Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Trump and Fascism (You Knew This Was Coming, Didn't You?)

OK, you knew this was coming sooner or later.  Since I have applied the traits of fascism to miscellaneous other leaders and movements, what about Donald Trump?  A lot of people have called him a fascist.  I personally regard Trump as a bunch of hot air and am more concerned about his utter lack of competence to be President, or even to choose advisers who know what they are doing than any fascistic traits, but be might was well go ahead and see how they apply.

A middle class populist movement that both punches up and kicks down, but mostly kicks down.  Perhaps it would be even better to say lower middle class which is where Mussolini and Hitler drew the bulk of their support, among people who feared the working class below them.  That is a fair description of Trump's movement, although his followers are better described as the white working class that fears the poor minorities below them.  But I think the working class may be considered the new lower middle class.  Trump does a fair amount of punching up at political correctness and Republican elites, but the bulk of his fire is directed at those below.

Fascism is driven by fear and ambition, but fear predominates.  Well, the ambition, at least on Trump's part is obvious.  Among his followers, I see more resentment and hope, rather than fear.  But fear showed up when the shooters in California turned out to be Muslims.  Fear drives the general resistance to Muslim immigration.  I would say that Trump plays more to ambition than fear, but fear is right below the surface.  And Trump is never so dangerous as when it starts to bubble up.

A paramilitary party that has taken over the state (or aspires to take over the state) and claims (or aspires to claim) an effective monopoly of political activity.
  Donald Trump does not have a paramilitary.  Even his worst enemies from David Neiwert to Andrew Sullivan admit as much.  That is kind of, sort of important.  What about the violence at Trump rallies?  I am less concerned about occasional clashes between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, which is simply a fact of life, than with Trump's enthusiasm for such clashes.  But what alarms me most, frankly, is the anti-Trump demonstrators who actively seek to shut him down.  Trump, it should be noted, has not made any attempt to shut anyone else down.  To the extent that there is violence at his rallies, so far it is defensive violence, and it is the demonstrators who are invading his turf.  It is true that after one such rally was shut down, Trump tweeted a threat to respond in kind. That would have been troubling.  But Trump appears to have gotten the memo that he was going to far, because he has not repeated the threat.  If Trump supporters were out trying to shut down rallies by his opponents, I would worry. But as it is now, this one is clearly a "no."

And now the old standbys.

From Stanley Payne, in Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1980):

The fascist negations:

Anti-radical:  Not especially so.  The radical Left is really not much of a threat in the US today.  Admittedly, fascism often preys on an exaggerated fear of radicalism far out of proportion to the actual facts.  And these days some people are alarmed over Black Lives Matter or over the latest dust-up on college campuses. But Trump is not expending much energy on fulminating against campus radicals, nor to his supporters particularly seem to care about the subject.*  Trump and his followers seem somewhat opposed to Black Lives Matter, but that is much less a priority than immigration. Trump's most anti-radical position is his opposition to an ill-defined "political correctness," and it is hard to see that as anything more than simply a fondness for giving offense.

Anti-liberal:  If liberal means favoring social breadth (as I have been arguing) and expanding the circle of social commitment, then Trump is anti-liberal.  His anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim broadsides are definitely anti-liberal.  And his dislike of "political correctness" sounds very much like a simple desire to be narrower and less inclusive.

Anti-conservative:  A whole lot of conservatives think so.  And if conservatism means anything like respect for tradition or showing self-restraint, then doubly so.

Ideology and goals:

-- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models
-- Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
-- The goal of empire or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers
-- Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture.

I am still struggling to figure out what any of these mean.  Whatever they mean, it seems a good bet that neither Trump nor his followers are looking for anything so extreme.  In fact, I am increasingly beginning to believe that it is the matter of ideology and goals that most distinguishes true fascism from mere right wing populism backed by violence.  The Ku Klux Klan, for instance, really did become the paramilitary arm of the Southern Democratic Party and did establish a one-party state.  It might be considered proto-fascist, but it was never truly fascist because it had none of fascism's ideology and goals.  (And I have discussed at some length why these ideology and goals make no sense whatever in the context of Classical antiquity).

Style and Organization: 

-- Emphasis on aesthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects.  I suppose the baseball caps might be called this, but basically no, or at least no more than any other political candidate.  
-- Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia.  Well, mass mobilization to the extent that any political candidate attempts it, and more successful than many.  But no sign of militarization or mass party militia.

-- Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence.  Actually a bit mixed there.  Yes, Trump does have a disturbing tendency to glorify violence by his supporters against protesters who disrupt his rallies.  But he has not gone on the offensive, and does not really glorify violence in the same way that true fascists do.
-- Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society.  Yes.  Trump has a massive case of testosterone poisoning, and I think we can make a very good argument that his whole movement is rife with the same thing.
-- Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation.  No, I don't see any signs of this.  Trump's supporters tend to be older, while younger voters are most opposed to him.
-- Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective.  Well, duh!  It is this, and his apparent utter lack of understanding of democratic institutions and norms that makes Trump so alarming.

So, in short, Trump is both anti-liberal and anti-conservative.  He shares none of the ideology and goals of fascism.  Nor does he have its violent and militaristic traits.  The main thing Trump has in common with fascism as Payne defines it is the extreme focus on a charismatic leader and one-man rule.

Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, and the "nine mobilizing passions":

-- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions:  Yes and no.  Trump does do some fear-mongering, particularly in terms of Muslim immigration and of saying that the world is more dangerous than ever before, but then again, all Republican candidates say that. What I see a whole lot more than the sense of crisis is the sense of being mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and of finally having found a leader who speaks to them.

-- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it:  I am inclined to say no.  Yes, there is the sense of being the great silent majority finally finding its voice and reaching its rightful place of domination, but I don't see the great sense of subordination of the individual to the group.

-- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external:
  The sense of victimization yes, absolutely.  The sense of revenge, probably to some degree.  But I really don't see it going this far.

-- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences:  Dread of the group's decline, yes, absolutely.  Trump followers seem to be acting largely out of fear of American being inundated by immigrants and losing its national and cultural identity.  So yes, to the alien influences.  I don't think so much in terms of individualistic liberalism or class conflict.

-- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary:
   Yes, I think this is the main thing driving Trump followers.  It certainly accounts for their hostility to immigration, and to a lesser extent to trade and foreign engagement (whether by diplomacy or war).  But, again, I think their capacity for violence has been much exaggerated.

-- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny:
  Well, duh!

-- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason:
  Yes.  Trump is obviously, grossly unqualified and has nothing but contempt for people who actually know anything about how real governments work.  But he proclaims his instincts will provide all the answers.  And his followers eat it up.

-- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success:
  Once again, there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence at his rallies, but nothing approaching what one would see with true fascism.  If he starts using violence to intimidate political rivals, I will be alarmed.  So far, there has only been one ill-considered threat.

-- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle:
  Again, yes and no.  Trump followers do seem to see themselves as the great silent majority about to regain its rightful place as America's rulers.  But I see no sign that it goes anywhere near this far.

Conclusion:  I think Trump and his supporters show a lot of the mobilizing passions of fascism in milder form.  What really strikes me, though, is the extent to which his movement is build on hope and promise rather than fear.  A lot of the nastiness of fascism (and many other forms of right wing populism) are rooted directly in its sense of fear and its ability to tap into the cornered animal instinct. I see a lot of bad characteristics in Trump, but that is not one of them.  In the end, I would still say that Trump is a bunch of hot air, telling whatever lie he thinks will win votes, utterly unqualified to govern and unaware that he even needs to be qualified.  It would be a disaster if he won the election.  But I would not call him a fascist.

*The link shows that "authoritarians" don't much care about campus speech codes and don't care at all about campus affirmative action.  Admittedly, that is a survey for "authoritarians" rather than Trump supporters, but the findings are suggestive.

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