Here’s what we learned about the far right from Donald Trump’s presidency
Looks like Trump is about to come out. Crossed fingers. But it doesn’t take an expert to notice that Trumpism is going nowhere, at least not any time soon.
Whether we want to call it Trumpism, white nationalism, right-wing populism, neofascism, or all of the above, it’s clear that toxic stew is common now. But we also now know that he is not invincible. Here’s what we’ve learned from Trump’s four years in power.
Of course, the United States has never “become fascist”. That is, the federal government never became a fascist state, as some feared in 2016. Trump was far too undisciplined and politically awkward to completely overthrow deep-rooted Liberal-Democratic norms (although he caused a lot of damage). He didn’t even seem to have a cohesive track record in his own head, either.
But some of us who study fascism have seen many disturbing echoes in Trump’s words and in his temper. Trump was not a military man like the historic fascist dictators of Europe; unlike Franco, Hitler and Mussolini, military glory was never at the center of his identity. And luckily for all of us, his deep-rooted elitism towards the military has alienated far too many commanders of the deadliest weapons.
But the grammar of fascism – force, race, nation, violence, action – drove its rhetoric and took with it all the necessarily authoritarian impulses, apocalyptic inflections and historical targets of fascisms, past and present. The economy bores the fascists and their supporters. If we look at all of his speeches during his events, it’s strange what this Republican candidate barely mentions: taxes, freedom, freedom, democracy.
We now know that seventy-two million Americans ultimately agree with this, at least in the absence of a more compelling alternative.
Trump was never disciplined enough, nor a skilled enough tactician, to build a unified neofascist movement around his colossal ego. His early career as a trusted man for his father’s real estate empire did not give him the skills or inclination to organize his middle class base into sustainable local institutions, even though he did manage to get them to the polls. In his abilities and in his public image, Trump was more Berlusconi than Mussolini: a media playboy turned politician whose best talent was playing a rich man on television. We will see if, like Silvio Berlusconi, he is taken in handcuffs just after the end of his mandate.
As a playboy, his narcissistic and bossy personality demanded (and got) worshiping crowds at gatherings, but he never took the time to organize those crowds into a cohesive network of executives as we have seen. seen with successful fascist leaders of the past. We have Proud Boys and Boogaloo Boys, Oath Keepers and QAnon, Bikers for Trump and a galaxy of other right-wing armed groups and creepy conspiracy sects. All are dangerous and none is a joke.
But at the same time, we don’t have mass paramilitaries the size of the SA of Germany in Weimar (the Brown Shirts) nor that of Mussolini. Arditi (the black shirts) of pre-war Italy. The SA not only eclipsed all rival right-wing militias in 1932, but also, as a paramilitary, had a clearly defined if not always stable relationship with the Nazi Party.
History never repeats itself exactly, so we shouldn’t be looking for an exact repeat of Franco’s SA or Phalanx. But we have to be very vigilant lest these atomized militias freeze into something unified and with a clear relationship with the Republican Party.
Before the elections, there were fears of a literal civil war between left and right in the aftermath of the results. It now seems very unlikely. And it’s hard to imagine that Trump will be able to undermine democratic institutions in the next few months more than he has already.
But Trump is currently testing the waters of such blatant and broad authoritarianism that it surpasses anything he has done so far in power. He took the ‘rigged election’ story to court, and now that that doesn’t work, he’s apparently weighed the option of getting Republican state legislatures in states that voted for Biden to overthrow the college. electoral campaign in its favor. And what was he planning with his last-minute Pentagon reshuffle, anyway? And was the ârigged electionâ narrative meant to set the stage for the overthrow of voters, with the new Pentagon loyalists there to crush any dissent?
Even though there was an authoritative playbook, nothing seems to go as planned. But we need to closely monitor the extent to which the Republican leadership and base align themselves with such movements. This lets us know how many of those seventy-two million people who voted for Trump are truly and completely authoritarian. It will also show us how much damage Trumpism has done to core democratic values.
There is a common belief that fascism explicitly rejects democratic principles. If you look at the autobiographies of Mussolini or Hitler, it certainly was. They claimed that parliaments were just a bunch of bickering politicians who never did anything; The Italians and Germans needed a strong man to come in, drain the swamp and do whatever was necessary themselves.
Many of it sounds familiar. But Trump did not take the final step and rejected the election on philosophical grounds. Rather, he claims they are “rigged” and tries to reverse the results with lawyers, not militias.
In the United States, liberal democratic values ââare common sense, so it would be difficult for the majority of Americans to swallow an election rejection on principle. Instead, what we now see with the claim “rigged elections” is something that American neofascists have been pushing since the 1930s.
In the late 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin’s profascist journal Social justice defended Franco’s coup in Spain, arguing that extrajudicial violence against the right was necessary there because the political left had come to power through fraudulent elections. Such arguments allow Americans to preserve their self-image as defenders of democracy – as they strive to destroy it.
This has always been a necessary step in the United States where constitutional liberalism is rooted in the national ideal, and therefore indispensable to any nationalist. Paradoxical faith in the Constitution has always been something that gave American fascism its distinctly national tinge.
Trump was a unique kind of celebrity, and these are not easily replaced. And as we saw in 2018, Trumpism didn’t do very well without Trump on the ballot. It’s not everyday that a party can find a “non-politician” celebrity who can effectively campaign on far-right populist and even white nationalist politics. And finding a Trump better than Trump – a charismatic, neofascist leader who also possesses astute tactical abilities – would be an exceptionally difficult task.
But you can’t fall asleep thinking it’s impossible.
To be sure, there appears to have been a gradual increase in non-white support for Trump. But the presence of people of color in the Trump coalition should remind us that there has always been more to fascist politics than white supremacy. We have many global examples of non-white fascism and crypto-fascism, including Imperial Japan, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Narendra Modi and its RSS paramilitaries in India, the regime of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and the election of Jair Bolsonaro in the officially multiracial state of Brazil.
Take away white supremacy, and we find that fascist and neo-fascist movements still have a lot to offer their (mostly male) supporters: militarism, the thrill of violence, anti-communism, authoritarian patriarchy, religious bigotry, xenophobia. directed against national minorities, etc. .
There is more than enough racism in Trumpist politics to justify the term âwhite nationalismâ at this time, but we may need to rethink our labels in a demographically changing United States.
The militant backbone of fascist movements has always come from the middle class, not the working class or the rich. It baffled many commentators that in 2016 many of Trump’s voters were âwhites without a college degreeâ who, at the same time, had incomes above the national average. The Trumpian base, like the base of fascist movements throughout the twentieth century, is strongest in what is sometimes called the âold middle classâ. Professionally, they are less often white collar or office workers (âthe new middle classâ) and more often small business owners, independent contractors and skilled workers.
Hitler and Mussolini come from this middle class. Trump didn’t. But there have been fascist movements with aristocrats and other elites at the helm, such as Francisco Franco in Spain, Oswald Mosley in Britain and, more recently, Martin Sellner of Austria, the de facto leader of the identity movement. in Europe.
More specifically, fascist movements never go anywhere without the complicity and empowerment of the elites. And according to a New York Times Exit poll, those earning more than $ 100,000 a year were the income bracket most likely to support Trump. We don’t yet know why that is the case, although we do know that they have certainly benefited the most from his tax cuts. We also know that racism and misogyny are not inevitable for them, just as they were not a problem for elite facilitators of fascism in the past.
Unfortunately, the Democratic Party offers the most likely vehicle for opposing fascism at the level of federal electoral policy, as even the American Communist Party realized in the second half of the 1930s. ‘not excluded other vehicles at national and local level.)
With this in mind, the left cannot ignore people who do not identify as leftists or progressives but who are ready to fight the right. But neither can the Democratic Party afford to ignore the AOC – and the latter is what establishment Democrats are naturally inclined to do. Without supporting the demands of millions of people who have come forward to save democracy, again, nothing really stands in the way of Trump 2.0.
Shaping the contours of a Popular Front is our most urgent political task. This is a question that will take many of us to be successful, and it is difficult to come up with a plan in advance. In 1936, a participant in the American League Against War and Fascism national convention said, âWhether America becomes fascist or not depends on who organizes first. This is as true today as it was in 1936.