Monday, November 7, 2016

Trump and Fascism, Redux

One last Trump post before Election Day.

Vox addressed whether Trump was a fascist way back in May. I addressed the same question that same month. The answer was clearly no. Trump wanted to make democracy narrower and less inclusive, but not to dispense with contested elections. He did not have a paramilitary terrorizing opponents. He was a radical individualist while fascists are radical collectivists. His ideology bore some resemblance to the fascist ideology of "palingenetic populist ultranationalism," i.e., the believe that one's nation has been brought to ruin, but can arise again. Trump's "make America great again" has echoes of such an ideology, but never went to fascistic extremes of destroying the old order. So no, the verdict was, Trump was a rightwing populist, but not a fascist.

Note, though, that I am speaking in the past tense.  I am speaking of Trump riding high, Trump running a primary campaign that never faltered.  It was before we saw Trump facing defeat and becoming so unhinged as to make his earlier self seem hinged by comparison.  

I still don't think Trump is a fascist.  But I am beginning to see how a fascist movement could form around him.  Trump has always had his Alt Right followers really were fascists, or at least wannabes. Their numbers were not great, but they had an outsized influence.  And at least some useful idiots were prepared to ignore their true nature.  Well, their influence appears only to have grown.  And Trump himself is increasingly falling under their sway and sounding increasingly alarming.  

So, let us look at how fascist Trump looks when he is running scared.

Palingenetic populist hypernationalist ideology.  He clearly has tendencies in that direction, with the sense that no one respects us anymore and he will make America great again.  He and his followers sound ever more root-and-branch, though presumably that is not to be taken literally.  And no, Trump is not actually rejecting democratic institutions.  But his support for them is becoming more and more conditional -- "If I win."  I guess we will see how far he is willing to push this if he loses.

A middle class populist movement that both punches up and kicks down, but mostly kicks down.
 Well, Trump is taking his punching up to deranged extremes, slipping deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole into conspiracy land.  But we all know what he means when he speaks of rigged voting.  He specifically means voting by ethnic minorities and is encouraging kicking down at them in a big way.

Driven by fear and ambition, but fear predominates. When Trump was ahead, he appealed more to ambition.  Falling behind, he relies more and more on increasingly hysterical appeals to fear.

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
. No.  At least, not so far.  But it doesn't sound quite as crazy in the past.  His Alt Right followers might be called a sort of cyber or virtual brownshirt army, which is bad, but still not comparable to the real thing.  And now he is calling for "poll watchers."  To make sure the other side doesn't engage in voter fraud.  And now Oath Keepers, a genuine paramilitary is joining them.  True, the poll watchers all insist they will be unarmed and won't do anything threatening.  They will conduct exit polls.  Report suspicious behavior.  At worst, film it.  And let us add, to be fair, that just as the old Tammany Hall style election rigging is a thing of the past, so is old Ku Klux Klan style voter intimidation.  Polling places are too public for such a thing to go on. But the mere prospect of a paramilitary out in force "poll watching" is disturbing.  In other words, back in May Trump did not have a paramilitary and that was the end of it.  Nowadays he has something that might form the nucleus of something that might evolve into a paramilitary.  The link remains remote, but no longer non-existent.

The same goes for claiming a monopoly on power.  Trump has made fairly clear that he only thinks the electoral process will be legitimate if he wins.  That sounds very much like an attempt to claim a monopoly on political activity without admitting to it.

The fascist negations:

Anti-radical: If Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, there would be an actual radical to oppose and I would say yes.  I suppose the whole response to Black Lives Matter with calls for "law and order" might be considered anti-radical. But right now Trump followers are the radical ones calling for the overturn of a rotten international order.

Anti-liberal:  Yes.

Anti-conservative:  Again, yes.  There are many possible definitions of conservatism, but smashing the rotten system and hoping that something better takes its place is not one of them!  And yet conservatives continue to support him.  So it was with Mussolini and Hitler as well.

Ideology and goals:

-- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models.  I doubt very much that Trump has thought that far ahead.  Some of his Alt Right supporters, now . . .
-- The goal of empire or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers.  Radical change, yes.  Empire -- well, yes and no.  On the one hand, Trump wants to disengage from interaction with other countries, including overseas military ventures.  On the other hand, his attitude toward other countries is openly imperialistic.  He wants tribute-paying dependencies and threatens to "take the oil" from Arab countries.  So somewhat
-- Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
-- Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture.

I can't imagine Trump has possibly thought it through that far.  Can't speak for the Alt Right guys.

Style and Organization:

-- Emphasis on aesthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects.  That's just mass politics.

-- Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia.  No, not so far.  The only question will be whether Trump, Alt Right and Oath Keepers ultimately join forces, in which case we would have something that really would look like a paramilitary party.

-- Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence.  Against protesters, more and more.  But that still fits in the category of defending one's turf.  The poll watchers are the first movement beyond their own turf, and are pledged to refrain from violence.  We will see.

-- Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society. Well, duh!

-- Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation. No.  Trump followers are mostly older voters.  The Alt Right types are presumably young, though.  We will see.

-- Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective. Duh again!

The "nine mobilizing passions":

-- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions: Yes.  It has truly sunk into paranoia by now.

-- 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:  No, not really.  Although overwhelming crisis and subordination of the individual to the group tend to go together.

-- 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:  A milder case of this, I would say, but definitely there

-- 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.  (Same as before)

-- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary:  Definitely the purer community.  Violence - not yet, but if the Alt Right takes over, all bets are off.

-- 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:  Another duh.

-- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success: So far, only against protesters who intrude on their rallies.  It will all depend on just how much Alt Right takes over and how far those "poll watchers" go.

-- 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:  Once again, I do think that the Alt Right types think in these terms.  Other Trump supporters don't take it this far.

Conclusion:  Well, I doubt anyone in the Trump camp has anything like a fascist social vision.  But in other regards I would say that Trump and his mainstream followers, though not fascists themselves, may be witnessing the formation of an embryonic fascist movement of the Alt Right.

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