In recent years, Republican voters have given the country a Congress led by radical right-wingers, whose primary project seems to be using acts of legislative sabotage to bring to life their lie that “government doesn’t work.” These representatives, instead of pursuing public policy for the good of the public, have taken money from and signed pledges to some of the most powerful and wealthy vested interests in our country, and have dedicated their time to bringing government for the public to a standstill while stripping away the protections that help to create a stable platform for the lives of the working and middle class.
It is then little surprise that in the climate these radical elected officials have created, in which they wage guerrilla war against the public sphere, Republican voters have gone a step further and offered America a Fascist as their party’s Presidential candidate.
Donald Trump’s public populism, his plutocratic economic politics, his ethnic nationalism, his militarism, and his embrace of physical and structural violence at every level of his campaign and platform make him a heir to the politics of the 1930s that more than 400,000 Americans died to extirpate from the world.
Trump portrays himself as a political and economic outsider, and yet somehow still knows and believes he has leverage over politicians from both parties. Those relationships put him at the very epicentre of our defective national power structures, and indeed prove that Trump has lived his life leeching money and power out of the corrupt system that his populist campaign now improbably promises to reform.
The Fascists of the 1920s and 1930s made similar promises, and they emerged in an era when democratic governments struggled to meet political and economic challenges. Indeed, before their leadership expunged them, Fascist parties contained allusions to socialism and redistributionism in their names and manifestos. But as with Trump, it became clear very quickly that the populist window-dressing had masked a deep commitment to corporate welfare and tight-relations between political and business power.
Trump’s economic policies, such as they have appeared on his campaign website, have been demonstrated to do far more for the rich than for the middle class. The paltry tax savings he offers the middle class don’t come near to off-setting the dramatic divestment from public social and economic services that benefit the middle class.
Trump has attacked Hillary Clinton as an interventionist, claiming that he opposed the destructive and ill-advised war of aggression launched against Iraq by the Republican Party in 2003. This lie has been repeatedly debunked, although once the war went south Trump joined the stampede to the opposition.
But the idea that Trump offers a more sensible foreign policy than Clinton is dramatically undercut by his fanatical jingoism and militarism. Trump has pledged to tear up the rules of war by “bombing the shit out of ISIS” no matter the collateral damage. He has advocated the murder of terrorists’ families. He has promoted expanding the use of torture far beyond the criminality endorsed by the Bush Administration. He has made extraordinarily irresponsible comments about nuclear weapons. He has attacked international institutions and the norms that they promote by way of protecting people around the world.
The most sinister component of Trump’s fascism is his wholehearted embrace of the ethnic nationalism that has long lurked around the periphery of the Republican Party, carefully cloaked in coded language. Trump has wholeheartedly embraced a set of ideas and a language that suggests that citizenship, belonging, and access to the public sphere should be determined by language, religion, and race. He doesn’t quite say that, but he has attacked Latinos in extraordinarily racist terms, while running a campaign based on “taking the country back.”
His innuendo, combined with his moments of open racism, make it clear that he wants to recapture the country and its institutions for a more uniformly white public. Trump’s attacks have targeted the black, Latino, and Asian communities in our country who histories have been defined by enslavement, exploitation, and second-class citizenship.
Like the Fascists of the interwar years, Trump is trying to persuade his supporters that they should not blame politicians on the right who carry out the destructive and self-serving agenda of plutocrats, but should instead blame relatively weaker and more marginal members of their own community, their fellow citizens. Like the Fascists our country fought, Trump has isolated communities on the basis of real (language, religion) or imagined (Mexican migrants as criminals, black Americans as “spongers”) characteristics and identified them as targets for anger and abuse.
Finally, like other Fascists, Trump’s participation in formal politics has been accompanied by subtle or not so subtle threats of violence. From the very beginning, his campaign inspired angry voters to use vigilante violence against members of the communities he attacked in his speeches.
And when it appeared that he might be in danger of losing key primaries, Trump threatened to circumvent the democratic political process and use violence to turn the convention his way. This is the same combination of electoral participation and political violence that interwar Fascists used to come to power.
Trump has celebrated the violence and fanaticism of the worst of his supporters in other ways, bragging that he could commit murder without losing support. He has threatened to shut down the constitutional freedoms that protect the press and allow scrutiny into the dealings of powerful people in our country, and has attacked members of the judiciary who are investigating his fraudulent business enterprises in racist terms.
Trump has attacked the “political correctness” of our culture, but it has become clear that by “political correctness” he refers to nothing more than a culture which holds that racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of hate should be met with strong criticism. Trump claims the media censors the hatred he preaches, but the fact that they have provided a tremendous megaphone for his Fascism give the utter lie to that claim.
His supporters celebrate Donald Trump as a fearless truth-teller, even though it has been demonstrated that 91% of the things he has said on the campaign trail are lies. They admire him for speaking the truth to power, whereas in fact he changes his mind about the truth (and his policies) within every public speech. Moreover, Trump is power. Anyone who thinks the fascist Trump, who has spent his life relentlessly exploiting people and trading on the inequities built into our economic and financial systems, has woken up and discovered his conscience is as much of a sucker as the people Trump sought to entrap in his faux “University.”
Our country, as it exists in the 21st century, is premised on the idea that citizenship and belonging are not tied to race, language, or religion, and that we should be good to each other. I think that most people would agree that individuals in public life and public service should devote their time and energies toward devising sound public policy that creates a more just, equal, fair, and tolerant society.
Donald Trump has utterly debased political discourse in our country with his fact-free, substanceless, and downright dangerous campaign. Trump has invited Americans to return to a form of politics that stopped just short of our shores in the 1940s. He has invited us to turn on each other with a savagery that has nothing to do with sound public policy or the values that we like to believe define our nation. And he threatens not only the stability of our country and the livelihoods of people in it, but the security of a world that is already too dangerous because of the actions of the party he represents.
We all have a duty to stop the rise of Fascism in our own country, whether that means voting for the Democratic nominee or exercising our conscience in some other way. The Libertarian Party has chosen two individuals with experience as elected officials. The Green Party is a perpetual if under-performing presence on our ballots. And there is still time in the Democratic Primary, if not to change the outcome, than to pressure Hillary Clinton to acknowledge the dissatisfaction of many voters. I have written critically about Clinton on many occasions, but I will have few qualms about voting for her if that what is necessary to stop Fascism from taking hold in our country.
I would ask Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who dislike Hillary Clinton and are displeased with her poor handling of her e-mails whether her small-time scandals (real or imagined), lukewarm liberalism, and policy flip-flops truly pose a greater threat to our country than a Fascist who is resurrecting a set of ideas about nationality, race, religion, and democracy that they, their parents, or grandparents fought to prevent engulfing Europe and the world.
One of my grandfathers joined the army that helped to defeat Fascism in Europe. The other, 15 years younger, arrived in this country without papers, and yet has been a taxpayer for 65 years, long before he won his citizenship. He married a woman who didn’t live long enough for me to meet her, but who was herself the daughter of migrants from Mexico who fled the violence of an extended revolution.
My grandfather was neither a rapist, a murderer, nor a drug dealer, but he did come to this country to make a better life for himself than he could imagine in Central America, and I would fault no one for that. He, his children, and his grandchildren have been uniformly model citizens who have made extraordinary contributions to their families and communities. As he fights a losing battle to recognize his family and his surroundings, I take some small solace from the knowledge that he cannot see what his country is becoming and how Donald Trump is asking his friends and neighbors to turn on each other. That is not the country he sought out in the 1940s as a child, and it is not the country we should create today.