Hey, Rick, what do you mean when you use the word “fascism”?
7/4/17: Dateline St. George, Utah
I am getting that question quite a bit lately. The question often implies a skepticism — Trump isn’t as bad as you say he is, is he? Our system isn’t in the danger that you say it is, is it? And … I feel something is different, but what is it?
I saw early on a similarity between Trump and his supporters and previous fascists in history including the fascists of the 1930s and 1940s. So let’s break down those elements.
Nationalism: Make America Great Again. America First (this slogan was actually used by American fascists in the 1930s). If you want to find out about Charles Lindbergh, who was an American fascist leader who parlayed fame and celebrity into fascist prominence in a way similar to Trump’s as the most prominent leader of the America First movement, and about the America First movement itself, read Philip Roth’s historical novel The Plot Against America. Nationalism, in the fascist context isn’t mere pride or concern about one’s country. It is a wish for dominance over other countries. Remember when Trump shoved his way in front of the prime minister of Montenegro at the NATO summit. That was a symbolic fascist move. The rudeness toward Angela Merkel is a fascist move. Trump’s elaborate competitive handshakes are fascist moves. We are mostly in a phase of symbolism on this date, but darkness encroaches upon our democracy.
Enthusiasm for Fascists in Foreign Countries: Hitler had Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, the militarists of Japan. Trump has Russia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia — so far.
Fascism succeeds democratic governments that are widely viewed by the people as being inattentive and irresponsive to their needs. Trump shouts “THE SYSTEM IS RIGGED!” and most people generally feel that way. Democracies tend to fail when their institutions are dominated by a wealthy few who dominate their institutions. Citizens United, corporatized media, and other ways that the rich dominate the system make people despair of democracy and open to something new, even if it is worse. Trump cajoled voters, “What have you got to lose?” The grounds for Hitler’s rise lay in the Allies’ humiliation of Germany after World War I and the Great Depression. When systems fail something new fills the vacuum.
Totalitarianism. The totalitarian state has all authority in all sectors of life, not merely the government or the leader’s branch of government. Trump is attempting to achieve this aim with his meetings with people from the private economic sector or Congress, and tells them what to do. He told a labor leader in Indiana to “shut up and get back to work”. He tries to assume an authority we have never given to our elected leaders.
Anti-democratic thought. Trump says, “I am the only one who can fix it.” Contrast this to Obama’s “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Trump places no trust in the people’s ability to make their own decisions — he knows best. Of course, even this is a ruse — his concern isn’t the people’s welfare at all.
Management of the state by and for billionaires and generals. Fascism is a state run by and for the rich and the military. When Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex he was sending an alarm about American fascists. Trump brags about “my generals” and says he picked a Cabinet of billionaires because they are the “smartest” people. Trump’s legislative and regulatory agendas favor the rich and the military to the exclusion of everyone else.
Creation of an “other” and persecuting those in that category. Hitler had the Jews. Trump has immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and women — am I leaving anyone out? Take the “Muslim Ban” for example. Trump creates a category of people out of whole cloth — with no serious evidence to base his claims against them — and persecutes them.
Attacks on the press. Hitler used the concept of lugenpresse — the lying press — to discredit any media accounts against him. Trump does the same thing. He talks directly to his followers — through Twitter and rallies and other means — unmediated by the check of press coverage holding him to the facts, because he has convinced those followers that the press are lying and he is the only source of evidence, truth and reality. That’s fascist.
One party state. Trump said early in his administration, “Who cares what the Democrats think.” He later has contradicted that on occasions as a tactical maneuver as he moves towards his goal, but the statement is an escalation of Mitch McConnell’s statement at the beginning of the Obama administration that he wanted Obama to fail. Trump wasn’t just saying that he wanted to beat the Democrats badly in a political contest. He was saying that they were powerless and not to be listened to at all.
Personality cult. The fascist leader must be flattered and praised, and be treated as superior to all human beings. This establishes his supreme authority. The video of Cabinet officers going around the table and fawning on the President shows that there is more than one Fascist in the White House.
Dictatorship. Trump said during the campaign that “the Constitution is a good thing, up to a point.” He was saying that our system could get us killed and we needed a strongman to protect us. Trump routinely disparages judges. He makes a big display of the signing of Executive Orders as decrees from on high. He has re-invented the Executive Order to be a proclamation from the dictator.
Class inequality. Mussolini believed in the “beneficent inequality of men.” So does Trump. The idea that the great businessman creates jobs, and the lower classes should obey him for their own welfare and the welfare of society as a whole is a fascist idea.
Criminality. Robert Mueller’s team of outstanding attorneys currently investigating Trump and Associates include lawyers highly experienced in Watergate, Enron, and Mafia matters, and a lawyer who is also a Russian scholar. Political crime, corporate crime, organized crime and treason. Fascism is government by criminals.
Using the government for self-enrichment. Trump and his family have used their government power to enrich themselves personally on many occasions and we are only six months into his Presidency.
Agitation of supporters to violence in order to intimidate opposition. The situation is bad (but Trump will not likely ultimately succeed — there is a lot more to America than fascism. Those discussions are for other posts.) His fascist rise is a serious threat to our democracy. He will not respond to the current challenge to his power with democratic legal or political means. He is laying the predicate for a violent response from his followers to help him stay in power. I was listening to a Breitbart propaganda show ostensibly about the Second Amendment as I was driving through Utah on Sunday (7/2/17). It was not sponsored by any businesses — but rather by some “foundation” for the Second Amendment — which indicates that some rich fascists are bankrolling getting the show’s message to the “base”. Curt Schilling, the former major league pitching star and current fascist was the guest. He said that the press were all liars and that Trump was brilliant in using Twitter to communicate directly to the people. He said that the disrespect to the President was outrageous and that the left was violent and that at “one of these protests somebody is going to get killed.” Schilling went on to say that Trump was special, and that he was bringing something new to what we have had before and “we must fight for it.” There is an organized funded effort to mobilize violent mobs to defend Trump. Hitler did this sort of thing. And a little of this happened during the 2000 Florida recount at the door outside of the Dade County Board of Elections. In fascism, thuggish behavior replaces political discourse in order to ensure that the same side always wins.
How do we respond?
We are going to have to prosecute, impeach and convict Trump and his cronies. We are going to have to deal with the great social unrest that Trump is fomenting in an attempt to maintain, consolidate and expand his power. Then we are going to have to get our country back on the right track. If we have the government by the mega-rich that we had before Trump this is just going to happen again.
Trump isn’t the first American fascist by a long shot. Lindbergh, Joe McCarthy, Nixon (who ran a criminal enterprise that went far beyond Watergate from the White House) are a few famous ones, but they are always around. We have to be able to name them and do more than oppose them politically. We must cry foul and defend our way of life from these attitudes.
During the Cold War, we were vigilant against communists — another horrible and anti-democratic ideology which ironically shares much with fascism, even as they are seen to be opposite extremes. But the real danger in America is fascism, and has been for a long while because so many Americans are pre-disposed to being fascists. For many, fascism just isn’t that hard of a sell.
Right now, we can protest. I can write this blog. We should keep doing it so the situation doesn’t develop further and greater sacrifices will have to be made. John Adams said that the Constitution would only work if it was supported by “the good intentions of men.”
We need to think, speak, act and write from those good intentions presently. The individual citizen has rarely been as important as he or she is today.
There are more of us than them. And we know what is going on. We have to stand up to fascism every day.
A young woman came to one of my shows and said that she felt guilty because she felt differently in a very negative way about an old friend who voted for Trump. I told her it was because she was no longer friends with that person. They had revealed an ugly aspect of who they were. The woman’s estrangement from a fascist was a personal sacrifice in service of her values. It isn’t a time to be tolerant or nice with these people. Each small act like that young lady’s simple feelings are what we can do to stop the fascists. We must say and do everything that shows that fascism is intolerable and unacceptable.
We must stand up for our country and our souls.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas
Hey, Rick, what do you mean when you use the word “fascism”?