fascist shift: donald trump in context

Many years back, I used to blog about a phenomenon called fascist shift. I borrowed the term from Naomi Wolf's essential The End of America, but the concept was something I had been thinking about for many years. In brief, fascist shift asks, What if we're all looking for jackboots and Sieg Heil and tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, and while we're keeping our eyes peeled for a scene from a black-and-white newsreel, a different brand of fascism moves in and sets up shop? What if today's fascism is more insidious and less obvious - and what if it's dressed up in a democracy costume? What if while you're saying That can happen here and But they wouldn't do that, it already has, and they did.

When you scroll through Wolf's ten indicators of fascism, are there any not seen in the US? And have any of them been repaired or reversed under Obama? Not a one.

Now, though, Donald Trump's presidential bid and the many millions of Americans who support him bring America's fascist shift into better focus.

* * * *

It's difficult to analyze Trump on this level, because most people only want to talk about who will become the next US President. Whereas I think (a) it's incredibly obvious who will become the next POTUS, (b) it doesn't really matter, and (c) any pretense of democracy in the US is a complete sham. In this post from 2012 (which is a good read, by the way), I wrote:
As always, I am completely blocking out all US electoral politics. I don't know anything about the campaigns, because I already know everything about them, without knowing a single detail. If you've followed one US election campaign since 1980, you've followed them all. They only change by a matter of degree: they get worse and worse.
Nothing has changed in the intervening years. Including all the voters who seem not to understand what is happening.

I cannot understand - I mean, for the life of me, I cannot understand - how anyone of voting age could possibly think Bernie Sanders is going to win the Democratic nomination. It is not even remotely possible. (For more on that, see my post "bernie sanders, the pope, and the politics of amnesia".)

Bernie Sanders running as a Democrat is ultimately a betrayal of everything Sanders says he stands for. And if he ran as an independent and tried to build a movement, he'd be vilified by the people who now praise him, and everyone who dared vote for him would be accused of electing the Republican. Such is the tragedy of the American left.

And despite Trump's performance in the primaries, I still believe, as I have all along, that the Republican National Party will not give the nomination to Donald Trump. I don't think the corporate oligarchs that control the duopoly parties want a clown as their figurehead. I don't know (or care) how they'll manage it, but my lack of imagination will not impede them.

It looks like the RNC has decided to sit this one out, as each party does from time to time. They can run a weak candidate, and simply let Hillary Clinton win. And why not? A Hillary Clinton presidency will be every bit as Republican as the Republicans. It's a win-win for the corporate masters.

* * * *

But this doesn't mean I don't recognize the significance of Trump's campaign. Trump - not the man, but the performance, and the audience's reaction to it - is a milestone of sorts. Trump is American fascism unmasked.

In a discussion on Facebook, a friend wondered when was the last time a presidential candidate from a major party spoke about hatred and bigotry in such bald, uncoded terms. The most recent example we could think of was George Wallace. (Todd Gitlin had a similar thought.) That's going back a ways.

I may have forgotten some gems from Michele Bachmann's campaign, but Bachmann never commanded the attention that Trump now enjoys, garnering a full 23 times the media attention given to Sanders. The US and Canadian media are enthralled. What will he say next? How far will this go? His entire campaign is one long vamp for the camera.

* * * *

The mainstream Canadian media (and Canadians who look to those sources) seem to take the US at face value. The skepticism and caution applied to Canadian politics ends at the (Democrat) White House door. Trump's open racism and bigotry shocks them, because Obama! They seem not to recognize that all the hatred of Obama and the worship of Trump are fueled by pure, undiluted racism. Much of the white working class - with no decent jobs, no bright future for their children, and no rescue in sight - cannot abide that a black man represents their country, and sits in a position of authority over them. The subtitle of this Barbara Ehrenreich piece says it all: "Downward mobility plus racial resentment is a potent combination with disastrous consequences."

Progressive USians know that both institutional and personal racism have never gone away. But, as someone said in that same Facebook conversation, for the last 40 years or so, most politicians have trained themselves to speak in code or to keep their mouths shut. But all the while, O'Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh, Beck (and so on) have been stoking that hatred, keeping their audiences primed and ready. Now Trump comes along to cash in.

For me the surprise is not that so many Americans rally around hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and violence. The surprise is that so many people are surprised! How did you all not know this about the US? A country founded on the genocide of its original inhabitants, built by slavery, justified by conquest, and made rich and powerful by imperialism. The United States, where property rights and the rights of the ruling class are sacrosanct above all, including human life.

For all its fears of communism (then) and terrorism (now), the US has only ever been in danger of takeover from fascism.


James Redekop said...

This image comes to mind...

Amy said...

I don't love Hillary, but I think that to equate her with people like Cruz or Rubio or Kasich (and certainly Trump) is not fair. She may not be progressive on many issues, in particular on foreign policy and corporate regulation, but she is pro-choice and has more progressive views on immigration, same sex marriage, and health care than any of the Republicans. Today's Republican party is not the party of even Reagan, Nixon, Bush I. It's a completely regressive, sexist, racist, homophobic tool of the Christian right wing. Again, I don't love HRC, but a vote for her is far better than not voting. She will appoint far better people to SCOTUS.

As for Bernie, I agree with you. He won't get the nomination, and even if he did, he won't get elected. And even if he did, he would never get anything he proposes through Congress. Revolution is a great dream, but it ain't going to happen in the US as it is currently situated. Not only because of the way the government is controlled by the 1%, but also because there are too many US voters who are just as ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., as people like Trump and Cruz.

laura k said...

I don't equate HRC with those people. But she would make a good Republican.

laura k said...

James: yes.

Amy said...

Well, if you definite Republican as further left than it currently is, yes. I am sure she and Nixon, Reagan, and certainly Eisenhower would agree on many issues. But I no longer define Republican as it was even 20 years ago. I'd call HRC a centrist, and sadly that's where the Dems are because that is now the "left" for the US. Those of us who are to the left of that are in a real minority with no real voice. Which is why Bernie has inspired such a following, but a following that will go nowhere.

laura k said...

Revolution is a dream, but Bernie Sanders is not a revolutionary. I am so offended by his (and the progressive media's) use of the word revolution in this context.

Sanders is running as a Democrat. He has voted with the party 98% of the time. He does offer a vision of a more progressive US, but he is doing nothing to achieve that vision. In fact, he has chosen a route that ensures that even the tiniest, feeblest steps to begin that vision will be shut down.

laura k said...

Well, she'd be a moderate Republican. I'm assuming there are some of those still in Congress and the Senate. They can't all be Rubios and Cruzes. If that's not the case, then yes, she's part of the Republican party of a different era. Still pretty loathesome in my book.

Amy said...

I agree completely about Bernie. I think he'd be a terrible President and do more harm than good by creating high expectations that will never come to fruition. I am curious as to what you mean by your last sentence. Can you elaborate? I'd like to make that point to some of the Bernie fanatics I know who believe he is going to be the savior.

Amy said...

If there are Republicans who aren't like that, they have been silenced for the most part. Look what they are doing with the SCOTUS appointment. I am so disgusted with what is happening here, more so than ever.

laura k said...

Amy, I'm happy to elaborate. In doing so, I'd like to leave aside the debate about whether it is better to "hold your nose and vote Democrat," as my father always said, or to vote for a different, more left-leaning party.

If there is to be real progressive change in the US, it will not come through the Democratic party. The Democratic party, IMO, is a huge part of the problem. They are bought and paid for by corporate interests, they support and expand the bloated military and its obscene private contracts, they have not challenged or rolled back the mass surveillence state, and so on.

The Democratic party always has a Bernie Sanders. Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Jessie Jackson, every election there is a left-leaning Democrat who courts the progressive vote and then is absorbed into the party, becoming irrelevant.

In my opinion if Bernie Sanders was a revolutionary, he would be working to build a movement. Not a party - a movement. He would be seeking to tap into Occupy, Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, OUR Walmart, etc etc, to help those groups work together for the common cause.

By aligning himself with the Democrats, Sanders has ensured that everything will continue as usual. We will not suddenly have a Jewish, former socialist from Vermont as a president. Does anybody remember where Howard Dean is today? Soon no one will remember where Bernie Sanders is, either.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that too many voters are looking for a saviour from above. They lack the confidence and understanding about organizing from below. IMO their belief that voting is the mechanism of change is a trap. Their vote only feeds the monster.

laura k said...

About the Republicans, that is very sad, similar to what we had with the Conservatives in Canada until recently. There were more moderate voices in the party, but they were silenced.

laura k said...

This is the sentence you meant, right?

In fact, he has chosen a route that ensures that even the tiniest, feeblest steps to begin that vision will be shut down.

Allan thought it might be something else.

Amy said...

Yes, that was the sentence, and thank you for your response. I understand now what you meant, and I think you are right about what it will take to effect any real fundamental changes. But even if all those groups mobilized and made a lot of noise, I sadly think that there will never be enough power to outweigh the money and the power of those who disagree. And the mindless sheep who follow them, somehow believing in trickle down economics and fearing anything that threatens their sick ideas of right and wrong, will probably outnumber those who are out there fighting for real change. This is an ignorant, anti-intellectual country, by and large. Those are the people clamoring for Trump, and they are the ones who those with money and power know how to corral to their side.

Do I sound fed up? Yes, I am fed up. But am I out mobilizing for revolution? No. I am too cynical about anything ever changing in any radical way. Instead I argue for and vote for those who may at most inch forward in baby steps (e.g., Obamacare, same sex marriage, Roe v Wade) and at a minimum will try and stop the slippage backwards into the dark ages.

laura k said...

Believing in the possibility of revolution in our current world is very difficult, perhaps impossible. I want to work for it without needing to believe. Work for it because it's what I want.

But as you know, I completely understand how fed up you are. That's why I'm in Canada.

Amy said...

I get that. I just can't get there myself, being too much of a pragmatist to work for the impossible.

And yes, I do understand why you went to Canada, even though it's hardly nirvana there either. But this is where I live and where my family and friends live. Much as I am dismayed and disgusted by what is happening here, this is still my home, and yes, I still love it here. Not because it is the GNOTFOTE or because I believe the American dream is a reality for most who live here. Just because it is home. Knowing more and more about why my ancestors came here and how they survived because they did has made me appreciate that ever more so. I guess I am a romantic pragmatist. :)

laura k said...

I was not suggesting you (or anyone else) move to Canada. (I know you know that.) I was compelled to move. I just couldn't stand it anymore.

Amy said...

I know that (and I knew you were not suggesting that I move). Sometimes I feel the same way you do, but I know in the end, this is where I will stay. Well, unless Trump becomes President. Or Cruz. Maybe then I will give some thought to emigrating. But at my age and with our dependence on Harvey's earnings, it probably would be impossible anyway.

Dharma Seeker said...

The whole thing is so perplexing and the US system really confuses me. What are delegates? How does that work? What is a super delegate (if that is even the right term)? Maybe, with the mask finally coming off people will start demanding change. I don't know how anyone stomachs it. In some ways I think the devil you know is preferable to the devil you don't, but my dog how gross. I was actually pretty neutral on HRC until a few weeks ago. Have to say I'm not a fan.

James Redekop said...

YouTube videographer CGP Grey has a good video that answers all those questions: Primary Elections Explained

Also worthwhile: How the Electoral College Works and The Trouble with the Electoral College.

laura k said...

In the primaries (i.e. choosing who will get the party nomination and run for POTUS), voters are voting for delgates. Those delegates go to the party convention "pledged", meaning they must vote for the nominee that the voters have chosen.

Superdelegates, via Wikipedia: In American politics, a "superdelegate" is a delegate to the Democratic National Convention who is seated automatically and chooses for whom they want to vote. These Democratic Party superdelegates include distinguished party leaders, and elected officials, including all Democratic members of the House and Senate and sitting Democratic governors. Other superdelegates are chosen during the primary season. Democratic superdelegates are free to support any candidate for the nomination. This contrasts with convention "pledged" delegates that are selected based on the party primaries and caucuses in each U.S. state, in which voters choose among candidates for the party's presidential nomination. Because they are free to support anyone they want, superdelegates could potentially swing the results to nominate a presidential candidate who did not receive the majority of votes during the primaries.

In other words, the Democratic National Party can ensure that they run the candidate of their choice, regardless of who the voters choose.

In other words, this is another way that the system is rigged.

James Redekop said...

The superdelegates can't guarantee that the Party gets who they want: if the delegate allocation is too skewed one way, the superdelegates would not be able to overcome that. But it does give the party extra control over the final decision -- that's why they're there in the first place. The same applies to the Republicans.

The allocation of delegates is also wonky. As with electors for the Electoral College (which is another mechanism designed to allow overriding the popular vote), most states allocate delegates on a winner-take-all basis, which means that you can win 100-delegate a state by 1% and get 100 delegates. A few states use proportional allocation.

Still, the primary & caucus system is more open than its predecessor. Up until the mid-20th century, the parties generally chose their candidates in private, usually with a bunch of wheeling and dealing, in the proverbial "smoke-filled room".

When Pogo Possum from the "Pogo" comic strip was railroaded by his pals into running for President (complete with "I Go Pogo" buttons) in the 50s, the "party" (that is, the various busy-bodies in OkefenokeeSwamp) figured they had to have their own smoke-filled room, which they cobbled together from an outhouse with a wood-burning stove attached. Which was a great visual metaphor for the process.

Man, the fun Walt Kelly would have had with Trump...

johngoldfine said...

As almost always, when you get into politics, Laura, my head and heart diverge. My head agrees with all you say. But buried in the inmost innards of my heart is a sullen, vitriolic, churlish troll, fingers pressed deep into his pointed dirty ears--and he refuses to listen to reason or anything else, other than his own junior-high-civics litany.