At a number of rallies Donald Trump supporters have been caught on tape harassing and occasionally attacking opposition protestors. Given his vicious rhetoric against women and minority groups there is an increasing tendency among liberals to draw parallels with the European fascists movements of the 1930’s. Though I have written on this topic before I thought it important enough an issue to readdress. Mostly because I believe the parallels and comparisons being drawn are erroneous.
The Fascist movements of the 1930’s were the product of a number of complex social forces. A deep economic depression was wreaking havoc across the planet. In the decades prior to the onset of the depression a world war was the second act in a three act play of revolutionary working class uprisings. Ruling classes around the world were rocked and found themselves caught in fierce struggles with working class peoples for the future of their respective countries and the future of the capitalist system itself. From 1905 to 1923 there were revolutionary waves of mass action against the government in countries like Russia, China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Croatia, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Bavaria, Ireland, Turkey, Persia, India, Portugal, Mexico, Malta and Egypt. Not to mention other examples of mass action and protest around the world that failed to achieve the levels of success seen in many of the aforementioned nations.
In the wake of these revolutionary upsurges ruling classes around the world took immediate and repressive action. The Red Scare in the United States is the most well known such example. Therefore the evolution of fascist movements in Europe must be considered within this context. Fascism was a byproduct of this struggle, an alliance between the capitalist ruling classes of a particular European nation and the middle class of that same nation. These two groups made a natural alliance given their shared fear of the working class. But it was the existence of a powerful and politically active working class that drove the need for this alliance. In 21st Century America there is no corresponding working class to give credence to the claims of so many liberal thinkers who are trying to draw comparisons between Donald Trump and his campaign with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini.
Also, the ruling class in America seems quite divided on the candidacy of Donald Trump. While it is my assumption that should Trump win the Republican Party nomination the Republican donor class will fall in line and support him in opposition to the Democratic Part’s nominee I do not see the kind of ruling class unity that existed in Europe in the 1930’s. There just is not a sufficient threat from the Left to unify the ruling class and the middle class in a genuine fascist movement. Trump’s reactionary rhetoric and the violence carried out at his rallies is not all that different from what this country has witnessed in the past as right wing candidates attempt to win the support of the reactionary elements of American political life. The radically reactionary character of the conservative movement in this country has always found violent expression in electoral campaigns, attacking minorities, and even in the recent past killing them. A quick study of the Civil Rights Movement belies this claim.
This is not to say that were I a Muslim American I would not be worried. I most certainly would be. The rhetoric that Trump, and most other conservatives, use on a daily basis gives license to dangerous people to carry out violent acts. Whether it is harassing women entering abortion clinics, or threatening the staff employed there, or mobs appearing outside mosques to threaten worshippers. Nevertheless when we analyze the social forces that have given rise to Donald Trump’s popularity we must categorize it appropriately. In the years building up to the fascist seizure of power in Germany political murder was a daily occurrence. Left-wing politicians, labor leaders, intellectuals, and religious leaders, among others, were the targets of fascist militias. Any person or institution that might stand in the way of fascist domination in Germany was eliminated. Some four hundred political murders were carried out and went unsolved during this period. Fascism is not alive and well in America. Fascism is distinct from conservatism. And to be honest this is nothing more than American conservatism.
However, we must not ignore what is unique about this modern incarnation of conservatism. The donor class of the Republican Party has spent the last forty years building a political and media infrastructure to rewire the brains of millions of Americans. They have created a network of media and political organizations to craft and coordinate right wing ideology. Countenancing the zeal of the base of the Republican Party and turning it into votes they have created a powerful political bloc that has the ability to determine the course of the American political system. The Republican Party has relied for so long on the support of this bloc in their attempts to acquire power that they cannot win without it. But now the tail is wagging the dog. Frankenstein’s monster has escaped the basement and is running through the streets. And they are demanding their prescription for America be filled.
Incredibly, what the base of the Republican Party does not realize is that for the last forty odd years conservatism has reigned supreme in America. Their policies of low taxes, small government and big military have dominated politics. Bill Clinton made allies in Congress with Newt Gingrich to immiserate welfare, balance the budget, de-regulate Wall Street and the telecommunications industry, among other right wing pet projects. They expanded the police state, introduced discrimination against gays into federal law, and so on. Barack Obama has governed as an Eisenhower Republican. Yet, all the while, each time a Democrat is elected to the White House the Republican Party sets out to destroy their administration from inauguration day. This contradiction is necessary because the only way to ensure that their rabid base turns out to vote is to deceive them into believing America is one election away from a socialist dystopia. A world where African Americans have the audacity to look down their noses at white people instead of the other way around. Heaven forbid!
Conservatism is an ideology that advances privilege, inequality, and hierarchy. Therefore, the only way for the elite of the conservative movement to engender the kind of consistent outrage they need to maintain power is to inculcate their followers with the feeling that their privilege is under assault. Like a cult the conservative base of the Republican Party lives in a bubble, ignorant, anti-intellectual, prejudiced, and full with the certainty that they know some kind of divine truth. This is precisely why whenever some bigot opens his mouth to argue against “political correctness” or in favor of some other reactionary fabrication they believe they are breaking a heretofore un-violated taboo.
This belief that they represent a persecuted minority has become so deeply ingrained that they no longer even care about public policy or actual governing. They feel so deeply under threat that the only form their ideology can take now is purely attitudinal. Which perfectly explains Donald Trump’s popularity. Trump has offered very little in the way of consistent policy. From one day to another he could be advocating opposing ideas. And just like in a cult, the people who follow him, the most reactionary element of the Republican Party, such hypocrisy goes unnoticed. They do not remember what was said yesterday. All that matters is what is said today. They just want someone who is going to bully the people they hate. This is entirely about impulse. He is the political manifestation of the Republican Id.
Mass media and social media have allowed American conservatism to evolve in new ways. Only through the use of such technology could the followers of Trump find this kind of satisfaction of their impulses. Every time he goes on live television in front of millions of people and threatens a minority group his followers feel an explosion of endorphins in the brain. This also explains the impulsive behavior seen at his rallies. As the likelihood of Trump becoming the nominee increases, his followers, in a state of wild euphoria, are losing the capacity to control themselves and are beginning to lash out.
Even though I do not categorize this movement as fascist it does not mean that it should not be opposed. What Trump’s candidacy does offer is it sharpens the contradictions between the Republican and Democratic parties. AS long as the Republican Party exists it will be nearly impossible to create a genuine labor or leftwing party in America. The two party system is too ingrained in American political life to be abandoned. As long as the Republican Party exists there will be a means for the Democratic Party to beat its radical base into submission. Fearing the damage done to the country’s vulnerable populations under Republican rule much of the working class is going to remain unconvinced about the necessity for a militant labor or leftwing party. Hopefully this election, with the dominance of a candidate like Trump, is the beginning of the end of the Republican Party.