This is Appendix D plus a paragraph from Section d of Chapter 4, all in Beyond Classical Marxism. It is the second draft of my “Moving Forward” column scheduled for publication in the November-December 2020 issue of the newspaper Works in Progress of Olympia, Washington.
Is President Donald Trump promoting fascism in the United States? With the previous column’s understanding of the rise of fascism in Germany and the history of authoritarianism in our own country, let us first look at the ways in which it is valid to say that Trump is doing this:
1. Trump is building up a mass following based on explicit calls for white supremacy. (The Republican Party has long been implicitly based on white supremacy, starting with Nixon’s “Southern strategy”; he is raising use of this noxious ideology to a new level.)
2. Another critical component of building a mass reactionary following is Trump’s clearly stated misogyny.
3. Trump viciously attacks “The Other”, in this case immigrants of color and Moslems. This corresponds with the Nazis’s using Jews and Slavs (non-Aryans) as their scapegoats.
4. Trump expresses utter contempt for persons who oppose or disagree with him.
5. Trump engages in blatant lying, knowing full well that doing this will be accepted by his mass base.
6. Trump attacks the mass media, whether conservative or liberal, as “the enemy of the people”.
7. Trump dismisses as “fake news” whatever evidence contradicts his pronouncements, including undeniable scientific conclusions. Thus with this and the preceding three points he has been building up a mass of followers who mindlessly accept whatever pronouncement he chooses to make.
8. Trump completely disregards the rule of law whenever it suits him. In fact, early in his tenure he stated that if he were voted out of office, he might have to obey the wishes of his followers in their insistence that he remain in office.
9. Trump promotes public demonstrations of armed, far-right-wing “patriots” in support of his policies.
On the other hand, there are important ways in which Trump does not go beyond staunch conservatism towards outright fascism:
1. Trump is not building up a disciplined mass party like Hitler’s NSDAP.
2. Trump is not creating organized militias like the Nazis’s SA stormtroopers.
3. Trump has little support of much of the major economic elite. They are not yet needing him as Supreme Leader with mass support, as heavy industry did in the early 1930’s in Germany.
4. Trump gives strong support for military spending, but not for entanglement in foreign wars. (One of the few positive things that one can say about Trump’s conduct!)
5. Trump gives strong support for maintenance of the U.S. empire, especially regarding Israel, but this is what the Republicans and mainstream Democrats do anyway.
6. Trump provides basically nominal support for Christian conservatism, but not including blatant religious fervor such as that expressed in anti-Semitism.
7. Trump also provides nominal support for anti-LGBTQ activity, but not to the extent of making such persons “The Other”.
So what can one conclude from this analysis? It would be wrong to charge Trump with systematically bringing about fascism, for that is only going to happen when a fundamental economic crisis occurs and the economic elite find it necessary to use the mass base provided by demagogues like Trump to destroy our outwardly democratic processes in order to effect a fascist dictatorship. But it is reasonable to recognize that Trump is laying the groundwork (even if unintentionally) for a future transformation to fascism. This, as well as Trump’s vigorous promotion of climate change which will destroy the world, is why it is so critically important to deny him a second term in office. (And the need for a fascist dictatorship may be forthcoming sooner than one might think, for neoliberalism is sinking capitalism into the ground with no alternative in sight.)
The following paragraph, referring to Stalin, seems appropriate when considering Trump’s relevance:
“The effect upon society of the Byzantine Emperor Michael Palaeologus has been described by the historian George Finlay in terms very appropriate to Stalin: ‘He was selfish, hypocritical, able, and accomplished, an inborn liar, vain, meddling, ambitious, cruel, and rapacious … his reign affords a signal example of the extent to which a nation can be degraded by the misconduct of its sovereign when he is entrusted with despotic power.’ In fact, we must not underestimate the simple moral corruption emanating from the old dictator.” (From Robert Conquest, Russia After Khrushchev (Praeger, 1965), p. 57.)
And we similarly must not underestimate Donald Trump.
Many socialists just don’t get it, that Trump’s ascendency poses a mortal threat to our whole civilization. It is not simply that Trump may well draw us into nuclear war with an attack on China, and that he will certainly squash any possibility of avoiding the upcoming climate catastrophe. He is changing the whole tenor of political discourse in our country, in which his fervent followers (a steady 40% of the populace) reject logical and scientific thought, dismiss as being “fake news” any information which contradicts what he pronounces, unabashedly uphold white supremacy, denigrate immigrants, women, and LGBT persons, etc. Trump continually and blatantly lies without concern by his supporters, encourages protests including armed men at state capitols trying to uphold their inalienable right to infect others with the Covid-19 virus, and is strongly supported by megachurches espousing Christian conservatism and by a widely watched far-Right television news network. All this is a prelude to an authoritarian government, perhaps even to outright fascism. Meanwhile, these socialists continue blithely along bringing their politically advanced ideas to the masses without regard for what is going on in the real world. To me they seem to be irrational, given their heartfelt devotion to improving the world, but in any case they demonstrate the futility of having society dominated organizationally by a single “socialist” party which unavoidably includes people with such appalling political judgement.