It is a truth universally acknowledged that we are all f***ed. The question is whether Trump-style fascism is shafting us, or whether neoliberal capitalism is doing the job.
As Henry Giroux posits, it's both: a deadly hybrid combined into a humanity-destroying racist, sexist, xenophobic greedzilla of doom. Or, as Black Agenda Report's Glen Ford views it, it's the modern Democratic and Republican parties acting as two bickering factions of the same fascist regime.
I've been reading a lot of books about fascism lately in preparation for a blog post, only to discover that I've amassed enough material to write another book about it. And I'm still not done. And I still have more questions than I do answers.
What I can say is that there are two main categories of books about fascism. The first set includes scholarly volumes of history, psychology, sociology and politics, written long before Donald Trump ever arrived on the scene. The second set belongs to the new genre of alarm-bell fascism, which either is arriving fully formed on our shores in the person of Donald Trump all dressed up as Hitler, or is still only kind of scary-ghosty, with Donald Trump secretly wearing his swastika armband high enough on his fleshy arm so nobody can see it, even when he's playing golf.
The best example of this genre has been on the bestseller list for months. It's called Fascism: A Warning" and its author is Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. You might remember her as the Clinton official who told CBS that the price of half a million Iraqi children dying of starvation as a result of US economic sanctions had been "worth it." She doesn't delve, in her version of fascism, into one of its main tenets being expansion of the nation into the far corners of the earth. But that's not her point. Her point is falsely equating Donald Trump-style fascism with Hugo Chavez-style socialism and trumpeting the need to vote Clintonite Democrats back into power before Russia takes over and the New World Order goes kaput. You see, "liberal interventionism" killing is not the same thing as conservative imperialistic killing.
And now that the midterm elections are nearly upon us, the liberal media itself is getting into the Albrightean act with a vengeance. If you won't accept that we're either living under Nazi rule or about to, you're part of the problem. Be very, very afraid. And get out there and vote as though your lives depended on it!
The Huffington Post got into the act over the weekend with a banner scare headline announcing that a white supremacist hate group had invaded New York City. This was slightly misleading, given that at most, about a dozen alt-right "Proud Boys" beat up an antifa protester outside a Republican club which had just featured an alt-right dude as its featured speaker. The HuffPo has since removed the scare-mongering headline of its piece.
Another example of the genre is a video editorial posted in the New York Times on Monday. The star of this show, which is preceded by a Democratic Party campaign ad, is a Yale philosopher and fascism expert named Jason Stanley. He provides us with plenty of easy evidence showing that Donald Trump talks the fascist talk and walks the fascist walk: his ultra-nationalistic, racist and xenophobic rhetoric combined with the relentless repetition of Goebbels-style lies and the well-televised Nuremberg-style campaign rallies for his hordes of besotted fans and greedy cable infotainment outlets. After the good professor explains to us that too often, politicians resort to calling one another fascists as an all-purpose insult, his talk becomes replete with graphics showing Trump dressed up as Hitler, and lots of video of the real Hitler, and even a clip of a Madison Square Garden Bund rally from the 30s.
After spending his allotted few minutes explaining why fascism is so awful, and that we should be very afraid of both it and Trump, he runs out of time before he can explain just how this ideology can gain national power in the first place, and what we can do about it other than simply running out to vote for the allegedly lesser evil Democrats.
My published comment:
While Jason Stanley correctly describes the techniques of fascists like Trump, he ignores the situations which permit fascism to rear its ugly head in the first place.
The previous major outbreak occurred in the aftermath of World War I and the worldwide depression. Combined with pre-existing anti-Semitism and the weakness and corruption of liberal democracy and the mutual hatred of both the right-wingers and the "liberals" for communists, it allowed Hitler to step into the vacuum.
Despite the Depression, fascism didn't similarly catch on in the US as a mass movement because first, the war had been fought across the ocean, and second, FDR enacted the New Deal under pressure from a then-vibrant left wing, aka socialists. The Nazi rallies in Madison Square Garden soon became a thing of the past.
Fast forward to Trump. Decades of neoliberal capitalism have created severe wealth inequality, with most Americans not even having $200 saved up for a household emergency. Only the poor and working class fight in our endless wars. Politicians from both parties are beholden to the rich.
So yes, we should be very, very afraid of fascism while acknowledging that a form of it -- corporatism - has been suborning democracy for quite some time now. We cannot expect to defeat Trump and the GOP without transforming our government into a force for good for all the people, not just for a handful of oligarchs.
Otherwise, the next fascist leader will make Trump look downright benign.So far, anyway, Donald Trump is simply an aspiring fascist leader, spending most of his time tweeting and flailing about in the Oval Office as the derogatory leaks from his staff are nearly a daily occurrence. At best, he is only a semi-successful fascist leader. He commands no mass movement. He has not shut down any TV stations or newspapers nor thrown any reporters in prison, despite his dangerous rhetoric about them being enemies of the people. That big military parade in his honor has been called off indefinitely.
But he's getting there. His imprisonment of migrant children in holding pens and tent cities is a step up from the Obama administration's draconian deportation crusade and "family detention centers," which at least kept mothers and kids together and therefore were not subject to widespread criticism by liberal pundits and the Democratic Party faithful. The fascistic tendencies of Obama and his predecessors were of the sort called "friendly fascism" or what the late Sheldon Wolin termed "inverted totalitarianism."
And of course, if you are a black person in America, you have indeed been living under de facto fascism for probably your whole life. Three out of every 10 black males are imprisoned at least once during their lifetimes. Three people, mostly black, are killed by law enforcement in the United States every single day. Michael Bloomberg, the "moderate" mayor of New York City who is now contemplating a challenge to Trump on the Democratic ticket, instituted a policy of Stop and Frisk directed against all black men. This thuggish practice finally got overturned by the courts, just as many of Donald Trump's own anti-immigrant and racist policies have been.
And, since under the Obama administration the longstanding law known as Posse Comitatus was overturned by Executive Order, we've all been living under technically fascistic authoritarian rule for the past eight or nine years, whether we've been blissfully unaware of it or not. If enough of us ever take to the streets in unsanctioned mass protests, the military now has the authority to turn against its own rebellious citizens by whatever means necessary. It is even deemed technically legal for our government to assassinate us by remote-control predator drone, should the rights of the ruling class to ownership and control of everything become seriously threatened.
So insofar as Trump is a fascist, he inherited the fascism, and has remade it into his own brand.
Meanwhile, the term "fascism" is so hard to define precisely because it is inherently self-contradictory. It is both radical and reactionary. It picks and chooses among several "isms," discarding its beliefs and policies willy-nilly, and does the same thing with its leaders and supporters, as the need arises. Its main requirement is a constant state of crisis, whether real or manufactured, alongside maintaining a permanent mythic core leading to a new revolution growing out of the old order. (Make America Great Again. Drain the Swamp.)
As Roger Griffin writes in "The Nature of Fascism,"
On susceptible people, it has the almost magical power to transmute black despair into manic optimism and thus enable a party that promotes this vision to win a substantial mass following. It promises to replace gerontocracy, mediocrity and national weakness with youth, heroism and national greatness and put into government outstanding personalities instead of non-entities. If the times are ripe, the vague or contradictory implications of the policies proposed to realize such nebulous goals do not diminish their attraction because it is precisely that mythic power that matters, not their feasibility or human implications.Hope and change, We are the ones we've been waiting for. Yes, we can! America is already great, because America is good. We are the One Indispensable Nation.
(Griffin doesn't consider Trump to be a bona fide fascist, by the way, simply because he has not met the strict requirement of ordering or even advocating for the overthrow of democratic institutions. But does he really have to, when staffing them with incompetents and corporate infiltrators does the job just as well, if not better?)
Arthur Koestler writes in The Ghost in the Machine that our human brains have not kept pace with science and technology, which have at least partly replaced religious belief in modern civilization. Thus has come the rise of ultranationalism, because people still desperately need something to believe in, especially when economic times are hard.
In the case of fascism, its core myth of the regenerated national community led by a revolutionary elite calls a priori for an act of identification, a neurologically based mischanneling of the human drive for self-transcendance. This engenders a paranoid, dualistic mindset conducive to boundless idealism and fanatical devotion toward the embyonic new nation, coupled with ruthless violence directed at its alleged enemies.In Escape From Freedom, Erich Fromm noted of Nazi Germany and other fascist regimes that although many people were able to take advantage of the freedom engendered by industrial progress, others felt increasingly unmoored and thus turned to authoritarian leadership to avoid an all-pervasive loneliness.
For the past half-century, we have been living under the regime of neoliberalism, or corporatism, where all lives are defined or dominated by market forces, and in which we are judged primarily on our ability to earn and consume. When people lose these abilities, as they have in vast numbers since the 2008 financial collapse and the transfer of 94% of all that "lost" household wealth to the moneyed elite, they become depressed, confused, and insecure. Millions of them have turned to Donald Trump, who alone among the other presidential candidates at least addressed the unfairness and corruption, albeit only for his own nefarious and self-interested purposes.
Roger Griffin lists four pre-conditions for the rise of fascistic leadership:
1. the presence either of native currents of ultra-nationalism, or of fascist role models to build on.Taking this list of requirements into account, there is a case to be made for Barack Obama as the charismatic "friendly" proto-fascist, whose cult of personality swept him into power. After all, he did win the "advertiser of the year" award after his first campaign. His sellout of his voting base to corporate interests, ironically juxtaposed with the pre-existing "native currents" of racism in this country, paved the way for the decidedly uncharismatic Donald Trump, whose very loathsomeness is his paradoxical attraction for the cynical as well as for the desperate. He also profited by the "chance contingency" factor of the archaic Electoral College system, winning the office despite massively losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
2. Adequate political space in a "modern" society is undergoing a structural crisis, for example, after an economic collapse and costly war.
3. An inadequate consensus on liberal values. Fascism can only break out of the lunatic right when society is struck by a crisis. Even then, the seizure of actual power is doubtful.
4. Favorable contingency. Chance or "destiny" comes into play. A charismatic leader with a flair for propaganda and self-advertisement and co-option of human psychology, emerges. The "elective affinity" with fascism is experienced by every individual involved in it, from the leader to the most lukewarm fellow traveler, is the product of unique psychological predispositions which are reducible to tendencies, patterns and types. The "chance" factor also relies on the vagaries of the electoral system.
As a bundle of inconsistencies, he simply represents the vicious, built-in contradictions of fascism which make the term so hard to define. But since he is not a fanatical ideologue, and since we still live do in a putative democracy with three branches of "checks and balances" government, and the Constitution remains more or less intact, Trump is no Hitler.
Maybe Mike Pence can be more successful, especially since he is the one who filled the White House with all those oligarchic enablers, and since he is the one who is a true believer in the subversive Prosperity Gospel and hardcore Christian fundamentalism. Perhaps he will strive to become the leader of a full-blown fascist theocracy. Cue The Handmaid's Tale.
And of course, don't rule Hillary Clinton out just yet, despite her and Bill embarking on the lucrative paid speaking circuit. If Trump has accomplished anything, it is showing that you can still win high office despite shady financial dealings.
As Wikileaks revealed (and as even the New York Times reported) Hillary certainly fills the fascistic requirement of unlimited brute-force national expansionism:
(my bold.)When she became secretary in 2009, she posed a question about China to an Australian leader: “How do you deal toughly with your banker?” In the Goldman transcript, she suggested that she had answered her own question when sparring with the Chinese over its claims in the South China Sea.“I made the point at one point in the argument that, you know, you can call it whatever you want to call it,” she said. “You don’t have a claim to all of it. I said, by that argument, you know, the United States should claim all of the Pacific. We liberated it, we defended it. We have as much claim to all of the Pacific. And we could call it the American Sea, and it could go from the West Coast of California all the way to the Philippines.”
So, what is fascism anyway? The answers are still as varied and as confusing as Hillary Clinton's American Sea is wide.