Trump as the left's birth assistant

Mikkel Bolt: Trump's Counter-Revolution Publisher Nemo. Denmark

Trump's counter-revolution
Forfatter: Mikkel Bolt
Forlag: Forlaget Nemo (Danmark)
Trump could cause a vital and far-left side to finally be formed in the United States.


Writing a book about Donald Trump is obviously no easy task. It is no more than four months since his presidency began. Barely a day passes without drama, and with the appointment of a special prosecutor in connection with the Russian relations, it may seem that national law is a real possibility. In other words, the Trumpian saga is not over – on the contrary, it has hardly begun.

As the day-to-day plays such a big role, it is the media that has so far been the most important information provider and analyst. But even if to a certain extent they manage to capture what is happening in media res, the whole and the relationships are often left out. We are served almost only fragments.

Trump's myth about the people, about the split and the threats, about the leading unit founder and rescuer is enough to link him to fascism.

Great again. In the relatively short but very interesting and well written Trump's counter-revolution the Danish academic and activist Mikkel Bolt is preparing to give a more comprehensive analysis of the Trump phenomenon. Bolt focuses on Trump as a politician, but also on the forces and tendencies he represents.

Bolt's background as a leftist interpreter of the intersection of aesthetics and politics clearly shines through in this book. Not least, he writes well about Trump's medial staging. Trump, Bolt claims, is both a fascist and a cunning showman. With significant implications for anyone who falls outside, he projects a picture of America as endangered, yet capable of rebuilding itself as unified, white and patriarchal: "Make America great again! "

US President Donald Trump speaks during Ford's Theater's annual fundraiser at Ford's Theater June 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski

Right reaction. According to Bolt, it is essential to understand Trump's path to power not just as a more or less accidental departure from a well-functioning democratic culture's custom, but as an expression of a deep crisis in the liberal-democratic, capitalist systems of Western societies. As Bolt sees it, capitalism is fundamentally unstable. With its Keynesian consensus, the first decades after the Second World War were characterized by growth and extensive employment. In recent decades, however, crises have been seen following crises. Particularly serious was the financial crisis in 2009. In the wake of this, a number of structural problems arose which led to rising unemployment, social insecurity and increasing inequality. The political right turn, Bolt argues, must be understood as a crisis response: As class contradictions intensify and the system becomes more difficult to legitimize, the outer right side postulates a cultural and national unity that is said to transcend all contradictions and in some sense obliterate them. In this regard, Bolt points to Trump's appeal to the white American working class, which, by invoking a national community, was predicted a new heyday. While this allegedly vulnerable group was given a privileged role to play in Trump's retelling of American greatness, African-Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, illegal immigrants, and other groups were portrayed as threatening enemies that must be stopped at all costs.

Politics as myth. Quite a lot of Bolt's book helps to reflect on Trump's election campaign and power takeover. Not least, he writes about Trump's unconventional style. Trump staged himself as anti-establishment. Despite his billionaire fortune, he claimed to stand on the part of ordinary people against the "elite" of Washington and Wall Street. The election campaign meetings thus became rituals in which “people and“ leaders ”almost mirrored each other. Trump symbolized the unity of the authentic people, and the Trump supporters had their affiliation to these people confirmed and expressed through the (to them) charismatic figure on stage.

Trump cares little about truth or argument. What matters is the symbolism, the rhetoric and the emotions. For Bolt, this means that liberal thinking about deliberative democracy, which puts the sensible conversation at the top, has become an anachronism. With Trump, the link between aggressive staging as the people's savior and mastering the mass media codes has reached a higher and more evolved level than ever. This is politics like pure myth, well helped by an overwhelming amount of images and unreflected influence.

Trump symbolized the unity of the authentic people, and their affirmations were affirmed and expressed through the charismatic scene on stage.

Obvious fascist. Bolt's view of Trump and the right turn as a crisis response is compelling. Two key points in the book, on the other hand, appear to be more problematic. One is the rather one-sided emphasis on Trump as a nationalist and especially fascist. (You could call this the "Steve Bannon side".) Despite the nationalist tendencies (through protectionism and symbolism associated with America) seems conspicuous, there is another side to Trump that Bolt touches on to a lesser extent. This is about Trump defending the richest of big business and – related to this – his deliberate dismantling of the United States welfare system. Perhaps this will be Trump's most important legacy: that he dramatically managed to make the United States even more of a kleptocracy and oligarchy than it already was.

Related to this, of course, is the question of whether we are at all right in calling Trump fascist. For Bolt, this almost seems obvious. Although not dressed in uniform and surrounded by paramilitary troops, Trump's myth about the people, about the split and the threats, about the leading unit founder and rescuer, and about the strongest right in itself is sufficient to link him to fascism. Fascism, Bolt argues, is a lasting opportunity in national democracies – it is their primary and most dangerous crisis symptom.

Revolutionary. Although the assessment of Trump's personal stance contains many good points, Bolt seems to forget what a diverse country the United States is after all. Trump has faced tremendous opposition both at grassroots level, in the media, from the established political apparatus and the courts. As the presidential office holder, he poses a significant threat in many ways. However, he is nowhere near enjoying the acceptance that came to Hitler some years after the takeover. Although Bolt does not say such a thing, it is worth reminding himself that the United States is definitely not a fascist nation.

Another problematic point in Bolt's book has to do with liberal democracy (or what he calls the "national democracy") as such. For Bolt, as mentioned, democracy contains as we know it fascism as its opportunity. Democratic Western states possess, he argues, an unrecognized authoritarian potential. Moreover, he writes, we must realize that the state apparatus, in general, although claimed in principle to be subject to the will of the people, primarily serves the capitalist system.

At the end of the book, Bolt emerges as a revolutionary. For the moral of it all is that evil must be taken with the root. He has explained the necessity of the social revolution – but how it will take place and where we should possibly move, he unfortunately does not say anything about.

Vital left in spe. Trump is very radical. Whether the answer needs to be as radical as Bolt suggests is not given. For the time being, it is right to say the right-wing civil society and the justice community that have managed to make real opposition to Trump. If Trump's move continues to degenerate, opposition is likely to become even more extreme – perhaps even violent. This could mean that a vital and far-left side will finally be formed in the United States. However, a complete undermining of formal democracy would be a disaster.

Bolt's book can nevertheless be strongly recommended – both for those who want to understand and whoever will act.

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