Yesterday I posted a series of tweets about Donald Trump that ended with the perhaps irresponsible suggestion that he could be a “tawdry harbinger for an impending fascism prompted by a failing global economy.” It’s true, many people have overused the F word, which is associated with regimes that committed horrendous human rights violations driven by a level of hate and intolerance that seems beyond the intentions or capabilities of someone like Trump. But as I’ve discovered through just casual scrutiny of Trump coverage, there’s something to the idea, more than I had imagined.
These recent posts by vox.com’s Matthew Yglesias shed an interesting light on how to view the Trump phenomenon. Framed again through the lens of analyzing the Republican Party as if it presented legitimate political perspectives—much like the cascade of articles in trendy web publications like buzzfeed about the ways Republicans can correct their rhetoric so as better to appeal to Latinos—Yglesias finds a fracture between the Koch Brothers agenda, which he refers to as “elite,” and a new “populism,” which he fails to speculate is a rehash of what used to be called Reagan Democrats. Yet he correctly points out that the MSM has not figured out that Trump populism is a global phenomenon (by global I guess he means Anglo-America and Europe), with parallels in various European political parties that favor a big enough government to keep Social Security intact and enact drastic measures to control and/or reverse immigration from the global South.
By some crazy coincidence, Trump himself just yesterday said at a that he was “not a fan of Hitler,” at a rally in Greenville, South Carolina, reportedly in response to a New York Times report that said some call-in listeners of a Los Angeles radio host named Ricardo Sánchez referred to the Donald as “Hitler.” This Wonkette post amusingly referred to a subsequent tweet by Trump repeating this sentiment as a “strong stance,” and pointed to a recent Vanity Fair listicle that mentioned that a 1990 VF profile alluded to Trump keeping a copy of a book of Hitler’s speeches in his bedroom. All of this kind of stunned me, since my visceral first reaction to the footage of Trump’s security person pushing journalist Jorge Ramos out of Tuesday’s press conference was that it came off kind of fascist–there was something very fascist-y about the image of someone who represented the First Amendment being strong-armed out of a room by a seeming goon in the service of a sneering overlord.
Granted, the debate around the ejection of Ramos as to whether or not his actions were those of a “journalist,” complicate the matter somewhat. Ramos’s hectoring soliloquies did seem to have more of a parallel with Black Lives Matters members interrupting a Bernie Sanders speech than some romanticized memory of Edward R. Murrow. But, if this episode was more of an “activist” intervention than pure journalism, Trump’s hateful comments about Mexican immigrants and women provoked it. If Ramos–whose own politics can be dubiously centrist, and his network, Univision, even more dubious in its presentation of Afro-Latinos and women–in fact engaged in a non-journalistic confrontation, he, unwittingly or not, was calling necessary attention to the anti-democratic politics of Trump himself, whose pattern of behavior demonstrates he does not deserve to be asked questions in a “professional” journalistic matter.
So the spectacle of Ramos’s ejection was the primary reason I felt compelled to use the F word.
But if it looks like an F, talks like an F, and walks like an F, do we call it an F? When you immerse yourself in Ygelsias’s breakdown of the “far-right” European parties that promote a similar political line to that of Trump’s–that is, the preservation of the social welfare state for native whites, and the crackdown on nonwhite immigrants that would pay for it–you begin to see the strange semantic debate about how these parties are not fascist, despite having fascist, or at least hardcore racist roots. Check the bold subhead in Yglesias piece—for which I assume an editor at Vox, and not Yglesias himself is responsible: Right Wing Populist Parties Aren’t Extreme, Per Se.
Oh, I see. It turns out that although Sweden Democrats–a right populist party–has “roots in things like the straightforwardly racist Keep Sweden Swedish, its first official party auditor was a Waffen-SS veteran, and in its early days it tried to forge international connections with David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People,” its “growth in part reflects ideological moderation and a move toward mainstream politics.”
Right. In part.
The French National Front, despite a “genuinely extreme and super-right-wing view of immigration,” has a “critique of the eurozone and the European Central Bank that would be comfortably at home in a Paul Krugman column.” (Perhaps this in some way explains Krugman’s incredibly myopic, and some might say colonial analysis of the Puerto Rico debt crisis.)
And he goes on, about the Danish People’s Party, the True Finns, the Netherlands Freedom Party, and the UK Independence Party, which all fit into the category of right-wing populist parties who have fascist roots but have since moderated their stances. Of course Yglesias does not bring up Norway’s Progress Party, which scrambled to disassociate themselves from one of their ex-members Andres Behring Breivik, who mass-murdered 77 Norwegians in July of 2011. Breivik was subsequently diagnosed with something Hitler might have had, narcissistic personality disorder, but as we’ve said, this is not someone Trump is a fan of. So let’s not go there.
Finally, Yglesias concludes, The [Republican] Establishment Is in Denial, and “The fundamentals are clearly there for a right-populist candidate to secure mass appeal and really move the needle in American politics.” This must be really exciting for a serious student of politics—someone who can move the needle! To both the MSM and corporate-media funded websites trying to sell millennials that they’re not actually MSM, Trump is a welcome antidote to a season of sober analysis of Republican presidential politics.
So is he…a fascist? Perhaps, perhaps not. All of this reminds me of something Roland Barthes called the privation of history, in which the new symbolic object, in this case, “right populism” undergoes a process—a kind of digital media sorcery—whereby all of its negative or unflattering history is removed. This is the symbolic process that seems to have been going on in Europe for several years now, and one that might create a political trend–readymade for the US, whose media doesn’t pay attention to European politics–just in time to play a role the 2016 election. (Well, let’s hope it’s not till 2020. Just buying some time here.)
We all have the terrible images of fascism engrained in our memories, the storm troopers, the gaudy spectacles of mass hysteria, the horrific physical violence associated with it. Yet beyond that was its totalitarian organizational logic, which essentially denied the possibility of political and social interests existing outside of it. Some have suggested that elements of that have been emerging for years in the world’s dominant states, and not without a substantial degree of hate rhetoric associated with them. As the global economy remains stagnant, and inequality balloons, the demand for extreme political ideas increases. If so, then, as the Yglesias article suggests, the problem with Trump is not necessarily his “needle-moving” ideas, but the fact that he is such a clownish performer, making him a wholly inadequate symbol for a new political constituency that, because of the US’s conservative, two-party political structure, wants to somehow scrub out its historical rough edges and move into the mainstream.