This in an earlier post on Trump. but decided to re-post it on the heels 0f last night’s coronation of Trump as the Republican Party’s standard bearer:
The F-word is back. No, not that F-word. That word never left the conversation.
The F-word on my mind is Fascism. It was the second most-searched term in the dictionary last year. (Socialism, by the way, was first. And no one can take more credit for the resurgence of this F-word than Donald Trump. Not since George Wallace’s presidential primary bid in 1968 has such an over-the-top, in-your-face racist, nativist, misogynist, bellicose, bullying, and demagogic candidate run for president and received such attention.
In a few short months, Trump has, with a big assist from the corporate-owned mass media, polluted the public discourse and fractured the electorate and the Republican Party, while developing a loyal following of true believers. His unfiltered, unapologetic, and outrageous rhetoric, outsized, erratic, and narcissistic personality, disposition for violence against opponents, dangerous and insidious demagogy, and band of unruly supporters give Trump and his candidacy a distinct fascist coloration. At one rally, according to the Washington Post, his supporters cheered when he exclaimed: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.”
What makes this scary is that Trump is currently the front-runner for the Republican Party nomination, and could be the next president! Taken aback by the unexpected turn of events, quite a few political commentators have taken a closer look at the Trump phenomenon and concluded that the word fascist fits his persona and politics. As they see it, Trump isn’t simply one more irresponsible and dangerous demagogue like Wallace. They acknowledge similarities, but say he’s also a cat – a fascist cat – of a different color: Some even wonder if it is time to rethink the conventional wisdom that “it (fascism) can’t happen here.” (Robert Reich, Sasha Abramsky, Ezra Klein, Jamelle Boule,
I don’t think either is the case, but it is easy to see why they do. Trump does exhibit behavior and echo themes of fascists of earlier eras. His message of national decline and renewal, internal enemies and traitors, racial hatred, nativism, and misogyny, hyper-nationalism and bellicose militarism, disgust for traditional parties and politics, victimization and revenge, and incitement to violence and manliness are the stock in trade of earlier fascists.
He never misses an opportunity to mention the singular importance of political will and the role of the great leader. Nor does he fail to remind his audience of a time when our word and muscle sent shivers around the world. Moreover, his constituency isn’t specific to one class or income or demographic or gender or religious grouping, although it is largely male and overwhelming white. It includes the economically beaten and battered by today’s economy, but also the well off and very wealthy.
His supporters can be found in rust belt cities, inner ring suburbs, and small towns as well as exurbs and gentrified neighborhoods in major metropolises. And while they are scattered across the country, his largest following lives in the South. And it is this heterogeneous mix that accounts in no small measure for the eclectic nature of his political talking points. Not every politician has the virtuosity to do such political juggling. But Trump does; he is a superb demagogue. Few people in present day politics are better at exploiting people’s resentments, giving voice to hot button issues, and and retailing himself as the “One” to “Make America Great Again.”
Trump deftly combines a sense of the profound shifts at the political, economic, and cultural level that have caused an upheaval in the way tens of millions live and think, with an acute ability to shine a harsh light on failure of both parties to address the mounting turbulence of everyday life accompanying these shifts. When he rhetorically slays both parties and their presidential candidates on the unending war in the Middle East, the weaknesses in the economic recovery, recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S., gridlock in Washington, “free” trade and its impact, corruption, and immigration and the Muslim community, his supporters roar approval and more than a few scream hateful epithets.
Unlike fascists and fascisms of the 20th century, the specter of socialism seldom appears in Trump’s stump speech. And the reason is simple: socialism, notwithstanding the Sanders’ campaign and the growing popularity of the term, isn’t an imminent possibility. If anything, the likelihood of a harsh right wing regime enjoys better odds in Vegas.
Nor does the real estate developer, to use Charles Blow’s mocking term, confine his rant in front of big crowds to a poorly performing economy that maroons tens of millions of Americans. He understands that people live on multiple terrains – political, social, cultural, religious and economic – that interact in complicated ways and shape people’s attitudes. People’s consciousness in his view isn’t simply and spontaneously belched up from the bowels of a broken economy. Robert Kagan, a noted author on the right, makes much the same point:
“We are supposed to believe that Trump’s legion of “angry” people are angry about wage stagnation. No, they are angry about all the things Republicans have told them to be angry about these past 7½ years, and it has been Trump’s good fortune to be the guy to sweep them up and become their standard-bearer. He is the Napoleon who has harvested the fruit of the revolution.”
But does all this/any of this make Trump a fascist? New Yorker columnist John Cassidy doesn’t think so:
“Some people have gone so far as to suggest that Trump, in whipping up popular resentments and stigmatizing immigrants and Muslims, is exhibiting Fascist tendencies … but is “Fascism” the best way to describe the Trump phenomenon? I don’t think so. Originally used as a collective noun for the murderous, revolutionary hypernationalist movements that emerged in Europe from the embers of the First World War, the word is often employed today as a catch-all term of abuse for right-wing racists and rabble-rousers. Trump certainly qualifies as one of the latter, but calling him a Fascist serves to obscure rather than illuminate what he is really about.”
Cassidy is on to something here. Trump is an exceedingly unruly and dangerous. About that there is little disagreement, but he isn’t driven by an all consuming and consistent worldview. There is little utopian in his discourse. He doesn’t speak of creating a single organic, exclusivist community free of conflict and contradiction under the authority of a single all powerful leader, superintending an exceptional state that penetrates into and presides over every nook and cranny of civil society.
Nor is he the leader of a party or organized movement that embraces transformative aims, thinks strategically and tactically, and thrives on sustained, often violent, action. Zealous supporters, which Trump has, are one thing, but a fascist party steeped in ideology, politically adroit, equipped with a deep, broad, and able leadership, and steeled in struggle, is quite another.
Furthermore, Trump has few elite supporters in his own party or the capitalist class. Even if it is simplistic to say that ascent of fascism is the handiwork of the “most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital,” it is fair to say that fascism can only come to power without such ‘elements” facilitating its ascendancy and consolidation. The experience of both Hitler and Mussolini provide/offer historical evidence of this dialectic. (Ian Kershaw and Robert Paxton)
Finally, U.S. capitalism is in a crisis that it finds difficult to surmount, but it’s not in its death throesor do the class and social forces challenging it possess the breadth, depth and maturity of understanding and organization to contest its hegemony. The Sanders’ campaign, as exciting and significant as it is, is nowhere close to constituting a political movement that can successfully upend existing capitalism. And until there is a party – not simply a movement – that has that capacity, fascism will remain on the sidelines. Only in the most dire circumstances when capitalism is being contested does it become the preferred option of significant sections of big capital.
And it’s not because they have some unshakable loyalty to democracy. Their first commitment is to the reproduction of capitalism and the accumulation of capital on an expanding scale and their political hegemony. And all things being equal, a democratic capitalist state with a measure of what Antonio Gramsci called popular consent and support from its citizens is their preferred political regime/political framework for capitalist rule and exploitation. In fact, if you listen to the apologists of U.S. capitalism – and not just Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan – free markets (read: capitalism) and democracy are two sides of an organic, indissoluble, and historically constituted whole.
It is this marriage, it is said, that turned a new nation, occupying in its early years the eastern shore of a much bigger land mass long populated for centuries by indigenous people into a world power and the preeminent “beacon of democracy and freedom.” This ideological notion, while contested by subordinate classes and peoples – not to mention people internationally – remains nonetheless at the core of the ruling elite’s ideological and thus political hegemony on a national and global scale.
So much so that the shattering of this legitimizing notion of their rule, which the descent into fascism would do, is something that they would avoid except in the most exceptional circumstances. But between the ground of fascism and the ground of democratic governance, albeit limited and hemmed in, that we now occupy exists a terrain of class rule and political governance that is authoritarian, abnormal, and anti-democratic, but short of fascism.
Such a terrain would be wrapped and rationalized in the rhetoric of personal responsibility, family and family values, free markets, protection of the unborn, color blindness, rewarding work not dependence, Christian virtues, America for Americans, and restoring America to greatness.
While this might be a risky strategy insofar as it would likely generate major blow back and resistance from the people’s movement, it is one that the Republican right would eagerly pursue if they regain control of the White House and retain their majorities in Congress in the November elections. In a few words, they are eager to roll the dice!
Which brings me back to Trump. If he isn’t a fascist, where does he sit on the political spectrum? Trump in my view is a right wing extremist and demagogue. He’s not alone however. He occupies that space with Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and nearly all of the Republican Party leadership. Each is a product of the rise and combustible brew of right wing extremism, Christian evangelism, and neoliberalism. But what distinguishes Trump from his other mates is his reckless, unreliable, and unpredictable behavior. He of the right, but he doesn’t answer to its beck and call. A team player he isn’t. To make matters worse, he embraces, unlike the other rebels and malcontents on the right, a less than consistent class and political ideology, at the level of rhetoric. None of these traits is held in high regard in the elite circles of the Republican Party or capitalist class. In short, he’s the Republican Party’s worst nightmare.
While a degree of autonomy usually operates in the relations between those who rule and those who govern, it is limited and relative. But the fear is that a Trump presidency could rupture that dynamic altogether, that he could become completely untethered from elite circles and destabilize capitalist hegemony and rule. But more immediately for the Republican Party leadership and the entire right wing movement, a Trump candidacy could result in massive defeat up and down the ticket in November and irreparably damage their future and the right wing political project.
Thus, no expense by the money bags of the Republican Party is spared to cut down Trump to size and deny him the party’s nomination. Whether they will succeed and crown Cruz or someone else to lead them into the fall campaign is unclear at this moment. In any case, no matter what the outcome, it seems likely that the Republican Party will leave its convention fractured, perhaps badly so. Whether it can recover for the fall elections or beyond, what it will look like, and what its politics will be is a matter of conjecture at this moment.
The winners of the intra-party blood bath, if they are smart, is none other than the the Democratic Party and the broader democratic movement – labor, people of color, women, youth, seniors, and social movements. Both could register a major victory in November. But only if the Democratic Party is able to dodge the bullet of its own contentious nominating process and enters the general election this fall united behind Bernie or Hillary.
After yesterday’s primaries it appears like Hillary Clinton has a lock on the nomination. What Bernie decides to do between now and the convention is his decision. No doubt he is feeling pressures from competing directions. Some in his campaign and many more on the outside are telling him to close down his campaign and reemerge at the convention. Others are urging him to stay the course until every vote is counted and every primary is completed. And of course a few are advising him to take the campaign outside the Democratic Party.
I can’t imagine him choosing the third party option. And as to which of the two other options he chooses is secondary. The main thing is that both he and Hillary find common ground, which will take each making concessions to the other. For either candidate to draw a line in the sand would be irresponsible. Too much is at stake in November.
Feelings among many of Bernie’s supporters will be raw, but sitting out the election is a counterproductive way to assuage them. It could clear a – and this may be the only – path for a Republican victory, thereby putting on ice Bernie’s program of more fundamental reforms indefinitely. Indeed, the people’s movement as well as the Democratic Party would be on the defensive in the event of a Republican sweep, no matter if Trump or Cruz or Ryan is in the White House.
It is in the context that the slogan “Bernie or Bust” should be evaluated. If it means sitting out the election on the justification that Hillary’s deficiencies are beyond the pale, or that the Democrats as much as the Republican are essentially at once prisoners and hired hands of the neoliberal project, such reasoning has a grain of truth, but is seriously flawed in important ways.
While it is true that the rise and consolidation of neoliberialism was the handiwork of the Democratic Party – none more so than the Clinton administration – as well as Reagan and the ascendant right in the Republican Party, it is mistaken to allow the category of neoliberalism to absorb and render invisible differences that exist between the two parties at the level of policy and social composition. On both levels, the difference are clear and consequential enough to the future of the country and its subordinate classes.
In politics, differences including shades of difference do exist and become a necessary consideration inthe elaboration of a particular posture toward one on another political task – not least election campaigns. And in this case of the November election, I would argue that the differences cross the border of shades of differences to differences of kind, especially when it comes to democracy and democratic rights, broadly understood.
Only on a high level of political abstraction far from the concrete realities of the present moment does sitting out the election have any currency. But one’s political attitude toward this election can’t be elaborated and decided at that level. Concreteness and a sober examination of the differences, even shades of differences between the two parties and an estimation of the dangers of a right wing victory are the crucible through which any informed decision has to be made.
A Clinton presidency wouldn’t consign neoliberalism to the dustbin or clear the ground for an era of progressive and radical change. It surely wouldn’t constitute a turn away from U.S preeminence on the global stage. But a Democratic Party victory, especially an election sweep, would give the broader movement a far better chance to move the politics, economics, and culture of the country in a democratic and radical direction. To think that everything would be frozen in a neoliberal framework for another four years is supposition that is premature and undialectical at best.
This larger analytical framework that goes beyond Hillary and Bernie offers, among other things, a path, if traveled, that could assemble a coalition that has the breadth, depth, and understanding to put a lasting hurt on Republican Party and its right wing project. And, if not immediately, constitute another step along a road leading to a new era of social change that pivots on people’s needs, equality, peace, and popular democracy. But as we know from experience past and present, wrongheaded decisions as well as unexpected events – a terrorist attack, a sudden worsening of economic conditions, a bad debate performance, and so forth – can quickly turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.
None of this may seem sexy to millions, especially younger voters who are anxious to make a political revolution, post haste. But who doesn’t want to move beyond the burdens of the past and the outrages of present, who doesn’t want to scale dizzying heights and takes leaps down freedom road?
But desire and aspiration can’t discount out of hand existing realities and possibilities. The future can’t be invented. It springs out of the present – its constraints as well as its possibilities. We live at a time when a new terrain of democracy and radical democracy is coming into view, but the freedom train will only arrive there if it doesn’t bypass the next station – the November elections and the decisive defeat of the right.
Again, framing it this way isn’t an end point of analysis or struggle; it’s only a beginning.