election; a lot of stupid Republican ideas that have been around forever (like running the government like a business) will get aired. Hell, people might even learn something. The idea here is that at least the Republican fantasy playbook well be carried out by a cheeto-colored buffoon instead of someone more competent: better a Hermann Goring than a Reinhard Heydrich.
The silver lining is that the Clinton machine is done; it is possible that the Democrats can be become a truely progressive party that responds to the needs of American voters.
In reflecting on what has just happened in America on the 8th, three things standout First, the “center” in American politics has collapsed. Second, historical parallels to the 1968 presidential election and the 18th Amendment – Prohibition – seem freshly relevant, as well as, I hate to say it, 1930’s Germany. Last, the idea that a larger, techy, urban – and largely apolitical society is increasingly the reality of America today: call it “cosmopolis.”
Identity politics has been a disaster; it needs to be abandoned. It’s not just a poor indicator of how people vote (like when we say “white males voted Trump” what really mean is like 65% of them did; that leaves an awful lot of white males who didn’t vote Trump). Political Correctness, while based on noble motives (you have to treat people with respect and would it kill you to have some empathy?), has likewise been a disaster. The problem with “Black Lives Matters” isn’t that it is wrong or incorrect, it simply doesn’t work, like calling for “socialism now” or burning an American flag in protest. People can’t think in the abstract enough to understand those actions and symbols; we are too easy to manipulate. Racism is not about Black people, it’s about White Insecurity (in a fundamental sense).
Already, the tendency to talk about the ‘white working class’ or the ‘aggrieved white male’ as the driving for behind Trump already misses the point; it’s already wrong. What is the real problem is neoliberalism (capitalism for capitalism’s sake; which is stripping away our culture and values and even the basis of democracy in the name of ever-more-profit). I am not denying the racism, I am saying that identity politics is the wrong way forward and needs to be abandoned. We need less “labels” and more policies; new language and programs which totally shift the paradigm of American politics as far away as possible from the canned bickering of Baby-boomer politics.
My last point here is that the real danger is the lurking, boring and technical aspects of Trump and authoritarianism. While our Buffoon-In-Chief districts with Twitter, and outrageous racist comments, the CIA and FBI will gain unlimited surveillance powers. The military will grow larger and more bloated; corporate profit will explode at the cost of the environment and our society. Republicans will intrench themselves ever more deeply into our judicial system, and institute a new, ever-more-subtle Jim Crow.
We cannot let this “campaign” end.