Wednesday 9 December 2015

Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

After making idiot comments about barring Muslims entry into the US, there will be a few people pondering this question. Is Trump a populist prepared to say anything to get a reaction, an uber Katie Hopkins with millions of followers and billions in the bank, or something altogether more sinister?

I pretty much loathe formal definitions, but they'll do as a gateway drug into concepts that try and capture real movement and, dare I say it, momentum. Formally speaking then, if Trump was a fascist, he'd be calling for deportation, forgetting most American Muslims were born under the Stars and Stripes. Then again, reasoned opinion has never been the hallmark of fascist politics. The second formality concerns the character of historical fascism. In Italy, in Germany, in every country that excreted a sizeable movement, fascist parties ran their own militias and used them to attack rival parties - particularly communists and social democrats. And when they had state power at their disposal, well ... the world remains scarred by their horrifying crimes. Whatever you think of Trump's base, of which more shortly, as a rule they're not besieging trade union meetings or turning over tables at local Democrat committees.

What do actual, real, unambiguous fascists say about Trump's campaign? William Daniel Johnson of the American Freedom Party is very supportive. "What he espouses is the closest thing to (white) nationalism that we have seen since the Jingoistic era of Theodore Roosevelt ... Virtually all pro-white nationalists are at least somewhat supportive of Donald Trump and most are even enthusiastic ...". And how about "Heil Donald Trump, the ultimate saviour" says another. A case of by their friends shall ye know them?

One out of three obviously means Trump is no fascist. This, however, is where matters start getting complex. The Trump phenomenon is a movement, a lightning rod for an array of social forces embedded deep inside American society. His nomination bid has galvanised a layer of the population into passive support for his candidacy, so far. The question is where it's all going. At the moment, Trump looks set to grab the Republican nomination, unless the party bigwigs can cut him out - thereby likely splitting the right wing vote in the coming election and risking coming third behind Trump and the Democrat. Or Trump himself decides to throw the towel in, though with a runaway lead he'd be a fool to. Then again, this is a candidate not known for his close relationship with rational thought.

Like other similar movements across the Western world - UKIP here, the Front National over the channel, assorted racist populists further east and like classical fascism Trump pulls support from declassed layers - it's deeply rooted in significant structural transformations industrialised countries have undergone these last 30-odd years. And, as always, America is something of a special case. Lyndon B Johnson's prediction that the Democrats had lost the South for a generation because of its support for civil rights was met with the GOP's more or less successful southern strategy. The southern white American rural proletarian has always led a precarious existence, being dependent on the weather and fickle agricultural markets for prosperity, an existence punctuated by turns at wage earning, turns at running a small business. But never mind how insecure and anxious the existence, there were always black folks one could look down upon. Well, no, it's more complex than that. With the south's defeat in the civil war and the emancipation proclamation, white rural workers' continued animosity was conditioned by Jim Crow laws and officially sanctioned racism, but its sustenance was drawn from the competition with black workers for employment, the low wages employers were paying, and - from a petit bourgeois perspective - the competition for land and markets. And, of course, the institutions of the south did nothing to encourage the view that black workers were compatriots one should combine with, not competitors to be reviled. African-Americans were familiar yet exotic, known but unknown, a part of everyday life and an existential threat.

Racism may not have the sway it once possessed, but it stubbornly clings on across the states because the sort of precarity that underpinned mass support for racism and racist movements in the south is nationwide. Gone there, as here, are the jobs-for-life and the security of knowing one's place in the world. Yet, again drawing deep on American political traditions, "them" - of which Trump is, ironically, a crystallisation - are doing nicely thank you very much while "us"/"we" are losing our jobs to immigrants (Mexicans). Worse, "they" are pushing policies that encourage immigration, and are allowing the principles that once made America great to fall into disuse or, worse, get trampled on by a mixed race horde of gays, Muslims, loose women, and liberals. These are the scapegoats because it makes sense to pin one's situation on perceived bad guys. They're tangible. Large, abstract, impersonal, and invisible melanges of class interests and capital flows are not. UKIP does this. Le Pen does it. Someone else did it too.

The question is what is Trump going to do with the constituency he's tapped into? The answer, for the moment, is not a lot. He can count on the Tea Party for assistance. He might even be able to bring in the backwoods militia people with his second amendment fundamentalism. But there is no political programme as such beyond ban immigration and Muslims, no reason why disaffected people should get involved. His organisation is less an army of volunteers and more a bankrolled outfit. A small number of his support will make it to his rallies, where they let off steam via his moronic monologues and saying the unsayable. And that's what they're content to do. Like someone sending abusive tweets to MPs, a simulacra of defiance and naysaying will do. Trump's movement may contain the political dregs of American society, it might be attractive to fascists, but that doesn't make it fascist. It's still well within the traditions of (racist) American populism.

And, of course, one of the beauties of this is it should demonstrate once and for all that while its possible to mobilise a selectorate - in this case registered Republicans - behind a populist candidate, it's impossible to win on the basis of a core vote strategy. And while one is tempted to trough on the popcorn as American conservatism eats itself, Trump remains a very dangerous politician. He is the culmination of the unhinged right-wingery of a section of US capital and conservatism, one so politically and ideologically bankrupt that any old rope will do as it desperately scrambles to preserve its power and influence in the face of change. But as Trump peddles his idiocy, how many gun nuts are going to be inspired by his rhetoric? How many racists will find encouragement to firebomb a mosque or attack Muslims because Trump's effectively green lighting it? Thank goodness he'll never get within sniffing distance of the presidency, because if he did end up in the White House then it will be necessary to return to this question.


jim mclean said...

Crazy thing to add I know but looking at the drought maps of the USA I can see a major population movement on the horizon. The Western seaboard and Rocky mountain states. We are aware how the situation in the Sahara and Sub Sahara has created a mass migration, others point to a 2001 crop failure being an ignition spark in Syria and I cannot see California lasting long and Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona are all under threat. Denver should be left by now, do not know how it is hanging on. Immigration, Islamophobia, crime,all being used to divert the public's ey fro what is happening.
“Whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’ over.” — Mark Twain

Speedy said...

Given the size of the US, the recent husband and wife attack demonstrates a general exception to the rule - Muslims appear to be better integrated in the US than, say, Europe.

The US is a destination of choice, US identity is its own ideology, one that can accommodate the full range of ethnic and religious identities.

As much as I may disagree with the details (and ever more so as the class system and corporatism solidifies social strata), I have always thought - where there is hope (for we poor, huddled masses), there is America.

This is why Trump is in error - with its apparent (if not actual) principals of freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness, and careful separation of the state and religion, America represents our best hope for a modern multicultural society: a genuine nation of immigrants (notwithstanding the natives they usurped), many of whom, like the Puritans, were fleeing persecution for their own unpalatable beliefs but deliberately created the framework for a society that would accommodate all.

Only communists are forbidden - and Muslims are not communists.

The problem with Islam in Europe is that the old countries are essentially still formulated as tribal societies, so you are either in or out. Of course, this is changing, but it does not exactly encourage a shared sense of identity, so immigrant communities have less motivation to feel as if they are participating equally, although it has to be said that this does not really apply outside Islam, which is why there is a problem - Islam is a very strong identity in itself, an alternative "ideology", as opposed to identity, like being Indian. It is not helped by decades of policy idiotically encouraging this sense of difference.

So what you have is Islam v the tribe, rather than Islam as a part of the reconstituted tribe (in the US).

Trump is wrong because he is trying to make Muslims (and Mexicans) like "communists", whereas they want to share in the "American Dream" rather than transform it. In this sense, Trump is actually anti-American.

BCFG said...

I don’t think fascism is a fixed concept. The actions of the Nazi’s put some traditional fascist tactics out of bounds. Modern communication I think affects how fascists, and everyone else, operate. So I don’t think you judge fascists by whether they use street violence for example. So modern fascism is now all suits and ‘respectability’, the fascists have moved with the times. Gert Wilders, Marine Le Pen etc.

For me Trump mixes populism with corporatist economics, so I think there are fascist tendencies. However I am not sure that from a class view Trump is fascist, in the sense of bonapartism. More he is a typical neo liberal politician who makes ignorant and reckless statements. He recently said that there were no women and children among the refugees, just fighting age men and warned us they were all terrorists. Anyone who has seen the pictures of the refugees will notice this is a total fabrication on Trumps behalf. He is certainly unfit to be president of the USA. Though we wait with bated breath for someone fitting that description.

For once I actually think speedy makes some sense! Though with Bernie Sanders we can see that even in America socialism has not been completely eradicated and seems to be gaining strength.

I believed that the war on terror would bring a real boom for the far right and fascism both in America and Europe but it doesn’t seem to be happening, hardly. Ok, there have been some gains in France due to their militant secularism and chauvinism and Eastern Europe but overall I have more optimism now than say 5 years ago. I suspect Trump has overstepped the mark once too often and has blown any chance he might have had, which I think was zilch anyway.

George Hallam said...

“71% of members would rather Labour stay out of power if it meant compromising on policies”


I think ‘office’ this is the word you were looking for.

The labour party has been in office a number of times in its history, but it has never been in power.

It is this distinction that explains the frustration of many ordinary people with the leadership.