He plays on the fear and doom that characterizes American society. But does it make sense to call him a fascist?
Some expressions should be careful. If you want to avoid inflation, or simply avoid getting too many enemies, you should only use the expressions when they are clearly appropriate. In politics, there are historical reasons for refraining from speaking. There may also be reasons for democracy's demand to show normal courtesy and respect for our opponents. Fascist is such a word. Some teenagers fling around with the phrase without knowing what they are saying. For a time, it was frequently used and abused by the left. Under what conditions can it be legitimately used today?
The question arises on the basis of the American election campaign, and especially in connection with the increasingly aggressive rhetoric of Republican candidates such as Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and not least Donald Trump.
The Donald will close the country for a particular religion. He wants to build a wall against Mexico. He tells CNN that he likes to go armed, and jokes that he can pull out the revolver at any time. He addresses frustrated and poorly educated working-class voters with the promise of dramatic change. He seems to have minimal respect for the constitution, plays unrestrained on terror fear and other social anxiety, and portrays himself as the only one who can save the country from the abyss. Trump sees reasoning as a weakness. What matters is guts and power of action. The commander-in-chief should be like a powerful CEO, a manager raised above the petty demands of democratic politics on accountability and self-limitation. He relentlessly plays on the distrust of Washington's occupational politics class. His election campaign meetings are noisy, nationalistic scenes. He seems to grasp basic distrust of democratic governance in general.
A fascist superpower? Is Trump a fascist? When commentator Jeffrey Tucker used the word in an article in Newsweek magazine last summer, it seemed over. The election campaign had so far begun, and the Trump phenomenon did not work. Now that Trump sails up as the favorite to win the nomination, the allegation has become far more common. Economist Paul Krugman has used the f-word about Trump; The New York Times' leadership writers have done it; and in the Democrats' debate on December 19 last year, Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley stood up and used the word. In the left-wing areas of the Internet spectrum, there is an ever-increasing flow of allegations of fascism.
So how serious is this? Can it really be possible that the United States is about to become a fascist state? A fascist superpower?
No, many commentators would say. Trump is leading the way in opinion polls. Maybe he can win the nomination election. However, he has many formidable opponents. People who aren't in favor of Trump are often strongly opposed to him. Relatively few uncertain center voters will be able to vote for him. No one becomes president of the United States without conquering the great center masses.
The door glowed. Also, he will probably have to meet the experienced and well-organized Hillary Clinton. If voters at the beginning of the election campaign are attracted to the extremes, there is a tendency for them to vote more cautiously on election day. Whatever one thinks of Hillary – that she is bought and paid for by Wall Street, that she is corrupt, that she cannot be trusted, and so on – she will appear as a safer choice than the untested Trump. Last but not least, Trump has alienated large voter groups. Having given the Mexicans a mark as criminals and rapists, it is hard to imagine that he will get many votes from the important Latino category. The same goes for the Muslims, of course. Though Hillary is considered questionable because of her connections to Wall Street, she is still an extremely professional politician who does everything in her power to avoid alienating voter groups.
Also, let's not forget that Trump belongs to the top tier of the hated one percent-erne. He is a rude rich real estate agent with a particularly weird hairstyle. Undoubtedly a vulgar and authoritarian man.
Okay. But what if ISIS comes with more terrorist attacks? Or for that matter: What if there is a repetition of what happened in San Bernardino? A small group, or perhaps a single person, with real or imaginary association with a terrorist organization, goes out and shoots some innocent? Wouldn't the voters rush to "the strong man"?
The truth is that we do not know what can happen. A door is glowing. The political landscape, as Noam Chomsky said, has changed. A Democrat like Hillary Clinton stands today where a moderate Republican stood in 1990. At the same time, most of the Republican presidential candidates are now outside the traditional political spectrum.
A colleague of mine who teaches political philosophy claims that the United States is today Weimar redux. "Isn't that exactly the way it must have been in the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s?" he said a few weeks ago. “A hugely frustrated and confused mass of voters who have recently been through both a failed war and an economic crisis. A deep distrust of all traditional politics. An experience that the nation's future is at stake. A feeling of being surrounded by inner and outer enemies. And in the midst of all this a rescuer – a man who, for the educated elites, seems like a clown, but who appears to be the answer for the broad masses. "
American paranoia has a long history.
Shiny neo-liberalism. I'm the last to defend Trump, but he's hardly a new Hitler. Racist? Yes, definitely, and an important part of the electoral program is forcibly deporting tens of thousands of illegal Mexican immigrants. Nevertheless, a distinction must be drawn between Trump's demand for drastic tightening of immigration enforcement and Hitler's explicit eradication policy, as already formulated in Mein Kampf in 1925. President Trump will then certainly deprive Muslims and other groups of essential rights, such as the right to an unrestricted private sphere and free entry. On the other hand, I hurt to believe that he would mass intern and then kill them.
Believing that history repeats itself can provide useful perspectives on contemporary times. However, it can also be obscure. If Trump is a fascist, it is more because he resembles Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister in four governments, than Hitler.
Berlusconi was powerful, vulgar and media jerky. He had low thoughts about the procedures of formal democracy, was definitely corrupt, but never attempted any direct coup. However, the real key word here is capitalism as an ideology and economic system. Both Hitler and Mussolini were partly skeptical, or at least ambivalent, regarding capitalism, both of which they periodically considered to be antinational, anti-collective and (especially in Hitler's case) dominated by urban Jews. However, Berlusconi – and this is the fundamental similarity to Trump – embodied the neoliberal order as it was formed, politically consolidated and globalized from the 1980s.
If Trump has political success, it is because, on the one hand, he represents the hegemonic neo-liberal way of emphasizing individual success, maximizing individual freedom, safeguarding all human values and relationships, and aggressively abolishing the state's traditional responsibility for the nation's welfare. With its skyscrapers, helicopters and "you are fired" from the reality show The Apprentice (which is just about how everything is law only if you win in the end), Trump is the closest to a perfect parody of neoliberalism. It glitters and it glitters.
The fear of dissolution. However, the neoliberal self-stance could not be a political success unless Trump also takes into account something else and darker, namely a collective sense of fear and downfall that is about to take hold in American society today. American paranoia has a long history, colored by frontiermentality (perfectly portrayed in Paul Thomas Anderson's film There Will Be Blood), but also by Protestant notions of a pervasive sinful world where only the work and efforts of the individual can give life. Today, it is the economy in particular that creates uncertainty. After a 30-year period of privatization and the dismantling of the welfare state, the formerly so stable and prosperous American middle class is about to erode and disappear, largely replaced by a moving army of service workers on short-term or no-rights contracts. In the wake of the financial crisis, the same middle class felt that not only did basic things like pensions, health and education become for sale to the highest bidder, but that their property – thanks to shady and corrupt banking practices – could also prove in jeopardy. Few conditions anchor American middle class more concrete in the world than real estate; if it is in danger, people feel completely unprotected. American gun anarchism is precisely in this: at all costs to ensure the inviolability of the property.
Better than anyone else at the moment, Trump manages to unite the two forces of the Republican Party's subconscious: He symbolizes "the winner takes it all" capitalism, entrepreneurial and casino capitalism, ie, an ultra-liberal ideology. At the same time, he symbolizes a response to the actual bankruptcy of this ideology, that is, its total lack of democratic and collective responsibility for society's general security and welfare. This is the neoconservative force. Trump shares the left's feeling that the social body is disintegrating, that everything has become unsafe and unpredictable. But in contrast to the left-liberal and socialist demand for stronger state involvement in basic societal tasks such as health, education and elder care, Trump is addressing the Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, African Americans and so on. They are to blame! These are the ones we must protect ourselves from!
Deserved. To stigmatize ethnic groups in order to make them sacrificial lambs, useful substitutes for the real villains, is a well-known fascist strategy. Trump is undoubtedly a particularly disgusting and dangerous candidate. Whether or not we are served by calling him a fascist is still far from certain. If we do, we label him as a monster and as an anomaly. We lose sight of the relationships he stands in sight of. Even I choose to interpret Trump as an outgrowth – yes, perhaps a cancerous one – of the Republican Party and possibly American political life whatsoever in the age of neoliberalism. He became possible after all American politics in a lifetime has swung to the right. If you have not asked for this man, you have at least earned him.