Until this last week, it was considered ‘unhelpful’ to label Trump as a fascist. All manner of serious, liberal thinkers said so. It reminded me of the Bush era, when very similar debates were raging. Was Bush actually a fascist, or just a cowboy riding his imaginary Trigger? We never got to decide; the debate died down and certainly, nobody ever suggested that Obama had anything to do with fascism.
But now, with Trump clearly not getting assassinated courtesy of the CIA, the Mob or anyone else, the tone and the language has changed, and all manner of serious liberal thinkers like Henry Giroux and not so liberal thinkers like Madeline Albright are saying that yes, indeed, Trump and his ‘base’ (they are base indeed) exhibit a particularly virulent strain of this hardy, mutating political virus. Far be it from me to argue with such intellectual heavy weights.
But I think it’s high time someone came up with a few tools with which to identify who is and isn’t an American Fascist, for us ordinary folk on the ground. The ‘dumb fucks’ Zuckerberg is so fond of. It might be useful for actually doing something about it, like speaking up when people show its symptoms. It might as well be me.
So, here I go again, defining something that has shadowed my life since I was born in fascist Germany, 78 years ago. You might say that I was inoculated at the source and the result is a heightened awareness. I smelled fascism in the air during the Bush years, and even back in the nineties, I was looking for pithy, hard-hitting definitions. I found the best one in a now defunct New York Times Review of Books piece by the now deceased Italian novelist, essayist and philosopher, Umberto Eco. He too was inoculated early on because when Mussolini came to power, he was in his early teens, an impressionable age.
He identifies no less than fourteen aspects, or symptoms, of what he calls ‘Urfascim’; and at the end of the list, he quotes Franklin R Roosevelt, who warned us on November 4, 1938, almost exactly 70 years ago:
“I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.”
Is there anyone out there who could argue that the lot of average Americans, not to mention those of austerity plagued Britain, has not stalled out and continues to do so?
No doubt, Roosevelt knew that the first fascists were the KluKluxKlan, who have recently become emboldened again after a long period of retreat. Apparently, the Germans learned a lot from them. Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn David Duke, the current KKK chief dragon. Alas, there is little evidence that they have not come to stay for good, and roost at the centre, once and for all.
To navigate this new homeland of eternal insecurity, here is a list of symptoms to identify the mutated American Fascist virus. It’s also been infecting Britain and the EU for a while; Trump and his ilk are simply its inevitable apotheosis.
Chief among them:
- Unquestioned cult of loyalty to the Fuehrer, pardon me, the President. As the Economist reported in a recent cover story on how the Republican party got Trumped, they quote the Republican senator, Bob Corker: Republican voters ‘don’t care about issues’, they just ‘want to know if you’re with Trump’. Apparently, he and the 40 others jumping ship and not standing for reelection, aren’t quite loyal enough. Let’s just say they lost their nerve and suddenly discovered that they want to spend more time with their families. Touching.
- Racism, or fear of the other.That was an easy one, considering the dreadful history of racism in America and the ongoing failure to eradicate it. Trump directed it mainly against Muslims and so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ whom he labelled ‘rapists’ if they came from Mexico, and ‘terrorists’ if they came from Muslim countries.
- Unbridled adoration of machismo, or the glorification of maleness in its vilest forms, such as violence, misogyny, and oppression of women. One only has to watch Melania to know everything. Or the belittling of women who do not fawn and faint at Trump’s magnetic personality. Or the vile insults hurled at women who do stand up to Trump, like Rosie O’Donnell. With that goes the message that we are all born to be heroes. Men, not women, of course. It distorts life and nourishes an out of control competitiveness in all areas of life.
- Violent hatred of anything that could be called rational, educated, sophisticated or tasteful.Fascists do not think that rational thinking should be allowed; instead, we should all simply wallow in our feelings. That’s being ‘true to ourselves’. Thinking in general is suspect, an unmasculine pursuit fit only for reviled journalists, egg heads and other undesirables. Culture of any kind is to be avoided: after all, Goering famously said that when he heard the word culture, ‘I reach for my gun.’ He would make an excellent Trumpist. The dumbing down of education is an important part of this anti-intellectual agenda and anyone who doubts it should look no further than Charter Schools, who were pushed by none other than Obama and perfected by Betsy De Vos.
- The people who respond to fascist Trumpism are people with a grievance, a feeling that they are losing ground and beleaguered by various demons, such as people who criticize and fail to fully admire Trumpism. These people are ‘traitors’, ‘un-American’ and as such, expendable, like immigrants, people of colour, intellectuals, you name them. For Trumpists, the enemies are legion and often in cahoots with each other. The deep partisan divisions that have existed in the US since the Bush era are no longer bridgeable; they have become chasms, anyone can fall in. See the departing members of the Republican Party, the State Department, etc etc.
- The adoration of machismo goes with adoration of the military and the police, now an entrenched part of the US. If police shoot unarmed black teenagers doing nothing in particular, that’s okay. There is no justice, only contempt for the weak. If the Pentagon gets half a trillion dollars over a decade while people are starving in the richest country on earth, that’s fine. Trump has surrounded himself with old generals and hawks and loves to tell the world how he is going to rain ‘fire and fury’ on states that don’t kowtow to him. Trump clearly enjoys keeping the entire world on the edge of its seat while he plays with his new toys; interballistic missiles and hydrogen bomblets. Permanent warfare is the norm; peace is something nobody aspires to any longer. It’s weakness.
- The rise of something we used to call Newspeak but now refer to as Fake News. It is characterized by an impoverished vocabulary, mangled syntax, and a loose interpretation of ‘truth’ in all its forms. Trump is a master of this populist language, which he now shows off on Twitter but first perfected as host of The Apprentice, the ghastly ‘reality show’ where he got to strut his stuff and yell ‘you’re fired’. He also perfected his Mafia family style there, introducing his grown children, Ivanka and Donald Jr, to the world as up and coming capitalists in their own right before installing them in the White House. If anything is to blame for Trumpism, it’s surely the American public’s inability to tell the difference between entertainment and news, something first noticed by Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. It has recently surfaced again, and no wonder: it was prescient in its assessment of just how dumb and uninformed the American public has become. They want infotainment, and the networks are only too happy to oblige as they incessantly cover Fuehrer Trump. He plays them like the master media manipulator he is.
- Ueberfascists show a total lack of humour or appreciation of satire.Words scare them. Fascists, and especially Fuehrer Trump, really really really hate it when somebody dares laugh at them. All forms of wit and skewering of puffed up importance is verboten. Note that Trump has not attended the Washington correspondent’s dinner since Obama wiped the floor with him during the last days of the Obama administration. He humiliated Trump in witty and dangerous fashion; dangerous because it was that event that galvanized Trump to seek the presidency. Just to show him. And so, everything that was progressive about the Obama years has to be destroyed. Obama should have known that he was poking the Fuehrer-in-waiting; he is supposed to be the one with brains here.
- The displays of tasteless golden bathrooms and other signs of extreme wealth are meant to make everyone who doesn’t have these wonderful things feel inferior. Trump wants everything gilded and garishly overdone, and that is what he has built; it’s his legacy. Tastelessness is now a political weapon of mass destruction.
- Finally, there has to be an enemy, preferably inside the nation but enemies outside can be useful as well.Mueller’s Russia probe is a wonderful example of how this works. Though the Russians did meddle, as all governments do in each other’s elections having learned it from the CIA in the first place, there is little evidence that it made the slightest bit of difference to the outcome. Far more likely is that Facebook, an American company that trades in snooping on and stealing their members’ cyberlife and then selling that data to companies like Cambridge Analytica, made a much bigger impact. In other words, it’s homegrown iniquity that put Trump into the White House. Also, the fact that HRC is simply tainted by a long history of hawkish wrongs and an inability to be authentic. And the fact that the middle class is losing its grip and sliding into the lower classes while oligarchs party. Trump isn’t even one of them. By oligarch standards, he is small fry. That must really hurt.
- To sum up, nobody should be surprised if Trump does something really stupid, like bomb the hell out of Iran, just to prove that he is now the undisputed boss of all of us. He is getting plenty of support from his new security advisor, the Walrus, aka John Bolton, the most irrational hater of Iran in the western hemisphere. God help us. Because at the moment, we’re not helping ourselves. Trump could be here for a long time, long enough to firmly entrench American Fascism. It will take exceptional vision and leadership to prevent this from happening.
I will leave you with this quote from H L Mencken, not noted for being an optimist on anything: ‘It doesn’t take a majority to make a rebellion; it takes only a few determined leaders and a sound cause.’
The trouble is, I can’t find that person, or those groups, though the cause is, quite simply, freedom in our time. I am looking. Where are they, the people who will stand up to the Trumpists and not scurry home to the safety of their families? And please do not point at the Dismal Dems. They and the Republicans are simply two wings of the same predatory bird, the American eagle.
It has become the American Fascist Eagle, and it is soaring on the winds of pure American hatred.