Trump’s Candidacy: A Foreshadowing of Fascism?

March 10, 2016 - 0:0

“Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism.”

—The late professor of political science and presidential advisor Bertram Gross

Billionaire real estate tycoon and U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has widened his lead over the other Republican hopefuls after significant wins in a series of primary elections and caucuses known as “Super Tuesday.” Do these victories foreshadow an impending era of American fascism, or can we be confident, as some have said, that wisdom will prevail? Or, perhaps worse yet, has some virulent strain of fascism already infected the American body politic?

Trump certainly appears to have capitalized on the frustrations of a large segment of the American public, and, while campaigning, has voiced some outlandish statements, which have justifiably set off alarm bells in liberal and populist circles, and even among some conservatives.

“The possible election of Donald Trump as president is the greatest present threat to the prosperity and security of the United States,” warned Harvard University professor and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Commenting on Trump’s inflammatory policy statements, John Noonan, the security advisor for former Florida governor and presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, remarked, “Forced federal registration of U.S. citizens, based on religious identity, is fascism. Period.” Council on Foreign Relations fellow and advisor for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, Max Boot, did not mince words. “Trump is a fascist.”

The word “fascism” itself is dark and foreboding. It brings to mind Germany under Adolf Hitler and his brown shirts, or Italy under Benito Mussolini, who himself coined the term fascism after the bundle of rods with an axe or fasces, carried by officials in ancient Rome. Yet in the 1930s, many American business leaders, politicians and intellectuals embraced fascism as a cure to the chronic labor unrest caused by the seemingly interminable Great Depression, for much the same reasons that the heads of the Italian Association of Manufacturers supported Mussolini in his bid for premiership in1922. Hitler himself said, “Private enterprise cannot be maintained in a democracy,” and these words endeared him not only to German industrialists, but also won support from western capitalists.

But before judging Candidate Trump, it is worth digressing to understand what the word fascism means, and this is by no means agreed upon by academics. In fact, scholars, who in the past have held that fascism “defied definition,” was “full of contradictions” and an “enigma,” only recently have begun to reach a consensus on what constitutes the ideology of fascism, which is characterized by: A revolutionary and modernizing agenda, which oppressively and destructively targets dissent; a populist drive to mobilize those members of the national community considered “authentic” ; and, a concept of state centering on the charisma of a cult leader and theatrical aspects of politics.

Russian political theorist Aleksandr Galkin defines fascism as “a right-wing conservative revolutionarism that tries – regardless of the victims or the social cost – to overcome real contradictions in a society, by destroying everything that it perceives as hindrances to preservation and rebirth of the specifically interpreted eternal foundations of being.” For our purposes, a fascist regime would include a one-party system of government, which forcibly suppresses dissent and vigorously supports private enterprise under centralized control, while projecting belligerent militarism, demanding unswerving patriotism and inciting racism and xenophobia among its citizenry.

Using the above criteria, we see that most of the precursors of fascism already exist in America:

First, a very small group of wealthy elites manipulates the government for their members’ benefit while maintaining a facade of democracy by marketing a candidate of their choice to the so-called electorate every four years. That Americans cannot vote directly for their president and the entire process of vetting candidates, with its multiplicity of caucuses and primary elections, is an issue that is rarely discussed openly.

Second, dissent is quelled through widespread surveillance of citizens by agencies such as the NSA, by marginalizing citizens’ voices, particularly those with rational arguments on real issues, by denying ordinary people access to the legal system through prohibitive costs, and, if needed, brutally by heavily armed, militarized police forces.

Third, politicians play upon voters’ xenophobic fears, and regularly scapegoat Muslims and other minorities to divert public attention from the systemic contradictions plaguing American society such as the horribly inequitable distribution of wealth with the top 0.1 percent owning as much as the bottom 90 percent.

Fourth, there is no question that, with the U.S. military budget exceeding the total spent by the next eight nations combined and the U.S. president bragging about it in a state-of-the-union address heard around the world, America obviously projects belligerent militarism.

Last, as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, America is a one-party state and even the one-time two factions are becoming indistinguishable from one another. Simply put, the U.S. presidency is bought and marketed by the elites, giving the voter a choice between two vetted candidates both of whom have a powerful stake in preserving the status quo.

The U.S. electoral system has been designed “to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority,” as James Madison emphasized two centuries ago, and Trump is one of Madison’s opulent minority. He is a billionaire real estate tycoon who is financing 70 percent of his own bid for the White House; essentially, he is buying the U.S. presidency. How could such a person be associated with, much less support, a populist agenda to help the plight of the oppressed majority? That Americans view him as such is indicative of widespread ignorance, Trump’s charisma, or both. As the United States government is already a fascist-leaning regime, Trump would easily fit the role of the charismatic cult leader.

After seeking an endorsement by the Republican front runner for his presidential bid in 2012, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has now come out in strong opposition to Donald Trump. “His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader. His imagination must not be married to real power,” warned Romney, who in 2012 had declared, “Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works, to create jobs for the American people.” Lashing out at the man he endorsed four years ago, Trump fired back, “Why did Mitt Romney BEG me for my endorsement four years ago?”

The verbal barrage against Trump came after Romney used a quote, which he incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill, to defend his fluctuating political positions. The quote, often attributed to the noted British economist, John Maynard Keynes, was, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Like Romney and Keynes, Trump has a long list of position changes himself, including his position on admitting Syrian refugees into the U.S., which went from pro to con in about two months.

But then, what are Trump’s political positions? There are slight differences between the leading presidential hopefuls on Iran and the JCPOA, but when it comes to scapegoating minorities, Trump reveals blatant fascist tendencies. Blaming Mexican immigrants for America’s social and economic problems, Trump, playing the racist card, insisted that “Mexico’s leaders have been taking advantage of the United States by using illegal immigration to export the crime and poverty in their own country.” Further validating his fascist credentials, Trump has assured Americans, “I will make our Military so big, powerful and strong that no one will mess with us.” Rounding out his qualifications is his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S., surveillance of mosques, and establishing a database of Muslims in America.

Strangely enough, Trump, sounded more like a rational realist than a flamboyant fascist on international relations at the Republican debate in Detroit, Michigan on March 3. “And I say, very nicely, wouldn't it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia?” he asked. “We could get along with foreign countries instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars. ... Wouldn’t it be nice if we got along with the world, and maybe Russia could help us in our quest to get rid of ISIS, etc., etc.?” While this sounds good, Trump would still have to spend a few trillion dollars to build the huge, invincible military he vainly envisions, and, aside from absorbing projected savings, such a military build-up would not be conducive to better interstate relations.

In 1980, the late Bertram Gross (1912-1997), a former professor of political science and adviser to presidents Roosevelt and Truman, warned of “friendly fascism,” and it would appear that this appealing but malignant strain has already infected America. So if Donald Trump were to win the presidency, it should come as no surprise. After all, how much would his victory really change?

******* Highlight: Politicians play upon voters’ xenophobic fears, regularly scapegoat Muslims and other minorities to divert public attention from the systemic contradictions plaguing American society such as the horribly inequitable distribution of wealth with the top 0.1 percent owning as much as the bottom 90 percent.