“Beyond these simple professions of envy or admiration, the conservative actually copies and learns from the revolution he opposes. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit that system exerts. This is one of the most interesting and least understood aspects of conservative ideology. While conservatives are hostile to the goals of the left, particularly the empowerment of society’s lower castes and classes, they often are the left’s best students. Sometimes, their studies are self-conscious and strategic, as they look to the left for ways to bend new vernaculars, or new media, to their suddenly delegitimated aims. Fearful that the philosophies had taken control of popular opinion in France, reactionary theologians in the middle of the eighteenth century looked at the example of their enemies.” – – Corey Robin on reactionaries being the ‘left’s best students’, The Reactionary Mind. (Pp.49-50)
The American far-right has undoubtedly entered into a new phase of development as we enter the exhausting two year grind of the “road to the presidential election”. The far-right, although splintering amongst itself, has begun to cohere itself out of the realm of strictly atomized political action to much more coherent and populist oriented strategies. These terrifying gains, whether amongst the confederate flag rallies (173 since the Charleston Massacre) with the Klan fully present on the rise or Donald Trump’s surging polls having now the backing of formal white supremacist groups, the phrase “when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” begins to ring much louder amongst those who have been targeted by the vitriol and normalization of this extreme racism. Although this racist GOP base has been essential to the Republican party’s success, “established” Republican Party members are reaping what they have sown in the past with virulent anti-intellectualism and racism of the most absurd variety entering the fray with a reality show and a toupee in hand threatening their party machine’s stability. The right-wing conservatives of the Republican Party are now paying the cost of the pact they had made to foment the astro-turf movement of the Tea-Party with now a legitimate internal threat (rather then electoral tool) of Trump’s political base. How did we get to the point where people now are forced to take a reality television celebrity seriously as a political contender in the presidential race?
To put Trump in context, we first have to put the political landscape in perspective to understand how this contender has been able to strike a hold on the American electorate. Although it has become something of a cliché to point this out, the United States is much further to the right politically than the public would like to admit.
The political environment in the public conversation has relied upon the gains and victory of neoliberalism as a ruling class strategy. Donny Gluckstein, in his book Nazis, The Working Class, and Capitalism, he makes a compelling argument that although fascism is often viewed as a historical anomaly, it’s ingredients are found in from a class perspective (the middle class or ‘petty bourgeois’ view) fascism bases itself in intertwined with the historical compulsions in capitalism itself. Gluckstein aptly puts it that, “the threat of fascism will remain as long as capitalist society remains,” and that in fact, that “therefore, the only way to abolish it forever is to overthrow capitalism itself. The choice is socialism or barbarism!” This perspective strikes a deep chord in those quite aware of the ‘barbarism’ and violence that neoliberalism presently is, showing that if we want to win against this power imbalance, envisioning an alternative is the political necessity to get to socialism. However, in the current historical conditions, we have seen neoliberalism accentuate capitalisms violent aspects, having present the key tenants of fascist lightning rods becoming much more apparent within the United States specifically. These lightening rods accentuated by neoliberalism, are exemplified in these motifs (in order of Umberto Eco’s ‘Ur-Fasism’ or ‘Eternal Fascism’ essay) :
- familial “values”,
- a rejection of modernism,
- an urge towards extra-judicial killings,
- authority worship,
- disgust towards “diversity”,
- victimization (from an external force such as cultural Marxism, New World Order, conspiratorial Jews/Muslims/Illuminati, etc.),
- the wealth of the past,
- permanent war,
- hero worship,
- selective populism,
- privatization of the markets,
- and ultimately, open counter-revolution and hostility against the organized working class and left-wing parties.
These lightning rods, although apparent in most capitalist societies, have begun to accentuate themselves in the ‘Western world’ amidst prolonged capitalist crisis. This prolonged crisis has opened the path for a dualistic moment in the United States, where the left is beginning to make gains, but the right wing has begun to make leaps and bounds within mainstream society amongst the decay of neoliberalism. The fact of the matter is, the political culture is adapting to the left’s leaps and gains in the past four years internationally and has come in conflict with the internalized political base line (and common sense in the U.S. political themes) that has pummeled the left for past forty-years; the successful legacy of neoliberalism’s class offensive by a highly class conscious ruling-elite. This base line that has guided the U.S. ruling class, an ideology of capitalist society from present day Sweden to Nazi Germany, is the idea that ‘a free market’ ensures freedom and maximum human potential. ‘The end of history‘. ‘There is no alternative (TINA) to this‘. ‘There is no society; but the individual‘. This socio-economic system, besides it’s flaws, should be accepted, and not only that, but be viewed through and through as the best we got. This position in capitalism seriously affects this ‘middle class’ view, is the capitalist and ‘middle-class’ (read in orthodox Marxist terms as the petty-bourgeois) view and anxiety of being a ‘winner’. Feeling as though they matter as much as the capitalists, what the capitalists and ruling class has, a feeling that they matter and can genuinely change the course of history through their tyranny. The industrialists of Hitler’s time as well had a similar viewpoint. Businessman and ruling elite in Weimar Germany, Fritz Thyssen (whom would become an avid Hitler supporter) described that:
An industrialist is always inclined to consider politics a kind of second string to his bow – the preparation for his own particular activity. In a well ordered country, where the administration is sound, where taxes are reasonable, and the police well organized, he can afford to abstain from politics and devote himself entirely to his business.” (Gluckstein, 6-7)
This description, more than anything else, shows the viewpoint that the industrialist cares not of the political content of the message, but the delivery of profit into his pocket. This being said, industrialists can support even fascism, as long as it maximizes their profit margins.
This has been the mantra of neoliberal capitalism though; privatization of the market by any means necessary. The idea that is actually quite old within capitalism, initiating the imperialist drive to expand from 1492 to now, can be summed up in the description of the time period of classical imperialism in the early 20th century. This description is very close to the description of
“Manchester liberalism, which expressed the free competition of independent entrepreneurs, became an ideological anachronism in the age of high imperialist cartelisation, concentration, and monopolization … The rise of the working class organizations eventually meant that … an increasing proportion of the industrial employers and the trading middle class regarded parliamentary government as a threat to their interests.” (Gluckstein, 10-11)
‘Manchester liberalism’ (or the ruling class viewpoint) is very akin to today’s baseline assumptions of very far-right economic viewpoints: that unions destroy competition, that supply and demand rule the economy, and that government interference is what is at fault for economic turmoil for what is a natural part of capitalism; crisis.
Trumpism: Proto-fascism from the Past
There has been plenty of articles and thought pieces surrounding the question of whether or not Trump is in fact a classical fascist of especially the Nazi variety. These articles attempting to digest the growing right-wing populist rhetoric by Trump’s “volk” myths of trying to “make America great again” do tap into something that is vaguely suspicious with the tactics that Trump is using to scapegoat everyone from immigrants to Muslims. The thing that horrifies predominately liberal commentators on these rants and massive rallies being given serious credence by the mainstream media is that it is nothing different in the narrative of the post 9/11 world. These are all views, although impolite to put blatantly, have long been embedded in the U.S. political culture. What intrigues people I believe about Trump, is not the content, but predominately the delivery. Trump has been delivering these speeches and activities with a candor that harkens back to the days of classical authoritarian aristocratic viewpoints. It comes to no surprise to people that Trump’s ex-wife (as well Trump when questioned) had admitted in a Vanity Fair interview in 1975 that “that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed.” When asked about his copy of My New Order, he responded with hesitation with, “Who told you that?”.
Now Trump may have been genuinely curious about Hitler’s perspective about the world in a historical sense. Who knows what academic interests that the man has. However; it does not bode well that he is as well connected by his family t0 traditional authoritarianism, with the father whom he inherited his mass wealth from being a Klansman whom was arrested at a blackshirt rally fighting a cop.
The 1927 article from the NY Times suggests Donald Trump’s father was a member of the KKK, arrested for fighting police.’ Article excerpt:
“Warren Criticizes ‘Class’ Parades”
“He made this known in the disorders incident to the Memorial parade when two Fascisti were killed on their way to join a detachment of black shirts to join a detachment of black shirts in the Manhattan parade, and 1,000 Klansmen and 100 policemen staged a free-for-all battle in Jamaica.” …
“Fred Trump of 175-24 Devonshire Road, Jamaica, was discharged.”
This was not Fred Trump’s first time clashing with the law surrounding support for racist policies. Aside from physically standing up for fascists, Fred Trump as well in 1973 carried out a policy to ensure his units would not be rented to blacks. As well, both him and his son apparently had a stake with dragging the reputations of the innocent Central Park 5 through the media. This pattern of classical racist viewpoints and emphasis on a hierarchical order should raise an eyebrow for the casual observer of what is Trump’s actual viewpoint and political endgame. This appears to be peculiar that a son of a wealthy real estate mogul such as Donald Trump deciding to throw political weight into the presidential election. Yet, it as well comes off as an option a section of ruling elites may be considering in the prolonged crisis we have seen neoliberal capitalism in with it’s prolonged global slump. As Leon Trotsky stated of the ruling class in Germany, can be applied to ruling elites internationally faced with fracturing internal national life;
“The bourgeoisie does not like the ‘plebeian’ means of solving its problems … for the shocks and disturbances, although in the interests of the bourgeois society, involve dangers for it as well. This is the source of the antagonism between fascism and the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie … The big bourgeoisie dislikes this method, much as a man with a swollen jaw dislikes having his teeth pulled.” (Gluckstein, 38)
The Danger of Trumpism
The danger in Trump’s ascendency in the electoral field is not in strictly his success (which is still in question with receiving the republican nomination) but the environment he fosters for white supremacist opinions being taken seriously with much more militancy. Trump has hooked the American white middle class with a mix of race baiting and the promise of the “good old days” of the 50’s hierarchical simplicity of the white man on top being at the top of the agenda. This view is not new amongst the far right. In fact Trotsky pointed out the Nazi’s interestingly before seizing power relied on a very similar hook. This hook, as he describes, is that:
“Recollections of the ‘happy’ days of free competition, and hazy evocations of the stability of class society … an envious hostility to inequality in the person of a proprietor in a car, and animal fear of equality in the person of a worker in a cap and without a collar.”
This is chillingly familiar to today’s mantra of the political class of the United States, observing the decline in economic and geopolitical life compared to the unadulterated hegemonic success of the Bretton Woods system, is quite similar to the urge that middle class Germans had during the Weimar period in the face of WWI’s loss and the failed revolutions of 1918-1923 by the German far-left. The class instability at the time, intertwined with social instability, as well could begin to describe the United States, but not be identical. The United States is not Germany 1933. The militant left in the U.S. has not been widely confrontation with the state since the early 1970’s. Yet, with the elongated crisis of the wars in the middle east, the open recruitment of white supremacists, and the racial divisions in the U.S. coming back to the forefront, their is an entirely dangerous mix present within the political landscape of the United States.
The danger present is not that if Trump get’s elected. The danger is the results that his base will create, where much of his base is formed of genuine white supremacists groups and para-military’s that have been far more active than the left would like to admit. As well white supremacy of the United States intertwined into the system of governance, much like in Nazi Germany where political assassinations of leftists by brownshirts, the right wing terrorist actions of the U.S. are turned a blind eye to, where even open white supremacists are active within the U.S. police force and judicial system. This perfect storm cannot sustain it’s ebb for long, and with the spark of white supremacist actions being lit for quite sometime in the U.S., it is frightening that the upper echelons of state managers and corporate tycoons are viewing the U.S. and other ‘western countries’ as a ‘white empire’.
This normalized viewpoint of racist solidarity is at the core of the American settler-colonial project and has not been wished away. With Trumpism kicking up the ‘human dust’ interested in the reactionary norm of police killing innocent civilians, racist segregation, and demonization of the oppressed. As long as this spark continues to present the risk of being set aflame, the left must become much more focused on fighting white supremacy wherever it rears its ugly head for the advancement of the working class achieving human emancipation from this nightmare of a socio-economic system of capitalism. As this proto-fascism continues to foment and reconstruct itself, the left must begin to discuss openly combatting these organizations that have slowly begun to gain much more confidence with recognizing they are the bulwark against the oppressed.