Trump Is a Distinctly American Style of Fascist
Bill Berkowitz and Gale Bataille / Buzzflash
(December 1, 2020) — An America First promoter elected president? Armed neo-Nazis marching in the streets of US cities? A defeated incumbent president refusing to concede? Once unthinkable? Now, not so much! As Donald Trump and his sycophants are in the final throes of challenging Joe Biden’s presidential victory with conspiracy theories galore, it is clear that the well of right-wing paranoia and conspiracy theories — which run deep in this country — will not be running dry anytime soon.
Some of America’s celebrated novelists have dealt with the scourge of American fascism. In Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America, Charles Lindbergh, an American hero and a darling of the America First movement, defeats Franklin Roosevelt for the presidency. Cozying up to the Hitler regime, Lindbergh launches a plan to deal with the Jewish question; disperse Jews throughout the countryside so that eventually they will be absorbed by Christian America.
In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel, posits a different end to World War II, one in which Germany and Japan are victorious and they now occupy the former United States.
Roth and Dick’s “what if” novels are not just dystopian fantasies. During the 1930s Nazis were actually plotting to take over Los Angeles. In his book, Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood And America, author Steven J. Ross, writes about Jewish spymaster-attorney Leon Lewis, who recruited a band of courageous anti-fascists to infiltrate that movement and help foil a Nazi plot to take over America. (For more on Nazi attempted infiltration of Southern California, see “In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945”
Not Your Grandfather’s Fascism: The Rise of the Populist Right
“We will undermine the morals of the people in America… Once there is confusion and after we have succeeded in undermining the faith of the American people in their own government, a new group will take over; this will be the German-American group and we will help them assume power.” — Adolf Hitler, 1933
“One of the challenges in trying to understand fascism is that it touches on so many different aspects of human experience, from the brutality of mass imprisonment and killing to the pageantry of a political rally; from the calculations of geopolitics to the intimacies of family life,” Matthew N. Lyons writes in his review of Spectres of Fascism: Historical, Theoretical and International Perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 2020), a book edited by Samir Gandesha, a scholar of Frankfurt School critical theory, “a dynamic school of radical thought that coalesced in the 1930s.”
In his review for Political Research Associates, Lyons notes that “In the introduction, Gandesha argues that today’s authoritarian populist Right represents not a simple return to fascism as it emerged in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, but a reworking of fascist elements in new forms and under new conditions. For example, while classical fascism attacked liberal democracy head on, contemporary fascism erodes or suffocates it gradually from within.”
Steve Bannon advocated this attack from within through the “deconstruction of the administrative state” during his brief stint as Trump’s top political advisor during the early days of Trump’s presidency. Over the past 4 years, we have witnessed an unprecedented attack on the “administrative state” through the appointment of unqualified department leaders that have proceeded to take apart the civil service apparatus, leaving vacancies and undermining morale in federal agencies such as the State Department, the Department of Justice, and Health and Human Services (including notable attacks on the CDC during the Covid-19 pandemic) and forced transfers of D.C. based Department of Agriculture research scientists to Kansas.
And so the question of the day: why did 73 million people vote for Trump?
ignoring a track-record of lies and corruption and then forgiving his utter incompetence in addressing a global pandemic? How could so many Americans only ignore Trump’s failings, but idolize the man?
For all of his indifference to presidential norms and the duties of the presidency, Trump has been a brilliant communicator using the media to create a cult of personality. While Democrats campaigned online, adoring masses of Trump supporters attended mask-less rallies cheering their mask-less leader.
One of the t-shirts on display during #millionMAGAmarch in Washington D.C. a few weeks back was “Pinochet did nothing wrong.” Nowhere near a million, but tens of thousands did trek to the Capital to protest the “stolen election.” The author, Rebecca Solnit pointed out that Pinochet did nothing wrong “Except stage a coup, torture and disappear tens of thousands of Chileans, and violate laws and rights.” The right-wing military, Pinochet-led coup was staged on September 11, 1973. Bringing the messaging up-to-date, some marchers at the D.C. rally carried signs proclaiming “Kyle Rittenhouse (the Kenosha Wisconsin shooter), that shot three people and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26) did nothing wrong.”
There has been a rise in hate crimes since Trump’s 2016 election. A militia-organized conspiracy to overthrow the Michigan government and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the disruption by conservatives of Black Lives Matters rallies and marches across the country. Rebecca Solnit noted that “the El Paso anti-immigrant massacre was only a year ago; the [Tree of Life] Pittsburgh synagogue massacre [which killed eleven people] two years ago, the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally in which Heather Heyer was killed three years ago (and of course there have been innumerable smaller incidents all along).”
The D.C. pro-Trump Stop the Steal rally was supposed to be national coming out day for the Proud Boys, a far-right and neo-fascist male-only organization that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States and Canada. Observing the rally, a young activist named Emily told reporter Timothy Denevi “They’re talking about usurping power. Through violence. They are violent. The cops just stand by. They’ll let it happen. Not enough of us are taking it seriously. We’re underestimating these people. What happens when it’s too late?”
So what is next? Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20th but his presidency will not only be marked by unrelenting opposition from elected Republican officials, it will also be the target of increased right wing organizing, actions and protests. Trump will do everything within his considerable power to be a disrupter and kingmaker. Social media will continue to be weaponized. There will likely be more murder, kidnapping and assassination plots.
America First’s Charles Lindbergh never ran for the presidency. Jews were not forcibly dispersed to non-Jewish communities across the country. The Germans and Japanese did not win World War II. Nevertheless, as we enter the 2020s, white supremacist and neo-fascist movements are on the rise in America and across the globe. In too many ways, hope for bipartisan progress seem oh so naïve and 20th Century. Reconciliation must be conjoined with “realpolitik,” and political hard-ball to make positive change in people’s lives if Biden’s term is to be more than a temporary place-holder as America slides ever rightward.
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