“‘Fascism’ has become a kind of a scare word. But many of the aspects of fascism are not far below the surface…. So, fascist-type structures without the crematoria, which is not a core, necessary part of fascism. It could happen.” – Noam Chomsky
The 2016 election and subsequent political tire-fire has gotten people talking about fascism. Is Trump a fascist? Is the GOP turning into the Nazis? Just how afraid should we be?
The word fascism has become a generic term for far-right politics, authoritarianism, genocide, and for evil in general. Sometimes it’s hard to pin down exactly what fascism is because it’s not a coherent ideology. There are several common themes, such as nationalism, authoritarianism, propaganda, war, patriarchy, racism, and theocracy. Truth doesn’t matter to them. Might makes right.
That’s what fascism does, not what fascism is. Fascism is a social process caused by deep capitalist crisis. It’s no coincidence that classical fascism followed in the wake of the Great Depression, and that within 10 years of the 2008 Recession we see a new proto-fascist wave washing over Europe and the US.
French anarchist Daniel Guerin wrote in 1938 that “Fascism is, to be sure, a defensive reaction of the [capitalists], but a defense against the disintegration of its own system far more than against any [working-class] offensive…. The crisis of the capitalist system itself is what shook capitalism to its foundations by drying up the sources of profit.”
When the capitalist economy is failing, people whose class position is threatened must turn either to the right or to the left. While anarchists and socialists fight to solve the crisis by abolishing capitalism, the fascists propose to solve the crisis by using nationalism and violence to buy themselves back into a better deal with the capitalists. Once in power, fascism is an extreme form of capitalist dictatorship built on an alliance between right-wing elites and a right-wing of the population.
The question isn’t just “How fascist is Trump?” The question is, “How fascist is America?”
The Trump Coalition
The Trump Regime is made up of a proto-fascist coalition between several different political forces, each onboard for their own reasons. Each one represents something deeply wrong with our society.
At the top of the list has to be Wall Street and Corporate America. The list of vile shit stains from Goldman Sachs in Trump’s administration is even longer than Obama’s. These people want bank deregulation, and the power to evict homeowners. They want wages as low as possible. They deny climate change. They support this government in order to grow their profits and defend their wealth. They’re the capitalists, and they want to keep exploiting us.
Second is the Political Opportunists. Republican politicians, Fox News and other corporate news media, lobbyists, consultants. They’re in this for re-election, campaign fundraising, or career advancement. They want air time, ratings, book deals, and money. They want to preserve the GOP in the face of demographic shifts. They’re the ones mainly responsible for serving the corporate masters.
The most violent faction is Law Enforcement. Cops, prosecutors, judges, guards, wardens, ICE, Border Patrol, FBI, and “Law & Order” politicians are a key base of support for Trump. They want to expand mass incarceration, escalate raids and deportations, and avoid police reform. These guys hold it down for institutional racism. They’re the descendants of the slave patrols, built to protect whiteness and property.
We can’t forget about the Military-Industrial Complex. Fascism requires war for a few reasons. The promises fascists make to their working class dupes are always empty. War propaganda keeps up the illusion of national unity. Production of military arms, supplies, and equipment are profitable and can pass for a “jobs program.” Trump’s switch from babbling about getting along with other countries to letting the Pentagon do whatever they want should come as no surprise.
Easily the craziest sect is the Christian Right. They’re a vast network of well-funded cults that want to outlaw abortion, torture queer and trans children, discredit science, instigate a holy war against Islam, and generally replace the Constitution with the Book of Leviticus.
Our next contestant was the Election Day surprise. Class-Insecure Whites and Right-wing Unions. “Class-Insecure” means people who see themselves as slipping backwards down the economic ladder. Some of these people turned to Trump, and they’re nearly all white. To understand this critical piece of the Trump puzzle, we have to go back in time. Ever since both parties started dismantling the New Deal, fascism has been coming to a theater near us.
From 1940s until the 80s, the “white working class” in the US had an ok thing going. The capitalists had made a New Deal with them: lots of government jobs, labor rights, and social welfare programs in exchange for not going communist, supporting wars, keeping unions segregated, and following the law when going on strike.
For decades their unions were big, their wages were rising, their kids went to good public schools and got better jobs. It couldn’t have lasted. As soon as the labor movement, the black freedom movement, anti-war students, and communists were no longer a threat; big business started taking their country back.
They busted the unions, chipped away at the public sector, cut budgets, shipped jobs elsewhere, and kept wages low for 40 years. As a result, huge sections of the so-called “middle class” are feeling more and more working class. And they are not happy about it.
In a country as deeply racist as ours, this otherwise-legitimate economic resentment gets mixed in with the politics of white supremacy. The more these people’s discontent is channeled into racism, the closer we are to a society capable of classical fascist atrocities.
There are also some labor unions that haven’t changed very much since segregation, holdouts of the white-only unions. Concentrated in law enforcement unions and the building trades, they grow by playing nice with the big boys in management and politics. They want to protect their little white guilds. Their national leaders are happy to collaborate with big business and politicians in hopes of protectionist trade policies and jobs building oil pipelines. They cannot imagine a new world, so they cling like hell to the old one.
Last but not least, are the Open Fascists. The Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, Traditionalists, Proud Boys, Minutemen, and various scary militias. These are the ones who did the Nazi salute while shouting “Hail Trump!” They are beyond all redemption but defeat. They want to take advantage of Trump’s presidency to recruit new members to their organizations and carve out room for themselves in mainstream politics. It’s always ok to punch them.
French Marxist Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that the fascist “has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to [devalue] words and reasons…. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge…. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.”
Darkest Before the Dawn
One critical difference between classical fascists and the Trump Regime is that, so far, Trump hasn’t significantly interfered in the economy. Traditionally, fascist regimes must convince the capitalists to allow some state interference in the economy in order to stabilize the system and deliver on the promises made to their base. Besides killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump has done nothing significant to deliver on his economic promises. On the contrary, the regime is doubling down on deregulation, just like their corporate masters want. This will accelerate the crisis of capitalism, not fix it.
The most terrifying thing about fascism in America isn’t that it might be around the corner, but that it may already be in the rearview mirror. Many aspects of fascism – a police state, propaganda, corporate rule, mass prisons, economic desperation, vicious racism, religious zealotry, and a war industry – are all already here. Most have been for a very long time. Hitler even studied native american genocide as a model for the holocaust.
The United States is the most powerful empire in world history. It was built on native genocide, african slavery, and plundering Latin America. Now it’s armed with predator drones and the ability to spy on anyone, to say nothing of nuclear weapons. The fascists cannot be allowed to win, especially here.
To defeat fascism, we need defense and offense. Defense against fascism means shutting down their events, crashing their websites, exposing their members, and outnumbering them at every turn. Offensively, we’ve got to pull the rug out from under them with some real class struggle. We have to start solving basic social and economic problems by organizing strong unions in our industries and building democracy in our neighborhoods. It’s up to us.
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Frederick Douglass