Thursday, 2 February 2017

When Fascism Came to America

"When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."
Attrib. Sinclair Lewis

Has fascism come to America with Donald Trump?

The following fourteen characteristics of Fascism comes from Dr Lawrence Britt, who has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. His analysis is not without its critics, some of whom have a clear motive in not wanting Americans to recognise Fascism when it comes, but in broad outline it serves as working description of a typical Fascist regime such as Europe saw in the first half of the 20th-Century. (My thanks to Facebook user Robert D'Abehtynot for bringing it to my attention)

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
  2. There can be little doubt that Trump's campaign and continuing RP blitz relies heavily on nationalist slogans, mottoes, symbols and songs almost to the exclusion of anything about policies, although this is a normal component of any American political campaign. Never-the-less, that fact that other candidates used some of the more populist elements of Fascism doesn't detract from the fact that Trump did and did so very conspicuously. His rallies normally consisted of lots of flag-waving, nationalism and sound-bite slogans fed to the masses in place of reasoned arguments.
  3. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
    Trump's open enthusiasm for using torture on captives, his stated intention to make more use of off-shore, detention centres such as Guantanamo Bay, his blanket ban on people entering America from certain specified countries, regardless of whether these were people who had been long-term and respected resident in the USA returning from a trip abroad, whether they were seeking refuge in fear of their lives and, selectively, depending on their religion, shows no regard for the basics of human rights. Can anyone imagine, after seeing him delighted his supporters by mocking the disability of a disabled reporter who asked him an embarrassing question, that he would defend measures to prevent disability discrimination? The disabled can be mocked and bullied for entertainment.
  5. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
  6. Unequivocally, this describes the entire tenor, indeed the entire rationale, of the Trump regime. Mexicans, Muslims, foreigners in general, all waiting to come and take American's freedoms away. Build the wall, shut the borders; ban the Muslims! Unite against the common enemy! It's all the fault of the liberals who encouraged them and allowed them in in the first place! Affordable healthcare is the thin end of the socialist wedge leading to COMMUNISM!
  7. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  8. Within days of taking office, Trump had signed an executive order detailing plans for a massive military build-up, declaring it heralded:
    [A] great rebuilding of the armed services of the United States. Developing a plan for new planes, new ships, new resources and new tools for our men and women in uniform — and I’m very proud to be doing that... As we prepare our budget request for Congress — and I think Congress is going to be very happy to see it — our military strength will be questioned by no one, but neither will our dedication to peace.
    The military is to play a large part in the Trump regime's foreign policy and the rest of the world will be left in no doubt about the military might of America. Opposition will not be tolerated. Peace is to be a pax Americana imposed on the world whether or not the rest of the world wants it. America will be free to roam the world putting down dissent and bringing about regime change at will on the slogan, "America First!"
  9. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
  10. The rampant sexism of Donald Trump was made clear with his "I just grab women by the pussy" boast. Sexual assault on women is a joke! His cabinet is overwhelmingly white male dominated with all the important posts going to men. He has now appointed an extreme right-wing fundamentalist to the Supreme Court, shifting the balance of power within SCOTUS towards one favourable to the reversal of Wade vs Roe - the basis of the legal right to abortion services. Given his own serial adultery and history of frequent divorce it's going to be difficult for him to enthuse about the suppression of divorce but perhaps his 'marital fidelity' and support for family values will be elevated to the status of an 'alternative fact'.
  11. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  12. Trump has already declared CNN to be a 'fake news' organisation and has appointed the head of an extreme right-wing-supporting fake news organisation, Breitbart's chairman Steve Bannon, as his chief strategist. An early Orwellian attempt to redefine lies as 'alternative facts' met with general hilarity but no-one has yet accused the Trump regime of competence.
  13. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  14. Isn't this the entire obsession of the Trump regime? It almost perfectly describes his MO.
  15. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.
  16. The overtly fundamentalist Christianity and creationist beliefs of many of Trump's appointees is all too obvious. Christian fundamentalists can scarcely conceal their delight in what they see as their take-over of government. Creationists now occupy leading positions in education and, having offered him the post of Education Secretary (which he declined) Trump has now appointed Jerry Falwell, Jnr. to head up a task force charged with reforming higher education. Falwell is president of Liberty University, a Christian university which eschews science and liberal education in favour of a literal interpretation of the Bible. Student go there to be indoctrinated not educated.
  17. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  18. Can there be any doubt that this is a basic feature of Trump's America? A billionaire who boasts how smart he is avoiding paying any tax and who plans to cut taxes on the very rich! Trump's presidency represent a victory for corporate America in an unholy alliance with fundamentalist Christianity. The latter will be used to control the people whilst the former get on with running the country in their own interest. The military will defend American interests, i.e. corporate interests, throughout the world.
  19. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
  20. Labour unions do not feature much in American politics nowadays so are largely irrelevant. There can be little doubt that what influence they might have had will be ignored and any attempt to use them in some form of mass resistance to Trump will be put down as a threat the the nation.
  21. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
  22. One of Trump's first actions was to forbid government scientists from speaking publicly. His appointment of Falwell to the task-force to reform higher education, presumably in the Liberty University model, shows his contempt for higher education as it exists in mainstream universities today. Climate change denier, Scott Pruitt, has been appointed to head up the Environment Protection Agency and today we hear that the Agency is to be abolished.
  23. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  24. An obsession with law and order and the assumption that it is Mexicans who are responsible for much of it, is behind the plan to build the border wall. This also plays neatly to the idea of America beset by foreign enemies. Trump presented himself as the 'Law and Order' candidate early in his campaign but then what candidate doesn't or what candidate would claim to be against law and order? The difference with Trump was that he used it as an excuse to stigmatise an entire ethnic group as criminals and rapists. We have yet to see his official position when we hear of yet another unarmed black teenager being summarily executed by police.
  25. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  26. Does Trump have any real friends? Judging by her body-language even his wife doesn't like him. He has surrounded himself by fawning acolytes and yes-men but he has no compunction but to dismiss them on a whim. He seems psychologically unable to form real friendships and seeks only those who worship at his feet or whose loyalty he can buy. Having said that however, he has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner to the post of special adviser despite federal anti-nepotism laws. This law was introduced after John F. Kennedy appointed his brother to the post of Attorney General and forbid the appointment of relatives to agencies headed by any federal official. The Trumps jump through the loophole that appointment to the post of adviser is not technically an appointment to an agency.
  27. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
There is widespread concern that there might have been interference in the presidential election. The results look highly dubious and almost designed to give Trump the presidency through the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million votes.

Losing the popular vote but winning the presidency is by no means unknown - Kennedy lost the popular vote to Nixon as did George W Bush to Al Gore - but this is the highest margin by far for a 'loser' to have won any American election by on the popular vote. In fact, Hillary Clinton's popular vote was the second highest vote ever recorded for a presidential candidate, second only to Obama's vote in 2008.

Trump also appears to have won despite having the lowest approval rating of any previous candidate in an exit poll conducted on poling day.

So, does the Trump regime fulfil Britt's fourteen characteristics of Fascism? It would appear so, albeit not to the extremes seen in that most extreme of fascist regimes, Nazi Germany, but the similarities between Trump's American and the regimes seen in Spain, Portugal and Italy are striking. Just because Trump didn't come to power in a violent coup or following a protracted civil war, he has already, in his inaugural speech, declared it to be the start of a new millennium, harking back the Hitler's 'Reich that will last a thousand years' and Pol Pot's declaration of 'Year Zero'.

There can be little doubt of Trump's autocratic tendencies, hence his admiration for Putin and his intolerance for disagreement and disloyalty. His all-too conspicuous sudden discovery of Christian values and the inerrancy of the Bible are clear designed to harness the forces of intolerance and bigotry in the USA and to control the people through the most popular religion in a divide and rule strategy for domination and appeals to xenophobia, superstition and paranoia - the classic tactics of the extreme right. A worrying sign was his petulant dismissal of his acting Attorney General who simply did her job and questioned the legality of one of his decrees. Trump will not tolerate dissent. Whether or not his orders are lawful they will be obeyed!

If the Trump regime is not technically Fascist yet, the slide towards it has begun and is going to be difficult to resist. Time will tell whether America's democracy is robust enough to withstand the onslaught and whether the American people can be arsed to save it.

[Later note] I think Britt's fourteen points could be improved with the addition of the interests of the governing party/dictator becoming inseparable from the interests of the state. The state is run for the benefit of the party or dictator and frequently, public assets including money are seen as the personal property of the party or even the dictator. Consequently, any opposition to the government or disagreement with the dictator is seen as treason and sedition by enemies of the state/people.

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  1. Kennedy won the popular vote in 1960. (A very slim margin)

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Heather. That's praise indeed coming from you.


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