Is Donald Trump a Fascist? Part II
Trump doesn’t believe in tradition. He does not believe in science. He does not believe in thinking. So what does he believe in? Well, he doesn’t believe in dissent – “Throw him out.” He believes in “Me”. BELIEVE ME is his motto as he claims to be the voice of the frustrated middle class stalled or even dropping down in the competitive climb upwards of the modern age. He believes in manipulating the aggravations and exasperations of the discontented and the infuriated to build a movement founded in resentment. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, the politics of resentment is built on a foundation of feeling powerless and seeing oneself as a victim of the actions of others. Trump targets elites who he claims live off the avails of politics – and, as he openly admits, he should know because he personally preyed upon and used that self-serving politics of the elite. He is the epitome of the glaring inequities in wealth and taking advantage of the tax code to pay as little tax as legally possible – which can be very little. He is the epitome of privilege. And he became the voice of the disintegration of the Republican Party that increasingly relied on vitriolic, uncompromising take no-prisoners rhetoric. He showed that he could do it better than any of the rest of his competitors.
When violence assaults us daily and appears both immovable and persistent, precisely at a time when political rhetoric is most needed that is temperate and cool, it is easy to stoke the coals of burning resentment into a wildfire that is as unstable and unpredictable as that which destroyed a good part of Fort McMurray this past spring. Resentment erupts like a volcano, and once the lava starts to flow profusely, it is virtually impossible to stop. One only prays that the quantity present will not be in such profuse proportions that it will destroy civilization as we know it.
But the resentment was there. Donald Trump did not manufacture it. Bernie Sanders tapped into the same vein of those who feel powerless, who feel exploited, who feel that they have become outsiders in a country in which they previously constituted the core of the American dream both in their status and in their values. They have become bitter and unloving and may now be immune to the Democratic Party appeal to hope and love and positive thinking and a deep belief that everyone can benefit from a rising tide. They certainly have not.
It is because of the politics of resentment that a famous journalist less than one hundred years ago in the first half of the twentieth century, H.I. Mencken, had such a jaundiced view of the voting public and recognized the appeal of fear-mongering to a populace full of repressed anger, those whom Mencken disparagingly referred to as the booboisie in contrast to the bourgeoisie, to the gullible public wide open to the appeal of a verbal soothsayer who sews fear and paints a picture of an apocalypse that so conforms to their inner feelings about self and the state of the world. Mencken understood the politics of resentment because he had read Friedrich Nietzsche and even wrote about him. Mencken knew a mountebank when he saw one because Mencken had the same dismissive temperament but, in comparison, excelled in the art of dissing. Politicians were mainly swindlers or oafs. Most voters had a herd mentality, were incapable of rational thought and looked totally ready to be led to the slaughter by the first “shepherd” who came along, the first savior who promised a form of salvation as he led them on a death march.
Donald Trump replaced the crusading and corrupt evangelist preachers of a former era so it is no real surprise that he can appeal to the evangelical crowd in spite of his blaring non-Christian values. His appeal to evangelicals is more powerful than that of Ted Cruz because he taps into a deeper core of hatred and resentment. For far deeper than the love of mankind, Mencken argued, was the hatred for “one’s betters,” the intense distaste for privilege. What better one to lead them than a Moses who grew up as an outsider in that realm of privilege and came down from that mountain to lead them into the wilderness by depicting the elites as exploiters and enslavers, as abusers and misusers, so that even the surrounding other nations get painted with the same brush as misled idolaters climbing upward at their expense. In the mind of the populist, the moral uplift of the Democratic Convention can be regarded as so much bunkum.
What Trump had going for him is that, like Mencken who dissed democracy without limit, Trump too has a sense of glee in the whole affair. A good part of him regards the whole exercise as an effort in stirring up amusement, as an opportunity to bathe in his own cussing and cursing, as an opportunity for whimsical and irreverent expression disguised as thinking. For Trump, all declarations of truths are simply fictions, simply fabrications, simply illusions, and he is as capable of contributing as any trained scientist. He is a post-modern man indifferent to the gap between conception and sensibility. So, of course, the fact that the truth-checkers can find as much as twenty-five outright lies in his speech to the Republican Convention, the fact that he utters explicit falsehoods at an average of two or three a day, is totally irrelevant. Correction is totally irrelevant and its uselessness proves that the whole idea of truth is itself an invention of the devil. The neo-liberal cosmopolitan dream is just as much a deceit as nativism and protectionism, but at least the latter will allegedly benefit those who have been abandoned and left behind.
Why, Donald asks, should one believe Hillary? She has been a major contributor to the neo-liberal internationalist fraud, but now claims to love you, to care for you, that she will introduce protective measures that will reverse the downward drift. Believe her and you can believe me, Trump proclaims, and you can believe me much more because I recognize your hatred and resentment and do not engage in the fraudulent appeal to love.
No more apathy. We need to create an army that rebels against the elites Trump cries out. I know you are frightened, Trump tells them. I recognize that you feel imperiled. I recognize that you have been pushed into a corner of apathy and acquiescence. Well it is time to open every window and shout, “We won’t take it anymore,” and make the walls of Jericho come crashing down. Did I rise by sincerity or by sin? Did I rise by believing in, “We the people?” I exemplify the exposure of the lie and that is why I am best to lead you, supposedly to the land of milk and honey, but, in reality, into the wilderness. That is why you, the vulnerable, can count on me as your voice. NOT because I feel what you do, but because I express what you feel and I epitomize and understand the manipulation to which you have been subjected. I will lead you to drowning the rich and the ostentatious in a sea of reeds. So do not be surprised that they resent me. Do not be surprised that my class and my peers turn against me. For at heart I am an outsider who has risen into their ranks and have now set out to destroy the royal order.
We the people? Self-government? Self-legislation? Are you kidding? This is the very guise on which the rich and the powerful have acquired their wealth and accumulated their power. Respect the other? Conduct yourself with dignity? No. Rebel and throw mud in their faces. Problem solving? Pragmatism? Political policy debates? These are all cover-ups for a renewed power grab. The winners teach falsifiability only to repress real and deep criticism. Trust us because we know we err, they pronounce. Does Trump say that he knows we cannot always achieve what we promise? Does Trump announce that he knows that we are fallible? No. No more. Trust me, not that collective brew of liars and thieves. Trust me because I am a liar and a thief and know the ropes. Only I can lead you out of slavery to a system built on lies. I know idolatry when I see it because I have made the mass of my wealth by building those idols.
Education, social interaction, discussion and debate – these are all frauds and if you expect me to beat Hillary Clinton under such a rigged system, you have to think again. But you won’t. You are too deeply immersed in your false vision of a land of milk and honey for all. I can deliver that land because I truly understand that you cannot simply nip the elites at the tips of their fingers and their ears. You have to drown them. You have to destroy them. You have to seize their wealth and power even as you offer them more tax breaks to limit the use of their money in opposing you. That is my route to leading you to paradise. And it will be built on the power and energy erupting from your deep resentment. And on my recognition and cultivation of that resentment. I deserve to lead you because I refuse to be a patrician but am not a plebian but myself come from the monied aristocracy. I have demonstrated I can lead you by conquering the bastion of the patricians, the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and the pretense that all men are born equal as the cover for increasing inequality and repression. I can lead you because I am strong and recognize your weakness. That is why you need and can count of me as a charismatic ruler. With your help, I and only I am capable of seizing that power. Believe me.
And count on this. Hillary promises to beat the Islamic fanatics as they grow in strength and in their destructiveness. But Hillary does not – nor do even our establishment generals – recognize that you already possess the tools to do so. For any battle waged with fanatics cannot be won with rational calculation, clever strategies and well thought-out plans. For this is where we the people come in. The people must offer a counter-martyrdom, a willingness to die for an alternate cause, a willingness to set aside fine distinctions between loyal Muslims and extremism, a willingness to brand the whole lot of them as extremist.
And this is where Donald Trump fails as a fascist. He is unwilling to spell out that need for self-sacrifice, the need for martyrdom, that this is perceived as a fight to the finish, not only one in which the other must not be left with one soldier standing, but by a willingness to sacrifice the whole herd in the cause of fighting the alien Others. Trump lacks the insight of Jean Jacques Rousseau that what is required is a general will to oppose both common sense on the one hand and total and absolute common insensitivity on the other hand. For those are the two parties really engaged in battle.
That is why I appeal to your nativism, Trump might explain, why I elevate our national identity into a cult, why I trace our origins to our membership in the same country and pinpoint outliers as enemies, why I paint a portrait of a conspiracy, a deliberate plan, to keep you oppressed, why it is an international plot rather than one attributable to Russia or China, let alone North Korea and Turkey. That is why xenophobia is not to be discarded but embraced. You feel besieged because you are besieged by a cosmopolitan conspiracy of globalization. And in league with Muslims, a far better target for Americans than Jews. Like Leon Trotsky, like Mao Zeduog of the cultural revolution, revolution, revolt and the enhancing the belief that the other are truly revolting, requires a permanent commitment, a permanent revolution. A campaign had to be forged on breaking one’s teeth by biting the air and regarding human flesh as disposable and ready to be sacrificed as a scorched-earth burnt offering.
So is Trump a fascist? Certainly ha has many of the traits. Certainly there is a family resemblance between himself and Putin, between himself and Erdoğan, between himself and Mussolini, between himself and Hitler. But it is only a family resemblance. Donald Trump is on the same range of leaders in the politics of resentment, but he is at the other extreme from Hitler, though he shares none of Hitler’s traits, but some of the characteristics of those who mediate between Hitler and himself and increasingly carry a bit more of Trump’s character the closer they stand shoulder to shoulder with him. In the serial and uninterrupted series of decreasing similarities between Trump and Hitler, we find the suspicions of fascism, but as we near the Trump terminus, the core elements are missing. That is why we may be prone to labeling Trump as a fascist, but also why he is not one and why, in labeling him that way as a slogan rather than as a conclusion of empirical analysis and critique, we lose by falling onto the same practice of false labeling which is his forte.
The reality, in the end, is that Donald Trump lacks enough of the qualities to make him a true fascistic leader.
With the help of Alex Zisman